Diet talk. It’s kind of everywhere. There’s the places you expect to hear it, like from a group of women sitting down to a meal that they feel the need to justify. And then there’s the places you don’t expect to have words like “fat” and “bad” floating around. Like the doctor’s office. During my last checkup, the nurse shared with me that she took her daughter to McDonalds for breakfast (her daughter loves the pancakes). In the span of the three minutes it took her to take my blood pressure, temperature, and such – she had said the words “I was so bad” nine times.
“I had two egg McMuffins … I was so bad.”
“I even had some of her pancakes … I was so bad.”
“And with an orange juice … I was so bad.”
But it’s not her fault – not completely. The reality is, diet talk and its food shaming elements are everywhere. You can’t really avoid it, so let’s talk about how you can respond to it.
I Can’t Hear You LaLaLa
Well, that’s one way to deal with it. You could stick your fingers in your ears, scream, or run away every time someone starts to berate his or herself (or someone else) about food choices or weight, but I don’t advise it. Part of being an adult means learning to tolerate uncomfortable situations and people who rub us the wrong way – without the lalalas. Rather than try to avoid diet talk completely, there’s a few things you can do and say to limit your exposure and possibly change the way the diet talker addresses these topics in the future
Food Is Neither Good Nor Bad, People Are Both
Part of the problem with diet culture and diet talk is that no food is inherently good or bad. Those egg McMuffins my nurse ate for breakfast is no more respectable or holy than a spinach omelette. This is important to remember. It’s equally important to remember that all people have some good and some bad in them. We all have our winning traits, and qualities that aren’t so great. So if someone slips up and speaks some diet talk – don’t automatically write them off as an evil body shamer. Diet culture is so deeply ingrained in all of us. Sadly, self degradation has become a popular and accept topic of conversation, especially among women and with respect to food and weight. There was a time that you too struggled to escape diet talk, so don’t be so quick to condemn others.
Offer Gentle Reminders
Almost all diet talk stems from misdirected guilt and poor body image. Women, and sometimes men, make insulting comments about their weight or lecture themselves about something they ate earlier because they feel insecure about their appearances. This doesn’t excuse the diet talk, but it does help to remember that the comments are not about you. They have nothing to do with you and are not intended to be triggering. That being said, if you find yourself immediately triggered, there is no shame in exiting the conversation or changing the topic.
What I like to do in the face of diet talk is attempt to counteract it with kindness and reality. Of course your reaction will depend entirely on the context and with whom you are speaking. For example, I’d respond to diet talk from a family member differently than a stranger I just met. In the case of the nurse with the egg McMuffins, I responded like this:
“You shouldn’t be so hard on yourself. No food is good or bad, and enjoying what you like in moderation is a lot healthier than forbidding it.”
I’m pretty comfortable talking about body image and food issues, so I added the bit about moderation. If you’re not comfortable doing that, a simple “No food is good or bad” paired with something along the lines of “Psh, you didn’t do anything wrong” is a great way to go.
If diet culture and diet talk is everywhere, what’s the point of even engaging with it? Besides, how does lecturing someone even help? Let’s break this down piece by piece.
- The purpose of responding to the triggering content and diet talk is twofold. One, in doing so you counter the hundreds of weight loss and beauty standard messages that person has been exposed to. Remember that one positive affirmation is stronger than a dozen negative ones. And two, by saying it aloud you remind yourself that diet talk is pointless, food isn’t meant to be feared, and self love is necessary. By refuting the statement you reinforce what really matters to the other person and to yourself, which limits its ability to trigger you
- You’re not really lecturing the other person. You’re consoling them with a kind statement about how they haven’t done anything wrong. And you’re reminding them that there’s no reason to feel badly about eating or gaining weight in the future.
Be A Friend and a Leader
Diet talk may be everywhere right now, but it doesn’t have to be in the future. Be the person in the group to call out silly statement that encourage food guilt and body dysmorphia. Stand up for what you know is right. Remind your friends, family, and peers that their value as a person does not come from the foods they choose to eat or the number on the scale.
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