One of the struggles I find comes up with almost all my clients as they begin the process of intuitive eating is wondering how to handle conversations with friends and family when the topic of dieting/body image comes up. I have to be completely honest and say this is hard, really hard. Often times, our loved ones are not coming from a mean spirited place and just acknowledging that fact can be incredibly helpful in dealing with it. As a culture, we are still deeply entrenched in diet mentality, so when your friend is talking about their latest diet, how they don’t eat this or that anymore, how they are worried about gaining weight or have gained weight, while it can be hard to hear when working towards eating intuitively, it’s important to remember that their beliefs about food and body are reflective of the culture at large and not necessarily an attack against or judgement of you. (When it’s truly meant in an attacking way is a topic for a whole other blog post).
That said, hearing diet and body talk can be very triggering for people with any history of concerns around food and body image. It’s easy to feel like we are being judged as well when this happens (if they judge themselves so harshly I’m sure they are judging me that way to is essentially the thought process we get into subconsciously). Even if we aren’t personally feeling judged by the comments, it validates all those old negative thoughts that have been playing in our heads for so long about food and body. How many of you have left spending time with a friend who tends to do a lot of diet talk feeling depressed and planning the diet you will start tomorrow? I know I have many times.
So what do you do? How do you handle these conversations? Having sympathy for how entrenched our whole culture is in the diet mentality can be a great place to start. Another thing that tends to be helpful is not encouraging food and body conversation when it does come up and trying to encourage another topic of conversation (i.e. “I’m just listening to what my body wants to eat and how much it wants to eat. Hey did you see X show last night?”)
So what if that’s not enough? (In many cases it may not be). Well, then it’s time to set some boundaries. Most people struggling with food and body image find that there are people in their life who they need to let know they are working on this and ask that food and body image not be a topic of conversation. (This makes it sound easy, it’s not always and is definitely a place talking to a therapist or someone else you trust beforehand can be helpful).
Also, keep in mind that whatever boundaries you chose to set, it’s equally important that you enforce them when they are crossed. This may start with a simple “Hey remember I asked that we not talk about diets” and can escalate from there if needed. This really is another place where working with a therapist or talking it through in depth with someone else close to you can be helpful. It is important not only to have a plan for what that boundary is going to look like, but also how it will be enforced it if it is crossed. Again, this is not easy. In fact, it's the hardest part of doing this work for many of us. Keep in mind that it’s ok to still be working on these concerns around food and body and there is no need to feel like you have to be at a place where you are totally fine with diet conversation going on around you-now or ever.
Have questions about dealing with friends and family when it comes talking about food and body? Let me know! I’m always happy to answer any questions you have.