Diet Talk

Diet talk is everywhere. Here is how you can deal with it

Zeynep Demirelli

7/11/20210 min read

You enjoy a big nice meal, everyone is happy with the delicious food they ate. Then one person mentions how full they feel from eating too much. This creates a dominoeffect: everyone suddenly starts to express concerns about their diet, as if they have been waiting for that moment. The diet talk nightmare begins.

Someone complains about how ‘bad’ they have been eating lately. Another person adds that they haven’t exercised as much and shares the guilt they feel because of their sedentary lifestyle. Someone else agrees and mentions how much weight they have gained. People ask each other follow-up questions about their diets (‘‘You were on a diet and had lost weight the last time I saw you, how is that going?’’). Everyone starts talking about when they will begin their next diet. Different diet plans are exchanged. People give each other so-called tricks to get back in shape. If you stop to think about it, diet talk gets extreme quite fast. All kinds of advice are given around from ‘‘fast for a day’’ to ‘‘go to bed hungry’’. As a person who has been on different pro-eating disorder platforms, the ‘‘tips’’ all sound too much like the disordered comments written on those platforms by individuals who are deep in their eating disorder.

Diet talk is very much embedded in our culture. It happens so naturally that nobody notices how negatively it affects us. It just goes on and will go on, unless we set boundaries.

1. Tell them how it makes you feel.

In the past, I have tried handling diet talk by replying with jokes or laughing it off but it wasn’t effective at all. Sometimes people just really need to hear the negative emotions they elicit in you, clearly and openly. It may be clear to you how awful diet talk makes people feel, but that is not the case for everyone. Especially not for individuals who are unhappy with the way they look and complain about what they eat ever since they can remember. They may not be aware of how negative diet talk affects them, let alone you. To make them aware and hopefully elicit an empathic response, it is important to do this in a non-attacking and respectful way. You don’t have to necessarily share why you don’t want to talk about the topic but explaining may make your boundaries more clear. Keep it simple:

  • ‘‘This conversation is making me feel uncomfortable. Can we talk about something else?’’

  • ‘‘I am currently learning how to treat my body well and working having a better relationship with food, so I am trying to avoid diet talk as much as possible”

  • “I don’t want to talk about this topic because after, I feel bad about my body”

  • “I struggle with my body image right now, so I would enjoy talking about other things more”

  • “I know what feels good for my body. What works for you may not work for me”

2. Decide whether you want to ignore or intervene.

When faced with disordered eating or diet talk, you have two options; you can either intervene and probably get in a debate, or you can just ignore the topic. At first, intervening may sound like a good idea. And if you are feeling like arguing, why not? You can explore why they engage in diet talk in the first place. Although it is often extremely hard to let people see their deeply rooted cognitions, you can borrow what's called a “guided discovery” from therapy. You can guide them with your questions. For instance, if they are complaining about having eaten too much, you can ask what that says about them then move onto where such beliefs come from.

If the person is buried deep in the diet culture to a point they have completely lost touchwith how they exactly feel, leave them be. Think twice before educating them because you risk getting triggered while trying to help. People who are deep into the diet culture or have an eating disorder will most likely trigger you with how they see their bodies or food. They may make insensitive comments or try to impose their disordered views on you. Personally, I am always Team Ignore as I do not want to risk triggering myself. Make sure to always put yourself first.

3. If possible, leave the conversation.

If possible, immediately remove yourself from the situation. Go to the bathroom, to the other room, outside, just go somewhere else. You don’t have to sit through the conversation to listen to other people complain about their bodies or how much weight they would like to lose. On the days you struggle with food and your body image, leaving the conversation is the way to go, because you may be vulnerable to triggers. Not participating in conversations that make you uncomfortable is a form of self-care.

However, leaving may not be always possible or appropriate, as you might find yourself in the middle of diet talk during family gatherings or when you are hanging out with friends. In my culture, for example, it would be very rude to leave the table when we are eating as a family or simply awkward to just stand up and go home when spending time with my friends. At times like this, changing the topic may be a better idea.

4. It’s not you, it’s them.

When people comment on your appearance or eating habits, they are merely projecting their own insecurities onto you. Someone who is struggling with their own body is more likely to comment on yours. Any remarks people make about their bodies is about them. Any complaints about their diets is about them. This can be hard to keep in mind because even when diet talk is not directly targeted at you, it usually contains unhealthy implicit messages like “Gaining weight should be avoided at all costs”, “Fat means ugly”, “People who eat a lot are week-willed” etc. This is why diet talk negatively influences everyone included in the conversation, even if the person is only talking about their own diet or exercise plan. You can simply feel anxious when another person is complaining about the amount of food they have eaten. Or you can get offended when someone talks about feeling ugly because they have gained weight, when you are at a higher weight in comparison to them. So whenever someone initiates diet talk, it is important to remember that they are using diet talk as an outletfor their negative feelings about themselves. Things people say about weight, body shape, physical appearance say nothing about you, but a lot about them.

The key point to take away from this newsletter is to always put yourself first. Know your triggers and set your boundaries. Sometimes we expect people to understand what hurts us, without communicating it. That is not possible, other people cannot read our minds and they will not know their limits unless we tell them. If you are in a situation that is uncomfortable for you, be vocal about it. And when everything else fails, avoid the conversation. That is self-care too.