If you are on the path of intuitive eating and improving your body confidence you may be infuriated by the amount of diet talk that you are now hearing all around you. It’s everywhere, isn’t it? When you’re in the thick of it you don’t see it, you don’t hear it. But as soon as you step out of it you realise that diet talk is everywhere.
It’s not just limited to diet talk on social media. It’s rife amongst friends, family, and colleagues. It drops into everyday conversations all too easily. It has become normal, everyday language too.
But all this diet talk has such a negative impact on your health and overall wellbeing. Your physical health, your mental health, your approach to life, it’s all affected.
By the way, if you’d like to listen to this one as a podcast episode, you can do that here…
So what exactly is diet talk?
Some diet talk is more obvious than others. Let’s start with the blatantly obvious. It’s things like talk about diets that everyone is doing.
If you work in an office, maybe retail, any place where you spend your time working quite closely with a few people, you may be familiar with the chat around what diet you are on at any given time.
You might talk about what you can and can’t eat on your diet. You might talk about how you ‘make the most’ of these foods, to stop you being hungry, or to maximise the amount of food you can eat in a day.
The conversation might be around how nutritious foods are, and how much you are having in the way of carbs, fats and protein.
You might talk about restricting food groups, or how food is good or bad for you. Words like good, bad, junk, guilty, shouldn’t, should…. are all words that give some kind of moral standing to a food, makes you judge based on it, and puts you back into diet and restriction territory.
You might talk about your clothes and how they are fitting, and maybe how you need to lose weight to make them fit better.
Covert diet talk
Some diet talk is a little more sneaky though! We’ve all heard conversations about exercise for example. How someone has to go to the gym to burn off the calories, make up for the weekend of drunken eating, or to get their body into some kind of (different) shape. That’s diet talk in disguise. It’s not directly talking about food, but it’s heavily related to it.
And quite closely linked to that – cheat days! How often do you hear people say they had a cheat day, a treat day, or a blow out? That means they are restricting the rest of the time, and then losing control for this one day a week. That is not a healthy relationship with food. They may dress it up as ‘balance’ but it is anything but that!
Then there are comments about feeling fat, or whether clothes are flattering or not. There are two aspects to this – first, it implies that it is not ok to be in a bigger body, but second, it implies that they feel that they need to diet.
And any time there is any kind of comparison to other bodies we’re in diet talk land again. “I wish I had her waist”, “I wish my nose looked like hers”, “I would kill to have the body of Angelina Jolie”….. all comparison, whether it feels realistic or not, and all covert diet talk.
Diet talk aimed at others
Let’s just also touch on how it is not ok to comment on how much someone does or doesn’t eat. It is not ok to comment on their clothes and whether they do or do not fit. It is not ok to comment on someone’s weight loss and celebrate it (you don’t know what they have gone through to get that weight loss). And it’s certainly not ok to comment on other people’s weight gain, even if it’s in passing to someone else, out of their earshot.
Comments on people’s size, shape, weight, or food intake, is very much diet talk, and can be very harmful for them. It’s unkind, it’s unfair, it’s reinforcing diet and beauty standards, and it’s putting women under pressure – the pressure that you’re trying to get away from.
When we engage in diet talk like that we reinforce everything that we are fighting against – how bodies are wrong, certain foods are shameful, and that we should be aiming for an idyllic body type.
For some, especially those battling disordered eating, or full eating disorders, diet talk can be harmful and triggering.
What can I say instead?
A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself what sort of comment you would like to be on the receiving end of. Any comment that is complimentary, but does not touch on food and body, is going to be welcome.
You could say things like:
“You have done such a great job with….”
“You’re such a good friend”
“You always cheer me up”
“You’re so clever”
“I love those clothes”
“Your hair looks amazing today”
“I love being in your company”
“You look so happy today”
“Your skin is glowing”
So you can see that even the comments that relate to appearance there are not directly attributed to body and weight in a way that reinforces a beauty or diet standard. They are simply compliments, and ones that relate to wellbeing, rather than weight.
How can I respond to diet talk from others?
Diet talk around you can be quite overwhelming if you are in the early stages of making some peace with food and trying to get into better eating habits. It hits especially hard if you are unsatisfied with your body too.
Family especially seem to think it’s ok to have conversation around another family member’s weight, shape, size, or eating habits. Most of the time it comes out of love, but it’s usually misinformed opinions that are not helpful to you if you are on the receiving end of it! They don’t know what we know. They don’t know any better.
You may feel like you are the only one trying to fight diet culture, and that your words are falling on deaf ears, but it is important to remember that you don’t have to conform to the suggestions, or even engage in diet talk at all!
It is easier said than done, but learning ways to deal with comments can help you feel more in control of the situation.
So how can you respond?
Try diverting the conversation. When someone is commenting on someone’s body for example, you could compliment their hair or their clothes.
Or if the topic is on food choices, a comment on how wonderful it is that they are eating what they want and not giving in to dieting, could be a good avenue to take. It’s a great time to tell them that “food is just food”, that “there are no good or bad foods”, or that if you want seconds you’ll have them, because you trust your body to tell you when you have had enough to eat.
With some topics, such as exercise, it can actually spark a really interesting conversation. If someone starts to tell you about a new exercise regime they are on you could ask them what they like about it, what makes them feel good about it, and what aspects they enjoy the most. If there is very little there that they enjoy it could be a good opener into a conversation around why we exercise, and how it should be for wellbeing, and not solely to change our bodies.
If they love everything about it, it’s a great time to reinforce the same message by praising the fact that they are doing something they enjoy first and foremost. These conversations don’t always have to be negative.
If things are feeling a bit uncomfortable, you could divert the conversation away from the subject altogether. A swift “Oh, I forgot to mention, I saw a great band is playing at the local next week” or “Oh, I forgot to ask you, how is your daughter getting on?” or “how are you getting on with the work on the house?” is often enough to make them forget all about the diet they were talking about!
Maybe a polite request to change the subject would work too, if you are comfortable with that? Asking the person if you could talk about something else, telling them you are uncomfortable talking about food or body issues, or simply saying you are trying not to talk about diets right now, could put the comments to an end.
And if you’re feeling strong enough, how about telling people that their comments are inappropriate, that food or body shaming is not ok, that people shouldn’t discuss other people’s bodies, or that what you are or aren’t eating is quite honestly none of their concern?
A great line, I’ve found, is “Can we talk about something else now? Diet talk is so boring”. Then check out the look on their face!
It does depend on how confident you are feeling. Sometimes we have down days where to fight this battle feels like a struggle, and other days you feel like you can take on the world.
Whichever you choose, it’ll have an effect. Every time we advocate for ourselves and take a stand against diet talk we are starting to change the language that people think is acceptable. It starts to encourage people to think differently, and maybe even have a little more compassion.
Even if you come up against someone with deep seated diet beliefs, or people who are just too ignorant to want to try to listen, you can know that you have stood up for yourself, and that’s an awesome feeling (if not a little nerve wracking when you start doing it!).
But remember, if it all feels too overwhelming, you can simply excuse yourself and remove yourself from the situation.
Whatever you choose to do, do it because it feels right in the moment, and because you feel that you have the strength to do it. Repairing your relationship is tough, as is being more body confident, and some days you’ll feel stronger than others. If you have the strength to fight the diet talk then I applaud you for that bravery. If you don’t and you take care of yourself by walking away and not engaging then I applaud you for that too. If you’ve done what is right for yourself in the moment, that is the most important thing.