As the cultural norm, diet talk is inevitable. Make a choice on how you engage with it and allow it to affect you.
It’s inevitable when you’re around friends: the dreaded ‘diet talk’ and comments that people make about their bodies as a way to connect and commiserate. And despite your best efforts in redirecting the conversation, you may still find yourself contributing to these diet and body shaming conversations because you don’t want to feel left out.
Let’s be real, it’s hard to stand out and resist cultural norms.
In the same way it’s difficult to redirect conversation and not partake in gossip, it’s also really hard to separate yourself and not contribute to a conversation that persists because diet culture exists. So how do we directly or indirectly refuse to participate in conversations centered around diet culture? And how do we positively contribute to conversations and relationships in a way that moves people away from it?
1. Create a supportive community around you.
Just like an alcoholic may need a community and support in order to protect against relapse, the same goes from escaping diet culture. As you are working towards embracing non-diet and body positivity philosophies, you will actually become more aware of all the diet messages around you. They are simply everywhere, so you will have to be intentional in the messages you allow yourself to see. You can’t control everything that’s in the media, but you can assert yourself in areas you can control.
Stop following social media accounts that make you feel bad about yourself, and look for online communities, podcasts, and blogs to read that can help create that support system you need. The more your mind is engaged with a community that does not support diet culture, the less vulnerable you become when diet talk does come up.
2. Set firm boundaries.
You have the right to set boundaries on your relationships and the energy that surrounds you. These boundaries are what make good and healthy relationships. You are also allowed to change these boundaries whenever you see fit. Just because you use to participate in diet talk or body shaming doesn’t mean you have to today or in the future.
If the topic arises, you can gently tell the person that you’re no longer interested in talking about food, exercise, or bodies. You can also redirect the conversation by bringing up their weekend as a simple and less direct way to change topics. Remember, you may have to remind people in your life more than once. Diet talk is mainstream and expected, and oftentimes, many don’t even realize they’re doing it. Try to be understanding if you know they really are trying to change.
3. You are not a sponge.
You don’t have to absorb everything around you, but this can be especially difficult in the beginning of your journey. Start by visualizing that you have a choice between being a brick or a sponge. A brick absorbs very little, while a sponge absorbs a whole lot. With each diet-related interaction, you get to decide what you will engage in and absorb, and what you will allow to roll off of you. Thoughts and opinions are just what people are offering up, they are not facts or truth.
4. Decide if you want to educate others on a non-diet approach.
After creating boundaries to protect you from triggering diet talk, you now have the freedom to decide how much you want to explain yourself or educate others. You don’t have to say anything if you don’t want to. Or even if you want to, it may not be the right time or place to do so. People will be open to the conversation at different points in time, and that’s important to remember. If you do want to share with others, think about how much pushback you can handle. Know when too much resistance is too much so you can leave or redirect the conversation when needed. Sometimes, engaging in a “debate” like conversation can do more harm than good.
5. Know that by living your life, others will be affected.
When you start living your life in a way that rejects the norm of diet culture, your demeanor will change in positive ways. People will see this in the way you live your life and interact with others. When you start to believe in yourself, accept your natural body size, and trust in your body, it will be very apparent to others around you.
In turn, you will be sending subtle messages even when you’re not overtly advocating for this way of living. You will be living your life in a way that indirectly shares the message without you even realizing it. While it’s not your job to convince anyone of their life’s choices, you can still make a positive impact over time. Remember that people don’t change overnight, and won’t likely give up diet and body talk right away. After all, we have all been living in this diet culture for years.
Recognize that you are in control of what bounces off of you, and what you allow to take root in your mind.
Adapted from the original article.
Robyn Nohling, FNP-BC, RD is a Registered Dietitian and Family Nurse Practitioner who believes that eating cupcakes and kale are both equally healthy to the body and mind. With a passion for women’s hormonal health and nutrition, Robyn cuts through the irrational noise of diet fads and unrealistic beauty expectations to help others find joy in food as it’s meant to be celebrated. Learn more about Robyn at The Real Life RD.