“I don’t give a f**k about your diet Susan”… Being ‘sorry, not sorry’ about setting boundaries...
Updated: Jul 15, 2021
We’ve all been there, you meet up with a friend who you haven’t seen for ages only to have to endure what feels like a lifetime of listening to her bang on about some fad diet she’s been on for 3 days and how losing 3lbs has gave her life new meaning…
If you are the dreaded unsolicited diet talker, I want to start by saying, and I really can’t stress this enough… ITS BORING AF… You know those facebook friends that you unfollow cos they just post endless pictures of their mediocre dinner… Well hun, that’s you, except you’re describing yours… No one asked babe, maybe try a joke.
There are literally millions things to talk about which don’t include the number of calories in a bag of quavers. Food is not just food for a lot of people it’s way more complicated, if your diet chatter is met with awkward silence take that as a cue to pipe down. If you’re out with a friend it’s possible to order a salad without an hour long explanation about how many macros you’re allowed today and all of the reasons that their food choices make them in league with the devil. Their food choices are nothing to do with you. By trying to convince someone else to ‘be good’ what you are really doing is judging their food choices, body and encouraging food guilt. It’s kind of hard to want to eat lunch with you now.
Even worse, is telling other people that they should try said diet when they didn’t ask you. You might think your diet recommendations are helpful and encouraging but the upshot of what you are saying is “I think I know better than you about your own body”. There is no way of “encouraging” someone to diet without basically saying that their body would be unacceptable to you if it was your body. You have no idea what body image issues people are wrestling with behind closed doors or how hard they have to work to find the confidence to do even the simplest of things and you could quite easily really set them back. Is it worth it when basically all you want is someone to go to weight watchers with?
Since breaking up with diet culture I can honestly say I’ve never been happier and I’ve been able to use the time and energy I spent on food obsession to do all of the amazing things we are meant to do. Body acceptance is hard when so many people still equate being deserving of happiness and basic respect with being thin. It’s easy to find yourself falling back in to old patterns when diet culture is literally everywhere and I’ve worked too hard for that. Hearing all about it is at best uncomfortable and at worst really triggering and I wanted to talk about the need to set boundaries.
I’m a recovering bulimic, I will always be a recovering bulimic. Bulimia is my default setting for my relationship with food and body image. I grew up in a family where body shaming was the norm and have struggled with body dysmorphia for as long as I can remember. For so many people, food is linked with so much negativity. Restriction and deprivation, guilt and shame and at some points in my life its been actual fear.
I have to relearn everyday that food is just food. Some days it’s harder than others depending on what’s going on in my life but its always a nagging thought that I can never quite silence. I’m at a pretty good place now, recovery has come with weight gain but I’m trying to focus on accepting my body the way it is rather than making myself ill in the pursuit of thinness that hasn’t once made me happy anyway. Its taken years to be at the point where I’m comfortable enough to be able to say to people “actually I’m a recovering bulimic, do you mind not talking about your diet to me”. You’d think that this would be end of conversation but you’d be amazed at how often it isn’t. Saying that I’d rather not hear about it does not mean that I’m in denial, don’t want to change and you are not doing me any favours by forcing the issue and telling yourself that you are doing it for my own good.
The fact is you never know what is going on in someone else’s life. I went to desperate lengths to hide my eating disorder as a lot of people do. Even if endlessly banging on about how many points is in a muller light yogurt isn’t triggering to whoever your talking to, they most probably still don’t care. You might think your diet is the be all and end all but the reality is that whoever you are talking to has access to the same information as you and is an adult capable of making their own food choices. If they wanted to be on a diet they would be.
Quite often, people with eating disorders feel anxiety about eating around other people anyway. Even though I’d know it was completely irrational a lot of the time I would still be convinced people were judging the amount I ate or my food choices. Obviously in work places it’s kind of unavoidable. The last thing I’d need is Janet from admin piping up about how gluten is the route of all evil when I just want to eat a sandwich and get out of there. While fair enough, a lot of the time they didn’t know, that’s exactly the point, there is no purpose to the conversation anyway and I really think we should be raising awareness of the fact these conversations can be damaging.
When someone tries to convince me to go on whatever diet they are raving about, I don’t doubt that in their head they mean well but it’s basically body shaming. Let’s think about what’s really being said here. They are trying to impose their diet on me because in their opinion I need to lose weight. That’s pretty triggering. If you feel unhappy with your body and want to change it that’s your perogative but don’t sit there complaining about it to someone that is bigger than you. If someone is struggling with body image the last thing they need to hear is all of the things you are doing to avoid looking like them.
One of the key phrases of a diet talker is “If I can do it you can do it” which I’m sure they think is encouraging. Comparing yourself to other people is a sure fire way to sabotage your own mental health… Actually hun, you can diet for a week, have a cream cake, jack it in, laugh about it and go back to your life. I can’t do that. I go to a dark place where I’m stuck in a cycle, completely obsessed with calories, exercising to the point of exhaustion. Binging, purging and self loathing and having to pull myself out of it all over again. I don’t want to be encouraged to do that. I’m not saying that when people say these things that they are aware that that’s what dieting is for me, but that’s the point, they are not aware… Why risk someone else’s mental wellbeing when you don’t know what their situation is.
I’ve been told so many times that “it’s all about willpower”… Firstly this is just the diet industries way of convincing us that failure is our own fault so we will keep trying again and bank rolling their unsustainable “lifestyle change”. Secondly, when I used to make myself sick and try and throw up food that I hadn’t even eaten, in my head I’d be thinking “willpower”. I’ve got willpower hun, in fact it takes way more willpower to not be bulimic than bulimia ever has. But by saying that you are basically assuming things about someone’s lifestyle that you can’t possibly know.
If I politely say I don’t engage in conversations about diets, “it’s not a diet its a lifestyle change” is not an acceptable response. The diet industry sells the latest craze to us on the basis that they know that most of us will fail. Go to any slimming club and everyone there will tell you it’s not their first rodeo. If we all gained a bit of weight, one diet and that was it, problem solved there would be no diet industry yet its still a multi billion pound booming giant. Why? Because of repeat business, it survives because we keep going back for more. Thinking this time it will be different… If I just had more will power. I don’t need you to defend your diet to me, if you’ve bought into it that’s fine, your body your business but I’m not going to listen while you try to impose it on me.
Its important to set boudaries for your own mental health and be confident enough to enforce them. Diet talk is literally everywhere. If you’ve only recently given up dieting, hearing diet talk on a regular basis from friends and family members can make you question your choices. If you only recently made the decision to ditch diet culture it can be hard to set a boundary when recently you were happy to partake in diet conversations.
You have the right to set boundaries in your relationships and you are allowed to change your boundaries at any point in time; just because you were an enthusiastic participant of diet talk in the past doesn’t mean that you have to be going forward.
You don’t need to explain yourself or give reasons unless you choose to, if there’s things you don’t want to go in to then don’t. People should be able to respect that, if they can’t, don’t feel bad about removing yourself from the situation. You do not need to sacrifice your mental health to be polite to someone that can’t respect your boundaries.
If you politely tell people that your not buying into diet culture anymore, be prepared for them to question you. I personally don’t get in to debates with people about body positivity. I don’t feel that I need to defend or justify my decisions and I don’t appreciate people telling me what to do with my body so I’m not going to tell them what to do with theirs. It feels hypocritical to me to expect people to not comment on all the reasons they feel I should diet if I’m going to comment on all of the reasons they shouldn’t. It’s their personal choice as much as its mine.
Actually dealing with your body image issues rather than convincing yourself that if you just do the cambridge diet for a bit everything in your life will suddenly be amazing is hard. What it basically means is giving up the dream that the diet industry has sold to us for so long, that everything will be perfect when we are thin. Turning your back on diet culture means accepting your life the way it is now and facing your problems head on rather than convincing yourself that you’ll find happiness in a number on the scales. Not everyone is ready to do that.
Social media is a minefield for diet culture. If your trying to accept your body then unfollow anyone who makes you feel inadequate or who you find yourself comparing yourself to. Fill your feed with relatable bodies and you will start to see your own differently.
Don’t forget that body acceptance is a journey and it doesn’t happen over night, as with any journey there might be people you outgrow or move on from. Most importantly, no one has the right to make you feel like shit.