Dear Captain Awkward,
I used to have an eating disorder. While I consider myself to be mostly well now, this has left me with some conflicted feelings about dieting.
This tends to get awkward when other people talk about their dieting. First of all, hearing someone else talk about how wonderful their diet is, how they really shouldn’t eat whatever or how they really want to lose weight can be a bit triggering for me and sometimes makes me feel like I should maybe diet too. That’s not a good thing for me.
Second, I don’t want to encourage people around me to diet. I’ve gotten fairly into fat acceptance and I don’t want to participate in the idea that losing weight will make you a happier, healthier and more attractive person, because I believe that is a harmful idea. However, I don’t really know how act around someone who tells me they’ve lost weight without doing either that or coming across as an unsupportive jerk.
Is there a way for me to make other people not go on about how great their diet is and other things that are hard for me to hear, preferably without telling them about my history with eating disorders or coming across like a jerk? And is there a way for me to deal with dieting people that is neither encouraging nor… well, jerkish?
What’s that book about how French ladies don’t get fat because every once in a while they eat nothing but a cleansing broth made of leeks or something? Who cares. Anyway, the author had one good point. Even if you are not actively policing the bodies of and making it weird for the people around you (as in people with eating disorders, or fat people who receive constant judgment and shaming around eating):
Endlessly talking about your diet is boring as fuck.
I don’t pretend to be some kind of ninja of calm self-acceptance, or that I even know how to solve this problem for you because you can’t make people do anything. The way I deal with that excruciating ritual of LadyBonding by talking about blah blah blah calories and blah blah blah “I probably shouldn’t” or “Maybe just a little, if we split one” or “My other meal of the day was laughing alone with salad, so maybe I will only have a tiny bite” is how I treat someone who is telling me a long and pointless story with no beginning middle or end about how I should join their religion or forward this chain letter or maybe sign up for a pyramid scheme or try some woo cure they’re raving about:
1. Vague polite bemusement, with maybe a neutral “Huh, sounds like that’s going well for you,” or “I’m happy you’re feeling good.”
2. Asking zero questions about it and giving zero “Tell me more about that” signals.
3. Changing the subject as quickly as possible.
I mean, I don’t need to argue with them or get into their personal decisions about what and how they eat because why would I a) intrude on someone that way or b) open the door to them commenting on what and how I eat? It’s not my job to do that, and food/body image/health is such a personal, private thing. That doesn’t mean I let them talk endlessly about it, or that I don’t set limits. If anyone so much as hints that they are going to give me unwanted diet advice I stop them and say “I know you mean to be helpful, but let’s change the subject.”
I wonder, rather than mention your particular eating disorder history, if you might try saying something like “Eh, could we not talk about our diets today? It always makes me feel really anxious and like I can’t enjoy my food, which is sad, because this sandwich is fucking delicious.”
(Maybe without the swears if you’re at work). There are a lot of variations you could use, and just own up to the feelings that diet talk is making you feel. That’s not jerky, that’s just taking care of yourself. Say it every day if you have to until the message sinks in and you’ve taught them that this is not a subject that you want to talk about, and they will not be rewarded with praise and pets and glory if they bring it up around you.
The other great thing is that you’re giving the other person permission NOT to engage in the weird shame spiral call-and-response. It will be weird at first, as your conversation partner figures out that, “Wait, I don’t have to hate on myself for a requisite number of minutes before I enjoy things? Why is she not hating herself with me?” but the awkwardness will ease up over time.
I’m positive more answers exist for you here at the Shapely Prose archive. And as we go into the holidays, check out Twistie’s advice about how you shouldn’t cook awesome food for your family and then let them make you feel like crap for eating some of it over at Manolo for the Big Girl. You can also arm yourself with instructions for saying STFU when the FU is silent…and fantasies for when it is right out loud.