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Stress Sources  |  10 Strategies for Success


You’ve been developing a healthier relationship with your body and with food. You’re tired of restricting yourself and of fearing excess. You’re sick of weight-loss diets, weary of worrying about whether a dish of ice cream represents a profound failure of self-discipline that must be “redeemed” by a workout.

You’re experimenting with body neutrality, learning to accept or appreciate your body as it is. Maybe you’re beginning to eat intuitively, listening to what your body is telling you about how it wants to be nourished.

Friends and family, however, are still entangled in weight-loss culture, still engaging in “diet talk”: “I’ve got to get back on the wagon after this dessert.” “I’ve been so good about staying away from snacks!” “Kathy has been on keto-paleo and looks fantastic.”

This kind of talk pushes you right out of your new mindset, reminding you of earlier struggles and rousing complicated emotions about food and weight. And if you’ve struggled with disordered eating, diet talk has the potential to destabilize your recovery.

Alissa Rumsey, MS, RD, certified intuitive eating counselor and author of Unapologetic Eating, understands the problem. “Our culture ends up causing us to disconnect from our body and its cues in a lot of ways,” she says.

When you’re trying to rebuild or strengthen that connection, talking about dieting and weight can disrupt your progress — and your enjoyment of food. Rumsey suggests creating peaceful, respectful boundaries to protect yourself when diet talk arises.

Stress Source

Establishing new boundaries is challenging, especially with family and friends. You may be concerned about alienating those close to you by express­ing your discomfort. But Rumsey points out that not doing so can also threaten your relationships. “A lot of people end up finding that if they stay silent because it feels easier to not say anything, they might start to disconnect from the person who’s doing the diet talking,” she says. “It becomes easier not to see them.”

Explaining your new outlook could make you seem “holier than thou.” You don’t want to appear judgmental of your friends and family, as if you’re occupying some higher ground of body awareness and self-acceptance. Maybe you’ve also engaged in diet talk in the past and worry about being seen as hypocritical.

You don’t know what to say, and how much to say, about your new orientation to food. “Sometimes,” Rumsey says, “people say to themselves, If I’m going to bring up my problem with diet talk, I’m going to have to explain everything. I’m going to have to know the perfect way to explain body neutrality or intuitive eating.”

If the other people in the conversation don’t understand your point of view, you might feel offended.

You don’t feel comfortable addressing the comments in the moment. You might feel that it’s too awkward to say something when diet talk comes up — but you’re not sure what other options you have. Should you just sit there quietly even though the conversation makes you uncomfortable?

Strategies for Success

  1. Build a no-diet-talk bubble. It’s a lot easier to deal with the diet talkers in your life if you have regular support from those who’ve given it up. “That might involve cultivating social media — following people who are expressing more positive messages about food and body image or joining Facebook groups,” Rumsey says. “There’s a lot of great community available online now. Your bubble can include podcasts you regularly listen to, books that you read, and your dietitian or therapist. If you have that kind of community, it’s there for you to go back to even if other people in your life are still engaging in diet talk.”
  2. Plan your response. Rumsey recommends deciding beforehand how you will respond if you encounter diet talk. She sometimes role-plays with her clients to help them decide what they will say, and this is something you can do with a friend. As you plan, you can consider the following points:
  3. Remember that you don’t have to explain yourself. Rumsey emphasizes that you’re not required to explain why diet talk bothers you or describe your new attitudes toward food and weight. “You don’t have to say anything at all if you prefer not to,” she says. “You can simply excuse yourself politely; you can go to the bathroom. If you decide to respond, one or two simple sentences about why diet talk bothers you is plenty.”
  4. Keep the focus on yourself. “If you do decide to speak up about diet talk, remember that establishing a boundary isn’t about blaming the other person for the way they’re talking, or about being defensive,” says Rumsey. She recommends using “I” statements.
  5. Stay positive. She suggests acknowl­edging the other person’s point of view as you explain yours. “Try something like, ‘I’m happy that you found something that works for you, but I’m really working on healing my relationship to food right now, and the whole issue of diets makes me uncomfortable.’”
  6. Be empathetic and direct. This is all about showing compassion for your friends or loved ones, Rumsey says, “because you may have been in their place at some point. If you have, you can say something like, ‘I know I’ve done that diet with you in the past, but I’ve been finding it’s not working well for me, so I’m trying something else. Do you mind if we change the conversation?’” (Yo-yo dieting can be hard on your health. Here are seven potential side effects and why you want to avoid this pattern.)
  7. Redirect the conversation. Rumsey offers a few suggestions: “I just read this really great book or I saw this terrific movie. Have you heard of it?” “Hey, I saw on social media that you went on vacation last month. Tell me about it.”
  8. Let go of expectations about how people will react. “Sure, someone might respond in a way that you were hoping they wouldn’t,” Rumsey says. “But that’s on them, not on you.” Focus on being kind, respectful, and clear.
  9. Say more if someone expresses interest. “If someone in the conversation says something like, ‘That’s really interesting. Can you tell me more about it?’ or ‘I’ve heard about intuitive eating. Can you explain a little bit more?’ you can go into more detail or refer the person to a website or book. But only if you have that kind of opening and their consent — and if you yourself have the bandwidth.”
  10. Remember that maintaining boundaries is not a one-time thing. “You’re not going to be able to simply set boundaries,” says Rumsey. “You’re going to have to keep setting them, kindly and respectfully. This is a practice.” (Struggle with setting boundaries? See “How to Set Clear Boundaries” for expert support and advise.)


For more inspiration and strategies to overcome life’s challenges, please visit our Renewal department.

This article originally appeared as “How to Halt Diet Talk.”

Jon Spayde

Jon Spayde is an Experience Life contributing editor.

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