- Sara Mann
Dealing With Diet Talk.
Where to be begin?!
I’ve put off writing about this topic for a while. There are lots of reasons why, but mostly it’s because it is something that really gets me worked up as well as triggers my eating disorder. So I have to be in the right mindset or else instead of writing a nice blog it will turn into a rant or a venting session and I really don’t want to do that! I DO want to talk about it though because I know I'm not the only one effected by diet talk and it's something that I think we as a society need to start thinking more seriously about! So I’m going to try and tread carefully and tackle the topic of diet talk, why I think we do it and how I deal with it while recovering from anorexia.
First of all, just to make sure we are all on the same page here, does everyone know what diet talk is? Diet talk is when people talk about their diet! Honestly, with how diet obsessed our culture is, it seems like diet talk is as common as asking someone how they are doing?! You might walk up to someone and say, "Whats up?!" and they respond, "Oh I'm no longer eating fruit..." I literally once was sitting at a table eating lunch with a couple of friends. These friends were eating a bunch of chocolate chip cookies. A person from another table looks over in horror and I kid you not, says, “Do you know how many calories are in those?!” Diet talk. I was having a casual conversation with a woman once and FOUR TIMES she brought up how much she runs on her treadmill?! Diet talk is saying good morning to someone as they are getting coffee and they blurt out, “I’m not putting sugar in my coffee anymore, it’s SO bad.” It’s making a dessert for a group and having a person say, “How many calories are in that? I can't have too many calories..” It’s going to breakfast with a friend and having them order a smoothie for breakfast and they HAVE to tell you it’s because, “I was bad this weekend and need to make up for it.” It’s the new mom talking about how she weighs herself every morning and is horrified because she has never seen this weight before and now she has to watch everything she eats and it better be only organic. Its the constant murmer about who is on what diet or what food group they have cut out or how they have lost five more pounds or how many hours they are spending in the gym or how gluten is now seriously bad for your health or how carbs make you fat or sugar is SOOOOO bad or how good they were that week because they chose kale over a pop tart (bummer!), or how empowered they feel on Whole 30 or how lean they are now doing KETO, and literally I kind of want to barf just typing this paragraph I’m annoying myself! (For all you grammar hawks out there I know it was a run on sentence, but I want you to feel the exasperation!) Diet talk is everywhere, all the time and let me tell you, when you are recovering from an eating disorder, it is hands down one of THE most triggering/annoying things to be around.
This past week, as I thought about diet talk, I started to wonder why it is that we do it? What makes us feel like we need to constantly share what we are eating, how we are losing weight, what food we are cutting out or diet we are trying? I even talked to my doctor and dietician about it. Two health professionals that help people recover from eating disorders, one of which who is in the diet field that cannot stand diet talk. So, I’ve come up with a few reasons why I think we as a society participate in diet talk. I’m also open to more ideas, so feel free to comment below and discuss!
- We think we are being healthy and we want everyone else to be healthy too. We literally believe we are helping others and we have found the secret to health in general. I do think that there are some people that genuinely believe they are helping others. Heck, isn't that what I'm doing? I'm anti diet now and pro intuitive eating and I'm talking about it on my blog! Some people, in their heart of hearts think you are poisoning yourself by eating bread or meat and because they care about you they want you to be as healthy as they think you should be, so, they impart their diet wisdom upon you. Maybe they lost 80 pounds only drinking smoothies and just want to share how they did it so you can do it too! The intent and heart behind it really is actually innocent and loving no matter how it turns out.
- We are seeking validation. I think as a society we are really insecure. We always want to know if what we are doing is ok, if people agree with it, if others like it. When we tell someone we are losing weight it feels good to have someone say, “That’s so great!” We want people to tell us that what we are doing is good. We say, “I’ve cut out processed foods,” because we want the assurance from others that what we are doing is good and that we should keep doing it.
- We love the feeling of being good at it or better then others. It’s the ME complex. This one is hard to own up to, but I’ll throw myself under the bus and admit that when I was anorexic and heavily dieting I felt like I was so much better then everyone else at it. I felt like I found something I was good at. I could stick to it and I kind of bragged about it a little. Look how in control I am of my food. Look how “healthy” I am. I heard a story a month ago of someone who only did Whole 30 for a week, which makes sense because DUH, and one of her friends was like, oh wow, you only lasted a week?! I’ve done it for months! There is this innate desire to be better then each other and show it off. We use our diets as a way to act superior to each other. We say things like, “I would never eat that,” or “I was so good this weekend,” or even “you should do what I do.”
- It’s social! Look, dieting can be social. Every year there is a new "fad" diet. Don't believe me, go look it up! I've actually started compiling a list of them for another blog. It's kind of funny and slightly unbelievable! People want to let each other know that they are doing the new thing! This year it's Whole 30! Next year it will be something else. A group of friends decides to do a week long “cleanse” together, for funsies! Maybe you count calories and workout and compare it with some co-workers through your apple watches or my fitness pal aps. Maybe you and a friend are cutting out sugar together!!! Diets, and diet talk is social. It’s something to talk about and it’s something to do and it seems harmless until it’s not. It’s a big topic of conversation that people use in order to connect. “I love that they have calories on the menu,” “Oh, me too!” We long to connect with others and since our culture is so diet centered it’s a pretty safe bet that diet talk will bring a connection. My husband went on a mens retreat a month ago and sure enough there were at least four guys all doing the same January diet! It’s social.
- It's a money maker! There are a lot of diets out there that people are making money off of selling you. Smoothies, gummies, gym memberships, beach bodies you name it. There are people that are talking about diets because it makes them extra cash. They talk about it because they believe in their product and want you to try it, and and they will profit from it if you buy into it or purchase some yourself. Don't get me wrong, there are people out there that aren't trying to sell you a diet JUST for the money, but there are also people out there that ARE selling you a diet JUST for the money. The point here is, it's another reason why we diet talk :)
- For attention. This is another one we don’t like to admit, but a lot of times we do extreme diets and talk about them because we are crying out for attention. We may not even know it. There is a boy I know that was really interested in some girls and in order to get their attention he decided he really needed to lose weight. So he started cutting out lots of food groups and losing weight and talking about his weight loss and diet with the girls. He got their attention didn’t he? I know a lot of people going on diets for innocent reasons but the power of control really turns into a gnarly beast. Your marriage is bad, but look how perfect you are at your diet. You might not be able to show people how hurt you are by speaking up about your situation, but you can by cutting out foods and constantly talking about your diet.
Ok, so those are just a few of the reasons that I think people do diet talk, and I’m serious, if you have any more I’d love to hear them. I’m really interested in why we do it. There has to be some sort of psychology behind why we think we need to tell each other what we are eating or not eating. I highly doubt in 1920 people were doing this sort of thing so why is our culture so obsessed with it now?
Here’s the thing, I have a real problem with diet talk. In fact, I can’t stand it. So much so that if you do it in my presence I will have a hard time being around you. I'm serious. I wasn’t always this way, but since I entered treatment for anorexia and excessive exercise as well as having really educated myself about diet and the body over the past two years, I have come to have a real issue with the constant diet chatter. Here’s why…
You don’t know what someone else is going through, so diet talk can be seriously detrimental. About a year into treatment I had someone tell me how I need to cut out sugar in all forms and how bad it is for my body. This person did not know that they just sent diet advice to a recovering anorexic. Cutting out sugar is the exact OPPOSITE of what I needed to be doing at that time. Restricting anything would have been so detrimental to my health both physically and mentally. If I wasn’t in a solid place that email could have sent me in a downward spiral fast.
Please don’t assume that people want to or need to lose weight or want to eat like you do. There are many people out there in bigger bodies that are perfectly healthy and beautiful and it is this fat-phobic culture that assumes that they all need to lose weight. If someone looked at me right now they would probably want to impart all sorts of diet advice. Well Susan, IDGAF about your diet. We are all on our own health journeys. You do you and keep it to yourself.
Every body is different. Just because your body is gluten intolerant does not mean that mine is, so no I’m not going to cut it out. Just because you all of a sudden became scared to eat sugar does not mean that I need to now not eat my mothers delicious apple pie. Maybe cutting back on protein made your migraines go away. That’s cool! But that doesn’t mean that everyone needs to cut back on protein too. Maybe you lost weight by eating less, but I can tell you for certain that my body is only going to lose weight by eating more. Bodies are different. Cultures are different. People are different. Do what is good for your body and let people talk to their health professionals about what is best for their body.
Your diet doesn’t make you a better person. If you choose not to eat pizza, you are not a better person then someone else. You are not stronger or better in any way because you met or did not go over your calorie amount. People that talk about diets always talk about it in a way that they are doing something amazing. It’s actually not that amazing. I mean that as a former crowned dieter. It’s something you are doing, it is not who you are. I find that when diet talkers are speaking it is typically incredibly condescending. They feel that they have some moral high ground because they do not poison themselves with whatever they have deemed bad. That's cool. But if you try to get me to jump on your band wagon that's going to be a hard no from me :)
90% of the people talking about diets are NOT HEALTH PROFESSIONALS. This really grinds my gears. I had someone tell me to stop eating something because they watched a netflix documentary. NO! I get really bent out of shape with the people selling diets to make a buck. Your Facebook friend is not a dietician. Unless they went to school for nutrition or became a certified RD, why are we taking their advice? Why are we all of a sudden cutting out a ton of food groups because our friend said it was a good idea? This is SUCH A BAD IDEA! If you want to lose weight or get healthy, I highly highly recommend a health at every size, anti-diet dietician as well as a therapist. You can get healthy AND learn why it matters to you to lose weight. I can't tell you how many people say they have some intolerance and cut out necessary nutrients but have never actually been tested or seen a medical professional for these ailments. I myself was gluten free for years because I self-diagnosed. It was B.S.! It was the new fad that my eating disorder grabbed onto and used to control me, and my bloating when I ate gluten was my body reacting to restriction! I eat gluten now no problem.
It’s so negative. I have never been around diet talk and left the conversation feeling good. Even if I was the one that was “superior” I still felt bad. Diet talk is always a downer. It’s always about cutting out or stressing and it leaves me confused and self conscious. Oh you do that? Do I need to do that? You don’t do that? If I do that am I bad? UGH!
Last, diets don’t work. I’m going to save this topic for another blog, so I won’t go on and on about it, but honestly people, they don’t work. There is so much information about this out there at this point, just go read it. By participating in diet talk we are just perpetuating a society that is unhealthy both mentally and physically. I know you are probably wondering how we get healthy then if we don’t diet…I promise I will write a blog about this soon :)
SO, now that I’ve talked a little about why I think we do diet talk and why I don’t like it, I want to share how I deal with it. As I mentioned before, diet talk is very very difficult for me to be around as I recover from my eating disorder and it is literally impossible to avoid. Everyone does it. It is in my top five triggers that will set my ED off. It causes me a lot of anxiety and confusion and my eating disorder will latch onto anything that will make me feel bad about my body or try and get me back on the diet train and the mental abuse that comes along with it disguised as control and health. So here it goes! How I deal with diet talk and people that diet talk!
1. I humble myself. Look, before I entered treatment I was a diet talk extroidinaire. I’m pretty sure it was all I talked about. Literally. I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t say that I once was lost to this and a major participator. How can I stand in judgement of everyone else when I too did this ALL. THE. TIME. So I need to step off my soap box and humble myself. It was only two short years ago that diet talk was my jam. Yes, I now see how detrimental it is to me and to others, but there was a time when I didn’t. So before I get angry at someone or pass judgement I need to remember that at one point that was me too. I should even issue an apology to everyone for how much I did diet talk. Who knows how many people I hurt along the way. This thought haunts my all the time…..
2. I educate. If I really feel confident and comfortable I can take the opportunity to educate people. I don't know everything about nutrition and diet and exercise, but I have been working with a team of medical professionals for the past two years and I've learned a LOT about the body, how it needs food and how food effects our body etc. A kid once told me carbs make you fat. It was an opportunity to educate him on what carbs actually do in the body. They fuel your brain and give you energy. Without them we literally enter a brain fog and starve our muscles from necessary nutrients! There is a reason athletes carb load and they are not fat my friend!
3. I ignore. Sometimes we just need to sit back and realize, nope, not today. Maybe this particular diet talker is really high on the cray cray scale and is super intense and I know dang well that if I say something it will go nowhere, so I just sit back and say it is what it is and ignore. When the person from the other table asked us if we knew how many calories were in the cookies we were eating we all didn’t even respond. Sometimes it’s best just to ignore and move along.
4. I remind myself of the truth. Sometimes when people diet talk I get confused. Should I be on a diet? Would it make me lose this weight? Are carbs bad? I have to sit down and remind myself of the truth and sometimes even check with my doctor or dietician when I get really confused. Diet talk and dieting was detrimental to my health and I need to remember that, even when it is SO tempting!
5. Stick to the facts. If I am going to engage in a conversation with people about dieting, exercising or calorie counting, it’s important to stick to the facts. I find that these conversations can become emotional quickly. Why? Most people are dieting because of deeper reason. They are struggling with infertility so they think eating a certain way will give them a baby. Maybe they are using their diet as a means of control because of a divorce or bad relationship. A lot of people put their self worth in their bodies and health so it is a touchy subject. One way to not be emotional is to just be factual. For example, "I’ve noticed that since you have started counting calories you don’t seem to enjoy meals with me anymore and that’s a bummer." "I’m sure that doing the “blank” diet is helping you lose weight fast but do you know what cutting this nutrient out does to your body and that makes me a little worried for you?" You get the idea.
6. I change the subject! Oh, you drank nothing but lemon juice and cabbage soup for five days? I heard the cherry blossoms are blooming next week!! Are you going to go see them!?
7. I know my audience. There are some people that I can have a conversation with and some people that I need to ignore. It’s important to know this because nothing is worse then getting into a conversation with someone about diet talk who just belittles you, is argumentative and has no respect for your point of view. Getting into a diet debate is not on my priority list so I make sure to take note of who it is I'm talking with.
8. I focus on myself. From this post you might think that every time people do diet talk in front of me I just become some outspoken tool. This is not true. Ninety percent of the time I keep to myself. I only educate, or talk about it if I feel super comfortable with the person, if I have been asked a question or if I’m worried about the person. Most of the time I just keep to myself. If you want to count calories and slave away at the gym, that’s your prerogative, I choose not to anymore and no I don’t want to talk about it. I focus on my recovery and my food plan and what I need to do for my body.
9. I ask them to stop. There have been multiple times that I have in fact asked people to stop discussing their diets or calories or excessive exercise in front of me. I don’t have to be mean about it, I just simply say something along the lines of, “I’d rather not talk about that,” or “This conversation makes me really uncomfortable, do you mind if we change the subject?” If I’m close with the person and they know my circumstance I might even say, “What you are saying is really triggering for me and I’m getting anxious. Can you please not talk about your calories or diet with me from now on? Thank you!” It’s really not as bad as is seems.
10. I extend grace and try my best to simply live in peace This goes along with number 1! No one is perfect. I don’t want everyone walking on egg shells around me all of the time because of my recovery. People are living their own lives too so I need to extend grace when people diet talk in front of me, or slip up or don’t know better. I am on my own health journey and so is every one else. Just like I don't agree with everyone, not everyone agrees with me, so it's best to just live in peace!
11. I build them up. When people start diet talking or discussing their weight I compliment them on something that has nothing to do with their diet or weight. I let them know they are beautiful on the inside and outside exactly how they are in that moment. I share how I appreciate them in some way other then their diet or weight. People are more then what they eat or weigh. If you tell me are trying to lose five pounds, I will probably tell you that I think you are hilarious and love being around you! :)
12. Last, I share my story. Sometimes when people are really intense about diet talk I share my story. When someone tells me to try a diet or cut out sugar I share that I am currently recovering from anorexia, I work very closely with a dietician, how cutting out sugar would be detrimental to my recovery process, how eating a cupcake is a major goal for me and how I will never take diet advice from netflix. Someone will be talking about their diet and then ask what I think and I’ll share that I use to do that and now I’m recovering from an eating disorder so I no longer believe in dieting or calorie counting or excessive exercise. People shut up pretty quick when you mention you are recovering from anorexia. It’s kind of funny actually!
Look, this blog is not meant to shame anyone. If you are a diet talker I am not trying to pin a scarlet letter on your shirt. You are not an evil person! You may not even realize you are doing it! Heck I admitted I'm guilty of it! If you think one of my examples in this blog is you, it probably isn't! You would be surprised at how many people say and do the same things. It's our culture! The point of this blog is to create a bit more awareness about diet talk and maybe point out that it's not as innocent and healthy as we might think it is or want it to be.
I truly hope that in time our culture shifts. That we start eating intuitively again and the marketing/billion dollar business of diets gets the boot. I hope that we start to see and accept ourselves and others in all shapes and sizes. I hope we stop labeling foods as good and bad and suffering at the hands of diet culture and diet talk. I hope that one day we have more to talk about then what we are or are not eating (unless of course it's about how amazing something tastes), how much we exercise or how many pounds we gained or lost in the past month. Until then I will be doing my best to only talk about food in a non-judgmental and anti-diet way. I will advocate for intuitive eating and health at every size :) and please, if we ever hang out, lets talk about something more interesting, like music, or travel, or faith but definitely NOT diets :)
- Sara -