This week’s episode is all about navigating relationships with people who are dieting. Whether it’s your partner, parents, friends, coworkers, or whoever else, we’re going to focus on how to have boundary-setting conversations. I know this can feel really scary, and a lot of people don’t know how to do this gracefully. Luckily, helping people navigate their interpersonal relationships is one of my favorite parts of what I do!
Whether or not you’re in recovery, if you aren’t sure how to confront to the people in your life about diet talk, this episode is for you.
In this episode, I talk about:
- Letting people in on your recovery
- How to approach not talking about diets
- Navigating relationships
- When setting boundaries backfires
- Following up words with action
- Convincing others not to diet
- Talking to partners and parents
Letting People In On Your Recovery
The first step to setting boundaries is letting people in on your recovery. The people you care about most need to know what’s going on with you in order to help you. Although people tend to diet with others, it ends up becoming a really isolating process, and we feel scared to let others in on what’s going on.
Because of this, in recovery, we make the mistake of not telling people. That’s a problem- being isolated in this experience can be very confusing. Even if the people you want to tell have NO idea how to help you, you still need to get this out of your head and into the world. Otherwise, the thoughts will continue to build in your head- there’s nowhere for them to go. So, first and foremost, you need to start telling people what’s going on.
The easiest way to tell someone is to open up in a vulnerable moment. Say that you’ve been meaning to tell them something- let them know that you’re going through something, you’re no longer dieting and you’re working on your mental health. Even if you’re not ready to say you have/had an eating disorder, say you’re working on separating guilt and shame around food and you’re working on loving your body.
You can water it down the first time you tell people- it’s okay to slowly reveal things. No matter how you do it, make sure that the people you feel the most comfortable with know what’s going on with you. That’s the first step.
Let people know that you’re not dieting anymore and you don’t want to talk about it anymore because of where you’re at with your relationship with food.
Asking Others To Not Talk About Dieting
The second step to setting boundaries is actually telling people not to talk about dieting around you. This is especially important to do with the people in your life who used to diet with you.
Here are 4 tips to help you set your boundaries around diet talk:
1. Fluff It The F*ck Up
It’s a scary concept, but it’s so important to ask the people in your life if they can stop talking about dieting in front of you. Make this as fluffy as you need to. You can say that you still support them and you’re glad they’re doing something that makes them happy. The more you fluff it up, the better you’ll feel about it- especially if you’re a people pleaser.
I also want to say that there will ALWAYS be people who you’ll ask to not talk about dieting anymore in front of you, and they’ll still do it. When I was first starting recovery, body talk was very triggering for me, especially with friends who were smaller than me. If that’s where you’re at right now, you need to be very clear.
2. Have Your Friends Call You Out
One thing I tell clients is to tell their partners or friends to call them out on negative body talk. Have them say something like ‘stop bullying my friend like that!’ This makes it more lighthearted without adding shame to it.
3. Repeat Yourself
When it comes to body talk, it may take a while for those people in your life to not say those things in front of you. Especially with parents, it may take a while for them to not make comments, especially if you’re in a bigger body. They probably feel like they’re helping you, and they probably feel that what they know about weight is right. Keep reminding them, and don’t feel bad about it! This is important to your health and recovery, and the people in your life need to know that.
4. Start Before You’re Ready
Body talk and diet talk is a habit- one that takes time to break. It may take a while for your boundaries to actually settle into place, which is why I always tell people to start earlier than they’re ready. It’s going to take some trial and error. It’ll take people a while for people to change their ways, and we need to practice patients with out friends and our partners around what they say. They’re not going to be perfect- that’s not the goal. The goal is to make them more aware of how their words affect you and make them more conscious of what they say.
When Boundary-Setting Backfires
If you’re trying to set a boundary, and:
- Someone gets mad
- You’re met with disrespect
- Or they get frustrated and they continue to make comments,
Then you need to reevaluate whether or not that is a beneficial and supportive relationship for you. I’m not saying that you have to cut someone out the first time they mess up. That would be ridiculous.
There’s a BIG difference between:
- Someone trying and struggling or forgetting and apologizing
- Someone calling you selfish, getting mad, or blatantly disrespecting your boundaries.
The first one is someone who’s doing their best. The second is someone who is not taking you seriously and is not invested in your wellbeing more than their own comfort. That’s a problem. The people who are close to you need to understand how serious this is that they respect your boundaries.
You need to take action or get mad or emotional if people aren’t respecting your boundaries. Sometimes, it’s as simple as them not knowing the gravity of the situation. They don’t understand that what is casual dieting to them is actually a really aggressive disordered eating struggle to you. You need to make that clear and take action if someone doesn’t respect your boundaries.
Following Up Your Words With Action
This is really hard, especially for people pleasers. It’s not easy to get rid of someone in your life. But sometimes it’s exactly what you need to do. If they’re acting against your wishes consistently or they’re not supporting your emotional wellbeing, then they’re not your friends. You need to take action and distance yourself.
Should You Convince Them Not To Diet?
What do you when the people in your life diet? Do you tell them to not talk about the diet? The answer is no. It’s not your job to convince someone else that they’re wrong. That’s the automatic instinct. But the harsh reality is that it’s not your job to educate someone on something they know nothing about. It’s not your job to be right or to bring them onto your side.
What Is NOT Your Job
If someone isn’t ready for the Health at Every Size/anti-diet message, they’re not going to be open to it and they’re going to be very defensive. It’s not your job to make someone ready for this information. If you’re living in your truth and leading by example, then they’ll ask.
What IS Your Job
It’s your job to ask for what you need, set boundaries, enforce your boundaries, and find a way to support that person even if it doesn’t make a lot of sense to you. I’m not saying to sacrifice your recovery to support someone who’s on a diet. That is not your job. Your job is to support them and not make them feel like they’re wrong or push all this stuff onto them.
Your job is to tell them you want them to be happy and that you want to do what you can to support them. It’s also your job to tell them you can’t be the person who they talk to about their diet. Let them know that you’re here if they want to learn more about what you’re doing, and ask how you can support them in the meantime.
It’s also your job to not take in and internalize people’s comments. People often project what they have going on in their internal world- you are a mirror as other people are a mirror to you. If someone is struggling with food or body image, they will be more likely to make body comments. The same goes for food. When I say don’t internalize, what I mean by that is, you need to figure out a way to recognize that the things people say about food and bodies has WAY more to do with them than it does about you. This does not mean that it’s true or that you need to change yourself. The best way to get that out is to talk about it, whether it’s to that person or someone else. Get it off your chest!
“How can I help you in a way that I am able to support you?”
When you’re offering support without putting yourself in harms way, sometimes you won’t have the answers. Asking how we can support the people in our lives is how we should be approaching relationships all the time. Instead of trying to problem solve for other people, ask them how you can support them. Ask what they need from you. That sets the stage for them to feel comfortable, especially if they don’t feel comfortable asking. By doing this, you are making it known that they need to guide YOU in helping. In the same way, then they can ask how they can support you.
If someone asks if you need help and you’re not ready for it, it’s okay to say no. But ask them to keep asking you. And eventually, you’ll be ready for it. Ask people to check in on you! Ask them to be there for you. Even if you know they won’t have good advice, just ask if you can vent to them but you don’t need any advice or solutions.
Talking To Partners And Parents
One of the things we need to talk about is what happens if a partner or a family member is dieting and it’s really hard for you to be around it.
For starters, you can’t eat with that person. That sounds weird, especially for partners, when you’re used to eating with that person. You can still sit together, but maybe you just eat at separate times.
Try not talking about health with them. Unless it’s something serious that they need to know about, a lot of times it can be better to just not talk about that kind of stuff. It’s okay to check in with them about their health stuff but ask if they not go into diet changes or weight loss.
It’s getting creative and navigating those important relationships in a way that will protect you from being triggered.
If you’re further along in your journey and you’re feeling extra sensitive about body or diet talk for whatever reason, it’s okay to say that you’d rather not talk about that. It’s okay to set those boundaries. It might be a little awkward at first, but the people who care about you will appreciate that you’re reminding them, because honestly, they probably just forgot.
A Final Note: You Are Going To Mess Up
You will internalize something and blow up later over something super small. Whether it’s at a friend, a partner, or family member, it’ll happen. These things are going to happen. It’s important to tell them what happens in your mind when they say a degrading comment about their body, for example. Tell them you know this is your problem, but it would really help you out if they could not do that around you. Having that conversation and explaining why makes a bigger impact.
Be WILLING to mess up. If you’re willing to mess up, then it doesn’t feel so scary. It just is what it is and you can move forward, knowing you’ll do better next time.
Mentioned in the Episode:
- Heal your relationship with food and start showing up authentically in your life with my Jumpstart to Food Freedom coaching program at: www.whitneycatalano.com/food-freedom
- For a chance to have your listener question answered on the pod, or if I said something that needs correcting, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
This post was transcribed and edited by Brittany Allison, Intuitive Eating Counsellor. You can find her on Instagram @thefoodfreedomlife.
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