I received the letter below from a client who has worked hard and made great progress to heal from disordered eating and chronic dieting. What she wrote is a common frustration that comes up for people who have done or are doing this work of going against the cultural current of food and weight obsession. What people around us say can be triggering and emotionally draining.
Letter: Help! I’m so tired of listening to diet talk
I’m so tired of listening to diet talk. I don’t know what to do around it. It takes so much effort to try to filter it out and not let it affect me. I try not to say anything, just change the subject, or say something lighthearted or funny that’s anti-diet. But this morning both my roommate and then a friend were talking about it, and I just couldn’t take it anymore. So I tried, cautiously and in a kind way, to tell my friend about the journey I’ve been on and that I’m feeling sensitive to diet talk. But I just felt misunderstood, vulnerable, defensive, very emotionally charged, hopeless, and was apologizing for myself. It seems like every time I try to talk to someone about these things, it ends up that way. I don’t really feel right not saying anything sometimes though, especially after so much of it, and because I so badly want to scream about how angry it makes me feel.
My roommate is talking about going on a diet, says she bought a scale, and other related things. My feeling is not to say anything unless it becomes really incessant, just let her do her thing and have compassion for what she’s going through. I know it’s her thing and doesn’t have anything to do with me, I’m just having trouble keeping my own peace around it.
How can I try to make a difference in the world in a productive way, and also help my friends understand that it’s really hard for me to hear this?? Where is the line between speaking up to make change, and knowing when to ignore it?
And my response:
I can so appreciate your email. First, take a deep breath and know that you are not alone. Doing this work day in and day out, I hear from so many people exactly how you’re feeling. The truth is, yes, there are more people absorbed in diet mentality around us than those who are not. It’s a sad reality, and I want to validate for you that it certainly does take a toll. It is hard to hear people talk like this and often it creates inner conflict in having to decide what to say, when to say it, and to not have control over how it is received.
If it helps, I’ll tell you that I struggle with this in real life all the time too with friends, family and acquaintances. I have found it helps to hear that there isn’t one right answer. We may never know ahead of time when the time is right, or how exactly to say something. There is uncertainty in this, and that is something we have to accept. We also do learn from our experiences, what ultimately will serve us best. That’s what I want you to focus on. What feels right for you?
Maybe there is a person who you see suffering that you care about, and so you genuinely take the risk of speaking up kindly, yet directly, about your thoughts on dieting and restriction. Or, like I often do, you can let people’s comments bounce off you to the best of your ability, and remind yourself that everyone is living a different experience and perhaps they’re not all ready to receive the truth about restriction and dieting. Not everyone is ready to hear it. Just because they may not be ready, doesn’t change the science and the facts behind that the vast majority of people who diet will experience diet backlash.
What we do know, is that staying quiet when the authentic You really wants to say something, is generally stressful internally and creates a disconnect between your outward self and your authentic self which tends to not feel good. Try to listen to that intuition.
Intuitive living: Listen to your gut and it’s okay to not be perfect at this:
Just as you now know to trust your body, trust your intuition on this issue. For me, if my intuition says “this person is not open to hearing my thoughts or opinions and I’ll probably feel crappy about their response” then I protect myself and I ignore the topic. If my intuition says “I really want to speak up right now”, or “there is harm being done by this conversation” then I’ll speak up and know that for self-care it’s important I stay on my own team emotionally; stay compassionate and supportive of myself despite the fact that my opinion might not be the most popular one in the room.
For anyone reading this, we’d love to know how you have learned to respond to diet talk around you and take care of yourself when feeling frustrated or emotionally drained with what you’re surrounded by. What are some great self-care ways to respond?
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If you’re looking for individual support for healing from chronic dieting, binge eating disorder, or intuitive eating support contact Sumner directly for more information. Email Sumner@EatToLiveHappy.com