With the holidays rapidly approaching, there is the anticipation of the next family gathering. With the pandemic this year in 2020, it is likely your next family gathering may not look like it usually does. Perhaps instead of everyone gathering at grandma’s house, your family gathering may include a scheduled dinner time and a video chat invite, or a smaller gathering of more immediate family members. But there is one thing that is likely to happen at many family gatherings: diet talk.
Perhaps it is about some new diet craze that someone saw on social media; perhaps it is a new book someone picked up; perhaps it is New Year’s resolutions. Usually in one way, shape, or form, diet talk comes up. This might include cutting this or that out of a diet, or a new exercise routine, or how many pounds a person is hoping to lose in the new year. But if there is at least one person in attendance who struggles with poor body image, body dysmorphia, or an eating disorder, it is likely that someone may be triggered.
Why is diet talk so triggering? After all, it is something which is so flooded in our lives through traditional media, social media, billboards, magazines, commercials, internet ads, mailers, and books. We are always being bombarded with some new way to change our bodies so that we can fit into the image that somewhere down the line we internalized we need to be. It is triggering because it promotes the idea that you should feel like you are not skinny, fit, pretty, or acceptable enough. But what if we were to accept ourselves for who we are? What if we encouraged others in our lives to accept, or even love, themselves for exactly as they are?
Comments about weight, whether it is meant to be flattering or demeaning, can be harmful. The truth is that we just do not know what that person might be struggling with. Maybe they lost weight because they are sick, or even struggling with eating disorder behaviors. Maybe that person gained weight because of a lifestyle change or because they are working on healing from the impact of diet culture. In any case, it is really none of our business.
Comments about things you do not like about your own body are not just triggering to someone at the table who is struggling with their relationship with food and body, but are also toxic to your own self image and self-esteem. Try to become aware of how frequently you engage in self deprecating statements. Chances are, it is more likely than you think. Try instead to speak words of kindness to and about yourself to protect your own mind space as well as to be a positive role model for those around you.
<>Comments about appearance in general, even well-meaning comments, can contribute to a toxic focus on what the person looks like, and not who they are. Try instead to ask questions about the person’s life such as their relationships, job, interests, or passions. And compliment that. Practice curiosity without judgement to deepen your connection with this person. Chances are, this will lead to more intimate conversation.
Negative food talk can be challenging as well. Comments such as how many calories are in a food item, whether something is “fattening” or saying “I’m going to binge on (insert food here)” can create an intrusive spiral in the mind of someone struggling with their relationship with food and body. Keep food comments to positive such as “I love the flavor of this” or “thank you for making this.”
If you are someone who is struggling with disordered eating or relationship with food and body, you can protect your mind space at the next family gathering by planning for some topics you’d really like to talk about with the people you are with, and steer the conversation in that direction. You can politely state “I would rather not talk about that” when diet talk or comments on food or body come up. Enlist someone you feel comfortable with to be your safe person. Give that person a silent gesture to let them know you need support or come up with a code word. Give yourself permission to take a break by stepping outside or going to another room for moment and take a deep breath if the general conversation becomes too overwhelming. It is appropriate to set healthy boundaries in relationships if you need to.
So, at your next family gathering, skip the diet talk. There are a wide variety of other topics that can feel connecting. If there is a lull in the conversation where you feel like you can fill that space with diet talk, try instead to bring up your favorite movie or book, or engage the table in a game like “Would You Rather” or “Twenty Questions”.