During the holiday season, it seems like conversations about weight, body image, and food happen more than ever. You have your cousin talking about her latest diet or your brother commenting on how much quarantine weight he’s gained. In the past, I’ve been at family gatherings where all conversations revolve around diet talk. It gets tricky because it’s one thing if someone is commenting on your body or food choices—that can be rude and invasive, even when it’s well-meaning, and there are ways to deal. But what do you do when a loved one’s comments about their own eating or body are triggering you?
Diet talk includes any conversation around restricting certain foods or exercising to lose weight and/or change your body shape. It can take the form of discussions about actual diet programs, like Whole30, keto, paleo, and more, but it can also be more subtle, like someone saying they were “so bad” for eating pizza earlier. If you’re like me and find these conversations super annoying and upsetting (but don’t want to flip out at the dinner table) here are some tactics that may help.
1. Lead with compassion.
These kinds of diet-related conversations usually mean someone you love is not feeling so great in their body. And this is totally reasonable since, as a society, we place so much value on beauty ideals that are unattainable for most. Before you react, think about how this person might feel about their body and acknowledge that cultivating body appreciation and respect is really damn hard. Dominating the conversation with diet talk may be someone’s way of trying to connect with you over something they’ve been struggling with. So how do you communicate with compassion about a topic you find unpleasant? Asking questions can be a great way to gain insight into someone’s lived experience. Here are some examples—you may need to tweak the language depending on how you talk to the loved one you’re talking to, but these questions get at the general gist of information that might help you have more compassion for your friend or family member:
“How are you really feeling about your body these days?”
“I’d love to know: What has been helping you feel good about the body you’re currently in?”
“What does health mean to you?”
“It sounds like it’s been hard for you to accept your body—what has been the most challenging part about that?”
“What are things that help you feel good in your body?”
2. Respectfully express your thoughts and feelings.
You may be past the point of asking questions or may not be interested in doing that because this conversation has happened so many times. In that case, let’s move on to plan B: Communicate why this type of talk is problematic and how it makes you feel.
If you want to go this route but just thinking about having the conversation gives you major anxiety, role-playing—even with yourself—is a great tool. Think about a few key talking points and also think about how you will respond to resistance or negative feedback. You don’t have to create perfect replies to touch on all of the things. Keep it concise and to the point, and who knows? This can create a great opportunity for growth on both sides. Here are some phrases that you might try: