I recently got an excellent question from Beth:
“This has been a really interesting and thought-provoking series of posts. One question I was reflecting on recently: if I observe a person in my life perhaps going down the consumed-by-diet-culture path, is there anything helpful I can do or say? I suppose every story and person is different but I would like to have some thoughtful phrases in mind if I’m in a conversation that could maybe use some redirecting to healthy ideas.”
It gave me pause and I had to think about it for a bit.
When I think back to my own journey, I have so many mixed feelings. I do think, like I’ve said before, that it started out the “right” way. It was healthy. What I was doing before was assuredly NOT healthy. I got so much praise and accolades for losing weight, too. It was encouraging. It meant I was doing something “right.”
It took awhile for my habits to change into something unhealthy. And I don’t think anyone in my life, besides maybe Michael who lived with me and saw it every day, would have guessed that I was struggling with restrictive/disordered eating and obsessive exercise. In their minds I was just “staying healthy” and “had amazing willpower” and I was the “5% that lost the weight and kept it off!”
To be honest, this blog and my Instagram/Twitter are probably the only places I really discuss the revelations I had and the healing I’ve started to do. While when I was losing the weight and kept it off I was almost evangelical about food and fitness, now that I am changing my thinking around it it’s not a topic that comes up a lot in daily life.
Now that my eyes have been opened to my own disordered habits and behaviors, I definitely see it in others and in social media. It made me step away from a lot of bloggers and fitness people I used to follow. I had to unfollow all of the low carb/keto/whole30 etc people I followed on IG.
Funnily enough, I see a lot of the behaviors in my family. I won’t go into specifics because it’s not my place to share. But certain family members have joined the tracking every calorie/restricting food/not eating a lot of carbs lifestyle. It can be very triggering for me because it’s reminding me of what I did for so long. When I was on vacation with my parents recently and the topic of calories came up with my dad, I mentioned that for over 10 years I was eating around 1400 calories a day. His eyes bugged out of his head and he was shocked. Yep. That’s not very much. Plus factor in the rigid exercise schedule I was doing.
The discussion didn’t evolve from there, we changed topics. But to answer Beth’s question…what does someone say?
First, if it’s just that they are obsessively talking about being “fat” or needing to lose weight, or the new diet they are on, etc etc…it’s ok to say that you would rather talk about other things. Explain what toxic diet culture is like and that it’s not something you want in your life.
Second, know the signs. And they are sneaky. For example, the stereotype of anorexia is someone ghostly thin who never eats. That’s actually not a huge percentage of anorexic people. A lot of anorexic people are in larger bodies, but do the same behaviors.
Talk to them. Tell them your observations (in a non-judgmental way). “I’ve noticed ______.”
Say something along the lines of “I love you/I care about you and I’m here to listen and help.”
“It’s ok to take a rest day.”
“I am here for you if you need to talk.”
“You are worth more than your eating disorder.”
That last one was something my therapist said to me and it was earth shattering. It made me think about all of the things I’ve been telling myself was important (exercise, food) wasn’t the most interesting/important thing about me.
They may not want or be ready for help. I know for me, I was secure in what I was doing was healthy. Even though my hair was falling out and I was tired all the time. Perhaps if someone had mentioned to me that those weren’t normal things and might be a sign I wasn’t eating enough, it would have planted the seed.
Suggest activities that don’t revolve around food or fitness. A spa day. A painting/art class. A weekend away doing touristy things. A book club. If you and your friend are running buddies, suggest maybe walking or easy hiking instead?
I guess the bottom line is, the person needs to be ready to hear your concerns. Confrontations or judgments aren’t going to do that–they will shut down or get defensive. So maybe it’s just telling them you care and planting the seed for them to think about it on their own.
If any readers have advice or experiences to share, I’d love to hear it!