Picture this: You’re heading to your favorite trashy restaurant. You have been smiling all day because you are so excited. You get to see your closest friends and you get to order spinach and artichoke dip that is served in a bread bowl.
Let me repeat: Spinach dip. Served. In a BREAD BOWL.
You have just given your drink order when Brenda sighs and closes her menu.
“I’m just gonna be bad and have the bacon cheeseburger. With fries. God, I’m disgusting,” she says.
“Oh my gosh! I was gonna get the same thing!” Says Carol. “I’m a whale.”
“I was gonna do the chicken fingers with ranch and honey mustard. I feel fat just thinking about it.” Mary chimes in, closing her menu.
“Should we maybe all just get salads?” Carol asks.
“No way!” Says Brenda. And for a moment, you think she’s come to her senses, but then she says, “This can be like a last blast. I’m starting Keto on Monday. You guys should do it with me.”
And just like that…the dinner you were so excited for has now been hijacked by self-hate and diet talk. Awesome.
Even when you all order your burgers, and fries, and chicken fingers, and spinach artichoke dip in a bread bowl, it doesn’t taste that great, because every bite comes with a comment about how much your friends will miss this food once they’re doing Keto, but how much healthier it’ll be for them, and how much better they’ll feel, and blah blah blah blah…
And by the time you’ve finished eating (more than you even wanted because everyone was stuffing themselves in preparation for their new diet) You’re feeling so miserable that you think maybe you should try starting Keto Monday, too.
If this scenario rings a bell for you, you’re not alone.
(And by the way, the diet that Brenda suggests doesn’t have to be Keto. It can be paleo. It can be Slim Fast. It can be Intermittent Fasting. It can be whatever. It’s the fact that enjoyment of food and time with friends is severely diminished by fat-phobia that is the issue here)
Women have been conditioned to label foods with a sense of morality: good vs. bad. And with that conditioning has also come the idea that when you eat foods, you take on their moral quality. IE: a virtuous person eats kale, while an immoral person eats cake. And so, in the same way that we’d probably try to make an excuse if our friends saw us killing a newborn bunny (immoral) we make excuses for enjoying our burger and fries. Meaning that it stands to reason that whether we’re asked about it or not, it feels almost necessary to preemptively explain your food choice out of fear of seeming like a “bad” person.
So how do we stop it?
This can be a hard question to answer because, while I would love to tell you, “talk about body positivity IMMEDIATELY!” Sometimes that can be a hard sell to people who are really stuck in an endless loop of dieting. And other clients of mine have, at first, worried that if they start talking endlessly about body positivity, people will think they’re proselytizing (no one will think that, but more on that later)
I have found, though, that being supportive, while sticking to your guns, can be a very effective way of moving the conversation away from weight and onto better topics.
For example, if Brenda is to bring up Keto, you can simply say, “That’s cool! I’m still getting my spinach artichoke dip. I’ve been waiting all day for this!” And then move onto a story about work, or relationships, or tv, or literally ANYTHING ELSE. You are able to affirm that you heard them and be supportive, as well as shift the conversation in a different direction. Simple and kind.
If the conversation turns to body-bashing and Brenda says something like, “I’m such a fat ass. I need to lose weight, like, yesterday.” You can easily (and humorously) get them to zip it by saying: “hey! Don’t be mean to my friend, Brenda!” Generally, reminding someone that they’re actually being a bully (even if it’s too themselves) will help tone down the meanness. Also, it reminds them that they’re your friend and that you love and support them, and that talking badly about themselves is not cool.
Now sometimes, the train can get off the tracks before you have a chance to stop it. And by the time you even realize what’s happening, Brenda, Carol, and Mary are all deciding whether or not to split a grilled chicken salad while pulling at their tummies.
The first thing I want you to do in the situation is simple: take a breath. It can become very overwhelming when you’re stuck in a tornado of body negativity. And your meanie body hate gremlins love these tornados. So if you’re not being mindful you’ll find yourself shouting, “I’ll have ¼ of the salad, too! But only if the dressing is on the side!” without even realizing it.
Once you’ve taken a breath, remind yourself that what is being stated is not factual. This spewing of negative talk is made up of years of being told that thinness = worthiness = lovability. And that “bad foods” make the eaters “bad people.” Your friends are basically trying to prove their goodness through stating how terrible they know they are. It makes no sense, but since the diet industry has made it almost impossible to ingest a single thing without a reason for why we’re doing it, that’s what is happening.
So, you’re breathing, you’re aware that the words being said are not factual, and you’re clear to turn the conversation to something else.
You can still start with kindness: “You guys! Stop saying mean things about my friends Brenda, Carol, and Mary!”
And if you’re feeling courageous: “Well, good luck with Keto! I have said no more to dieting and I feel amazing!”
That generally receives a, “what do you mean?” from at least one other person in the group.
And that’s when you get to tell them that you are focused on changing your mindset not your body and that you’re going to reach health without guilt, shame, or starvation.
To many people this sounds like an impossibility. But it’s not. And the thing is? It becomes an even more tangible reality, the more we’re able to push these stories we have been fed for decades about worth and weight out of our conversations. When we can go to dinner with our friends and have food be, you know, food, and not some barometer for whether or not we’re a lovable human being.
So even if your friends seem shocked, and some of them might, keep going. Tell them that you’ve made the decision to focus on loving yourself. That you’re still going to enjoy exercising. That you’re not going to subsist on only candy and pizza. But you’re striving to live a life of balance. A life that you can be present for, without constantly thinking in terms of the wishful future tense, as in: When I’m X amount of pounds my life will finally begin.
Sure, it can feel scary and preachy to some, I mean, when you’ve been hearing that loving your body as it is is not okay for as long as we have, it can sound insane to say that’s exactly the path you’ve chosen to take. But it’s also incredibly inspiring. And freeing. And if you have found the courage to choose self-love and confidence over waging war against your size, don’t you want to help those closest to you choose that, too?
I mean, sure, you can keep cutting those conversations off at the pass, or you can work to stop them for good. I truly believe that the more we engage with others and share our journey, the more others feel safe and encouraged to take the first step.
And of course, there will be some people, who no matter how hard you try, want to stay spinning on the diet and fitness fad wheel. You know the ones. The ones who give you the side eye when you go to grab seconds at dinner. Who point to the bread on your plate and mention how you might benefit from trying Paleo.
And to those people, I give you one hundred percent permission to disregard all other tools I’ve given you and simply say: I don’t give a fuck about your diet, okay?
Til next time,
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