New Year, New Look, New…Diet? NOPE!! We know that diets do not work from years of weight science research. They didn’t work 30 years ago, and they certainly won’t work going into 2021 (no matter what name or plan a diet is disguised by…hint hint “lifestyle change”). Even if you know dieting and restricting isn’t for you, there may be people in your life who are still stuck in the diet culture mentality. Because, let’s face it, diet culture is everywhere and it loves to preach that your health outcomes are your responsibility. Not only is health not an individual responsibility but health and wellness is not a moral obligation.
With that said, people can and will still make comments about food, diets, bodies, and exercise. When we engage in dieting (under-nourishing, overexercising, focusing on our physical appearance) our brains become obsessed with what we have deemed “off-limits.” And we need to think about actively adhering to diet rules in an attempt to outsmart our biological cues. But, spoiler alert, this does not happen long term because our bodies are so intelligent.
We know diet talk is sometimes inevitable so this guide is to help you through those tough situations.
For those of us embarking on the journey to heal our relationship with food these comments can be jarring. They can leave us feeling speechless and maybe even angry and frustrated. It can be difficult to come up with a response in the moment, especially when feeling a rush of emotions. Maybe it is also hard to respond because while you have a grasp on food neutrality, gentle nutrition, Intuitive Eating, and HAES, these are concepts some may not be familiar with or are not in the right headspace to learn about. It can be helpful to brainstorm responses to diet culture messaging to say out-loud. And also to think of ways to respond to your inner eating disorder or diet culture voice as well.
Below you’ll find some common comments, outward responses, and internal dialogues to help you navigate diet culture talk.
Diet Talk Scenario 1: Carbs are Evil
Comment: “Carbs are so bad for you. I’ve been avoiding bread and stuff and I’m feeling so good and already down a few pounds!”
Response: There is no such thing as “good” or “bad” foods. Carbs are delicious and provide us with energy and amazing vitamins and minerals. I’m actually going to go grab a snack, would you like to join?
Internal Dialogue: Restricting an entire food group can have negative physical and mental consequences. Carbs provide my brain with glucose so I can think clearly. They help with neurotransmitter production so I’m in a good mood and they have fiber which helps digestion. Carbs are not the enemy, diet culture is.
Diet Talk Scenario 2: Eating past fullness
Comment: Oh gosh I overate! I’m so full I feel gross.
Response: Overeating is a part of normal eating. Let’s try and be compassionate with ourselves and know that the feeling of being this full is temporary. Let’s talk about something else to take our minds off it. Any new quarantine hobbies?
Internal dialogue: When I consistently nourish myself, I will likely come to a set point that makes sense for my body based on genetics. When I restrict, it makes weight gain easier, more apparent and it makes feeling “overly full” more apparent. This is just because I’m used to feeling hungry. Focusing on adequate and consistent nutrition will stop the binge restrict cycle. It will allow my bodies’ weight to settle where it wants to. Also it will help my hunger and fullness cues to normalize!
Diet Talk Scenario 3: Exercising to lose weight
Comment: We definitely need to hit the gym soon. This quarantine weight gain is no joke!
Response: Sometimes gaining weight is a normal response to stress or being a little less active. Nothing is wrong with weight gain and we don’t need to punish ourselves with going to the gym. I’d love to talk about other ways we can take care of our bodies besides exercise.
Internal Dialogue: I can choose to nourish my body and move my body in a way that feels right for me without relying on numbers, social media, or other people telling me what’s best. I know my own body. Practicing intuitive eating and joyful movement is what serves me best. I am sending compassion to those who are still in the diet culture mindset.
Diet Talk Scenario 4: Using food as a reward after restriction
Comment: I’ve been so good this week so as a reward I will definitely let myself have a little bit of ice cream.
Response: You don’t have to earn your food! You can eat ice cream whenever you want and however much of it you want without any conditions. Want to plan an ice cream date for this week?
Internal Dialogue: Restriction is not healthy for me mentally, emotionally, or physically. I don’t want to sacrifice being present in my relationships or pursuing the activities I love because I am fixated on when I can or can’t have certain foods. It is much better for my health to honor my cravings and then go about my life.
Diet Talk Scenario 5: Food is Medicine
Comment: “We know that food is medicine. And you are what you eat.”
Response: There isn’t one specific food or one specific diet that will prevent or cure all diseases. Food is also about pleasure. Being mindful of eating foods that are enjoyable is an important part of my health that I am trying to honor right now. I’d love it if you could support me in that goal”.
Internal Dialogue: A diet filled with a variety of fruits, veggies, grains, fats, and proteins can help prevent certain health problems but can’t replace actual medicine as treatment. A “healthful” diet looks different for everyone and eating foods that you enjoy is good for your body and mind. Putting foods on a pedestal and elevating certain lifestyles or ways of eating makes it seem like health outcomes are reflective of solely dietary intake. But, we know genetics and other factors actually influence health outcomes more.
Diet Talk Scenario 6: Commenting on changing bodies
Comment: “Wow did you see how much weight they gained? They must have let themselves go.” Or “Wow did you see how much weight they lost? They look great”
Response: “I’d really appreciate it if we could stop commenting on other peoples’ bodies from now on.”
Internal Dialogue: Weight does not equal health or worth. The only reason we feel so compelled to comment on body size is pervasive weight stigma and fat-phobia that comes from the weight-loss industry. Don’t forget, this industry desires to keep us stuck in this mindset so they can capitalize off of it. Weight fluctuation is natural. And I have no idea why certain people lose/gain weight, but we cannot tell someone’s health status by looking at them. When someone comments on someone else’s body, it says more about where they are with their relationship with food and their body than about the other person
Diet Talk Scenario 7: Scheduled Eating & Time-Based Restriction
Comment: “I read you really shouldn’t eat past 7pm because your metabolism is slower at night, so you don’t burn off your food”
Response: “I don’t rely on a clock to tell me when to eat, I rely on my hunger cues. It’s great to be able to eat whenever my body tells me to. I use something called the hunger fullness scale sometimes, would you like me to show it to you?”
Internal Dialogue: My metabolism doesn’t shut off at a certain time – my body will be able to digest whatever I eat at any time of day or night. The only reason “night eating” is demonized is because when we eat less than our body wants all day, sometimes we can eat past fullness in the evening but it’s in response to restriction. Honoring my hunger and not restricting, no matter what the clock says, is important in the journey of healing my relationship with food and breaking free from the diet culture mentality.
These scenarios represent a small fraction of the possible remarks you may hear others say. It is hard to have a comeback for the thousands of insensitive, unhelpful, and scientifically unsound comments. But the more you practice standing up for yourself and your views on health the more intuitive these comebacks will feel. It is also important to know that being an anti-diet crusader 100% of the time is probably not feasible. Honoring your state of mind, mood, and energy level on any given day may mean that silence or walking away is the best response to diet culture commentary.
Do what feels right for you in the moment and keep staying true to your values.
If you are looking to start your journey towards recovery this year and don’t know where to start, we are here for you, contact us today. We are accepting new clients and would love to meet with you to provide guidance and support along your eating disorder recovery journey. We provide services in College Park and Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.
I grew up right outside of Washington DC and became interested in nutrition and health at a young age. I went on to study Nutritional Sciences at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY and graduated in the Spring of 2019. I completed the Cornell Dietetic Internship in June of 2020 and recently became a Registered Dietitian. Currently, I am working towards becoming a Family Nurse Practitioner through the accelerated BSN/MSN program at the University of Pennsylvania. I am a Health at Every Size© and Intuitive Eating advocate and look forward to helping you get set up with one of our amazing team members to begin your recovery journey.