group of friends talking around table, friends and diet talk, 19107

Summer is here, and I cannot even look at myself in the mirror with a bathing suit on. I’m going to start with a juice cleanse this week to kind of just reset my body.”

“My cousin did Keto and lost, like, 15 pounds and swears that she has never felt better. Have you ever tried it? She says she will help me get started.”

Sound familiar? The diet talk and diet walk is running rampant as we close in on the beginning of summer [If we’re being real, it runs rampant at all times of the year for different reasons]: I need to . . . drop just a few pounds, tone up, fit back into my favorite shorts, heal my gut, cleanse toxins out of my system. None of this is new, but hearing your friends [or family members] talking about their “goals” and the diet(s) they’re going to use to achieve these goals can elicit a lot of feelings from someone who is recovering from an eating disorder.

When I Was the One Doing the [Diet] Talking

avocado with tape measure around it, diet talk, 19107

It wasn’t long ago that I was sharing my own favorite “lifestyle changes,” diets, and *tricks* with those who asked. I would enthusiastically explain how I replaced the peanut butter I dip apples into with PB2, white rice with cauliflower rice, spaghetti noodles with spaghetti squash, and my morning latte with a Celsius. I would talk about not eating past a certain time of night and about avoiding almost all “sweets” outside of fruit.  

And it didn’t stop there.

The way I obsessed over working out, “fitness,” and being lean fit right in with the PB2 and cauliflower rice. I was working out twice a day, sometimes three times if you counted my end-of-the-day walk. Work outs and my food choices were always at the forefront of my mind, and were, therefore, present in many conversations I had. I framed it as being health-conscious, making positive lifestyle changes, staying “in shape,” but no matter how you package and present it, my thoughts and behaviors were extreme and were evidence of a worsening eating disorder. Before realizing and then learning more about how my thoughts are behaviors were disordered, I was not aware of how problematic any of this was. And I certainly did not consider how my “diet talk” could be impacting those around me.

The Impact of Diet Talk

Now that I am in recovery for my anorexia, I have a heightened awareness for the way this kind of talk can impact other people. Diet talk can be dangerous, even for those who do not have an eating disorder. Comments promoting restriction and changing your body weight, size, and shape promotes the idea that your worth is tied to your appearance. And that belief is the foundation of a slippery slope of lies about your body, worth, and what it takes to be “healthy,” happy, and fulfilled.

If you’re recovering from an eating disorder yourself, you know that coping with friends or family who are constantly discussing food, working out, and diets can be really triggering and challenging to cope with. Here are some considerations and strategies to help you navigate these interactions and protect your recovery and your relationship.

6 Considerations and Tips for Coping with a Friend’s Diet Talk when Recovering from an Eating Disorder

wood figurine holding a strawberry, friends and diet talk, eating disorder recovery, 19107

1. Redirect the conversation

I find that disengaging from the conversation or changing the subject is a lot easier when the person who’s sporting their new diet is someone I’m not close with because the likelihood of having another conversation like this one with them is low. Disengaging from the conversation may not be as much of a solve if you’re dealing with a close friend or family member’s persistent diet talk. Instead, you may find that gently redirecting the conversation is easier.

When you’re with someone you see frequently, it might be helpful to have a few go-to questions or phrases to steer the conversation away from diet talk without cutting the conversation off and disengaging entirely. You could say, “I’m focusing on different aspects of myself and my health journey right now. How have you been doing outside of your diet?” This can help shift the focus without causing conflict.

2. Be honest

If you want to respond when your friend or relative starts talking about their new diet, being transparent about how you feel about diet talk can be empowering and can help set clear boundaries. Explain to your friend that discussions about dieting are triggering for you. You might say something like, “Hearing about diets is tough for me right now. Can we keep our conversations diet-free?” If this is someone who knows about your eating disorder and recovery journey, you could specify your comment to include that those types of conversations can be triggering for you because of your eating disorder and recovery journey, and that you would really appreciate steering clear of them to help protect your recovery.

3. Share and process with your therapist/team

When I am not quite sure how to respond to a certain comment or conversation, I will often say nothing in that moment and process later with my therapist. This has been helpful for me as I continue to move through my recovery journey. Knowing that I have a safe space to process through why I am feeling triggered affords me the opportunity to be selective with what I respond to and thoughtful in the way I response when I do. Sometimes, no response at all is the most healthy and helpful approach for me.

4.  Be witness to (but not a participant of) the diet talk

One thing I have learned (and continue to learn and relearn)  through recovery is that there are many elements of my recovery journey that are within my control, and there are some things that have the potential to challenge my recovery that are out of my control. One thing I cannot control is the way people around me talk about food, diets, their own bodies, restriction, exercise. Early on in my recovery, I took diet talk very personally; through a lot of therapy and internal work, I have worked hard at decoupling my own experience from the words of others. My friend being on a diet is not a personal attack on my own journey, even though it sometimes feels that way. This has helped me to be present during a conversation and with someone I care about without always feeling personally impacted by their choices.

5. Remember, you do not have to bear the burden of educating someone else

Early in my own recovery journey, I felt triggered by every comment anyone made about body size, food, dieting, restriction, and it compelled me to try to respond to everything with some type of course correction. And while I do think my head and heart were in a space of self-preservation and recovery protection, I ended up always being anxious and on high alert. I was reactive and, consequently, exhausted and often discouraged when people around me persisted with their diet talk and behavior.

I have to remember that it is not my job to educate everyone around me. And while setting boundaries for myself and how I interact with these comments can be helpful, I cannot bear the burden of someone else’s choices. And while there can be opportunities for educating others, taking it upon yourself to do so every time someone mentions a diet may end up leaving you feeling incredibly worn down.

6. Also remember that they are being influenced by “diet culture”

friends talking in the woods, coping with diet talk,  19107

As I mentioned, I used to be fairly reactive and defensive when friends and family members participated in diet talk around me. And while there are certainly situations where drawing a line is appropriate, recognizing that my friend may not be aware of the impact of their comments and actions has helped disarm me a little bit. It can be helpful to understand that they, too, are likely influenced by societal pressures around body image and dieting.

 This isn’t to excuse harmful messaging, but more to contextualize it to help you to not take that comment on yourself. I have done so much work around my own eating disorder that I recognize there is little to no truth in the lies diet culture spreads, so I no longer feel threatened by them. This has helped me to be less bothered and far less influenced by these comments and conversations. I now find that I am able to have compassion for my friends and family who are stuck in these diet cycles instead of feeling personally victimized by them.

Prioritize Recovery in the Presence of Diet Talk

When you have a friend or family member who is always talking about the diets they’re trying, you can protect your own recovery journey through a balance of asserting and maintaining boundaries and separating yourself (even if it’s just mentally) from the conversations that are triggering. Remember to prioritize maintaining your recovery and your well-being, and what it takes to do that in the face of diet talk may look different from one day to the next. Being caught in a constant whirlwind of body and food- focused conversations is no easy task for those of us who are recovering from an eating disorder, but if you are here reading this right now, you have already made strides in your recovery journey, and that’s a big deal. Here’s to continuing to make strides in the presence of all of our friends’ current and upcoming diets. You’ve got this.

By: Erika Muller, Assistant for Wildflower Therapy LLC

All images via Unsplash

How Can Wildflower Therapy in Philadelphia, PA Help You?

If you’re looking for someone to come alongside you to help you unpack and approach the the complex set of experiences and emotions that come with having and healing from an eating disorder, our therapists in Pennsylvania are honored to help!  In fact, you can get to know a little bit more about them here and book a free consultation here.

Other Mental Health Services Provided by Wildflower Therapy, Philadelphia, PA

Life is a unique and sometimes messy journey for each of us; we all have our own individual battles to fight. Our therapists know there is no one-size-fits-all approach to any of life’s challenges and because of that, we offer many unique perspectives and approaches to help meet you where you are with our Philadelphia, PA Therapy services.

We offer services for eating disorder therapy, services for anxiety, and depression, and have practitioners who specialize in perinatal mental health maternal mental healththerapy for college students and athletes. As well as LGBTQIA+ Affirming Therapy. As you can see, we have something to offer just about anyone in our Philadelphia, PA office. Reaching out is often the most difficult step you can take to improve your mental health. We look forward to partnering with you on this journey!