I’ve said it before and I will say it again, I don’t care about your diet and I do not want to talk to you about it. Like ever. Clear enough for you? Good! It may be your choice to diet and it may be your choice to want to talk about it, but guess what? That does not mean I have to listen. In fact, it is my choice to not listen to you. However, it may not always be possible for me to walk away from or completely ignore the conversation and therefore the person speaking about their diet has to be accountable. This is especially true if any individual has addressed the behaviour as undesirable. In my opinion, and really according to the law, if you ask a person to stop saying something to or about you and they refuse, it is harassment. As the saying goes, a true apology is a change in behaviour.
While I don’t believe that body positivity and dieting are always mutually exclusive, they usually are. However, I do notice that most of the people who want to talk to me about their diet, have no interest in hearing about body positivity or how dieting directly relates to eating disorders. Funny huh? The very people who claim that I must listen to their super boring and triggering diet talk are the same ones who refuse to listen to me talk about topics I care about, like body positivity. Hmmm…. Sounds like a typical response from the privileged party. Basically, this is similar (but not the exact same) to the experience of a woman who works with all men and has to walk past a pornographic calendar in the break room every day. None of the men can figure out why she is so offended by the fact that they see her entire gender as an object. The woman is clearly the oppressed party and her employers have a responsibility to ensure her workplace is free of sexual harassment. I believe this extends to all forms of oppressive comments and behaviours, not just the obvious ones like outright racism and ableism. To be clear if, the person in eating disorder recovery and therefore the oppressed person, does not want to listen to a person’s diet talk, that should be respected. This is especially relevant and true for feminist spaces.
So, I’ve already addressed the fact that diet talk and eating disorders are very tightly connected. In fact, a large number of eating disorders start out as what most people would define as a reasonably healthy diet, you know, a “lifestyle change”. Eventually, it becomes an unhealthy obsession and the individual is stuck in a trap they feel they can never escape. Controlled by a desire to make sure they are “eating clean”. So when you talk about your diet, they may immediately flash back to years of obsessively counting calories in and calories out, monitoring their exercise and choosing good foods over bad foods, if they manage to eat at all. You talk about choosing this over that and they picture the nutritional chart in their head and know the numbers by heart. You talk about making sure to squeeze your workout in on your lunch break and they think about all the times they ran stairs in between class in college, just to burn off the calories from that piece of gum. Quite frankly, if you haven’t experienced it, you can’t truly know, however, that shouldn’t stop you from being a compassionate and caring human being.
Diet culture and talk assume that people of a certain size are automatically unhealthy despite the fact that we have countless athletes who are a testament of the opposite. You cannot tell anything about a person’s health just by looking at them. There are fat people have anorexia and there are thin people who eat nothing but junk and who never work out. Basically, your health concern is not welcome. For many women, myself included, being plus size is healthier than being thin, both physically and in terms of my mental wellness. You also cannot tell why a person is thin or fat, maybe the fat person wants to lose weight but cannot because of PCOS, maybe the thin person wants to gain weight but can’t because of their bulimia. You never know, and quite frankly, even if you do, it is not for you to worry about. You are not a doctor, and even if you are, if your patient didn’t ask for help with their weight, it is still none of your business, in my opinion. But that is why I only work for organizations that believe in client-directed and focused services.
If you are thin and talking about your diet in front of people that are bigger than you, I’m not going to lie, you seem pretty inconsiderate to me. But that is just my opinion and I don’t even know you. Think about your intention and your impact. What the heck do you intend when you do that? Do you think other people care? Do you suddenly consider yourself a dietician and you are offering other people tips on how to eat? Or do you secretly hate fat people and just want to “fix them” by making them as miserable as you are around food choices? Just curious, because I can tell you that your impact is probably to make that person feel very aware of their own body size versus yours. They may or may not be insecure about their size but they will be aware of it during every moment of the conversation. Feeling awkward and perhaps like everyone is looking at them and making assumptions about them. However, this isn’t a new feeling, they didn’t just learn that they are plus size because of your enlightened conversation. Maybe you did, however, trigger their eating disorder and they are going to relapse for a short while as a result. If they wanted to lose weight or to diet, they could do that easily, without your help or if they wanted your help they would ask for it.
All around, diet talk is not beneficial to anyone’s mental health but it is potentially detrimental, so again, I ask, what is your intention? Maybe you are so fat-phobic that you actually feel bad for women like me, who are plus size. But let me tell you, I feel bad for you! I feel awful that you hate your body enough to judge another woman’s. I hate that you are still stuck in the miserable cycle of deprivation that is dieting. I worry about your self-esteem and lack of true body love. I’m sorry that our society has made women feel like being thin matters more than being happy. I hate that you have bought into the beauty myth and that the patriarchy has you convinced it matters what you look like more than who you are. I want so much more for you. But ultimately, I still respect your choice to diet, I just don’t want to hear about it.
One thing the body positivity community and movement teaches you is that loving your body is the best thing you can do for your own mental and physical wellness. When you feel good about your body, you take care of it. When you feel bad about your body, you abuse it. So if your goal is to help other people take care of their body, then start by showing them how to love it, not how to change it. In fact, some people do find that they lose weight by accepting and loving their body, something they were never able to achieve with dieting and hating themselves. I’d like to end with a quote that I absolutely love from The Diet Survivor’s Handbook by Judith Matz, that encourages us all to; “Avoid diet conversations. They are boring, encourage competition among women, and keep you from knowing your true nature and spirit.”