Recovering from anorexia nervosa was by far the most difficult thing I’ve ever done.
It was a long road, filled with bumps and relapses and setbacks and total, 180-degree turns. I have faced my demons and been at war with myself.
Thankfully, these days I’m in a great place when it comes to my physical and mental health. I’ve learned the hard way that staying healthy means that I need to commit myself to self-love and body positivity every day so I can fend off the demons that try to beat down the doors.
(And even then, it’s not always enough. That’s the nature of mental illnesses. They can sneak up on you sometimes, even when you’ve been doing everything “right,” and try to torment you all over again.)
As an eating disorder survivor, I know first-hand how tough it can be to stay positive around body image, even at the best of times. So what happens when people around you are obsessed with dieting?
Diet culture is pervasive, but you have plenty of options when choosing how to respond to people perpetuating diet talk. Here, however, I’ll focus on some tactics that you can use to keep a positive perspective.
1. Re-frame the trigger.
Instead of letting someone’s discussion of their diet trigger your own negative thoughts about your body, intercept that internal judgement using thought stopping. Instead, use those moments as opportunities to learn more about diet culture and the ways that it harms us all.
Knowledge is power — and the more you know, the more easily you’ll be able to remind yourself of just how dangerous diet culture is the next time you hear someone recommending their crash diet!
Some good resources to start you off:
- Melissa A. Fabello’s video for Everyday Feminism on how diet culture hurts you and benefits capitalism. Dieting is an $180 billion worldwide industry and one-third of all people who diet end up on the restrictive eating disorder spectrum.
- This study on how almost zero people manage to go from fat to thin and stay thin for any long-term period, due to the way dieting impacts the human body. Long-term weight loss is successful for less than 0.5 percent of people who diet.
- Do the math: two out of 1,000 Weight Watchers customers actually maintain large weight losses permanently. Two out of a thousand.
- 25 big secrets that the diet industry doesn’t want you to know. Remind yourself of these often.
Use the above as a starting point and commit yourself to learning more about how you can help change diet culture from an individual level!
2. See the danger.
Remind yourself that no matter how “healthy” your colleagues tell you that it is to go on an elimination diet and no matter how “suitable for every body” the latest fitness magazine says a craze is, there is no one diet suitable for every single body.
Your body is unique and complex. And unless the person shelling out advice is your doctor or part of your medical team and has an in-depth knowledge of your body, your overall health and your psychological history, they have no right to tell you what you should be putting into your body. Nor can they predict exactly how your specific mind and body will react to their diet prescriptions.
And when you look at some of the little “tips” that diet programs give participants, you’ll see that they’re scarily similar to some of the content that you’d see on pro-Ana (anorexia) or pro-eating disorder sites (example here; may be triggering for those currently struggling with eating disorders).
3. Walk away.
If you’re at work and your colleagues are going on and on about their diet resolutions, excuse yourself to the bathroom and take five minutes to get some distance. Practice some deep breathing and use some grounding techniques to root you back in reality.
If you feel comfortable explaining why you need to walk away, you can do so, but you are not required to justify to anyone why you don’t wish to engage in a particular conversation. That’s your choice, and your choice alone.
If you have a person in your life who repeatedly engages in diet talk or perpetuates behaviors that you feel are damaging to your mental health, you may wish to consider getting some distance from them — perhaps temporarily, or perhaps on a permanent basis.
Your recovery is paramount and although it’s never pleasant to think about potentially limiting your contact with someone in your life, it’s your responsibility to choose the people in your life that will influence your mindset.
4. Talk to someone who gets it.
I know, I know . We’re strong and independent and we can handle ourselves. If we can survive an ED, we can handle anything!
BUT that doesn’t mean that you’re prohibited from reaching out for help. I can’t even begin to describe to you how helpful it is to talk to someone who understands what it’s like to be an ED warrior faced with diet talk. If there’s no one in your life who matches that profile, there are countless support groups on Facebook and around the web where you can connect and chat with others in recovery.
The more you keep those thoughts and triggers just in your head, the more the culture of shame and stigma goes under the radar. It’s so incredibly beneficial to get your thoughts out there to help you process them in a healthy way.
5. Monitor your own response behaviors.
As anyone who is in recovery will know, it’s crucial to keep an eye on your own behavior and know when you’re starting to creep into the danger zone. I recently wrote on Recovery Warriors about the “Safe Zone” model of behavioral monitoring that I use on myself. It can be adapted to suit your specific ED behaviours.
After you’ve been exposed to diet talk, make a mental note of your food, exercise and body image behaviors throughout the day and ask yourself where you fall on the Safety Zone scale. The sooner you’re able to identify disordered thoughts being triggered, the better chance you have of preventing them from blowing out of proportion.
These are tactics that I use myself and that I recommend to women I counsel. Ultimately, there isn’t one sure-fire approach to help keep you feeling sane. It all comes down to personal preferences, your previous experience and your unique brain. Don’t be afraid to try them, put your own personal spin on them or use them as catalysts to come up with your own ideas.
The important thing is that you make a dedicated effort to preparing yourself, so you can have an arsenal of go-to tricks whenever you start to feel diet culture intruding on your recovered life.