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6 tips for redirecting and deflecting discussions about weight and diet

We live in a culture in which diet culture is extremely pervasive. We talk about what, when, where, why, and how we eat or don’t eat, as well as weight, and our bodies. Not to mention how exercise or movement permeates our everyday conversations with friends, partners, co-workers, family members, and even strangers. Whether you’re in recovery from an eating disorder or are simply trying to embrace body positivity or body neutrality, dealing with conversations related to weight, dieting, appearance, and physical activity can feel stressful and isolating–not to mention actually harmful to your well-being.

Unfortunately, there’s no foolproof way to avoid these discussions altogether, or a proper way for how to talk about eating disorders, like bulimia nervosa, as needs can vary person to person. But there are several strategies you can use to redirect or divert weight-related conversations. 

6
 minutes read
Last updated on 
August 23, 2023
6 tips for redirecting and deflecting discussions about weight and diet
In this article

1. Set boundaries related to what you are comfortable talking about 

Setting boundaries may be challenging at first, especially if you aren’t used to being that direct with people. But it can set you up for success in future conversations with those you care about. 

Examples of some boundaries you can set include:

  • I don’t want to talk about diets or weight when we hang out.
  • Talking about diets and losing weight is really triggering to me—can you please avoid talking to me about them?
  • I’m working on embracing body positivity/neutrality right now and talking about weight, physical appearance, and body size isn’t helpful for me.

It may take some practice before you’re able to firmly assert yourself with someone. But it gets easier over time the more you do it. You’ll be happy you did once that person avoids these types of harmful and triggering comments in the future. And if they continue to cross your boundaries, then you may want to consider distancing yourself from them, or surrounding yourself with people who are more respectful of your needs.

2. Change the subject

If you aren’t ready to set a firm boundary yet, but you want to divert the weight or diet-related conversation, you can always change the subject. This might feel awkward at first, but like boundary-setting, it's a great skill you can get better at over time. 

When examining how to talk about eating disorders, know that you have every right to not talk about your eating, weight, or body, or those topics in general, and can choose who you let in, and how much you let them in. This can change moment to moment, and day to day, depending on who makes you feel safe or your own energy levels around the topic. 

If you find a natural transition point for the conversation, that’s great. If not, you can always force the topic change by asking a question, sharing news, or saying, “anyway, I’ve been hoping to talk to you about…” 

Sometimes changing the subject can feel intimidating. In those cases, you might just want to temporarily separate yourself from the conversation by excusing yourself to go to the bathroom. When you return, you may find the subject has already been changed or you can bring up something new.

3. Set an example by talking about yourself kindly

Although this strategy may be less direct, it could ultimately teach your loved one to be kinder to themself in the long run.

Set an example by discussing your approach to intuitive eating, mindful eating, body neutrality or positivity, joyful movement, and Health At Every Size® (HAES®). Share how you’re not into talking negatively about your body, what you eat, and how you move your body anymore. Or how you’ve shifted your focus away from how you look to how you feel. And that you engage in activities and practices that make you feel good. And how much better you feel about yourself and in general, as a result. 

Simply introducing these ideas can communicate to someone that you don’t advocate diet culture, fatphobia, or weight stigma. They may be less likely to discuss weight-loss strategies or fad diets in your presence moving forward. They may also become interested in these approaches, which could open the door for future positive and productive conversations. 

Unfortunately, you will find that some people won’t pick up on your cues and will continue to talk about stigmatizing topics, even when you’re doing everything in your power to steer the conversation to healthier topics. If your friend or family member doesn’t change their behavior, you may have to be more direct and set boundaries with them.

4. Gently challenge their false beliefs around body image, weight, and dieting

Sometimes there is an opening in the conversation to challenge your loved one’s false beliefs about body image, weight, and dieting. You don’t have to go this route, as it can be mentally and emotionally exhausting to educate others constantly. But it is an option if you think it’ll be productive or helpful.

For example, if someone at a dinner party makes a comment labeling a dessert as “bad,” you could ask them why they think it’s bad or why they’ve labeled some food as “good” and some as “bad”. You could also point out that nothing is inherently bad about it and that there’s nothing wrong with eating something that tastes delicious. This might open up the conversation for further discussions about the moralization of food and how harmful they can be for everyone to navigate.

This tip might be best used on a case-by-case basis, making sure to check in with yourself and your emotional capacity at the moment. There are certain people in your life who you know may be beyond this type of confrontation, while others may be open to a productive conversation about diet culture.

5. Talk about what works or doesn’t work for you

If you aren’t necessarily wanting to challenge a loved one’s beliefs, you could choose to center yourself and your experiences when replying to harmful comments. For example, if a loved one comments on how much you’re eating, you could explain that you used to limit how much you ate, but you found that it made you obsessive about food and was harmful for your mental health. You could then go one to explain that you now take an intuitive eating approach to food consumption, perhaps introducing the idea and explaining how it works well for you. Your loved one can’t argue with what works for you, and even if they try to, you can shrug them off, excuse yourself, or set a hard boundary.

6. Create a supportive, anti-diet community

A strong and positive support system is essential for everyone, but especially for those in eating disorder recovery. Without adequate support from anti-diet, body-positive people, recovery can feel isolating and even scary at times. 

Surrounding yourself with like-minded people who embrace your attitudes, beliefs, and approaches can help prevent relapse, promote social and emotional well-being, and remind you how far you’ve come on your journey. 

Not only is it beneficial to create a supportive community offline, but online as well. Stop following harmful social media accounts, such as fitness influencers or TikTokers promoting disordered eating behaviors. Instead, follow body-positive and body-neutral accounts and join any online communities you may be interested in.

The more you surround yourself with anti-diet people who reject our culture’s harmful attitudes, the less likely you are to be influenced by weight-related talk when it does happen to come up in conversation.

Disclaimer about "overeating": Within Health hesitatingly uses the word "overeating" because it is the term currently associated with this condition in society, however, we believe it inherently overlooks the various psychological aspects of this condition which are often interconnected with internalized diet culture, and a restrictive mindset about food. For the remainder of this piece, we will therefore be putting "overeating" in quotations to recognize that the diagnosis itself pathologizes behavior that is potentially hardwired and adaptive to a restrictive mindset.

Disclaimer about weight loss drugs: Within does not endorse the use of any weight loss drug or behavior and seeks to provide education on the insidious nature of diet culture. We understand the complex nature of disordered eating and eating disorders and strongly encourage anyone engaging in these behaviors to reach out for help as soon as possible. No statement should be taken as healthcare advice. All healthcare decisions should be made with your individual healthcare provider.

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