Dealing with Diet Talk

I’ve had several readers ask about how to deal with diet talk – especially its uptick during the holiday season. There is no doubt that whether it’s donuts in the break room from a vendor, an appetizer buffet at a party, or your family holiday dinner, the more food options present themselves the more chances there are for you to be subjected to other people’s triggering talk about exactly what they are and aren’t eating and why.

I think that diet talk is a product both of a culture that insists that women apologize for and/or justify our every action, a diet culture that diet companies have very profitably perpetuated, and the hormonal shifts that occur when someone diets that can lead to them being hungry all the time and perhaps thus unable to shut the freaking hell up about their diet.

Regardless, I don’t know about you but I don’t give a crap why my co-worker is or isn’t eating something, what morality they’ve assigned to that choice or why.  Much the same way that I don’t want to know if the cream that their doctor prescribed is making that rash any better.  Boundaries people, boundaries.  Can you imagine if we talked about every personal decision the way we talk about food choices “I have to poo but I don’t like to do it in public so I’m hoping to make it home before I really have to go.”  Why are you telling me this? What can I do to make you stop?

People can participate in diet talk for a variety of reasons.  Sometimes they do it to reinforce their own behaviors – someone has told them that talking about this out loud will help them stick to their diet, but failed to tell them that it may annoy the ever loving crap out of the people around them.  There are some who do it for approval  – diet talk, pat head, good dieter.  Sometimes people do it out of habit and without any thought at all.  Finally, it’s not your imagination, some people do it as a way to passively aggressively comment on your eating behavior (or their perception of it.)

Our society is screwed up around food and eating, and diet talk is one of the byproducts.  Knowing that, when I deal with this I try to keep in mind that, unless I have reason to believe otherwise, this person probably isn’t trying to be the champion of triggering overshare, even if that’s how I’m hearing it.  Regardless of why people do it, I think that there are four basic choices in how to deal with it:

1.  Ignore It

Just act like it didn’t happen, continue the conversation or start another conversation.

Example:

They say:  No cake for me, I’m being good.

You say:  So I told him that if we don’t get that copier fixed I’m never going to get the shareholders report done in time for the meeting.

2.  Return in kind

Talk about your Health at Every Size/Mindful Eating/Intuitive Eating Practice the way that other people talk about their diets.

Example:

They say:  Do you think there is there any fiber in these brownies, I have to calculate the points.

You say:  Sorry,  I have no idea, I eat based my bodies internal cues and my enjoyment.

3.  Ask them to stop

Let someone know that it’s upsetting to you and ask if they can refrain from doing it.

They say:  Blah blah blah diet blah blah blah

You say:  I’m working on getting to a healthy place around food and that kind of diet talk makes it much harder for me.  Would you mind if we both refrained from talking about our food choices and talked about something else instead?

3.  Snarky (not actually recommended but fun for me to think about)

Example:

They say:  I am starting [insert intentional weight loss attempt name here] and I’m making it my New Year’s Resolution to lose 20 pounds.

You say:  I’m resolving to do something that’s more likely to succeed, like play the lottery.

or
They say:   I can’t eat that, I’m on the [whatever] diet.

You say:  I’m planning to try laser surgery for my toe fungus.  Sorry, I thought that we were over-sharing.

Feel free to leave other ideas in the comments.  If you’re wondering how to deal with people policing your food choices, asking you “do you need to eat that” or giving you unhelpful, unsolicited advice at the holidays check out my first official Ms. Fit column here.  (I’m super excited about this, hence all the linking – may I recommend that you poke around the site – lots of really cool articles.)

Like my blog?  Here’s more of my stuff!

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Published in: on November 15, 2013 at 11:55 am  Comments (53)  

53 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Omg can’t stop laughing over that lottery comment!!!

    • The toe fungus one got me!

  2. Any recommendations for when it’s two or more dieters reinforcing each other?

    • Well, you know how they say exercise is good for you? In this case, I’d recommend running far, far away.

    • (Willow tone) “Bored now.” (Leaves.)

      • Ha! Love that reference and I say that ALL the time, just like that in different situations. lol

        • Me, too! Either that or “Will…to…live…fading…” in a dying voice. But I suppose either of those would be kinda mean. I have a friend who is a chronic dieter, and talks about it all the time. But since I love her, all I do is nod and say, “uh huh,” and then complain to my husband how bored I was. Then HE gets bored, too!

          • To friends I say, “I seriously disagree with you on this topic, so it would be better if we do not go there. Can we talk about something else?” before I get to the geek references.

      • Oh, that’s good. I’ll definitely use it.

  3. you know, I”m new here but you brought up a good point. Since when does not eating cake mean you are ‘good’? And I love your lottery comment.

  4. I’m laughing myself silly…

    …but at the same time, I’m ashamed of myself. I used to be the queen of diet talk. Becoming thin was literally my sole preoccupation 24/7 for fifteen years, something I put off pursuing dreams, hobbies, and promotions at work to focus on. This meant it was all I talked about, too.

    How do you handle not wanting to talk about dieting with friends/family who are used to that being the ONLY thing you want to talk about? I feel like a hypocrite, telling someone else to stop talking about their diet when I spent fifteen years annoying them with mine, and I can’t fault them for giving me calorie and fat tallies when they’re used to me demanding them.

    So far I’ve stuck to the “Return in Kind” advice and explained HAES and why I’ve stopped doing all that.

    • If you’re close with them, maybe explain that now that you’re pursuing HAES, you find the diet talk kind of uncomfortable (or boring or whatever). As long as you remember that they feel this is an acceptable topic of conversation because you made it one, and that retraining their habits will take some time and repeated reminders.

      • Thank you. And I’m sorry, for what it’s worth.

        To balance it out with a nice story, though, this morning at my workplace we managed to get through an entire discussion about holiday baking without a single mention of diets, calories, or “food morality.” It was awesome!

  5. ^Laughing myself silly at the “toe fungus” thing, I feel I should specify. XD

  6. The religious slant:

    They say: “Oh, I can’t possibly eat ……., I’m on (some wacky diet)…

    I say: “St. Francis even allowed himself to eat meat when he was a guest at someone’s table… he realized how inappropriate it was to refuse food of any kind from someone who might be giving him all that they had left. I’m going to act the same way and just be grateful I’m being shared with.”

    snarky comment:

    “What?.. I can’t hear you over the sugar glazed bacon I’m crunching on, let me go wash this down with rum punch and I’ll get back to you later”

    • I didn’t know that about St. Francis. It’s beautiful.

      • I’ve also heard of Buddhists who believe that accepting hospitality trumps commitment to vegetarianism.

        • I know a Rabbi who keeps kosher at home but applies this principle when he is a guest in someone’s home

        • The Buddha supposedly died after eating some bad pork someone had shared with him.

  7. I find myself engaging in that kind of talk… but it’s usually in the nature of defending my food choices, which I shouldn’t feel forced to do.

    As far as responding, though, the best one I’ve ever heard was made by someone else on my behalf. I was at work and getting ready to leave for lunch with a few other people. I overhead one of them say (about me), “How can she eat Mexican food with her blood sugar?” Then I overheard the other one say, “She just eats the meat and vegetables. It’s not that big a deal. Let’s go, I’m hungry.”

    I just loved that someone else agreed that I was bright enough to figure out what to eat and not eat on my own and that it wasn’t a big deal that others needed to worry about. :D

  8. This made me LOL because I used to have a co-worker who used to talk ALLLLL the time about how bad she had to pee and/or poop and how she hoped her husband was not home when she got there because she not only couldn’t poop at work but couldn’t poop at home when her husband was there. And I was always, OMFG TMFI!

    • Her poor bowels. I do hope she sought some professional help with that… and that she never tells me about it.

      • Does it count if I tell you I laughed till I peed?? ;)

        • I love your screen name.

  9. I tend to start off with the ‘just ignore it and it will go away’ approach. If it continues, I do the mild subject change, such as ‘aren’t the party decorations nice’ or ‘how did that presentation go at work?’, something that’s a legitimate change of subject.

    If it still continues and I can’t just walk away, that’s when I loudly say something like ‘how about that local sports franchise?’ to passive aggressive them into realizing I REALLY don’t want to talk about the calorie content of the gravy or the number of carbs in that potato chip.

    Yes, I know it’s passive aggressive, and I know it’s kind of rude, but I refuse to spend every party listening to people prattle on about how they need to lose fifteen pounds because they’re sooooooooo faaaaat or taking an around-the-world guilt trip for even looking at a cookie. Also, I’ve given them two polite chances to realize I have no intention of talking about their diet with them.

    On the other hand, if someone asks me if I know whether there’s a meat base in the vegetable soup because they’re vegetarian or whether I know if the cake contains the nuts they’re allergic to, I’m more than happy to either tell them or help them find the information. I honestly do like to help people who need a little assistance and I honestly do like to make sure people are not going to be made ill or accidentally made to go against their principles by leaping before they look.

    Just don’t corner me to talk about what foods you can’t possibly eat because you have gained three ounces since you graduated high school in 1987.

    • “Around the world guilt trip” That’s great!! May I borrow it?

      • Please, be my guest.

  10. When it comes to New Year’s Resolution, a friend of mine stated once, “I want to gain four kilos, spend more time in front of the TV, and start smoking, if I have the time.”

    I admire his example.

    Usually, I’m evil and just pity people who seem to have no idea what they should talk about if not their diet. “I can’t have that.” “Oh, poor you, that sucks.”

    • I’m pretty good with that one, too. :D

    • Oh, LOL. Give him a high five for me, would you?

    • those are both excellent. My New Year’s resolution is always the only one I ever kept: Not to make a New Years’ resolution!

  11. The irony is that the same people who will tell you what you “shouldn’t” be eating will also complain when you don’t eat it.

    As it happens, I don’t eat cake. It doesn’t agree with me. I feel better if I don’t eat it. If you’re close to me (and are likely to be feeding me again) I’ll explain why, if you’re interested… just to explain what I will or won’t eat, for future reference… but usually I just say no, thank you. (Not – I can’t, or I’m being good, or anything but..;. no, thank you…) And it makes people *nuts*.

    Why won’t you? Just this once! Surely you can try it! (The worst is usually from the “I shouldn’t, but… just this once…” people. I think they feel one-upped if I just say no.)

    I don’t want people to tell me I shouldn’t eat the chips. I don’t want people to tell me I should eat the cake. I don’t want anyone who knows me only casually (or not at all…) to decide that they know better than I do what my body will or will not do well with. I should not be expected to defend my food choices.

    And I’ve known the same people to do both, sometimes in the same meal. How on earth does it matter to them?

    (I have chosen to give my partner the freedom to say “Are you sure” if he thinks I’m off – he sometimes notices something I don’t, and he has to live with the consequences, too. But that is something I have specifically *given* him.)

    • It’s because of cases like this that I always ask people before I feed them for the first time ‘what don’t you eat?’. After all, everyone has something they don’t eat, whether due to allergies, other health issues, religious/moral precepts, or simple dislikes and I want them to not only be able to eat everything put before them, but to enjoy it, too.

      And I don’t need to know why. It’s enough for me to know THAT you don’t eat cake or you avoid gluten or you’re vegetarian. We don’t need to discuss it further.

      If you’re at my table and I offer something and you turn it down, I might ask a second time a bit later if you would like to try it, but that’s as insistent as I’m going to get. I hate it when people urge and urge me to try something I’ve already decided I’d rather not eat, and I won’t do that to my guests. I only ask the second time mostly because of those people who want to feel they’ve been ‘forced’ into breaking their diets or have been raised in a culture where it’s considered polite to turn something down on the first offer so as not to appear greedy. Mostly I assume that people know what they do and don’t want to try, and expect them to have no problem saying yes or no as they please.

      • I ask people what they don’t eat as well before I feed them for the first time, it drives me bonkers when people won’t tell me. I know they are trying to be easy going guests, but just tell me, I know 100s of different recipes, I can accommodate whatever your needs/wants are, but you have to tell me. Instead, I’ve had people say they are fine with whatever, but then complain about the food I serve because they didn’t tell me what they didn’t want.

      • That’s so considerate! Nice to hear :) That’s a good habit to get into.

  12. I’m a fan of the pseudo apology, said with the utmost concern and sincerity: “Oh, dear! I am SOOOO sorry! Somehow, I must’ve said something that has mistakenly led you to the notion that I care about what you think of my food choices! Please accept my deepest apologies. It will not happen again!”

    • That’s even better than what I do. I look at people with a baffled expression and ask “what on earth makes you think it’s okay to discuss my food choices?” If they continue,I suggest we talk about their sex life, or lack of one, instead.

  13. https://medium.com/p/29ea1546e91d

    Food, drink, sex, and consent. Trigger warnings for discussion of consent being ignored.

  14. this should be a subject every day…thats the sad thing. I live for the day it WON’T have to be an issue. Enjoying the comments.

    Thanks for a wonderful blog.

  15. “I want chocolate so much, but it’s not allowed on my diet!”
    “I made jumbo pralines. They don’t have any chocolate.”
    “But that’s not–”
    “Now I’m insulted!” *flounce*

    “… And I’m down 15 pounds, but I’ve really hit a plateau, so I’m going to cut out iced tea and see if that–”
    “Have you ever considered the benefits of kleptomania?”

    “I’m just afraid I’ll end up with skin flaps!”
    *creepy head tilt* “Can I bind a book with them?”

    “How much weight are you going to try to lose?”
    “Uh, how much do you weigh?”

    (OR!)

    “How much weight are you going to try to lose?”
    “Depends. How much do a brain and liver weigh together?”
    “What?”
    “Oh. My glass is empty. Be right back.”

    “Here, try one of my low-cal desserts! You’ll never know they’re not the real thing!”
    “You poor, doomed bastard.”

    TRIGGER WARNING

    “Wow, did you lose weight?”
    “Nah, late-term abortion.”

    /TRIGGER WARNING

    • Excuse my vitriol, btw. It just hit me that I’m digesting some really tough information I came across yesterday regarding some family history. I normally respond to unwanted diet talk with either a very Zen attitude of walking away, or cocking an eyebrow and changing the subject.

  16. Overheard in my office this week between two very thin women:
    “I only lost two pounds, but I feel SO much better! I don’t feel bloated anymore.”
    “It’s so hard around the holidays – but you know, if I want hot chocolate, I just have it but I make it with WATER!”
    My eyes still hurt from rolling them. Wish I could have escaped, but I actually had work to do and couldn’t leave my desk.

    I’m thinking of just investing in ear plugs.

    • I always make my hot choco with water, milk is just nasty. Don’t see how the water is a problem (or diet).

      • If you look at the context of the post, you will see that the intent of the conversation she mentions is to avoid calories in an attempt to lose weight. Hot chocolate is much less rich in flavor when made with water and personally I find it unpalatable. Milk might be nasty to you, but not to others. Underpants Rule and all that.

        • I wasn’t trying to make a general statement, more about me. But most hot chocolate cans are made with some type of creamer or dried milk, so it’s already milky anyway.

          I was more stupified than anything.

          • I usually make hot chocolate with powdered cocoa, sugar, spices, milk and cream. I suspect one *could* make it with water, as cocoa is an emulsifier, and it is the orginal recipe, but so far curiosity has not driven me to try.

            No arguing about taste, but the assumption in the conversation quoted, the way I read it, is that *of course* milk will make for tastier hot chocolate (so much for the taste argument) but one has to make do with a poor substitue for diet’s sake.

            Most diet talk just sounds like a bragging competition to me, “Four Yorkshiremen”-style. “You had *three* slices of cucumber? Well *I* had a glass of lukewarm water!” “Lukewarm? You know how many calories are in heated water, you glutton? I drink my water *iced*!”

    • Now that it’s getting cooler where I live, I’ll be back to having hot chocolate with milk AND Bailey’s :)

  17. Two of my favorites: “Do you really need to eat that?”
    Answer: “Yes.”
    Statement, usually delivered with a wrinkled nose, “That looks so rich.”
    Answer: “Oh, it is. Want some?”

  18. Dying at the poop comment. Too funny, and so true! This was a really helpful article. It’s funny because we hear an uptick in diet talk this time of year (holidays) but then again at new years for resolution and again by march for bikini season…it really never ends, so this will always come in handy.

    I usually either ignore the comments/don’t engage in the conversation, or if it’s a one on one situation and I’m expected to respond I usually try to re-frame the comment in a neutral way.

    Example:

    “Can you believe there are ____ calories in these cookies?!”
    ” Oh yeah. That sounds about average for a cookie.” *shrug*

    To me this is easier in situations I don’t feel like I can be snarky or when I’m uncomfortable sharing my personal viewpoints.

  19. OK, yay, it works!

    Maybe I missed this reference, but what about the people who talk about the diet they are on in order to solicit reason they don’t need to diet? Arrrggghhh.

    Recently, a woman was commenting about how she wished she could eat a baked good someone has brought. She began to tell me that she needed to lose weight for her health… her bones… blah blah blah. I said, “you know there is actually a lot of research that weight loss will not change your health, and many people have osteoarthritis who are thin…” She said, “oh, everyone knows that’s not true.”

    *Sigh*

  20. I love your tips! Diets don’t work. Eating for enjoyment and following internal cues of hunger and satiety make the pleasure of eating much more satisfying :) I am happy to have discovered your blog today!

  21. Just a minute ago, I tried to look up the serving size for an unfamiliar food. The search engine automatically brought up pages of links with the name of the food highlighted, and also the word “calories.” So I tried again, this time searching on “nutrition facts” + the name of the food. And it happened AGAIN! NNNARRRRGHHH!

    I don’t give a fricking frack how many calories are in it, I want to know how much of it people generally like to eat!


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