Today is Day 3 of National Eating Disorder Awareness (NEDA) Week. For me, this week is all about speaking truth, living in freedom, breaking the silence and reflecting on my past. Today we’re diving into:
- How food, weight bias and stigma are discussed in our culture
- Ways to become aware of our own preconceived judgments
- Tips to reducing Diet Culture talk
If were to put out a Nationwide PSA it would say: “Choose your words carefully. Though inadvertently, your words can reinforce diet-culture, the thin-ideal, and negative stereotypes around weight.” This post isn’t meant to put anyone down, it’s meant to be thought provoking and bring awareness to the harmful impact of seemingly innocent, culturally accepted phrases we hear, see, and speak everyday.
Words can be even more triggering than actual food. Remember – EDs, Disordered Eating, or even stress-fueled mindless snacking, are rarely about food or weight.
Have you ever been at a family gathering, happy hour, or social setting; and someone starts talking about their eating habits? How much “weight they’ve gained from last night’s indulgence“? The latest food they’ve eliminated from their diet? Or told you you’re looking “skinnier today” in a complementary tone?
I am easily thrown off balance when I hear these comments. I get visibly uncomfortable; a twitch in my neck, a knot in my stomach, an irritating pounding in my head. A comment as small as “you look healthy” quickly turns into feelings of insecurity. I took peoples seemingly innocent comments as ammunition against myself and my recovery; which fueled my own negative behaviors.
I should also mention, these conversations are virtually impossible to eliminate. It’s embedded in our culture. However, we can re-frame the conversation and put less of a focus on these topics.
Below are example conversations that I run into the most. These topics perpetuate the stigmas we have toward our own eating habits. I’m going to call the speaker “Jane.”
- Talking About Weight: “I feel so fat today.” To someone in recovery, Jane talking about weight gives off the perception that weight matters to her. Whether she was intending to or not, it creates an atmosphere of judgement and others may fear that Jane’s comments could be said about them in another setting.
- Weight Stereotyping & Stigmatization (assumptions and judgements about an individuals personal character/values/lifestyle/professional success, based solely on their weight): “She must be lazy, sloppy, and unmotivated because she is overweight.” Jane judging someone’s worth based on their size is implying that her feelings for me would change with my size. A person’s size does not equal their disposition or worth. Two totally independent variables.
- Preaching Eating Habits: “I stopped eating daily, red meat, and gluten and lost 4 pounds” I’m pretty sure everyone is exhausted of this topic by now. Jane talking about her new found diet is only triggering, shaming, and comes off as ego-centric.
- Food Policing: “Are you really going to eat that?” The media has provoked the normalization that a person’s choice of food is a public matter. It’s not.
- Labeling Food: “Yogurt is bad because it has dairy in it”
- Food Guilt (negative feelings toward yourself about your food choices): “I feel so guilty about having a cupcake last night.” Food Guilt is something that when talked about out loud, not only can negatively affect others around you, but get transferred into negative feeling about yourself.
My biggest tip would be to watch your words. Not all wounds are so obvious. Walk gently into the lives of others. Never comment on a persons appearance, even if there is love and kindness behind the words. Instead, compliment their personality and abilities. Keep your food choices to yourself. The choices you make around food are not a reflection of who you are as a person, as much as the media tries to convince us we need to “eat clean” to reach the cultural standard of beauty.
If you’re the person on the other side of the conversation and are being suddenly confronted with unsolicited advice; I suggest changing the topic, exiting the conversation, or kindly telling this person that you don’t wish to discuss this topic.
Since I’ve started practicing listening to my own thoughts and not the thoughts that have been branded and programmed into me by others, my life has been so much more enjoyable. This will only get easier when others realize the power of words.