How to respond when family and friends engage in diet talk around you and stay in your lane
When we open our eyes to diet culture, we may start noticing it embedded into many different nuances of life – whether in advertising, media or even talk amongst peers.
Since you are reading this, you may probably be aware of why diets don’t work. but how do we approach and respond to diet talk at home, in the office or out with friends? Read on for our top tips to respond to diet talk, giving examples of some typical phrases you may hear and how you can challenge or approach these.
You don’t have to use these phrases to respond to people if you don’t want to, but they may be a positive way to encourage more appreciative and valuable discussions about food in the environment you’re in. Alternatively, they can act as good internal reminders to avoid falling into the many (sometimes well-disguised) traps of diet culture.
‘I’m being naughty and having a biscuit! I will regret this later…’
‘A biscuit can be a great source of carbohydrates, B vitamins, and energy. It makes up part of a nourishing, satisfying diet. Sounds pretty good!’
Remember, every food has its value, place, and purpose in your diet. When you start to eat intuitively, you will realise your body is excellent at telling you what it needs. Low on energy and need a sugar boost? Maybe a biscuit is an ideal snack for it! Read more in our post on how to read food labels for empowerment.
‘Junk food is so bad for you!’
‘Not all food is equally nutrient-dense, but all foods provide nutrition and additionally may bring emotional comfort and satisfaction. Therefore, I find it more helpful and refreshing to begin to view all foods as neutral rather than labelling them as good and bad, or healthy and unhealthy.’
This answer helps to acknowledge that whilst all food may not be packed with essential nutrients, they still serve a purpose in being eaten and enjoyed. Therefore, putting certain ingredients or snacks on pedestals is not conducive to a healthy relationship with food.
‘Carbs are evil! I’m not eating them anymore!’
‘Cutting out a food group can lead to increased anxiety and guilt around food, and possibly increased bingeing too! (1) In fact, carbohydrates are a great source of energy and feel extremely comforting for my body! Meals wouldn’t feel the same without them. What carb foods do you enjoy most?’
Food comments can be challenging to deal with, especially when directed at you. Again, helping to reinforce that no food is necessarily ‘evil’ or even ‘pure’ can be relieving for others to hear. Inviting someone to enjoy or discuss foods they may crave can feel freeing and lets them know that they aren’t alone in enjoying comforting or fun foods from time to time.
‘I can’t have a day off or a cheat day. I’ll lose ALL of my progress.’
‘We are only human, and days off are perfectly ok. We wouldn’t drive a car with no fuel, or be frustrated at a battery for running out of charge, so why would we expect our bodies to function differently? Your body is capable of achieving so many amazing things and days and time off are a part of the process! Why don’t we have a “do nothing” day this week?’
We hear this one all of the time – and it is often linked to our fitness, activity, and career, besides from food. Remember, every day is different, life is imperfect, and you are absolutely worthy of days off.
Learn about moving more mindfully and enjoying what activity you do, rather than something that might feel forced. Time off will certainly enable you to reflect and function better in the long term, so listen to your body and take what you need.
‘Skinny people look and feel so much healthier.’
‘The evidence actually shows the opposite, and that fat can be protective of cardiovascular diseases. (2) Health is not heavily determined by weight, and people can experience disordered eating and a negative body image at any size.’
Remember that when it comes to overall health, many factors besides weight play a much more significant role.
This is including and is not limited to: mental wellbeing, stress levels, mindfulness, our work, social and living environments, income and job, financial status, gender, race, education level, and so on. (3)
We also can remind ourselves that whilst thin privilege does exist, people in smaller bodies are not ‘immune’ to insecurities and self-doubt.
We wanted to let you know that we believe you are seriously impressive for opening your eyes to diet culture and challenging the deep-rooted beliefs of our society. Keep up all of the amazing work and rule-unpacking you are doing!
If you found this article helpful, look out for a part two soon!
Priya Chotai, BSc ANutr
EHL Team x
- Spear B. Does Dieting Increase the Risk for Obesity and Eating Disorders?. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2006;106(4):523-525.
- Hansel, B, Roussel, R, Elbez, Y, et al., Cardiovascular Risk in Relation to Body Mass Index and Use of Evidence-Based Preventive Medications in Patients With or at Risk of Atherothrombosis. Eur Heart J 2015;Aug 4
- Irwin A, Valentine N, Brown C, Loewenson R, Solar O, Brown H, Koller T, Vega J. The commission on social determinants of health: tackling the social roots of health inequities. PLoS Med. 2006 May;3(6):e106. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0030106. PMID: 16681414; PMCID: PMC1459479.