A scenario that a lot of us are familiar with, you’re sitting down enjoying a coffee with friends, a snack at work or lunch at school. There’s idle chit chat about summer holidays and who’s doing what this weekend, then seemingly, out of no where, the conversation takes a turn:
‘I feel fat’
‘I’m so bloated’
‘I need to loose X amount before my holiday’
‘I’m starting *latest fad diet*’
‘I did *an amount* of exercise this morning so I’ve earnt this treat’
‘I’ll never be as skinny/toned as her/him’
Women (and men) are supporting and building their friends up but in the same breath, tearing themselves down.
‘Oh sweetie, don’t be silly, you look amazing! It’s me that needs to lay off all the treats if I ever want to loose weight.’
It’s a topic that’s been dancing around my mind for weeks and I must admit, it’s left me feeling quite vulnerable to triggers. When I listen to my friends discussing how little they’ve eaten or how ‘good’ they’ve been I feel a knot forming in my stomach. Doubts have begun seeping into my mind in regards of my recovery;
Am I doing the right thing? Everyone else seems to be watching what they eat and exercising a lot, should I be doing the same? Are people judging my choices? People have said I’m brave and strong but are they just thinking that I’ve lost my discipline?
Of course I know/hope that these thoughts aren’t true, but it becomes all too easy to turn your back on recovery and run back into the arms of your disorder.
I believe that there is a fine line between ‘dieting’ and disordered behaviours, not necessarily an eating disorder, but choices that aren’t healthy and this is becoming SO Normalised.
Girls starving themselves during the day because they’ve got a night out on the town and don’t want to look bloated.
People eating as little as possible because they over ate the day before.
Juice cleanses, detoxes, it’s never ending and because a large part of society entertains these ideas we all start to buy into it.
In my mind, all of this screams unhealthy. Is it right to deprive your body of nutrients because you indulged yesterday? Is it right to put you health (both physical and mental) at risk for the sake of looking thinner or smaller? I think not.
An unspoken competition begins among friends, diets start, exercise regimes get amped up and envy gets the better of us. We must be the thinnest, the most tonned, the most beautiful and if we don’t like what we see in the mirror then we’ve failed. We stop enjoying evenings out because we think we’re not good enough, brunch dates become filled with anxiety and having treats becomes a thing of the past. Comparison haunts us at every turn.
But the thing is, you can’t hold your friends responsible for this way of thinking. It’s just what we’ve all been brought up to believe, we’ve been made to think that if we’re not perfectly sculpted, that if we have fat or wobbly bits we are not beautiful, sexy or desirable.
This then poses the question; how do we deal with and dismantle diet talk?
My normal approach is to just brush it away. ‘Don’t be silly, you’re beautiful.’ But I’ve now reached the conclusion that it makes no difference. It doesn’t help people to understand that all their fears around weight gain and appearance are products of myths and unrealistic beauty standards. It doesn’t suddenly erase all the years of diet culture and self doubt that we’ve all been subject to.
So what can we do instead of getting angry and frustrated?
I guess, first of all would be taking the time to educate them. Tell them why carbs and fats aren’t bad for you. Explain why starving for a night out won’t work. Try and help them to see that being ‘good’ before holiday isn’t needed. That ‘good’ and ‘bad terminology for food is something we should stop, because good does not determine your worth, just like a scale can not define you, it’s simply the impact you have on gravity.
Secondly, if you find the situation to be too overwhelming and detrimental to your recovery/mental health, then remember you are not obliged to stay (even if you are with friends). You have every right to leave the conversation or simply say that you don’t feel comfortable with the topic and for that reason you’re going to pop out for 5 minutes. You are entitled to feel safe and comfortable.
Lastly, I think something that should be realised, is that not everyone will want to listen and that’s okay. People will still hold on to diets and myths and thats something I really struggle to accept, I now understand that it doesn’t mean we have to jump on the diet bandwagon with them, we can keep educating people and ensure that we don’t fall back into disordered behaviours.
Doubts will occur (there’s no doubt about that!) especially for someone who is recovering from an eating disorder. If those doubts get too loud or recovery seems to be slipping away from you, please please reach out for help. Remember asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it just means that you need a little bit extra love and care.
Credit to the artist: meandmyart (instagram)