For fat people and those with eating disorders, diet talk isn’t as benign as it may seem. Here are some ways to respond to it.
Diet talk is everywhere.
Co-workers talk freely about how much weight they feel they need to lose. Family members recommend diets. Tech bros talk about “biohacking” through intermittent fasting. Everyone, it seems, is trying to lose weight, and wants to shout their methods from the rooftops.
As a fat person, though, all that diet talk is far from benign. It can sting to listen to loved ones and acquaintances alike talk about how far they’ll go to avoid looking like me. It sends a powerful message about how they think of bodies, and the nightmare they consider a body like mine. It’s a hurt I’m expected to swallow, time and time again, lest I rock the boat with the unreasonable demand that they not bemoan my body — my home — in my presence.
But the harm of diet talk isn’t just an insult — it can also directly harm our health. One in four people who diet will develop an eating disorder as a result. (Yes, that includes “lifestyle changes.”) Teens who heavily restrict their eating are 18 times more likely to develop an eating disorder. Diet talk can both normalize eating disorders and help initiate them.
For those of us with histories of eating disorders, diet talk isn’t just small talk — it can directly, immediately harm our physical and mental health. Even for those of us who haven’t struggled with eating disorders, so-called “fat talk” has been shown to be contagious, and has been linked with low self esteem, worsened body image, and a decrease in healthy behaviors.
Putting an end to diet talk
Whether you’re a fat person, a person with a history of disordered eating, or just someone who wants to stem the tide of diet talk to help those around you, it can be hard to find a rejoinder to put a stop to this ubiquitous (and, frankly, boring) phenomenon. So here’s a list of possible ways to intervene. The following responses range from sincere and supportive to caustic and sarcastic, depending on your style and the situation:
- “Please don’t talk about diets (or carb counting, or food policing) with me.”
- “Can we talk about something else?”
- “I’m so sorry you feel that way about yourself.”
- “I want to spend my time with you discussing more important things.”
- “This topic is hard for a lot of people, so I try not to talk about it.”
- “I don’t really want to hear everything you’re doing to avoid looking like me.”
- “This isn’t an appropriate topic for the workplace.” (Or for dinnertime, or Thanksgiving, or…)
- “Food is such a joy! What’s your favorite thing to eat?” (When others express guilt around eating “bad” foods.)
- “I’ve had problems with disordered eating in the past, and I don’t want to talk about diets.” Alternatively: “This is a trigger of my eating disorder. Can we talk about something else?”
- “What’s wrong with being fat?”
- “I’m not interested in having this conversation.”
- “I don’t talk about diets or weight loss.”
- “Life’s too short to get so anxious over one meal.”
- “I support you, but I don’t need to hear about your diet.”
- “I’ve been working really hard at accepting my body, and this feels like a setback. Let’s talk about something else.”
- “How many diets have you been on? How many led to the long-term results you were hoping for?”
- “You are so much more interesting than this conversation. What have you been reading lately?”
- “I don’t make rules about food.”
- “Diet talk reminds me of high school.”
- “I don’t participate in food shaming.”
- “No more diet talk.” (Repeat as necessary.)
- Laugh as if they made a joke.
- “I’m on a diet from diets.”
- “If you think you’re too fat, wait til you see me!”
- Start a diet talk jar — like a swear jar — so everyone puts in $1 for every time they express hatred of their own body or participate in diet talk.
- Change the subject.
- Walk away.