Tip Day: Living in a world of diet talk

No, a diet isn't the same as an eating disorder, but there are quite a few overlaps.  The obsession with food, the good food/bad food dichotomy, the talk of weight and the losing of it.  When I was still new in recovery, I found this talk tremendously triggering.  Now, I find it insanely annoying but it doesn't trigger ED thoughts and behaviors.  Here are a few tips I learned for how to cope:

1. Avoid the worst offenders.  I've had great conversations with co-workers, but I've also learned to avoid them in food situations.  Honestly?  I don't care how "bad" you were the other day.  In the name of expediency, I just avoid those people when we had our company lunchtime gatherings.  It might be that you can tolerate diet/body talk most of the time, except when you're feeling vulnerable.  So that might be the time to avoid such offenders.

2. Start a new conversation.  "So how 'bout them Yankees?" might be a bit of a cliche--not to mention super-obvious--but try talking about something besides food and weight if the conversation steers that way.  I like what I call micro-conversations in big groups, that conversation within a conversation.  Ask the person sitting next to you what they thought about something, if they caught the homework assignment, if they know of a good place to get their oil changed.  It's much more subtle than a big shift in the discussion, but it still serves the same purpose.

3. Try to educate.  I confess I don't use this tactic very much.  As open as I am on my blog, virtually none of my former classmates and co-workers knew of my eating disorder.  So getting on a big spiel about the diet/binge connection came too close to "outing" myself.  Not that I didn't disagree or raise a new piece of evidence, but I don't like being preachy.  That being said, every now and again someone says something that basically begs me to interject, and I sometimes do. 

4. Create a Diet-Free Zone.  At my old job, the space was pretty informal.  I had already called attention to myself by protesting the Big Fat Loser contest--the last thing I wanted was a confrontation.  That being said, I refused to engage in conversation about the virtues of diet foods and dieting people.  It was astounding how quickly the talk ceased around me.  I didn't engage, they didn't get their "props," and so they looked elsewhere.

5. Determine who's a lost cause.  Some people can't or won't be educated or shut up.  There's not much you can do about this fact.  They are what they are, and your job isn't to convert the world.  It's to preserve your sanity as much as possible during your recovery.  It's not your fault, and it says nothing about who you are.  Once you realize someone is a lost cause, don't waste any more time and energy on them.  If they ask your opinion, you should still feel free to give it, but otherwise, just let them talk.

6. Acknowledge the green-eyed monster.  Oh, jealousy.  It took me many years to realize that one of the things that most annoyed me when people talked about their diets was the fact that I was insanely jealous.  They got to lose weight.  They got the pats on the back, the feeling of accomplishment.  They got to obsess about food and exercise all the time.  And for them, it was all okay.  Totally sanctioned and encouraged.  Whereas any idle talk of wanting to lose weight that happened to come out of my mouth could practically have convened an emergency meeting of the UN.  It wasn't fair, and it drove me bonkers.  Totally crazy.  Realizing that I was jealous allowed me to put those feelings into context.  Of course I was jealous, just as I would imagine an alcoholic would be driven nuts by the advice to drink a glass of red wine every night, or conversations about getting totally wasted.  Letting myself be jealous and miss the eating disorder--while simultaneously commiting to recovery--was remendously empowering.

As always, if you have any tips to add to the list (or any suggestions for future tip days), please share them in the comments!

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hm said...

I would love to hear what you mean by feeling empowered to acknowledge your jealousy factor. I'm INSANELY jealous. I have a dear friend who I cannot and will not avoid because she IS so dear- who impulsively brings up dieting, over and over and over, in spite of my requests that she not. She's not doing it to be obnoxious- she's just incredibly flighty and impulsive (and delightful too). But I feel like I'm crawling out of my skin with angst when she brings up food- I am SO FREAKING JEALOUS I could claw my own eyes out (hmmm, that'd lose a couple ounces anyway...). But I feel painfully guilty about my jealousy. Why wouldn't I want her to do something that makes her feel better about herself? I feel like a selfish jerk, so I've stopped interrupting her or requesting that she avoid the topic. Instead, I beat myself up for how I feel and have panic about what she's doing that I wish I could do too. How did you use your jealousy efficiently to feel better rather than worse?

Katie said...

hm - have you told your friend, in detail, just how her talking about dieting makes you feel? I mean, she might not forget so quickly if you tell her how much it torments you.

Carrie - I like your tips :) I think I have done most of these at some point! I do tend to slip into educator mode a lot of the time, because I don't mind talking about my eating disorder if it could help someone else. Sometimes if it gets too much I just snap though - I was doing some training with a group of lovely women last year and at lunchtime they kept harping on about how much they all desperately needed to lose weight. After listening to fifteen minutes of "I gained 10lbs over Christmas" "oh that's nothing, I gained 15!" and etc I suddenly came out with "Well I gained 42lbs last year and I certainly don't intend to lose any of them!".

I'm not usually that obnoxious but there wasn't a chance of me ignoring or avoiding them unless I wanted to eat alone in a corner and still be able to hear them, and luckily for me they all thought it was quite funny and started questionning me about my eating disorder, so I got to waffle on about how I could maintain my weight through eating intuitively. Mwahahaaa!

Anonymous said...

Whenever I feel jealous (and I always do when people around me are talking about dieting and counting calories) I tell myself that we want different things and it’s ok. I don’t to lose weight, I don’t want to feel sick, what I really want is to be healthy, and that will make me just as happy as losing weight is making other people happy.

And, as far as I know, people might also get jealous of me not wanting or feeling like I have to diet :)

EmilyH said...

Great advice, Carrie. I'll admit that when I hear others talking about their diets, I am tempted to interrupt and tell them about how diets and our culture's obsession with weight has ruined the past decade of my life. I want to tell them to run from the word "diet" and to be free. I could get very preachy if I allowed myself to...I'm sure we all could.


Lola said...

Hi! I have been reading this this blog for some time but have never posted. "I'm a big fan of your work" ;-)

Seriously, though, this post is SO timely for me. I don't have any advice, but definitely gratitude for discussing this!

hm said...

Katie- I have expressed my struggles clearly. She is one of those very ADHD people who cares deeply about my concerns in the moment, but then a day later forgets again. :/

I think I just have to accept her limitations in that regard.

But what I would like to do is learn how to change my own reaction to it- my internal state of shame and frustration, which then drives me back to my ED behaviors. It's pointless to waste energy trying to control her- I want to figure out how to control me. It seems my ED works on autopilot without my consent, and that is frightening.

If there is a better way- if "jealousy" and the acknowledgement of it can be used to take control of the situation and be healthy rather than to induce shame, anxiety, and relapse- then I want to know it!

Kels Anne said...

I enjoy reading your blog.. and I really like your tips.

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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