Tip Day Tuesday: Getting people to STFU about food and calories

A few months ago, I started "tip days," in which I tackled some of my readers' biggest recovery quandaries. It fell by the wayside due to time crunches and that annoying little thing people like to call life.

But a question from a reader resurrected the idea of tip day, and I like the idea of moving it to Tuesday, since Tip Day Tuesday has a much nicer ring to it. Yes, I am that shallow.

The question: My roommates talk about calories and exercise constantly - they even ask me questions like "do you know how many calories are in that?"; this is obviously triggering and generally uncomfortable. How do I live with all this diet talk without taking a dive off the end?

Ah, yes. The small, curious pleasures of recovering from an eating disorder in a culture that quite possibly has more food issues than we ever did. Some people might cultivate their inner advocate and tell people that diets don't work, etc. If that's you, congratulations. You have more chutzpah than me. Especially in these situations, I want to distance myself as quickly and easily as possibly.
There are ways to survive intact--or at least minimize the damage. Here are a few things that I do in these situations.

  • This ain't your drama. It's a simple reframe, and it doesn't always make the situation any easier. At the same time, letting them own their piece (the obsession with calories) and you yours (how the talk makes you feel), can give a better perspective on what's really going on. Looking at it this way, there are really two issues: the outer talk and your inner talk. Just because they're getting sucked into the gigantic cultural drama of don't you know how many calories are in that? doesn't mean that you have to.
  • Change the topic. You don't have to be that subtle about it, either. Ask about homework, if someone noticed the leaky faucet, who forgot to clean the dishes, etc. If they're too self-involved or clueless not to notice that you're not digging the calorie talk, then they probably won't figure out the rapid change of subjects. It does mean you need to be prepared with at least one workable idea, but there's generally something.
  • Cultivate your inner smartass. I realize that you can't always say what's on your mind, but that doesn't mean you can't say it in your head. What I mean is you can answer the question of "Don't you know how many calories are in that?" with "Just a fraction of the calories that I'll burn when I pop you in the jaw." Just, you know, do it quietly. Really quietly. Like, silently. And then enjoy...
  • Answer the question. They're probably not expecting an actual answer, so maybe give them one. You know how many calories you're eating (or at least you have a good guess), and they did ask, after all. I would typically follow that up with "So?" Lastly, you can always say, "My food is my business, okay? I don't comment on what you eat, please return the favor." It probably won't give you major friendship points, but you probably don't want them with these people, anyway.
  • Tell them to STFU. With that last comment, it gives them an idea that this is NOT a cool subject, but it doesn't reveal anything you might want to remain private. I have generally kept this as a last ditch effort, for when everything else has failed.
  • Accept that you might not be able to do much. In fact, accepting you can't control the situation should probably go at the TOP of the list, rather than the end. But I'm lazy and don't want to reformat the list, so here it stays. There's a chance that no amount of "I" statements and feeling talk will get your roommates (or anyone else) to take a hint. In that case, I recommend distance. Distance and headphones.
Do you have a pressing recovery question you'd like me to take a stab at? Email me at carrie@edbites.com, and it just might appear on an upcoming Tip Day.*

*Legal crap: Any questions you send to me will become my property, and I reserve the right to reuse them on my blog and edit for clarity, brevity, and any triggering information. Sending in a question doesn't mean I will be able to answer it on the blog, so don't be worried or offended if it doesn't appear. I won't answer medical questions, and this isn't a substitute for actual, on the ground support. Parents and family members are welcome to submit questions, too.

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Anonymous said...

Love the idea of "tip day Tuesday" and hope it becomes a regular feature!

I know it's a common assumption that people with EDs talk constandly abotu weight and diet, but in my experience, we're way more likely to hide it while the "normal" people won't shut up about it. A few years ago, I shared a thin office wall with two middle-aged, overweight accountants who seemed NEVER to stop talking about how many calories were in their Lean Cuisines or how so-and-so had lost or gained weight. They also enjoyed wandering past my office to ask what I was eating and, inevitably, to follow up with an eyebrow raise and a judgmental comment. It's surprising I never punched one of them in the face...

Kelly said...

I've had that experience, too-- the "normal" people being the ones who wouldn't shut up about calories and weight. It seems like there's just that talk EVERYWHERE and it's so hard to "just ignore it."

hm said...

Agreed w/both above posters- I've been secretly obsessed both with my body and my food, but always too ashamed to ever talk about either out loud. Meanwhile, my friends and sisters never cease to discuss their weight, their self-esteem b/c of their weight, their food, their diets, their exercise... it's constant. And they're the ones w/out the ed. Perhaps that's how you can tell someone w/an ed from someone w/out! Ha!

When I started recovery, I sent out a mass email to the people in my intimate circle explaining my needs in that area- how I couldn't hear their discussion of such matters, including their venting of body insecurities- I told them, "I love you, but you need to talk to someon else about that." If you respectfully tell people who love you what you need, most of the time they will respond well. (If not... do they deserve to be considered "close"?) And now they respond very well to gentle reminders- as slight as turning my head away to avoid the conversation, or as blunt as, "I really can't talk about that" when they forget. I usually get a gasp and a "sorry" and they change the subject.

If a person is not in my close circle, I really couldn't give a shit what they do or don't say, or how they feel about their bodies. And most likely, since I'm not overly social, I won't be standing around talking to them anyway, b/c they're not on my internal "list." Ha!

Jessie said...

Those are really good tips, I think they'll help in the future. Because we all know that those situations will crop up, and the best we can do is diffuse them in a way that hopefully doesn't infuse our ED fire. Keep working towards recovery Carrie, I know you can do it!

Caron said...

Carrie, Good post. This reminds me of all of things that therapists told my daughter to tell the family not to say to her. Although it didn't quite make sense, we tried. Now we know that she has to "deal with the world as it is" and learn to ignore, not take personally, and not let it affect her recovery. Look at the media. Maybe one day I will count the number of times that food and calories are mentioned. How would anyone ever escape that? One thing we don't talk about (only at the right time) is her eating disorder, helping her to not carry that identity with her all the time. She says she now has days that she does not thing about her Anorexia, which is so good. Thank you Carrie.

Heather said...

I had been hoping to respond to this some time ago. I think it's a sad state of affairs when women find some of the only ways to bond is to connect via caloric inquiries and body specific laments.
Thank you for sharing your tips. How I choose to respond to aggravating and often triggering commentary differs on any given day depending on where I am at or what I am feeling. Sometimes I just need to get the heck out of the situation physically, sometimes I put the onus back on them and ask them why they care so much? Stop contributing to the problem of the diet mindset and strive for health and other times I do just say STFU OR answer them. As always, thank you for your voice!!

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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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Have any questions or comments about this blog? Feel free to email me at carrie@edbites.com

nour·ish: (v); to sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to cherish, foster, keep alive; to strengthen, build up, or promote


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