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.
*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.