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How to Protect Your Peace as a Non-Dieter in a Dieting World

As someone who’s long ago left the world of dieting and disordered eating behind, I’m still shocked every time I hear references to dieting. It’s all around me everywhere I go. At the doctor, at work, at the grocery store, at the gym, at home, and on my social media feed. At this point, it’s truly impossible to avoid diet culture. Since it can be so easy to be sucked back into diet culture, especially in the beginning, let’s explore some ways to challenge the culture so you can remain a non-dieter, intuitive eater, and lover of self:

Your Friends at Lunch

Is there anything more annoying than being out to lunch with friends and that one friend keeps making comments about how many calories are in her meal and how she shouldn’t have eaten all of it and is so “bad” for eating extra. Not stimulating mealtime conversation, right? And way to make everyone else feel bad about what they might be eating.

How you can respond:
Feel free to call out that friend if you’re comfortable doing so. “Tina, I notice you said you’re still not hungry and now are going to be ‘bad’ and eat a cookie. I’m wondering if you’re still hungry because you ordered the side salad instead of the burger with fries that you said you really wanted. It sounds like your body is just trying to get what it needs.” Let your close friends know that you’re not okay with diet talk at meals (or ever) and change the subject, if necessary. Also remember to be compassionate with the person, because you remember how it felt to be consumed with diet culture.

Your Co-Worker on a Diet

I have a co-worker on one of my teams who openly flaunts her dieting. Other members of the team will congratulate the dieter, not on weight changes, but on the dieting behaviors. “Susan, it’s amazing you drink *enormous amounts* of water and detox teas daily. I should really do that.” More annoying, still, because no one consults the dietitian (me) in the room on these matters…

How you can respond:
If you respond at all, it’s appropriate to say “Susan, it sounds like you’re really interested in improving your health, that’s great.” You’re commending on her interest to improve her health, not on the behavior. Don’t go into how silly or unsustainable their behaviors are, as the person is likely not willing to hear it at this point. You could suggest alternatives to dieting, “Susan, I notice you keep going on different diets and report no real success and I know how frustrating that can be. You might want to take a look at something called intuitive eating, it really helped me.”

The Trainer at the Gym

Trainers yell all sorts of things during a workout in order to motivate their clients. They yell how you should move faster and push harder to get stronger and quicker. But they also yell how you can get so thin and “torch calories”. No thanks, I go to the gym to get stronger, not smaller and weaker.

How you can respond:
If it’s a 1:1 session, absolutely let your trainer know your goals aren’t for weight loss and that doesn’t motivate you. They’ll adjust their coaching appropriately. In a group fitness class, you could speak with the instructor, but it may feel uncomfortable. Instead, use the so-called motivational phrases in a different way. For example, in a boxing style class in which the instructor was shouting how thin everyone was going to get, I imagined myself bouting with those words and diet culture and that motivated me to punch harder.

The Guy in the Grocery Store

Some days you just need earbuds in while at the grocery store. Everyone is going down the aisles passing judgment on the food items. Some foods are “good” and some are “bad”, and we still eat the bad foods because we like them, but then what does that say about us?

How can you respond:
You may actually have to put in earbuds. Check out my tips for grocery shopping with anxiety; they all apply here. People are just genuinely confused due to the massive amounts of money spent on marketing different foods and different public health campaigns to villainize certain foods. It’s not the consumer’s fault things are so confusing. But still, you don’t need to hear about it every time you’re trying to pick up groceries. Stick with your basic grocery items and don’t read every label on days when it seems especially hard.

At the Doctor’s Office

The doctor’s office is where is goes wrong for so many people. What’s the first thing you do, sometimes before you even put on your paper gown, at a doctor’s visit? You step on the scale.
Then, the doctor or nurses may comment with whether your weight is “good” or “bad”. If you lost weight, you may receive congratulations (“You look so good”). If you gained weight, you may receive empathy (“I know how hard the weight battle can be”) or you may receive reprimanding (“Watch the sweets”).

How you can respond:
If you’re going to the doctor’s office for a sore throat or skinned knee, it’s okay to skip getting weighed. You can report an estimate of your weight for the chart. In this case it’s not clinically important. However, if you’re about to have surgery, take certain medications, or have had unexplained weight loss or gain, then you should get weighed. Step on backwards if you’d prefer not to know the number. Feel free to explain to the staff “I used to really focus on a number as an indicator of health, but now I know there are so many other more valuable markers of health and so I don’t need to know what I weigh”.

Your Social Media Feed

Social media can get a little (a lot) overwhelming. People love to share all sorts of “health” tips or ideas that are circulating the internet and not all of them are true. There may be a new diet which bans all of your favorite foods and it’s not something that would make sense for you to follow, but it might seem really appealing. It’s so easy to get sucked in this way. Plus, other people are posting progress pictures of their weight loss or fitness journeys and you may feel pressured to also have progress in this way.

How you can respond:
No pressure whatsoever to respond to peoples’ progress pictures. If anything, “you look so happy now, I’m so glad you’re feeling good.” Not about the body. Not about the weight change. Not about the diet.
If the same people continue to make you uncomfortable with their diet talk or negative statements, go ahead and unfollow or unfriend these people or hide their content so you can preserve your peace online.

how to protect your peace as a non dieter in a dieting world
How do you protect your peace in a world that is not geared towards those who have seen the light and given up dieting?

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