We've all been there, haven't we? Just about to bite into something really delicious (or scary!), when somebody says:
"Are you sure about that? I wouldn't eat that!"
The last time that happened to me, I was about to buy a donut at a railway station, and I was quite surprised to hear the words, as I hadn't expected that particular person to take interest in - or issue with, for that matter - what I ate.
The last time this happened to my daughter, who is two (!), was when someone asked her whether, along with her Halloween candy, she would also eat plenty of vegetables to offset the damage.
The last time this happened to one of my clients, her mother inquired whether she wouldn't much rather eat carrots. (I am sharing her story with her permission, of course!)
You get the gist: We're rarely safe from diet culture, sugar fear mongering and carrot advocates, and better come up with helpful strategies around dealing with them.
So, how can we handle these moments?
Let me tell you how the situations above went down one by one…
Strategy #1: Educate By Offering A New Perspective
In the first situation, I felt comfortable enough to say: "It's just sugar. We need sugar for our brains to work. This donut won't have lasting effects on me." Their comment also made me understand how much their own recent life experiences informed their thinking. Losing a parent to illness, as well as being surrounded by women who struggle with their body image clearly implanted the message that certain foods are not safe. Because I had trust in the quality of our relationship, I was able to point out that some of the conclusions we draw that we think are causal are really rather arbitrary and unfounded.
Strategy #2: Pick Your Battles
In the second situation with my daughter, I decided not to say anything, because I am a firm believer in picking your battles. In this particular scenario, I was quite certain that my daughter didn't really understand what the person was asking. I think being able to conserve vital energy by avoiding fruitless arguments is a vital skill. Just because we can speak our mind, we don't always have to.
Strategy #3: Try Something New
The third situation is my favourite of all, because my client managed to set an incredibly boundary for herself. Somehow, in the midst of the moment, she was able to speak up for herself and say to her mother: "I know about carrots. I'm not interested in carrots. I'm trying to heal my relationship with food eating this!" This was a pivotal moment both in my client's relationship with her mother, as she hadn't previously advocated for herself quite this clearly, as well as in our sessions, as the client managed to really put some of the strategies we had mapped out for her to excellent use. We were both so proud!
One of the concepts we had discussed around aligning your speech and actions with your thoughts and feelings revolved around filtered messages. (If you'd rather watch than read, here's a short clip of me explaining that concept.) If we manage to say what we want in a way that can be heard by others, we are well on our way to recovery.
Strategy #4: Read Between The Lines
In any case, it might be helpful to remind ourselves that, most certainly, the statement that person makes says much more about their own relationship with food than us or ours. Quite obviously, they are working through something - fear, feelings of inadequacy, body image concerns - that we are not yet fully aware of. With parents in particular, it can be quite shocking to discover how entrenched they are in diet culture. I had to be 34 years old before I realized that my dad was stepping on the scale daily. I immediately advised him to toss it, of course, and he did concede that upon further reflection, he wasn't quite sure what he was hoping to make of the numbers he saw - other than a perpetual inadequate feeling.
Hopefully this article was helpful to you, and if you would like to talk through strategies personally useful to you, feel free to get in touch at any time, I would love to hear from you!