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How to Handle Fatphobic Food & Body Comments from Family & Friends (& Other Humans)

As we embark upon the holiday season during this challenging (and strange) time in the world, there’s likely to be more exposure to family and friends. And with this, there often (unfortunately) comes fatphobic comments about food and body – fatphobia being the fear and hatred of larger body types.

During the recovery process from diet culture or an eating disorder (and generally speaking), these comments are harmful, unhelpful and can often send an individual into a state of anxiety and worry, leading them to question all the positive things they’re actively doing to heal their relationship with food and their body.

If you’re in recovery, how do you handle these types of comments?

While there are many ways to approach this situation, below are a few ideas to help you stay resilient.
 

Change the subject

When Uncle Joe brings up “how much food he’s eaten” or your cousin starts talking about the latest diet she’s on, now would be a wonderful time to change the subject to something totally different. Some examples:

  • Has anyone seen any good movies? Or television series?
  • How’s work going, Uncle Joe?
  • I just turned in this interesting assignment. Want to hear about it?
  • Let’s play the gratitude game and go around the table sharing what we’re each grateful for.
  • Random but fun question: If you could go to dinner with anyone, alive or dead, who would you choose and why?

 

Use a boundary or need statement

Using boundary and need statements can feel incredibly powerful.

A boundary statement may look something like this:

  • Please don’t speak about food in that way.
  • I’d appreciate it if you didn’t make comments on the size of my body.
  • I don’t participate in diet culture talk. Can we please talk about something else?

 

A need statement looks something like this:

  • I notice when you talk about your body size, I feel anxious. Can you please not make comments on the size of your body or others?
  • When you make comments about food like that, I begin to question my own food choices. Would you be willing to not talk about food in that way?
  • I notice when you make comments about how much food I eat, I don’t want to eat. Can we please talk about other things besides what’s on my plate?

 

To create your own need statement, use this formula:

I notice when {Insert what feels challenging}, I feel {Insert how you feel}. Would you be willing to {Insert your pro-recovery request or need}.

Please keep in mind that family relationships and dynamics are challenging. If you find that you are unable to set a boundary, give yourself a break. This is tough work. Do things that will soothe you.

 

Make space for yourself (and your feelings)

When diet talk comes up, simply leave the room or walk away from the conversation. Take some time to self-soothe with deep breaths, self-compassion statements, or whatever tools you know work for you and come back when you’re ready.
 

Connect with why recovery matters to you

During those challenging moments, connect with your values and why recovery is important to YOU. You may want to recover because you want fewer treatment team visits, so you have less mental chatter and guilt in your head around food, or perhaps so you can have a meal with friends and eat what you really want to eat and be present, instead of preoccupied by food or body thoughts.

There are many different reasons to choose healing and I highly recommend you uncover your own.

Many of my clients have “reasons to recover” lists on their phone so during moments of struggle, they can look at their reasons, connect with what’s really important to them, and find some solace in the moment. You can do this too.
 

Find compassion

Just like you’re struggling with food and body concerns, your family members and friends may be struggling as well. If they’re making hurtful and harmful comments about food and others’ bodies or their own, that’s usually the case.

While knowing this may not make anything less challenging for you, it may help you find compassion for them and, even more important for yourself. If you’ve been surrounded by dieting and fatphobic messages your whole life, of course it makes sense that you would be struggling now. Be gentle with yourself.
 

Surround yourself with pro-recovery resources and community

Surrounding yourself with messages, books, podcasts, people, and social media accounts that support your recovery process can be extremely helpful, and it adds that extra layer of support that’s needed in-between sessions with your team.