Five Anti-ED Life Changes, Part 1: Equip Yourself to End Diet & Body Talk

It is a new year, and along with it comes a renewed commitment to writing. I could give a few legitimate excuses for not blogging as much as I hoped I would during the fall, but the biggest reason is that I was often not thinking about disordered eating. It turns out that a big part of recovery is needing much less thought space reserved for recovery. Most of the time, I was busy worrying about other things. Normal things, like “What can I do this weekend that will make me seem cooler than I really am?” and “How did my kitchen floor become a lagoon of cat vomit?”

Because this is the classic month of resolution-making, I thought I would share the best changes I’ve made in the direction of recovery. This isn’t an original idea at all, and you can find other examples at Beauty Redefined, or join the hilarious brainstorm Twitter brainstorm, #FeministNewYearResolutions.

My own recommendations are minor and realistic changes, but when I was in the darkest phase of my illness, they seemed like distant, even impossible, goals, so try not to be too discouraged when changes feels difficult at first. Everyone, even those not struggling right now, can benefit from these skills and tools.

Which leads us to #1….Equip Yourself to End Diet and Body Talk!

I think most women, and some men, are aware that negative talk about bodies, weight, exercise, and food is something to avoid, at least in mixed company. We are aware of this because it makes everyone involved feel like shit. However, diet and body talk still finds a way to slither into conversations, and halting it is easier said than done. I say “equip yourself” because the intention to end diet and body talk doesn’t mean much without a set of tools to actually implement change. My own go-to conversation maneuvers are as follows:

The Comeback: The upside of the humorous little jab is that it doesn’t destroy the conversation or make you seem like too much of a progressive feminist killjoy (which you are). The downside is that you have to be clever to pull it off. An example might sound something like this:

Other person: “I have to go for a run today. I feel disgusting. My stomach is like one of those cylindrical Pillsbury biscuit containers after it’s been opened and the greasy biscuit dough has started to expand grotesquely over the edges of the cardboard.”

You: *Pokes other person in the belly*

Other person: “Don’t touch me! I just told you that my stomach feels disgusting!”

You: “It feels normal to me. Also, you didn’t giggle like a good fucking Doughboy should.”

The Derailleur: This one is suitable for the dim-witted as well as the cunning. All you have to do is change the subject. It can be pretty obvious and jarring, but is usually effective.

Other person: “I shouldn’t have one of your cookies. I ate sooooo much over the holidays. Like, seriously, so much. I even ate—“

You: Did you see the new Annie movie? You did? I want to know if Jaime Foxx sings as badly as he did in Dream Girls, but I’m not willing to drop $10 on it. Could you do your best impression of his main vocal parts, please?

The Brutally Honest: This is not so much a technique as a truth-bomb. You just say that the comment makes you uncomfortable. You can even explain why you don’t like it, although that’s up to your discretion—for instance, a good friend is a different beast than your work supervisor. If you’re a better conversationalist than I am, you can suggest a topic change, and leave the awkward moment behind forever.

Other person: “I started going to a new Crossfit gym. Some of the women there are so goddamn ripped. Their body fat percentages have to be be negative or something. Here, let me show you one of the girls’ Facebook page.”

You: “It’s cool that you’re doing a tough exercise routine, but I really don’t want going to the gym to make you feel bad about body, which is awesome the way it is. Can we talk about something else?”

I personally find myself using humor the most, but I also go for “The Brutally Honest” when I’m in the right mood. For the most part, reactions to the honest method are positive. It’s almost always another woman, and she’ll say something like, “Oh, thanks for calling me out. I know I shouldn’t talk like that.” Sometimes it even prompts a serious discussion about body image and eating disorders, but more often we just move on. When I do meet some resistance, it’s someone who feels like I am calling her shallow or unenlightened by rejecting her comments. To that, I clarify, “I’m not calling you shallow. I just know from personal experience that talking about food/bodies/exercise in a negative way is poisonous, and I don’t want either of us to get poisoned!”

danger self talk

You might have caught that all of these examples deal with someone voicing negative self-judgment. So what about when you find yourself talking shit about someone else’s body or eating habits? More on that in an upcoming post about dealing with the F-word: fatphobia.