Six Ways to Set Boundaries

Boundaries around diet talk are essential for healing.

Many of us don’t want to create these necessary boundaries because we don’t want to be seen as “weak” or sensitive. These are considered bad things…that we can’t just “deal with” what other people have to say.

First of all, part of this work has to do with forgetting what other people think of you. It’s irrelevant. You’re the one who has to live with you, not them. They have to live with themselves and you have to live with you. Caring about other people only serves to perpetuate their messages in our own lives. We need to move away from other people’s messages and concentrate on our own.

So boundaries are important.

Because if we keep hearing diet culture’s messages, we can never stop believing them.We never stop believing that they are fact. And so we keep following them. We need consistent repetition of new messages to create neural pathways so if we don’t put boundaries around those messages and the things and people that perpetuate them, we stay stuck in our recovery.

Who in your life do you need to create boundaries around?

How much do you want to bet that you’re thinking about the people closest to you?

And what’s most difficult, knowing that those are the people who need the most boundaries. They are close to you, they love you, and therefore, they believe they have the right to say whatever they want to you if they believe it’s in your best interest. But we know they’re usually just as steeped in diet culture as anyone else. And they will be the people who take boundaries the least. They may protest, they may tease you, they may blow you off because they only know you how they’ve always known you, as past you, not future bad ass you. so it’s hard for them to adjust.

But luckily, I’m here to teach you a few ways to help with that.

Here are six ways to set boundaries around diet talk.

Write down conversational triggers/ what you’re not willing to tolerate✨

How do you feel about compliments regarding certain body parts? Your weight? How do you feel about conversations that include numbers? Is discussing weights, calories, or macros triggering? What about diet conversations? Figure out what you can and cannot handle in terms of conversation, actually write it down so you can feel it. As you think of each kind of scenario you may come up against, see how you feel in your body. Do you get a pit in your stomach? Do your shoulders tense up? Those are the topics you want to avoid.

✨If the talk is happening as part of a larger gathering (e.g. party), walk away. ✨

Go to the bathroom, grab a drink, talk to someone else–whatever you have to do to physically remove yourself from the situation.  This strategy is for those who know they need to filter the narratives around them but aren’t necessarily ready for actual confrontations. Quietly excusing yourself is absolutely acceptable. If you’re at a dinner table and the people to your left start talking about diet-related things, physically turn your body to the right and see what those people are talking about. 

Don’t get defensive ✨

If people feel attacked, the logical part of their brain shuts down and the, quite literally, can’t hear what you’re saying. Sometimes, especially if someone is being critical, you want to come back with fighting words. What does THAT mean? Why would you say that? We won’t want to be defensive because that puts people’s guards up, too, and then no one is really hearing what anyone is saying. It shuts down meaningful, productive conversation instead of facilitating it. Part of the reason we can get defensive is because, deep down, we still believe diet culture’s lies, too. Still, it’s not exactly fair to go into attack mode. For one, they’re also a casualty of diet culture’s messages; and two, the fact you still believe diet culture’s messages is not their problem–it’s yours. 

Write down responses ahead of time

This may feel silly but if you know what you’d say in certain situations, you’ll feel more confident sticking up for yourself and you’ll say them with more conviction, instead of stumbling on your words.  Write down what you think future disordered conversations will be like based on what they’ve said in the past. What will they say and what will you say back?

✨Be “punny” (lighthearted with your request for boundaries)✨

Although setting boundaries is a serious matter in terms of setting yourself up for recovery success, you don’t have to sound so serious. Laughter and humor are great ways to disengage the offending party and have them be more open to heeding your requests.

UNWELCOME COMMENT: “You’re going to eat all that?”

RESPONSE: “Yup, can’t topple the patriarchy on an empty stomach!”

UNWELCOME COMMENT: “Have you lost weight?”

RESPONSE: “Yup, the weight of other people’s opinions on my weight.” 

Anti-diet registered dietician and intuitive eating coach Jessi Jean has a really great “Dear Body” podcast episode with a few more similar responses that are truly hilarious, yet effective.

✨Be ready to let go of relationships✨

Some people are so wrapped up in their own thoughts, beliefs and wants (and diet culture), that they won’t want to or be able to fulfill your request. You’ll have to learn to let these people go. We only want people in our lives that will support what makes us our best selves, and we know that people pleasing (keeping people around even if they’re toxic) doesn’t serve us. We may fear we are being “oversensitive,” that we should just be able to let things go, that it’s not that big of a deal; but it is. Your mental health and happiness are huge deals, and you have every right to safeguard them, while asking others who supposedly care about you to do the same. They might not understand your journey, your requests, or how they themselves are wrapped up in diet culture, but they should still be willing to respect your requests. If they can’t do that for you, they’re not meant to be in your lives in the first place.

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