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Setting boundaries with diet culture is, in my opinion, the hardest part of this body acceptance and self-love journey. Even if you feel like you’ve made so much progress, so many people around us will still talk about dieting, weight loss, and discuss other people’s bodies.
This is especially hard during the holidays because it comes from friends and family you haven’t seen all year. Aunt Susan will come along and comment on your weight gain or weight loss or tell you, “You’re really gonna eat all that food???” and that can send you spiraling back into negative thoughts.
The only way to deal with this is by setting boundaries with diet culture. Whether it’s politely telling Aunt Susan to not make comments on your body or learning to deal with diet talk from your friends, this post will help you politely stick up for yourself and keep your head up when diet culture is trying to bring you down.
I used to hear my size 4 best friend call herself fat and I immediately think, “Gosh, she must think I’m fat which means I look terrible which means that I’ve let myself go and failed at life.”
This kind of downward-spiral thinking isn’t even an exaggeration; it’s exactly what would go on in my head the second I heard, felt, or sensed diet culture in my space.
I’ve also had experiences where men I dated would talk about how much they love working out and how they want a woman who “takes care of herself” (…as if self-care is limited to restrictive diets and daily exhaustive exercise…)
NEWS FLASH: it’s not, but that’s a topic for another time). But when I’d hear this, I’d instantly think “Oh no, he’s probably right because I don’t diet anymore which means I probably don’t take care of myself and I’m therefore unattractive to him.”
***Note: any person who judges his attraction to you based on your diet or exercise habits is not worthy of YOU, but that’s a topic for another time).***
What I didn’t realize back then is that all these comments are simply other people’s PROJECTIONS.
A projection is when someone directs a comment at you because they themselves feel unworthy in that area (i.e. if someone tells you to diet, it’s because they’re not happy with their own body, not because they really “care about your health”).
Unfortunately, we live in a culture where NOT dieting and accepting yourself as you are is so freakin’ rare that others see it as weird, “unhealthy”, and even threatening when you do.
My friend doesn’t actually believe that I’m a terrible, lazy person just because I’m in a bigger body than her and the man I dated isn’t actually attracted to women who diet and exercise (although they may think that they think that, but that’s not the full truth).
The truth is, they are both projecting their own insecurities out loud and I let it trigger me because I didn’t have proper boundaries with diet culture in place.
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And please hear me when I say this: although your feelings are 100% valid, we also have some power to choose what we feel.
Even though it may seem like it’s someone else’s fault that you feel shitty, the truth is, no one can make you feel anything you don’t choose to feel.
This is good news because it means that we can CHOOSE to feel differently by setting boundaries with diet culture.
So what are boundaries anyways and how can we set boundaries with diet culture?
A boundary is an imaginary line that separates you from the other person. More specifically, it separates your needs, feelings, requests, and responsibilities from those of others. Boundaries communicate (both verbally and non-verbally) how you allow others to treat you and what is acceptable in your space.
Boundaries allow you to powerfully take responsibility for your needs, feelings, requests, and responsibilities without putting down those of others.
For example, if you have a friend that is often criticizing her body or talking about dieting, it’s not your responsibility to convince her that she’s beautiful and doesn’t need to diet.
You can definitely try to, but if it’s not being received and she keeps doing something that triggers or bothers you, it’s important to establish a boundary with her in order to protect your sacred space.
Key takeaway: boundaries with diet culture are necessary and needed, but it’s up to us to clearly communicate them.
We can’t expect other people to read your mind and tip-toe around you; they need to know EXACTLY what your boundary is and, if the boundary is crossed, what the consequences will be.
And please know that you can communicate anything you want as long as you say it with LOVE and RESPECT.
Here’s how to effectively communicate your boundaries to others with love and respect…
Unsolicited feedback falls on deaf ears. If you come out and say “Yo can you stop saying that shit?! It’s really freakin’ annoying!” they probably won’t receive it too well. I start by saying “Hey best friend, can I request something of you?” or “Can I tell you something honestly?” Wait for them to say yes before continuing.
***Asking for permission is a good communication rule for ANY situation***
Setting a boundary is something that’s done for you, by you. Therefore, this is not the time to preach self-love or tell them they should quit dieting (usually because it’s unsolicited, but also because it turns the attention away from your concerns which defeats the purpose).
This is where those cliche “I-statements” come into play. Start every phrase with “I feel…” instead of “You make me feel…”
Here are the exact words I use with my close ones:
“My request of you moving forward is that you do not insult yourself around me. It’s okay if you slip up sometimes, but I would appreciate it if you try your best to not do that around me.”
Stand in your power and communicate your request in 1-2 sentences. And don’t say, “I’m sorry, but…” You don’t have to apologize for having personal needs (watch on YouTube: How To Stop Apologizing in daily life).
Something to note about making requests: Requests are very similar to boundaries. In fact, requests ARE boundaries, the only difference is how they are enforced.
A request can be denied whereas a boundary cannot (at least not without consequences). For example, if I request of my boyfriend that he stop buying ‘Think Thin’ protein bars for the house because they trigger me, he can either comply or he can respond with “I like them so I’m going to keep buying them.”
In that case, it’s up to you to choose how you feel about him denying your request. A boundary, however, is more enforced. It’s making the request to my boyfriend to stop buying diet products and making it clear to him that I don’t want them in the house. Think: request = up to the other person and boundary = non-negotiable for you.
Think of a boundary as something that is for you only. Every decision you make involving the boundary and your relationship with that person is based on what’s going to protect you and your sacred space. Threatening someone does not protect your space as much as it violates someone else’s.
Also, if someone doesn’t respect your boundary, the consequence doesn’t have to be something big like cutting the person out of your life (although at a certain point it’s necessary to remove toxic people out of your life).
It can be simply spending less time with that person, refusing to talk about diets with them, or making an agreement that you don’t want ‘Think Thin’ bars in the house, but your partner is free to keep them at work or in the car.
It is your responsibility to make sure others honor your boundary. Your close ones are humans too, so don’t expect them to be perfect and instead practice patience, send gentle reminders, have vulnerable conversations, and follow-through on consequences as needed.
Pay attention to how people treat your boundary and the effort they put in to fulfill it. If someone is stepping over your boundary over and over again, it’s up to you to decide whether or not you want to keep that person in your life.
Choose yourself… over and over and over again.
I’ve so been there and continue to be there nearly every single family dinner! My family is Russian so it’s veerrryyy common for all the babushkas and tetyas to point out your weight gain or talk about their latest ‘slimming secret.’ Setting boundaries with them has honestly been harder than setting boundaries with my friends because I don’t want to start shit but at the same time I don’t want to stay quiet.
Earlier this year, one of my family members said something diet-y during dinner. My 11-year-old sister was there and I’m very protective of her so I thought what a perfect time to practice setting boundaries!
Here’s what I said:
Me: Hey, can I talk to you for a second?
Tetya: Sure, what’s up?
Me: Listen, between you and me, I’m on a self-love journey right now and I’m working on accepting my body. It’s a little hard for me to hear things about dieting and weight loss because I’m working on finding my own peace with my body/ weight/ food. Thank you for understandig and always being there for me.
Tetya: Oh my goodness, I totally understand! No need to say more!
I’m not joking, this seriously happened! I was actually a little shocked at how well she took this because I never had the courage to stick up to my Russian family. I always thought that they’d think I was being silly or sensitive and that they’d just make fun of me. But something about the vulnerability of the conversation and the woman-woman bond that we had make her understand me right away.
Some key things to note:
I hope this gives you a go-to script for those awkward family encounters and helps you with setting boundaries with diet culture!
One last note: sometimes (maybe even often times), it’s okay to remove yourself from the conversation. Protect your sacred space. Don’t feel like you always have to fight or defend yourself because I get it, sometimes it’s not worth the fight.
Just make sure you’re taking care of yourself and protecting your sacred space by setting boundaries, okay??? Whether it’s verbally or just by taking time and space for yourself to re-ground, re-group, and remind yourself that you are enough. Exactly as you are right now. No matter what anyone else says.
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