One of the hardest things about recovery can be dealing with people who don’t understand what it’s like to struggle with an eating disorder. It can make interactions with strangers, co-workers, friends, and family incredibly difficult. Recently, I’ve had trouble with women I work with who are constantly dieting and incessantly talking about their diets during lunch-time conversation. These women comment on the good food and bad food they consume and the weight they might be gaining or losing. Needless to say, for a woman in recovery, it has been incredibly triggering to be in this environment.
How Dare You
At first, I took their conversations personally. As part of my recovery I don’t diet and every time a diet was mentioned, I felt ashamed of not being on one. Listening to them talk of diets and weight loss consistently brought me down. It ruined my lunches and caused me to struggle with eating disorder behaviors.
I really wanted to get them to stop talking about their diets. I was desperate to fix the situation. I wanted to tell them how diet culture is destroying their happiness and that their “food addictions” were only a result of their restriction. I wanted them to understand how these conversations were damaging their happiness.
I spent weeks talking to my therapist about how frustrating this situation had become. Week after week I came into my sessions more frustrated than the last and more desperate to get the conversations to stop. Being at work with these women was eating me alive.
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The Thought Shift
Things didn’t begin to change for me until I encountered a post on Instagram from The Body Image Therapist (instagram: bodyimage_therapist), Ashlee Bennett. It was called
“Tips for being around people absorbed in diet culture”
- It’s not automatically your job to educate or convince people of the harms of diet culture.
- Validate your own emotions without first needing to change other people’s beliefs (your emotions are valid even if others disagree with you)
- People around you are entitled to their own journey and process with their body, just as you are
- Have compassion for those in diet culture, remembering it’s not the same as pity (you were once in it too)
Reading this sparked something in me, and I realized there were two parts of me warring for control over the situation. Part of me felt it was imperative to fix the situation by stopping the conversations and the other part of me wanted to educate these women so they weren’t stuck in diet culture forever. I was so fixated on correcting a wrong I saw in the world, that I wasn’t validating these ladies or even myself.
The Truth Is…
The truth of the situation is such that I can’t force anyone into recognizing the dangers of diet culture. I desperately want to, but that wouldn’t do anything but invalidate their current experiences which would probably just put a bad taste in their mouth about what I have to say.
Coming to terms with unhealthy patterns and disordered eating is deeply personal and usually takes time. Despite my good intentions, I wasn’t having true compassion for these women. I was missing that they are entitled to their own journey and process with their bodies. It was not my place to intervene.
I noticed that I was caught up on was my desire to get them to understand why I personally wasn’t on a diet. I felt judgment and shame every time these conversations happened and I wanted that to stop. Sure, I wanted to teach these women about diet culture, but I was looking for external validation and understanding, too.
I wasn’t validating myself during these interactions. I took these conversations too personally. That is mostly because I am still working through my own stuff.
I have a tendency to think that just because I live in a bigger body, certain aspects of recovery don’t apply to me.
I sometimes think I should be on a diet and using symptoms. It’s a real struggle for me and I’m pretty sensitive about it.
(Important Note: Let me just take a moment to say that recovery is for EVERYONE no matter what size you are)
Taking Back My Power
What I realize now is that I was triggered and the solution wasn’t to fix these women, but to care for myself. In these moments, I defaulted to letting these diet culture conversations have power over me. I didn’t validate my own emotions or take time to nourish myself when I became triggered. In reality, these conversations and the opinions of these women have no power over me.
Let It Go
In time I had to let go of what these women might think about me. Their opinions about their diets don’t apply to me. And if they were to apply their ideas about diets to my lack thereof, that says more about their beliefs than it does about me. Diet culture can get its claws in really deep; I know that from experience. Having compassion for that helps me to free myself from their opinions and reminds me that I have power over my own recovery. My journey in recovery doesn’t depend on another person’s thoughts about me.
You Are Allowed To Walk Away
It’s also important for me to take note when I’m being triggered so that I can nourish myself and help continue healing the wounds being provoked. Caring for myself meant eating somewhere else away from these conversations, taking a walk, texting my therapist, doing a one-minute meditation, anything to help re-center and remind me that I have the power to validate myself.
Once I am able to validate myself, these conversations don’t seem so threatening. I can offer my perspective on diets when I am asked and do so without overstepping another’s boundaries.
It is not my place to force information upon them and get them to understand my own beliefs. When I can fully respect that other people are entitled to their own journeys and perspectives, I am in a much better place.
When my validation is coming from within, I have true peace. I have peace about where these women are in their journeys. I was once there myself and it’s okay to let them be wherever they happen to be. I also have peace about my own journey. I am allowed to be wherever I happen to be as well.