How to respond to food and body comments…
When I asked my Instagram community what comments they get about their food and body, this is what they said…
“You look like you’ve been eating foods with too much butter”
“My mother in law was obsessed with my weight when I was pregnant,”
“Tinder dude I was casually seeing said I needed to drop 30 lbs”
“Last weekend my dad said, ‘You’re getting pretty heavy’,”
“I’m constantly being asked if I’m pregnant because my belly is puffy thanks to my IBS,”
“A guy I had only worked with for a couple of months said to me, ‘You’ve gotten quite fat,’”
“My doctor said to lose weight I should just drink water or brush my teeth whenever I felt hungry,”
“I always received a lot of compliments when I was at my lowest and unhealthiest weight. It makes me sad because I’m at my healthiest right now!”
“Are you really going to eat that?”
“Do you REALLY need another serving?”
“You shouldn’t be eating foods so high in _________”
“You should probably cut back on eating so much ________”
I am SURE you yourself can think of MANY times people have given unsolicited advice about your food choices or body size.
How does it feel? Usually not great. Either it supports the theory that you are better smaller, “Oh you lost weight, you look great!” or that weight gain is the absolute enemy, “You’ve gained weight, everything okay?” or that you cannot be trusted with food, and other people are the experts of how you should feed yourself instead of you.
I acknowledge that as a straight sized, cis, able bodied, white woman I live in a body that benefits from a lot of privilege in our society. I am very cautious to share stories about my own food/body experiences as I never want to take away from the experience of oppressed bodies. I’m only sharing this story of my own experience in hopes it will shine some light to how truly, no one is safe from dealing with these types of comments and our cultural fat phobie is invasive and pervasive. No matter what body you’re in, my goal is to empower you with some responses when these things come up for you in life.
Quick story… A few years ago I had an infection in my small intestine, couldn’t eat solid food for 6 months, had to go on medical leave from my job, move in with my Dad, lost chunks of hair from malnutrition, and lost 40 lb because of it, people not only CONGRATULATED me but said,
“Give me some of that infection, I want to lose weight!”
“At least it makes you skinny!”
I remember being afraid to gain weight back when I got healthy again because SO MANY PEOPLE congratulated me at a lower weight – even though I was ridiculously unhealthy and malnourished. This catapulted me into my own experience with disordered eating when I started doing detoxes, cutting out tons of foods, and overexercising all in an effort to stay at my smaller (unhealthy) weight.
It was because of this experience that I was finally open minded enough for Intuitive Eating and started my own food and body image healing journey. Now I’m a few sizes up from that low weight, eating great, and feel super strong. Sometimes those old thoughts about people congratulating me at a lower size creep in, but I know that’s just sneaky diet culture rearing it’s toxic head. But this example is just one small way that comments towards other people’s food/body is harmful.
Before we dive into a few options for your response the next time someone makes a comment, let’s review what gets us here in the first place.
1. Commenting on other people’s weight, body size, and food is a generally accepted cultural norm. Meaning it’s seen as totally appropriate, fair game, and even expected to comment on other people’s appearance and/or food choices. However, it shouldn’t be. It’s incredibly invasive, harmful, traumatizing, and borders on harassment at times. What you do on your plate and how much you weigh is nobody’s business but your own, or whoever you *CHOOSE* to share it with.
2. We live in a society that promotes the idea (obsessively) that what we look like is more important than who we are – especially for women. This does NOT mean men don’t suffer from food and body image concerns – they absolutely do. But the diet and beauty industries are particularly interested in the oppression of women by keeping them fixated on their appearance. This means we are less able to show up fully and completely in our lives to our greatest potential when we are too focused on living up to unrealistic standards. When someone says “you’re too ______” it implies you’re not enough, or not okay as you are, which is a lie.
As Naomi Wolf explains in her book, The Beauty Myth, “A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one,”
3. The people making these comments are swimming in the same shit-storm of our toxic body and food obsessed culture as we are. Luckily, we’ve escaped (hooray!) because I’m writing this post, and you’re reading it. So even if it’s REALLY hard to believe that what we eat and look like isn’t the most interesting or important thing about us or our health, you’re still at least on the right track. The people making harmful comments might be “well-meaning” friends, coworkers, family, partners and the like. I am sure they love, care, and appreciate you but they just cannot see their comments as harmful because it’s soooo culturally and socially accepted, and sometimes may even think it’s their responsibility to comment. I always tell my clients – compassion for the individual, and anger at the culture.
So what do we do?
First… I’m sending you a shit ton of compassion for having to deal with whatever soul-crushing comments you’ve had to endur about your weight or food choices. It sucks, it’s wicked shitty, and I’m sorry.
Next, I’m going to give you some options to try on for size (pun intended!) when someone makes a comment about your food or body that makes you uncomfy.
FACT: we have no control over other people (unfortunately!)
but we have full control over how we respond to their actions.
Reminder: not to be high school graduation cliché but, [we] must be the change [we] wish to see in the world – Mahatma Gandhi. I know it’s hard, unfair, and scary to speak up about this stuff or set a boundary. But if we want the culture to change, it starts with us. And I guarantee you it will be a ripple effect in your life. Before you know it, you’re not accepting unacceptable behavior from ANYONE, you’re questioning everything, and showing other people in your life they don’t have to tolerate this bullshit either.
So now, the moment you’ve been waiting for, how to respond!!!
Note: there is no one “right” way to respond. It’s going to depend on who the person is, how comfortable you feel with them, and how safe the person or situation is. Here is your permission slip, if you need it, to respond in whatever way feels best for you, even if it’s not covered below. Go with your gut. But at the end of the day, remember you deserve to let people know what is okay with you, and what isn’t. Your mental health, boundaries, happiness, and comfort are important. (NOTE: unpacking relationship concerns, trauma work, and learning how to set boundaries is best done alongside a trained therapist, preferably one supportive of Health at Every Size®)
- Walk away. Literally leave the room. Make a phone call, go to the bathroom, etc.
- Say nothing. You don’t always have to have your “i’m not dieting or trying to lose weight” hat on. You actually don’t owe an explanation to anyone if it doesn’t feel right. If it feels best to say nothing, do just that.
- Change the subject. This sends a subtle signal that you’re just not interested in discussing the topic of your body or food further. You can say something like, “So I saw this interesting show the other day, can I tell you about it?”
- Direct, but a little sweet. For example, “Thanks for your concern but I’m doing what’s best for me!” or, “I appreciate your concern, but I’m really working on listening to and respecting my body and your comments on my weight and food choices take away from that,”
- Direct, honest and a little salty. Like, “When you say stuff like that, it makes me feel really shitty. Those comments are just not helpful,”
- Direct, and wicked salty. “Hey – please keep your opinions about my body and food choices to yourself. I didn’t ask, and I don’t care!” Or, “It’s actually really rude and harmful to comment on other people’s bodies or food choices because you have no idea what they’re dealing with or what’s right for them, me included,”
What other responses can you think of? Share them below!
And if nothing else, you can make a difference by just simply not contributing to other people when they talk about their bodies/other people’s bodies in negative or obsessive ways.
Things you don’t know by looking at someone’s body:
- What medical conditions they have
- How they eat
- If they are sick
- If they are well
- Their genetics
- Their trauma
- If they have an eating disorder
- If they have disordered eating
- If your comments might send them into a negative downward spiral
- Literally anything at all
What we DO know:
Your body, your business. Their body, their business.
Things to talk about with someone instead of their body size:
- OMG have you seen that new show ___ it’s so interesting!
- How are you doing with this whole pandemic?
- I love your outfit!
- How are you feeling about going back to school?
Talking about body size is surface level, and can be very harmful – go deeper, that’s where the good stuff really is.
**important note: trained professionals talk about their client’s bodies all the time with them – with consent – and a LOT of training on how to do so without causing harm. It’s not just a random comment without knowing their background, and having consent. This post is re: the oh-so-common and “seemingly harmless” and incessant body talk that is lined in the fabric of our diet and body obsessed culture that I myself had for many years also contributed to**
And if someone WANTS to talk to you about their body, you can be uniquely useful by not supporting the theory that body size means everything in life.
You can say things like, “I’m so sorry you’ve been sick, is there any way I can help?”
Or, “I love you just the same and think you’re just as awesome even if you’ve gained/lost weight,”
Or, “The reason i’m friends with you has nothing to do with your body!”
Along the way to becoming an Intuitive Eater (see What is Intuitive Eating? And my Intuitive Eating resource guide here for more info) it’s important to [at some point] address and limit as many “external” forces as possible so that we can really tune in and listen to our body’s inner wisdom. Limiting input when possible from people, places and things that keep you looking outside yourself for answers allows you to get closer to yourself in a way that supports your food and body image healing journey.
I hope this was helpful, and again please share your experiences, advice, and anything else in the comments below!
Note: my blog is for educational purposes only. It is not meant to be a substitute for medical care, therapy, or nutrition counseling. Please work with a professional for detailed and personalized care and counseling.