What do you do when someone around you uses diet or food talk as a conversation filler?
Is your response different based on if this person is a friend? Co-worker? Stranger? If you are working toward intuitive eating, the first step is to begin rejecting diet culture – this proves to be quite the challenge once you are aware of its evil tentacles that stick themselves into the simplest parts of your life.
I was taking the elevator back up to my place of work the other day after grabbing an afternoon coffee and was struck by the “elevator talk.” You all know what I mean – the little things people say to fill the awkward space of silence between floors X and Y. I started the elevator ride with a pleasant “hello, how are you?” exchange with one woman who was all smiles (phew), but then was joined by another woman who was clearly a colleague of woman #1, and everything changed.
As both women had their lunches and were clearly returning to their own unit of the hospital, they engaged in friendly conversation around what was offered for lunch. This quickly turned into a comparison hole: woman #1’s reaction was to immediately make statements such as, “Oh, you’re so good!” [positive reinforcement for woman #2 “sticking with a salad today”], followed by, “Ugh, this is why I can’t get this weight off” while pointing to her own choice of the café’s hot meal [self-deprecation for choosing a food that she placed as having less value than woman #2’s salad.] As the exchange continues with nervous laughter and each woman making an attempt to justify their food choices, each starts to look my direction as to not be rude and exclude me from the conversation.
It was then that I quickly reminded myself of their good intentions. Neither of these women would have a way of knowing that I was a dietitian (thank God – please stop treating me like I’m some sort of unicorn), nor would they have a way of knowing that I was about to step foot onto a unit where 25 patients were fighting their eating disorders in order to save their lives. So as woman #1 and woman #2 compare their diet successes and failures, I politely smile and let out a deep breathe when they exit the elevator before me. It is moments like these that simple reminders are important:
– Their intentions were pure. They were simply trying to be friendly and fill awkward, silent elevator space.
– Unless exposed to alternatives such as IE (intuitive eating), most people in this society are products of diet culture. It was not their fault that they were pre-occupied with comparisons, placing value of food choices, and being self-conscious of their bodies.
– Based on what we know of diet culture and the lack of education on weight inclusive practices, it would be unfair of me to expect that their chatter would change just because we all worked in a hospital where patients fight these exact notions every day.
So, this brings us back to my initial question – What do you do when someone uses diet or food talk as a conversation filler? Do you even notice it? Maybe you participate? Or ignore it?
I encourage you to listen to diet talk around you, take it all in, form and share your own opinions.
If you are in a place of rejecting diet culture, it becomes important to be able to have a polite, yet positive response that can protect your own work without placing blame or judgment on others. Speak up. This is how we plug away at enlightening one another to the alternative of acceptance. One of my personal favorites …
“Good for you, not for me.” – Amy Poehler