Mental Health Blog

Coping with Body Image, Diet Talk, and Food Guilt

Posted by Makenna Clements on

As an eating disorder therapist, I’m acutely aware of the unique challenges present for anyone struggling with insecurities around food, weight, and body image. More focused time with family and friends, holiday parties (or Covid-friendly versions thereof), and an abundance of food can factor into this.

The primary purpose of this blog is to highlight a handful of strategies will make it bit easier to navigate this year from a food and body image perspective. 

When food guilt creeps in, consider your bigger picture values. For example, when you imagine yourself later in life do you anticipate thinking: “Gee, I’m so glad I skipped out on that delicious pie and was so preoccupied with keeping my figure all those years,” or do you picture yourself looking back on the memories you made, the joyful moments with loved ones, and how amazingness that was your mom’s baking? Don’t let food guilt (which can be damaging to your overall health) prevent you from fully experiencing the here and now. 

View “body love” as an action and a choice, not a feeling. Consider some conscious ways you can choose to love your body over the holidays. For example, what would physical movement and/or eating look like for you if your actions reflected an appreciation for your body and all it does for you? 

Remember your body has gotten you through a pandemic. Physical changes and weight fluctuations are a normal part of life but add to that the fact that we’ve all been mentally, emotionally, and physically in survival mode for quite some time. Have grace for yourself- the same grace I’m guessing you have no problem extending to others, but sometimes struggle with giving yourself. 

One of the hardest parts of navigating the holidays is the unsolicited commentary- whether it’s from the aunt who won’t stop talking about her diet and how “bad” she is for eating so much, the parent who passive aggressively comments on your food choices, or the cousin who lives and breathes gym life. Here are a few phrases to keep in your tool belt for such occasions, ranging from the more subtle to direct depending on your circumstances, comfort level, and relationship to the person: 

  1. Consider the following phrases:
    1. “I’m working on my relationship with food and/or my body, and I find comments/conversation like that to be unhelpful, and even hurtful. Let’s talk about [fill in the blank] instead!”
    2. “I’m sure we can find something more interesting to talk about than [weight, appearance, food amounts]. 
    3. “My weight is the least interesting thing about me. Let me tell you more about/why don’t you tell me more about…?”
    4. “I believe a person’s weight/food choices/body composition are morally neutral and not really anyone else’s business. If we can’t find other things to talk about, I’m respectfully going to need to remove myself from this conversation.”
  1. Change the subject, plain and simple. Keep a few topics prepared for such occasions.
  2. Plant a seed. Take the opportunity to share with your friend or loved one what you’re learning about developing a healthier relationship with food and your body, why certain topics or comments feel hurtful to you, the truth behind the fallibility of diets and diet culture, and/or what more neutral ways of talking about food and health can look like. Be careful here to remember it’s not your responsibility to try to “change” someone, and they may not respond exactly how you hope they will.
  3. Identify a few pieces of self-talk you find to helpful in those moments. Maybe it’s remembering other peoples’ “stuff” (e.g., insecurities and/or beliefs about food and body image) is not your “stuff” and doesn’t have to impact your approach to food or how you interact with your body. Or perhaps reminding yourself that your body knows what it needs, and that those needs are unique person to person, day to day. 

 Whatever it is you’re working through when it comes to developing a healthy relationship with food and your body, know you are seen, you are brave, your feelings are valid, and I am so proud of you! 

 

Christian Makenna Clements is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist #111159.

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