When You Don’t Want To Hear About Someone’s Diet

Cuddlebug McnopeGetting a filling at the dentist last Friday certainly wasn’t comfortable, but it was checking out that really got uncomfortable. I was being checked out by an employee who has worked with both me and my partner Julianne and has always been super nice and truly helpful.

They asked me what I was doing tomorrow and I said going on a run (Saturday is long run day, it dominates literally my entire day.)  They immediately responded “my stomach used to go out too much  too, but I found this great diet” then stood up and pulled their shirt back to show me how flat their stomach is. The numbing agent had me numb from my chin to the top of my forehead so my WTF? expression game wasn’t where I wanted it to be, plus I was focused on trying to keep from drooling out of one side of my mouth so I was going to just let it go.

Then they sat down and started to go into exactly what the diet entails (“First, I bought a big bag of tomatoes…”)  I interrupted and said in what I was hoping was a friendly but firm tone that conveyed finality (and didn’t involve drooling) “Yeah, I don’t want to hear about your diet.”  They said “ok” and then moved on to non-diet discussions.

Why am I telling you this story?  Of late, there has been a lot of discussion of whether people have the right to talk about their diet/weight loss in various situations, regardless of how it might affect folks practicing Size Acceptance, Health at Every Size, or dealing with eating disorders.  Regardless of the context of a sizeist world where those with large bodies face shame, stigma, bullying, and oppression and where weight loss talk is deeply tied not just to sizeism, but also to healthism, ableism, “goody fatty” tropes, and privilege. So, knowing that, the question seems to be: Is it ok for people to talk about their diets?

The answer depends on context. So we’ll look at this in various situations.

First, if it’s a space where the rule is no diet or weight loss talk, then it’s simply not ok to talk about diets or weight loss. Fat people live in a world where we get ceaseless messages conflating weight and health, that giveweight loss the credit for health improvements in highly dubious ways, suggesting that becoming thinner is – in basically every way – synonymous with becoming “better.”

It is vital that fat people who want to opt out of a weight loss paradigm and a thin-obsessed culture have the ability to create non-oppressive spaces that center their needs and feelings, and that means spaces without diet or weight loss talk. People dealing with eating disorders need to have spaces where they aren’t triggered by diet talk.  Put simply – our spaces, our rules.

Next, let’s look at general conversation.  Of course in these situations people are allowed to talk about their diet/weight loss.  We don’t have the option to control what other people talk about, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have options.

We can choose to talk about our Size Acceptance and/or Health at Every Size practice in the same way that people talk about their diets. Or we can just remove ourselves either without comment, or by saying something like “Oh, I don’t do weight loss talk.  I’m happy to talk about something else, or to go over there if you’d rather continue to talk about your diet.”

Which brings us to the clerk at my dentist’s office. This interaction shows exactly how screwed up our society is around weight loss talk.  I say I’m going for a run and the person responds “my stomach used to stick out too much too.”  WT actual F? There’s nothing wrong with my stomach – it sticks out just the right amount (and if it changes, it will stick out just the right amount then too.)

The fact that me saying I running was enough for someone to think they “know” that I think there’s something wrong with my body tells you all you need to know about the prevalence of diet and weight loss talk in our culture. If I’m a paying customer somewhere, then I’m not about to listen to diet talk. I’m not necessarily going to be unfriendly, but I’m going to be firm and clear that I’m not there to buy a diet, so I’m not interested in hearing diet and weight loss talk.

People are allowed to attempt – and believe whatever they want to about – weight loss. We are allowed to create rules for our own spaces, and we are allowed to create boundaries in our own lives.  It’s perfectly ok to opt out of diet culture, and it’s perfectly ok to choose to avoid talk that suggests that fat bodies will be somehow “better” if they are a different size.

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18 thoughts on “When You Don’t Want To Hear About Someone’s Diet

  1. I wish that detailed expositions of bodily concerns had never become the stuff of light conversation. Since when is it all right to talk with relative strangers about washing intimate areas, douching or picking toe jelly? I don’t go around asking people how their bowel movements have been lately, nor do I offer unsolicited advice about constipation or dandruff. Diet talk, to me, falls within the purview of bodily concerns.

    It is, of course, ten times worse when the unsolicited advice involves automatically branding someone as a societal undesirable because the party shooting off their mouth does not know better than to put their prejudices and ignorance on display, as in unrequested diet glorification,

    Boundaries…I wish all givers of unsolicited body or diet talk had them!

  2. Wow, no, wow no, wow no. At least she stopped when you told her you weren’t interested. I work in retail, and if you said that–as a stranger– to me, the responses that came to mind were, “Have you been running long?” “Are you training for something or running for fun?” “Where do you like to run?” (Choose one. I asked in the first place, and will try to appear politely interested, though I am not a runner. If I were a runner, I might ask some more specific question, but would at all costs refrain from offering advice to someone from my desk at the dentist’s office.)

    If in turn I really didn’t want to hear about your running (and where I live I sometimes think I’m going to scream if one more of coworkers or customers talks about how wonderful their run was, or how their 500-squats-every-morning is rocking their world), I might say, “I hope you have a great day for it. I think I might go (to the beach/a craft fair/ a museum/ stay home and knit).”

    I hope she thought about what she’d actually done later, which was to tell you she thought there was something wrong with your appearance. Not good customer service.

  3. I see friends on Facebook post about their weight watcher visits or other diet stuff. ‘I lost half a pound.’ Or ‘I gained a pound.’ They’ve been doing this for over a year, sometimes more and I have yet to see someone say, ‘I’ve reached my goal.’ Or ‘I have maintained my ideal weight loss for years.’ It makes me sad for them.

    1. exactly this. Because nobody ever really reaches their goal. We of course talk about how nobody even maintains weight loss for many years, but honestly, hardly anybody even attains their goal, because BMI gives us ridiculous goals in the first place, even for many not fat people are getting their heads messed with over BMI, because its so unreasonable. And God forbid someone does pass from healthy weight to overweight on the BMI scale, you might just die from heart attack deathfat right there on the spot. My sister got so much crap when she went from being a skinny teen and young adult to a woman and all of a sudden weight started getting put on her around her belly and her butt and everywhere really. Luckily she handled it well, and I talked to her about this false thin is healthy stuff so she knew it didn’t mean she was unhealthy and she didn’t start dieting. My other sister started the weight gain a little earlier and she has been dieting and doing obstacle courses and all sorts of stuff since she had her daughter because she can’t bear that she isn’t skinny anymore. I’m the only fatty in the family, I’ve always been fatter than the rest of them, when I was a teenager I was closer to ‘average’ but with BMI telling me I was Obese already (at 5’5” and 185 you’re obese) and having super skinny sisters and parents I thought I was fat and made peace with it then. I kept gaining as I went through high school and I was a true fatty by the time I got married a year out of high school.

      1. This obsession with BMI reminds me a bit of the height/weight tables that were so influential several decades ago. Turns out, the numbers were pretty much random, and the charts were put out by the life insurance industry. So I wonder if this constant harping of having a “healthy” BMI is just another random number game. 5’5″ and 185 lbs is NOT obese!

        1. I wish I knew that in high school. Actually I wish my parents had known that when I was in high school. I made my peace with my body early on somehow. But it would have been easier if I hadn’t had health class. doctors, and mom and dad telling me I was fat.

          1. BMI was never intended to be used on individuals.

            “BMI was explicitly cited by Keys as appropriate for population studies and inappropriate for individual evaluation. ”

            People just grabbed it as easy to use, not because it works well. Some people do recognize it is bullshit.

            “Mathematician Keith Devlin and the restaurant industry association Center for Consumer Freedom argue that the error in the BMI is significant and so pervasive that it is not generally useful in evaluation of health.[35][36] University of Chicago political science professor Eric Oliver says BMI is a convenient but inaccurate measure of weight, forced onto the populace, and should be revised”

            There’s more stuff in the Wikipedia article, and if you hate Wiki, feel free to check out the sources they list.

  4. I had to move into assisted living in Oregon after my wife passed away and the doctors have decided I have to lose weight so I’m on special dietetic food even though I hate it. Dieting is everywhere.

    1. OMG, Denny, how can they do that to you? It’s assisted living, not prison! Can you insist on food that’s more to your liking but still nutritious? You have a right to refuse any and all “care” that you don’t want. Or order delivery from your favorite takeout place; DEFY THEM 🙂 !!!!!

      1. I’m just getting settled in and just am now getting some of my things (like my laptop. So I don’t know the rules yet but they are really concerned about my weight and since I’m type 2 diabetic I’m on special monitoring. I have to eat to take my Alzheimer’s medicine and I’m worried that some of the nurses would rather have me starve and not take my medicine if I don’t eat the special food. I’ve gotten so much better on my medicine that I don’t want to lose any progress you know so I feel like I’m a rock and hard place when it comes to this issue.

        1. As a diabetic, myself, I do know that you can help (keyword, HELP) to manage your blood sugar by diet, alone. Some people actually can achieve full control by diet alone.

          However, this “diet,” is not at all about weight loss, but about managing how much sugar you eat and when. I say “sugar,” but that includes both refined sugar and unrefined, and fruit, and bread, and carbs, and whole grains, and beans, and all that stuff. It’s really rather complex.

          I’m not advocating that you “rebel,” and order take-out. However, if you talk to them, and say that you are interested in a diet ONLY for the purpose of controlling your blood sugar, and NOT to try to starve yourself thin, and that you won’t be able to stick to such a blood-control-type diet if they don’t give you food that is, at least, palatable, you might have better results.

          Of course, if you don’t have results with that, remember that you are a consumer, not a prisoner, and you have other options. Don’t be afraid to exercise them.

          Good luck!

        2. Is there a resident advocate you can talk to? They should not be able to force you to do something that you find unpleasant/intolerable. Assisted living should not be a prison camp.
          I’m a nurse myself, and also a type 2 diabetic. I also have a history of eating disorders. When I get into the “starve myself” mode, my blood sugars are worse. Also, in spite of minding my carbs, I’m still fat.
          It’s foolish for them to be more concerned with the number on the scale than the one on the blood glucose meter.
          I’m sorry you’re being treated this way. It isn’t right.

  5. Over the scale at the general surgeon’s office is a sign that says “Warning: Woman On A Diet.” I went there for a colonoscopy consultation.

    1. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The cultural pressure for women, in particular, to diet almost their entire lives, is a means, developed by the patriarchy, to control uppity women, who otherwise would have time, money, energy, and mental power to actually succeed in “a man’s world.”

      A woman on a diet CAN succeed at stuff like business, and STEM work, and all that jazz, but a woman who doesn’t waste her time and strength trying to change her body, and fight nature, and battle with her own psyche as well as her physicality, all. the. time. can really accomplish phenomenal stuff!

      So can a man, of course, but men aren’t as pressured to diet as women are. The pressure on them is mounting, however. Probably because feminists are winning in so many other areas.

      Now, if we can just channel that feminist power towards more body acceptance… We can change the world!

  6. How did she even go from “going on a run” to “my stomach used to go out”? Go out? Did she mean stick out, as in she had a visible belly curve, or did she mean “getting the runs,” in which case… Maybe talk about active yogurt cultures, or something?

    I’m just… Whaaaa? I do not get the segue, here.

    Well, at least she shut up, when you said you didn’t want to hear about her diet. Some people won’t.

  7. My friend F and I were talking about our bodies and some of our health issues (the stuff you cannot fix because wishes don’t come true), and one of the guys in the group made the offer to help her lose weight. Apparently, he’s been counting calories and has successfully lost weight. Now… I’d already heard that this guy was commenting on how -I- could lose weight if only I’d count calories, and a different friend told him that’s not how it works for everyone, so he was already on my “avoid like the plague” list. As their side conversation continued a little (I was quiet), I finally hit the breaking point and said, “You know what? Will you please take this conversation elsewhere? Because if you trigger my eating disorder with talk of calorie counting, I’m going to be really pissed at you.” He looked so shocked and appalled but in a “I can’t believe she snapped at me” kind of way. Damn young kids and their ridiculous metabolism that hasn’t been ruined by years of yo-yo dieting due to crappy societal cues.

    Anyway, I was actually proud of myself for saying something. Usually I tolerate it, but this time, no. I knew that what he was saying was also being directed at me, and since neither of us asked him, I had had it. F had no idea he had said stuff behind my back, so when she found out, she was furious. Good to know that most of the people in that group had my back.

    Ugh. I guess I needed to rant. I’m still pretty upset about his words. The night I found out, I had trouble eating in front of everyone because I suddenly felt judged for doing so.

  8. “‘my stomach used to go out too much too, but I found this great diet’ then stood up and pulled their shirt back to show me how flat their stomach is. ” Uh….I’d complain to the office manager about getting flashed. The dentist’s office is NOT where you expect to have to look at skin, and that is completely inappropriate behavior, not to mention RUDE (“too?” WTF. I guess since she’s working in a dental office she can get her teeth fixed at a discount when she gets backhanded in the kisser)

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