Just take a minute and think… when was the last time you were out to eat with friends and nobody justified what they were getting to eat? It seems as though every time I go out, someone is justifying ordering a burger because they worked out that day. Or someone is debating whether to get pizza or a salad because they are trying to lose weight. Or someone says that they don’t really “need” dessert because they are restricting sugar.
Even my dietitian friends and I admit that we are sometimes guilty of this same rhetoric. Recently in the office another dietitian offered us pieces of chocolate. Between a few laughs and jokes about how we don’t “eat like dietitians,” we decided to indulge in the chocolate. What seemed like an innocent moment resonated with me all day long. Why did this minute-long conversation bother me so much? It was the fact that DIETITIANS (read: food and nutrition experts) had to debate and then justify eating one piece of chocolate. We all knew that this chocolate would not hurt us. It would not cause weight gain. It would not cause heart disease, cancer, or diabetes. But we treated it like it would. We felt as though we didn’t deserve it because we hadn’t eaten perfectly that week. We felt as though we couldn’t indulge in a normal, small treat because we are supposed to eat some perfect “dietitian diet.” We felt as though we could not eat something without needing to discuss it among ourselves. While these comments may seem harmless and we often don’t think twice before saying them, they lead all of us into a very dangerous trap.
Saying those things does not necessarily mean that you have an eating disorder; however, your comments can hugely affect somebody who does. You never know who around you has suffered an ED in the past, is on the track to developing one, or is actively suffering from one. Not all people who suffer from an ED fit the skin and bones body type we often associate with EDs. The overweight friend sitting next to you is just as likely to have an ED as the paper-thin friend you would think of. Your words have the power to further an ED. Just think: You’re out to lunch with your friends. One friend seems to always order a salad or plain chicken and veggies. You comment, “I wish I could be more like you. I want to order salad, but really want a burger. I wish I had your willpower.” Your seemingly kindhearted compliment was actually eating disorder validation in disguise. Your comments can also cause those in ED recovery to become hyper-aware of their food and set them off the track towards normal eating that they’ve worked so hard to stay on.
In my own recovery, I found that negative food-talk hindered me and left me spiraling towards relapse. I had worked so hard to destroy my own negative thoughts towards food and weight, not realizing how easily other comments could undo my progress. I clearly remember eating out at a restaurant with friends and deciding to order a fried chicken sandwich and queso fries on the side. I did not feel the need to discuss my order with everyone else at the table. However, after I ordered someone commented, “Oh wow I didn’t realize dietitians eat fried food. Doesn’t that make you fat?” Between laughs, my other friends blew off the comment as the joke that it was probably intended to be. I, on the other hand, immediately felt a surge of guilt. When the food came out and I realized that everyone else had grilled chicken and salads, I felt as though I was judged. All eyes seemed to be on me. Would I actually eat this “forbidden” food I had ordered? Of course I would because I wanted it. But everything else in me told me no. My head told me, “Remember what she said? Fried food makes you fat.” My ED told me, “You’re a bad dietitian. I knew you would never be good at this.” But luckily, my heart told me, “You’ve worked so hard to get to this point. Keep your relationship with food healthy.”
The person who made this comment meant it in the best way. She did not see how it could affect me. She did not see how it could affect herself. Even if you do not think these types of comments will trigger you to develop an eating disorder, these thoughts and comments put you on the track to disordered thinking, which can easily turn into disordered eating. Commenting on food leads to fixation on food, which leads to obsession over food, which leads to dysfunctional relationships with food.
So how do we fix it?
The best place to begin is to come from a state of gratefulness instead of fixation. Be absolutely thankful for the food that is in front of you, no matter what it is. Discuss how delicious the food tastes, instead of how many calories are in it. Talk about how happy you are that you have finally gotten together with your friends, instead of the newest diet trend each one of them is trying. Be present in the moment, instead of becoming distant and distracted, fixating on the calories in food.
During my recovery, positive mealtime talk meant everything. True laughter, deep conversations, heart-to-hearts over pasta and garlic bread meant everything. Making mealtime about more than just the food meant everything. It meant recovery. It meant relapse prevention. It meant true happiness.
Each one of us has decisions to make – vital decisions. We can decide whether we will perpetuate food talk or destroy it at its roots. We can decide whether we will intentionally engage in food-less conversation or be the person who mindlessly starts talking about calories, diets, and food trends. We can decide whether we will order food without a comment or objection because we want it or if we will discuss the options endlessly with our company, in order to find justification to eat the food we want.
The decisions you personally make about food talk can cause, advance, or end an eating disorder. Sound dramatic? Re-read this post.