Are you being monitored by the food, exercise or weight police? This policing may sound something like “Make sure you exercise today,” “Should you really be eating that?” or the dreaded “How much weight did you lose?”
These questions may make the person being questioned want to eat more and move less instead of motivating them. Comments and questions like these are unhelpful for most people, and it is rare that someone finds these remarks motivating – and I do mean RARE. For most of us, when we feel like we are being watched and judged, we cringe and our inner rebel tends to come out. We may lash out at the person questioning us or implode and treat ourselves poorly with unhealthy behaviors as a result. While the questions from well-meaning family and friends typically come from a place of love and caring, this type of support usually misses the mark for the recipient by a lot.
If you are the recipient of these types of questions, here are a few tips on how to change the dialogue instead of recycling the same tired exchange that isn’t working.
1. Identify what type of support would be helpful.
Often, we know what isn’t supportive, but knowing what would be helpful might take some extra thought. When talking to the food police, explain why their comment or question is not helpful and provide guidance for what would be helpful. For example, “Your comment makes me feel like I’m being watched and judged. This is not supportive and makes me want to just eat more. I appreciate it when you positively encourage me. That is the type of support, I find helpful.” Another reply could be: “Commenting on what I am eating is off limits, but I appreciate it when you ask about my day or how work is going. That is the type of support, I find helpful.” Ultimately, identifying what would be helpful takes some soul-searching and understanding around what questions and comments are allowed or off-limits. Triggers for one person can be the ‘just right’ solution for another.
FYI: We may need to gently remind the food police when they forget and revert to their unhelpful way of reacting. Behavior changes take time.
2. Determine how you want to handle body weight talk.
We live in a culture in which body size and weight talk is openly accepted and encouraged. At H3, we have worked with people who subconsciously revert to their old binge eating patterns when well-meaning friends and family comment on their weight loss. Some feel more in the spotlight and uncomfortable, and, on the other hand, some people are encouraged and motivated to stay on track by the weight loss comments they receive.
Set your own boundaries around what is or is not open for discussion regarding YOUR body. Each person’s comfort level for what is acceptable varies, so how you respond to questions and comments about your weight will depend upon your preferences and needs. Clarifying what is helpful versus unhelpful takes some soul-searching. The key is to evaluate what works for you, as well as how you want to respond to certain questions, and what type of boundaries you want to create with others. Even if you have people in your life who just won’t get it no matter what you say to them, voicing your needs and boundaries with others positively impacts self-esteem. Expressing yourself says that your voice and your needs MATTER! Even if we can’t change others, we can shift how we respond to them and their comments.
3. Create default responses to questions.
Once you become clearer on what would and would not be helpful to you, it’s time to create default responses to the questions you know you will get from well-meaning loved ones. For example, in response to the “How much weight did you lose?” question, a default response could be: “I’m not sure, I’m not focused on that as much as how I feel, and I feel great!”. For the “Should you be eating that?” question, your response could be: “Yes, I follow a balanced approach to eating that feels sustainable and not depriving, and it’s working well for me.” Or “Remember I said that commenting on my food was off limits? I need you to please trust me and my choices.” Again, the response will need to honor your truth, your boundaries. Your response can be honest, tactful, simple, firm and to the point without a deep explanation of why you are or aren’t doing something that is being policed.
One last thing. If you regularly comment on other people’s body weight and size, but dislike it when yours is the topic of discussion, then a good place to start is to simply notice when your mind goes to that place, take a deep breath, and choose to say something different or nothing at all. Furthermore, if you see yourself as the police instead of the one being policed – sharing this blog with those you are monitoring (out of love, I know…) will go a long way in encouraging an open, honest discussion on how they are impacted, and what is most helpful to them as you strive to support their efforts.
For more reading on this topic, check out our letter we provide to family and friends on how to prevent being an unintentional Friendly Enemy. This letter has helped many of our guests at H3 and their loved-ones to start a dialogue around how to stop policing behavior and to provide more effective support.