Someone—a family member, friend, colleague, acquaintance or even a stranger—comments on what you’re eating or how you look. Maybe it’s a subtle remark. I’ve heard about such and such diet. You should give it a try. You know it’s good to weigh yourself every week.
Maybe it’s downright rude or cruel. Oh, you’re having another helping. You sure that’s a good idea? Wow, you’ve put on some weight, or Geez, you’ve gotten so skinny. I don’t know why you’re not even trying to lose (or gain) weight. It’s really not that hard. Your cousin had no problem losing (or gaining) 10 pounds. You don’t need to be eating dessert. Do you know how many calories are in that cheesecake?
And when that someone makes a comment, you feel embarrassed or utterly humiliated. You feel so small. You start to feel the heat of shame wash over you. And you keep saying to yourself, I am wrong. I knew it. Which is understandable because comments like this can rattle and shatter us, especially if our body image has been shaky for years, especially if we’ve decided to finally stop dieting after dieting for years.
Even if you feel great about yourself, such comments still hurt. Because they’re hurtful.
Although it might feel natural to internalize these words—why would someone say it if it wasn’t true?—they have nothing to do with us. Really.
“Anyone that makes a comment about someone else’s weight or what they are eating is projecting their own insecurities, self-hatred, or prejudices on someone else,” said Lena Aburdene Derhally, MS, LPC, a psychotherapist and relationship expert in Washington, D.C. “People who feel secure and happy with themselves do not make these type of comments.” Which is why she suggested reminding yourself, “It’s not about me.”
Maryland eating disorder specialist Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LCSW-C, also suggested remembering that people’s comments “are really just mirrors of what they are struggling with or overly concerned about, and actually have little to do with you.” If you can, she said, “try to practice some compassion for them—and think about how sad it is that they are still steeped in diet-culture.”
Derhally suggested not wasting your time and walking away (and finding a quiet place to ground yourself). If you can’t walk away, focus on your breath. For instance, you might take five deep, soothing breaths, she said.
If you know you’ll be interacting with a person who tends to make comments about your looks or food intake, find ways to keep your interactions brief or rehearse a response you can give, Derhally said. I don’t talk about dieting or weight with others. My weight is not up for discussion. My focus is on the meaning of this holiday, not on unimportant things.
Another tool is to observe your thoughts, feelings, and urges, Rollin said. Avoid judging yourself for whatever arises. Instead, “pretend that you are an anthropologist observing the triggering situation.” Then she suggested telling yourself some kind and comforting words. For instance, she shared this example: “It’s perfectly understandable that I’m really struggling with this. I’m definitely not alone in feeling this way. All people feel pain sometimes. I’m going to choose to do something nice for myself in this moment.”
It’s hard when someone makes a mean comment, whether we take it to heart or not. It’s still unpleasant to hear. It’s awkward. It’s embarrassing. (Really the only person who should be embarrassed is the one choosing to spend the holiday focused on irrelevant, rude things.)
Ultimately, remember that typically what others say, especially around food and weight, has nothing to do with us, and everything to do with them. When you hear anything that triggers you, take several deep breaths and reconnect to yourself. Listen to your own body. Listen to your own heart. And refocus on what matters to you.