Let's talk - Just not about your diet, please

Sometimes, I just can’t think “schoolwork.” I can, however, think “blog.” And as promised, I want to continue to talk about some of the toughest parts of negotiating my happy/healthy life on a day-to-day basis.

Today, I want to talk about fat talk. I consider diet talk a form of fat talk. So I’m referring to the kind of chats about how fat we feel, how bad we were over the weekend, what we’re eating or not eating…you know the type. I’m talking about the endless conversations where we beat ourselves up about diet and the shape and size of our bodies, and the significance that we attribute to all of this.

Obviously as a personal trainer and a health and fitness writer, I hold health as a priority and encourage dialogue on the topic. What I don’t encourage is an obsession with it, nor the kind of bonding over misery that seems to ensue when people talk about their bodies. That is the “fat talk” that I’m talking about.

The Huffington Post goes so far as to call fat talk an “epidemic.” The article does a good job of talking about what fat talk is, and what’s problematic about it. Even Special K has tapped in on just how rife our world is with it—though they choose to turn it around and call it a “barrier” to weight management (a circular argument, in my opinion, that keeps us focused on weight and needing to fix it).

My hobbies and my job are both active pursuits and as such, maybe I’m exposed to extra body talk—and with it its associated fat talk. Given the preponderance of fat talk, I find myself, at times, going into it. Rather than being as body positive as I hope to be, there are times where I don’t feel like leaving a conversation or feeling left out. Sometimes, I want to stop someone where they are and remind them that fat talk is not helping us in any regards—it’s not helping us change our bodies because it usually involves playing the victim, and it’s certainly not helping us appreciate the bodies we have. No matter what our goals are, I think it’s safe to say fat talk can go.

But I don’t always have the energy or the guts to take a stand for body appreciation. There are some people in my life who are dedicated whole-heartedly to wanting to lose weight. They’ve been dieting for as long as I know, and they may lose or gain weight, but it’s pretty much unbeknownst to me. These are people I love, and part of their identity is their weight. And so dieting or needing to get on a diet or needing to deal with their weight is such a part of them that I fear suggesting otherwise would be overstepping my boundaries. My body is certainly my business, and offering unsolicited advice to others on their bodies is kind of dangerous territory.

When I’m at a party and eating something that someone calls “bad” or vows that they will “eat clean” again soon—you know the kind of conversations I mean—that opinion doesn’t just hurt that person. It makes me and I would think anyone else enjoying cake, maybe, think twice about it. Fat talk is toxic, it’s contagious, and I know that it’s something I have to work to resist. Hearing my gremlins externalized in someone’s voice who is speaking the language of fat talk? That’s not a very nice feeling. Sometimes, saying something or calling someone out might be the wrong choice. We risk looking inconsiderate, or maybe stuck up, or like we have a superiority complex. And we can’t always convince someone.

Yes, I consider myself an advocate for body positivity and acceptance. I struggle with it just like a lot of people. I want to inspire other people to look at their bodies not as problems to be fixed, and I know that “fat talk” isn’t a route to that attitude, but I also don’t want to seem like I know it all or have it all figured out. I also work in health and fitness and know that people can be motivated by things like wanting to fix their flaws and end up finding a healthy relationship to their bodies. It’s my job there to support them, and to emphasize relating to our bodies in positive ways—not to judge their goals.

The nature of writing about the things I find tough means that I don’t have a really solid conclusion, but I’ll end with what I think, even as I struggle to walk away from the latest discussion of someone’s current macro breakdown. What I think is that we can spend our whole lives trying to manage our bodies, but at some point, all that energy turns into an obsession. And after a certain point, we start to lose out on the quality of our lives in something (taking care of our vessels) that was intended to improve it. I think fat talk is related to that, because it overemphasizes just how important the shape of our bodies is. Of course I am pro-healthy eating and working out, because I am pro-taking care of yourself. I am not behind spending so much time and energy on this stuff that it does the opposite of what I believe it should (improve the quality of your life). I am also pro-people talking about things that matter and I fear that for women in particular, fat talk is a means to keep us focused on our own selves, and in particular our physical forms. And the illusion of willpower and thinking that if only you’d try harder and then you’d have that six pack and it’s possible and it’s entirely up to you feeds into this because it keeps us talking about it ad nauseum. And to me, that’s sad. There’s a whole world out there, and our lives are filled with so much more than workouts and diets and numbers on a scale or in a pair of jeans. Taking care of our health is about setting us up to enjoy those other things.

Like I said, I don’t have this figured out. I’d love to hear from you below in the comments, but in the meantime, enjoy these little laughs that make fat talk a laughing matter: