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There is a topic that comes up a lot with my clients (especially closer to the holidays!) and that is setting boundaries with family on food and body comments. Many people who struggle with their relationship with food were raised or surrounded by others who are also struggling. Even as we are working SO hard to heal our own problems, we still have to interact with others who may not be on this healing journey quite yet. Dealing with those well-intentioned yet oh-so-freaking-annoying comments about our food and bodies is incredibly difficult, exhausting, and painful. Let’s talk about how to handle these moments with grace and firm boundaries.
First things first, we need to recognize that comments about our bodies and what we’re eating can have a huge impact. They can make us feel all sorts of uncomfortable – from shame to guilt to anxiety. These feelings can seriously mess with us and it may feel like you’re taking a step back in your intuitive eating journey when you are triggered by comments. Understanding this impact is key because it helps validate our need to set boundaries and prioritize our own well-being.
Before you dive into those tough conversations, take a moment to think about your values. What does intuitive eating mean to you? Why did you begin this work to begin with? Why is it essential to your overall health and happiness? Knowing your values will give you a strong foundation when you talk to your family members. I highly recommend journaling before the event, if it can be predicted.
The way that you approach setting boundaries is going to completely depend on who you are speaking to, your relationship to them, and the amount of emotional energy you have to put into this. Remember: you do not owe anyone an explanation for why they should not make comments about your body.
When it’s time to set those boundaries, try to keep the conversation open and relaxed. Find a quiet moment to chat with your family member one-on-one. Share your feelings without going on the offensive. For instance, you could say, “I know you mean well, but I’m really trying to be more intuitive with my eating, focusing on how I feel rather than my weight. Comments about my body or what I’m eating just make me feel weird” or “I would really appreciate it if we didn’t bring up any food or body talk” (remember: you do not need to explain any more than that if you don’t want to).
Your family might not completely get the type of work that you’re doing, what intuitive eating is, or why diet culture can be harmful. It could be helpful to share some educational resources or have a conversation about the principles of intuitive eating. This can help your loved ones see where you’re coming from. For example, a great resource I love to point people to is the Maintenance Phase Podcast! You could also send them my Instagram account. 😉
Lay out your boundaries clearly. Let your family member know what’s off-limits and what kind of behavior you expect. For instance, you might say, “Can we please not discuss my body or food choices during meals? Let’s focus on enjoying our time together.”
Having someone in your family who’s on the same page as you can be a game-changer. Talk to a family member who understands your journey and ask for their support in redirecting or addressing inappropriate comments made by others.
Dealing with these comments can be emotionally exhausting. Make self-care a priority, especially after those challenging family gatherings. Do things that make you feel good, whether it’s taking a walk, writing in a journal, or chatting with a friend who gets it.
If, despite your best efforts, a family member keeps making those hurtful comments, it’s totally okay to disengage from the conversation. Politely change the subject or excuse yourself if you need to. You may decide that someone is not worth the emotional effort of trying to educate and it is completely within your right to just change the subject. Remember, setting boundaries is all about protecting your emotional well-being.
Changing family dynamics isn’t something that happens overnight. Let’s be honest – it’s freaking exhausting! Your loved ones might not fully understand your perspective at first, and there might be moments of frustration. Stay patient and persistent in your commitment to setting and maintaining boundaries. Over time, many family members will come to respect and support your journey toward intuitive eating. And if they don’t – it’s not your fault.
In a nutshell, setting boundaries with family members around food and body comments is a vital part of your intuitive eating adventure. Your well-being is worth defending, so don’t be afraid to speak up and protect your emotional health. With some patience, education, and open communication, you can create a more understanding and supportive family environment, allowing you to rock the intuitive eating lifestyle with confidence and peace.
Are you looking for more support? Check out my nutrition services here.