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Just fucking stop talking. Stop asking what they ate today. Stop talking about the new diet you heard of. Hold your breath (forever if need be) when a sudden comment of concern arises in your throat. Just, shut up.
You think you are helping. I get it. But let’s talk about what really happens when you try to give your loved ones unsolicited advice about their bodies and their food intake. When you make them lunch and don’t include any foods that are exciting or tasty that they asked for, they don’t sit in the cafeteria quietly nourishing their bodies, thankful that their parent knows best. They learn that in order to get the foods that they want, they must be sneaky. They find quarters between couch cushions, or maybe even borrow some from your purse, and they find the vending machine after lunch. What could have just been a treat in their lunch box, has now turned into a full on adventure that proved to them how fun it is to find ways to sneak the food they want, and then feel the overwhelming sense of reward that sweeps over their body as they eat. If you’re lucky, they’ll forget that feeling quickly and let it manifest into shame. Because that’s what you want right? You want them to feel ashamed of eating that food you didn’t give them. If you’re not lucky, they’ll seek it out for the rest of their lives, looking for that little high that feels just like sitting in the bathroom eating a snickers bar before the lunch bell rings and they have to run back to class, their stomachs uncomfortably full from eating too much too fast.
When you say to them “I love you, but I’m concerned for your health”, imagine what it is like to always hear “but…” after every “I love you”. Imagine for a moment what it must feel like to be a kid, or a person of any age, who feels like the love they receive is contingent upon how well they’re executing this week’s diet plan. As you watch them exercise more, and eat less ask yourself why you require someone you love to shrink themselves. When they come to you starry eyed and tell you that they had salad for lunch and didn’t drink any (sugar laden) juice, think about the environment you’re creating when each “healthy” meal requires validation from another person. What happens when you are not there to congratulate them on their inhibition?
Have you ever considered the effects of teaching a person that they cannot trust their own body? That each cue they receive internally is just another way to ruin their commitment to thinness? What it must feel like to be housed in a space that you cannot trust to keep you safe? Imagine you’ve been taught that everything your body tells you about your needs is wrong. Do you believe that those feelings stop with eating? Some times when they’re hungry, they don’t eat. Their empty stomachs a small symbol of accomplishment. Some times when they feel uncomfortable they don’t speak up. They’ve been taught that their bodies feeling discomfort is normal, something to be proud of. It doesn’t stop with food.
As you reach for solutions to solve the “problem” of someone else’s body, consider for a moment that you may not have all the information you need. You may not know what kind of impact you will have. Consider that we are all different, and what may have worked for you or someone you know may have a very real, very permanent effect on someone else. When you decide to make it your goal to control another person, however small, just… don’t. Take a breath. Do some reading. And shut the fuck up.