In response to one of my blogs, I was asked: “Is it possible to stop people from talking about eating and weight?” Hurray, I thought: “Am I the only one on the planet tired of yakking about this subject?” Short of duct-taping their mouths, we can’t actually prevent people from talking about it, but we can exert subtle and direct pressure on them. Even if our strategies fail, they will help us express our needs, an important skill to practice.
There are four ways to handle people talking about eating or weight. First, ignore it. Nod pleasantly while channeling your thoughts elsewhere—to a book you’ve been enjoying, the great sex you had yesterday, resolving a family problem, or writing a grocery list in your head. Sometimes it’s distracting enough to simply take in the scenery or keep your mind blank. Better yet, use the moment to practice deep breathing or body relaxation.
Second, redirect conversation by posing a question to the speaker. Most folks love to talk about themselves and are delighted to have the floor. Wait until the person talking about food or weight takes a breath or pauses, then jump in with a question they can’t resist answering. There might be a nano-second of awkwardness, but so what. You’re taking control. If you’re in a group, keep asking questions til the subject gets changed.
Third, raise a new subject. Don’t be passive if someone is going on and on about food or weight. Start with, “Did I tell you …” or “Guess what!” then finish up with something to lure their attention away. Most of us know the kinds of subjects that interest friends and family members and can even make an educated guess with strangers. This practice gives air time for our concerns and also helps us feel less powerless when listening to a subject we’re not all that enamored with.
Fourth, if these strategies don’t work, comment on the conversation. Ask why, for goodness sake, when people get together they talk about food or weight. Use humor if you can and try to include yourself in whatever you say so that the other party doesn’t feel too offended (eg, “What’s with us Americans, etc.”). Be direct. Suggest placing a moratorium on the subject or just come out and say you’re working on eating problems and find it’s counter-productive to success to keep talking about them.
If you’re in this situation frequently, you may be hanging out with folks who aren’t a close match to your values, concerns and interests, and it may be time to rethink your relationships. Talking a lot about eating or weight is neither natural nor healthy.