Happy NO-lidays! Neutralizing Fattism and Healthism at Seasonal Gatherings

Part III: Bring It.

I am unloading a series of short blog posts this week on neutralizing fattism and healthism at seasonal gatherings, although hopefully these concepts can apply year round. As a refresher, fattism and healthism pertains to diet talk, the healthy-living behaviors talk, the body shaming and the good/sinful dichotomy of food that ruins what might otherwise be cherished time with those closest to you. Part I  and II in this series can be found here and here.

Marceline Smith and Virginia State Park: Flickr,com
Marceline Smith and Virginia State Park: Flickr,com

In the previous post we looked at how to get the entire gathering on each other’s team by finding some light-hearted ways to create a healthism and fattism-free zone. That approach will have more success if you are the exception in your family when it comes to having an eating disorder (which is one expression of several types of anxiety disorders). However, we know that eating disorders, and anxiety disorders in general, have a genetic underpinning, so chances are you’ve got more than a few relatives with some anxious ways of responding to the world and others.

Many people will persist in relaying something even when you tell them directly that you have no wish to hear anything more about it. Anxiety renders most people victims of selfishness. The compulsion to share anxiety is difficult to shut down even when someone you care about is asking you, for his or her sake, not to do so.

But just as they persist, it’s okay for the purpose of setting your boundaries to reiterate your request—as many times as it takes, with firmness and kindness.

“I know that you feel a lot of anxiety about that and I would want to help you to find solutions that will make you feel less disappointed in yourself or worried that you are failing, but I just know that right now, given my challenge of recovery, I am not in a space to even hear about your concerns around dieting, let alone help. Could we please change the topic?”

“We’re back on that same topic again. Is there anything else we could do besides talk about that, that will work for both of us?”

“Of course I am concerned for your health and well being, but we just can’t be going into that diet stuff, remember? Let’s talk about what you have planned for the garden this year.” *

Use as many variations as it takes to keep reminding the person while finding ways to make them feel included in figuring out solutions for moving away from the topic.

Most states of arousal are highly contagious for primates. Anxiety signals the anticipation of a threat and so it naturally follows that all primates in the vicinity should zoom in on anyone of the tribe signaling the presence of a possible threat. But the anticipation of a threat is not the same as the presence of a threat. If you are in recovery from an eating disorder, you are already well aware that treating fatness or sickness as anticipatory threats is actually about protecting the status accorded those who are thin or healthy by oppressing those who are fat or sick. If you’d like to read more about this concept, you can review the blog post: Privilege and Status.

Meta-cognition is a powerful tool for identifying the fact that you are ‘being infected’ by someone else’s anxiety and the anxiety is falsely generating a sense of imminent threat to your wellbeing and life.

Your inner thoughts can register “Oh, there goes grandma again as her anxiety gets the best of her.”

Channel your inner-analyst and generate some internal cognitive distance. As soon as you identify that what your relative or friend is saying is anxiety chatter, the infectiousness of that chatter is completely shut down.

A technique a wonderful therapist once taught me was to go and sit in a coffee shop that is reasonably crowded (and not just filled with gargoyles hunched over screens, keypads and mobiles with ear buds jammed in place—people actually conversing with each other is better) and then just people watch. Can you identify the moods and emotions of those around you? You likely can.

But once you’ve absorbed all of that, come back to your own inner space. How does your mood and emotion differ from those around you? Reinforce your separateness from others. Identifying mood and emotion in others doesn’t have to encompass feeling what others feel to a degree where you lose connection to your own emotional thoughts and state.

By practicing this connection/disconnection exercise with strangers, you can develop the technique to a point where you can apply it with the people closest to you as well.

Next installment coming tomorrow...

* Have some other topics the family member is interested in at the ready—maybe talking about favorite movies or series, hobbies, or maybe you redirect them towards a task—“Can I help you (fill in the blank)?”