There are a few different ways to go about laying down a boundary and/or redirecting the conversation. Your approach again depends on the nature of your relationship with the person and the conversation you’re having; you can be as specific or vague, blunt or polite, lighthearted or serious, passive or direct as the situation calls for. Think about what you might say to the usual suspects—the people with a history of making those kinds of comments. It can’t hurt to also have a response on-hand you’d feel comfortable using with most anyone.
Here are a few different suggestions that you can use verbatim or make your own.
1. “Thank you for offering—it looks great but I’m actually feeling satisfied already.”
While saying “no thanks” to that second piece of mom’s pie should be enough, people often feel pressured to accept a serving of something they’re not actually hungry for out of fear of being impolite or offending the person who made it. “This is a neutral response you can use whenever you’re already full and satisfied, and don’t particularly desire any more food,” Harbstreet says. “You don’t have to fully explain or justify your reason for declining, but this takes the focus off the food itself and lets the other person know it has nothing to do with the quality of the food—it’s just that you’re already full.”
2. “When you talk about my food and my body, it makes me feel uncomfortable. Do you mind if we change the subject?”
If you feel safe enough with the person to be vulnerable about how food and body talk actually make you feel, you might try being frank with them, Leon says. They truthfully might not know how that kind of talk affects you, and people generally don’t want to perpetuate someone else’s discomfort once they’re made aware of it. (You could also say, “I’d really prefer not to talk about my body or eating, if you don’t mind,” to communicate your discomfort in a different way.) This kind of phrasing is straightforward, while also giving the person an out, Harbstreet adds. “In all likelihood, their desire to be polite will steer the conversation to a new topic,” she says.
3. “Hey, I’m really trying to not talk about food or bodies in a negative way. What is everyone grateful for this year?”
This candid response is a good one to use if the conversation starts to veer into fatphobic or diet culture territory more generally, or in regards to the other person or someone else—as opposed to you in particular. “It can shed light on the negative tone—something the other person may not even pick up on—and establishes your boundaries around what is and is not OK to say around you,” Harbstreet explains. Following it up with a topical question helps quickly redirect the conversation.
4. “Tell me about X” or “Did you see/hear about X?”
It is also perfectly OK at any point to just change the course of the discussion yourself, without explaining why. “If you do not have the energy to state a boundary, you can try to change the topic of conversation, even if it feels abrupt,” certified intuitive eating counselor Carolina Guízar, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N., founder of Eathority and cofounder of Latinx Health Collective, tells SELF. The goal is to get off the subject, and sometimes the quickest and easiest way to do that is just by introducing a new one.
Leon recommends choosing beforehand a handful of topics you can bring up if you need to. For instance, you can ask the person about something going on in their life. (“I hear you got a new dog!” or “Did you take up any new hobbies during the lockdowns?”) You can also bring up a new movie, TV show, or book you’ve enjoyed recently, and ask if they’ve seen or read it.
5. “Thank you for your concern, but that is for me and my doctor to talk about.”
Even when someone is coming from a place of care and concern, you are well within your rights to let them know in a firm and clear way that they are crossing a line. If the person insists, “I’m just worried” or “I just care about you,” Guízar says you can reply with a reminder that it’s truly not their business. You might also try, “I have a great doctor/R.D., but thanks anyway.”
6. “Healthy looks different for everyone. For me, health is actually about [X].”
If the person is someone with whom you feel comfortable enough to share more about your views on health and weight—and potentially open up a conversation on the often misunderstood topic—this could actually be a good opportunity to do so. For instance, Guízar suggests saying something like, “Healthy for me means not focusing on a number on the scale, and instead focusing on foods and movement that make me feel good.”