One third of us deliberately avoid friends who are dieting – and more than a quarter have even tried to sabotage friends’ diets, according to recent research for Nkd Wholefoods. Cruel and insensitive? Maybe. But for many of us, a strict weight loss regime can swiftly become an obsession, and we soon start to lose perspective about what really matters.
Yes, of course it’s important to get into shape and adopt a healthy lifestyle. But harping on endlessly about how difficult you’re finding your ‘fast day’ or why you’re furious at yourself for scoffing a whole tube of Pringles at the weekend doesn’t make you fun company. Carry on like this and – let’s be honest – you’re in danger of becoming very, very boring.
What is ‘fat talk’ ?
Become obsessed with your fad diet and chances are you’ll soon be guilty of ‘fat talk’. This term has recently been coined to describe the body-shaming language employed by some women to talk about themselves. Ever complained about your so-called ‘muffin top’? Too embarrassed to show your ‘cankles’? Then your body confidence could well be at an all-time low – and no amount of faddy eating is going to solve that.
‘Fat talk is simply a form of self-sabotage,’ insists Jacqui Cleaver, senior life coach at New You Boot Camp. ‘If you focus on being fat, you’re telling your brain you’re fat – and every cell and chemical in your body will react to this. Instead, look in the mirror every morning and tell yourself how great you’re looking. Even on a bad day, you’ll find something to like. Remember, positive reinforcement leads to positive change.’
Why aren’t friends supportive?
But let’s back-track for a moment and talk about why your friends may not enjoy your company when you’re on a diet. Nkd’s survey revealed a number of reasons: 36 per cent of women said they found dieters irritating because they talked about their diets too much; 25 per cent said they simply found dieters grumpy and miserable; and 20 per cent admitted that a friend’s diet made them feel guilty for not being on a diet themselves.
If a friend is genuinely trying to sabotage your diet, the two of you need to address this – and sharpish. After all, why wouldn’t someone who truly cares about you want you to be fit and healthy? However, it’s important to recognise that your friend may have mixed feelings over your diet simply because she’s worried you’re not losing weight healthily or you’re aiming for an unrealistic target.
And remember, a well-balanced, healthy eating regime shouldn’t make you feel grumpy or miserable. On the contrary, it should make you more confident and full of energy. If your diet’s not doing that, there’s something wrong with your diet. And a caring friend may notice this fact before you do.
Why you need support
So all things considered, is it better not to talk about your diet to your friends? Far from it, says eating therapist Yvonne Green from The Food Doctor: ‘Gaining support from true friends can make it easier to avoid difficult food choices. And if you’re an emotional eater – ie, you eat in response to stress – it can help to talk things through with your friends, so they can help you combat that stress in another way.’
Jacqui Cleaver agrees: ‘Your friends should support you, so need to be included in your lifestyle changes. In fact, including your normal support group of friends and family in your “journey” is key to a successful lifestyle change. But there are plenty of other places where you can seek out support: slimming groups, internet forums, even the new friends you make at the gym and exercise classes.’
Your GP and other health professionals can help you in your quest for change, too – and can offer advice on how to overcome small problems and stay motivated. It may sometimes help to talk things over with a counsellor or eating therapist, particularly if you feel you’re becoming obsessed – but always talk to your GP in the first instance.
How to maintain perspective
‘Fundamentally, your friends like you as a person,’ Jacqui Cleaver reminds us. ‘You have built a relationship and enjoy one another’s company. There’s no reason this shouldn’t continue when you’re making lifestyle changes. Yes, you’ll need to be constantly conscious of the choices and changes you’re making – but don’t let it completely take over your life. You need to make small, sustainable changes – not have a personality transplant. Keep being you and talk to your friends about things you’ve always had in common.’
Ultimately, a fad diet isn’t sustainable over the long term. Making healthy food choices and staying in shape with regular exercise are. But you also need to recognise that everyone experiences setbacks from time to time – and harping on to your friends about how you’ve ruined everything by devouring a box of chocolates isn’t going to benefit anyone.
‘Don’t be too rigid with your eating plan,’ advises Yvonne Green. ‘Things may go wrong sometimes, but it’s really just a blip. Proper and permanent weight loss can take many months. It’s a life choice, not just a short-term fix.’