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Setting boundaries around body talk in eating disorder recovery can be a helpful tool to use as you navigate a world steeped in diet culture. Amanda shares more about how to do that and why it’s so important!

How to Set Boundaries with Body Talk in Eating Disorder Recovery

Eating disorder recovery can be a really sensitive time as you navigate how to handle the world in a body you are no longer trying to change. As individuals living in a society consumed by diet culture, it is unlikely that you will be able to avoid hearing comments that feel triggering or challenging to your journey. Boundary setting can be a helpful tool to pull from your toolbox when comments made around body talk feel challenging.

What is boundary setting?

Boundary setting is a form of self care, which empowers you to create a clear guide on how you want to be treated. It can involve setting an expectation for conversations you have. In this blog, we’ll talk about how this comes up around body talk. 

In a Washington Post article titled, “Everyone is setting boundaries. Do they even know what it means?“, author Rebecca Fishbein states, “therapists say that while it’s healthy for people to talk about setting boundaries, many people use the term incorrectly — and when misused, a boundary can become a means of controlling someone else’s behavior or making demands.”

We want to be clear that boundary setting is not, and should not, be a way to control others. Rather, it can be a way to establish what your needs are – for example, “this conversation about your diet is making me uncomfortable, let’s talk about something else!” Alternatively, a controlling rule masked as a boundary might sound like, “you are not allowed to talk to these people anymore!”

Fishbein states, “Boundaries are not a means to manage another person’s behavior or choices that are made independent of you.”

Why do we set boundaries?

We set boundaries for our own mental and physical well being. Oftentimes when speaking with people who continue to bring up a conversation that makes us uncomfortable or feel negatively about ourselves, we need to make sure that it doesn’t happen again so being clear with our expectations is important. These boundaries are to ensure our safety and comfortability. Nobody is allowed to step over the boundaries you make. Your boundaries are important and are expected to be heard and followed. However, that can be extremely difficult especially when it comes to close relationships.

Below are a few comments that can be hurtful and may need a boundary in place.

Comments About Your Appearance

  • “You look healthy.”
  • “You look like you’ve gained or lost weight”
  • “You look great!” 
  • “I’m worried about you [because you’ve lost/gained weight]”

Why Comments Like This Are Often Harmful

All of these comments may be said with good intention. However, these comments reinforce that the first thing people notice about you is your body size. It also enforces that your body size determines health, worthiness, dedication, hard work, etc. when it does not. These comments can be harmful to people who are in recovery from their eating disorder, people who are trying to heal their relationship with food, and overall just people trying to live their life. It is important to remember to never comment on someone’s body or appearance. As it does not shed any light on what is going on in their life and is the least important thing about them. 

Comments about food on your plate.

  • “Going back for more?”
  • Commenting about specific foods on your plate 
  • “Are you going to eat all of that?”
  • “Slow down, no one is going to take your food away from you”
  • “Save some for the rest of us”

Why Comments Like This Are Often Harmful

Commenting on someone’s plate or the amount of food they are eating is unnecessary. The only person that knows how much they should be eating is the person eating. Even if people think you are eating “too much” it is not up to the commenter to determine what the appropriate amount of food is for you. The amount of food someone eats is not up for discussion, they are allowed to eat as much as they want, as fast as they want, and also as frequently as they please. 

Comments people make about themselves or others in front of you.

  • Talking about foods on their own plate.
  • Talking about how full they are.
  • Talking about their own body.
  • Talking about someone else’s body/plate to you.

Why Comments Like This Are Often Harmful

While these comments are not aimed directly at you, it can still feel hurtful to hear someone else saying them about themselves. These comments can feel like they are indirectly talking about you, especially if the person they are talking about has a similar body shape to you, or is eating the same type of food that you are eating or like. 

So now what can you do to help set boundaries if a situation, as shared above, happens? 

What does setting a boundary look like? Here are some specific examples!

  • I don’t want to talk about this anymore.
  • Let’s talk about something else.
  • I’m uncomfortable.

If your boundary is not respected it is up to you if you’d like to enforce it. That may mean repeating your initial statement or extending it a bit further. For example it can look like:

  • My body isn’t up for discussion and we are going to stop talking about it.
  • What is on my plate is none of your business.
  • You don’t need to be worried about me. 
  • I won’t discuss dieting anymore.
  • Let’s talk about something more interesting.

Your body is nobody’s business and it’s not up for discussion. Setting boundaries with friends and family can feel very uncomfortable, especially if this is the first time we are putting up a boundary. You are deserving of having your boundaries respected the first time you ask. You are worthy of people not giving unsolicited comments about your body or the foods you eat. Also, only you get to determine what health looks like for you, and your body size or the foods you eat do not determine that. This work can feel very hard and uncomfortable and so we may not get it “right” everytime and that is okay. Your voice matters, and you deserve to be heard. 

Nicole Doyle Dietitian to Be Administrative Assistant Reclaim Nutrition

If you are struggling in your relationship with food and would like to learn more about resources and support, we invite you to reach out.

Our Dietitian team at Reclaim Nutrition would love to support you on your journey to food freedom, body image healing and eating disorder recovery.

We are here, if you should need it!


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