CONTENT NOTE: Discussion of how diet talk is harmful.
The level of diet/weightloss talk from staff in maternity care is so high that my friend who has already qualified as a midwife *warned* me about it before I started. And when I say diet talk I don’t mean advising women we care for to diet (although that is a whole other blog post coming soon – and certainly influenced by a midwife’s own views on dieting and body positivity) but workers talking about their own diets and weightloss projects. Slimming world. Weight watchers. Being “good”. Being “bad”. Obsessions with weight that extend to telling people how much weight they have lost and weighing themselves at work. Asking others about their BMI. Talking about specific events in the future they want to lose weight for so they look ‘beautiful’, and others weighing in to advise how they can do that whilst still enjoying food over Christmas.
Then when the food comes out at lunchtime it’s a chorus of whether everyone is being “good” or “bad” in their choices. Saying “ooh that looks healthy” in a congratulatory tone. Looking forward to Friday when the consensus seems to be that you are allowed a treat that day. Telling us how many calories are in a given item.
I cannot tell you how many calories are in my lunch, and if I could, I wouldn’t. Because I think it’s a terrible combination of tedious and potentially triggering.
Diet talk is potentially triggering because some people are trying to resist dieting. Perhaps through recovery from eating disorders or disordered eating, and/or because they don’t like giving that much headspace every day to how they can take up less and less space in the world. It is harder not to think about when the people around you are trying to engage you in conversation about it. It gets me down because this seeming compulsion for diet/weight loss talk isn’t anything new, and I wasn’t surprised when I recognised it in a midwifery setting. It’s happened in all the mostly female workplaces I’ve worked in and it seems to be the default topic when women are together and want something to talk about. I feel like I am conspicuously absent from these discussions but it’s hard to go further and challenge people or change the subject, especially when I’m working somewhere new and concerned about the impression I am making.
I am body positive and fat positive, and I recognise an individual’s right to change their body if they want to. I am skeptical about how effective most diets are, but I wouldn’t try to stop someone from embarking on one. I also recognise that we are all products of the anti-fat, size conscious society we are living in, whether we have started actively deconstructing the way this affects our thoughts and actions or not! What I object to is the way the diet is performed to an often captive audience that has not consented.
Whilst I might not be able to influence my wider environment, this blog is a “no diet talk” space. Natalie of Definatalie.com put it well when she said “The way I see it, 99.9999999% of the world around me is a space where diet talk is not only normal but an insidious disease festering inside the relationships between women folk that masquerades as bonding”. She made the copyright-free badge I’ve put in my sidebar, which shows my commitment to keeping diet talk out, and to flagging any references to diet talk in terms of wider discussion with a content note.
I figure there are much more interesting things to talk about anyway.