Pre-Holiday Support: Setting Boundaries in Conversations about our Bodies, our Diets, or our Current Stage in Life | The Brownble Podcast

We’re back with Season 9! Pre-Holiday Support: Setting Boundaries in Conversations about our Bodies, our Diets, or our Current Stage in Life

diet & exercise on being vegan podcast Dec 16, 2021

Show notes:

We're back with season 9 of the podcast everyone! I can tell you that without a doubt, this has been the season I've been planning and preparing for the most (not to mention the one I'm most nervous/excited about) since we started The Brownble Podcast so many moons ago. As promised, this season is going to have all the support and tools I always share in our usual episodes, with some very cool and interesting people coming to join me for interviews from time to time. There are so many people I'm dying for you to meet, who are experts in areas that are so closely linked to the topics we usually talk about here that I know some great conversations are in store for all of us! It's a little adventure we're going to experiment with in this season of the podcast and that I hope you enjoy.

To kick off season 9, just a couple of weeks before Christmas, I thought we'd kick off the season with the importance of setting boundaries when we encounter conversations with family members this Holiday season about topics so personal it's quite surprising that we're still faced with them every year.

When it comes to the size of our bodies, the way we look, the way we eat, or our life choices, something happens when we're surrounded by people who love us, where the invisible adult line called independence is blurred, wiped out somehow, and all topics seem like fair game.

To them, it might be love and concern, to us it just feels uncomfortable, like our shoes suddenly became one size smaller, our clothes a few inches tighter, and no matter how we shift and move around, we feel that there is no escaping the discomfort of these conversations. The ones that come dressed in the nice Christmas sweater of "care", but that can either be full of distance, criticism, or invasive curiosity.

In the past, I have lived through uncomfortable Holiday gatherings where people chose the dinner table to discuss my being vegan, and although they are the ones that brought it up are extremely defensive about it. I have had friends who are single sit around the Holiday table with all eyes on them, and their love lives on a Petri dish being passed around like the cranberry sauce.

On some occasions talks around the table have become fat shaming, or centered around commenting on people's bodies, how they eat, how they need to be eating more, or not have a second helping, how the way they eat is wrong, or perfectly right and all other ways completely incorrect.

We've had distant relatives ask why we don't have kids, and others asking those with one kid when they plan on having the second one, or the third one. 

When we have a different life, when we make different choices, when we follow the road less travelled (and I think most of our listeners have), the Holidays can feel like a minefield. 

When we're going through any sort of difficult time, recovering from loss, depression, anxiety, an eating disorder, years of dieting, from a tumultuous and painful relationship with our body, the end of a relationship or chapter in life, an illness, the changes that come with age, the Holidays can feel like the biggest mountain to climb.

We've had so many different episodes giving you tips on how to navigate the holiday season when it comes to being vegan and/or improving your relationship with food and body image (you can listen to episodes 106 - Holiday pep talk part 1-  and episode 107 - part 2 -  as well as episode 167 - Table talk around the holidays-), and we recently had a Q & A episode on how to handle criticism about the way you eat or otherwise in episode 179, so you have so many tips and resources there as well, but recently I've noticed that with some people, on certain topics, I've had to set stronger boundaries, or I am preparing set stronger boundaries.

I have been vegan for a very long time, in just 2 or 3 weeks I will have been vegan for 9 years, and by now, that aspect of my eating is well understood and accepted by all, but when it comes to the presence of diet culture, comments on certain foods we eat, or how our bodies change, or discussions on restrictions and weight loss diets people will be trying after the Holidays, ingredients or foods that are vilified and eliminated, fears of gaining weight, or getting older, of bodies changing with age and how to prevent that from happening, in these areas, and our very different stance on them, there is still a great divide, and due to my personal past of restrictive and disordered eating, it falls upon me to protect that recovery and the much healthier and better place I am in now, as the number one priority. With that, comes the need to set boundaries, and sometimes, set them again.

Regardless of what that great divide is for you and your loved ones, boundary setting by being as honest as you can about the journey you've been on, will help so much in protecting your space, your choices, your autonomy and even your privacy. Whether that great divide is the fact that you're an ethical vegan and they are not, or the fact that they are still very much entangled in diet culture and body perfection and beauty standards and you are not, whether they have a dream for what your life was going look like and you've chosen a different path for yourself, or life has taken you down a different path because of circumstances.

To me, even with all the progress I've made, even with years of being an intuitive eater, and having left my restrictive and disordered eating behind, diet talk, calorie talk, the vilifying of certain food groups, the comments on other people's bodies (or my own), can still be triggering.

I have been practicing setting all types of boundaries, changing the subject, walking away for a bit, trying to talk through it sharing some of the information that has helped me so much, but the truth is that I haven't, until very recently, set down a boundary that truly explains why these conversations are triggering.

I got the inspiration from a very brave person very close to me who is constantly facing comments on her body and what they should and shouldn't do to alter their body size. It took being very honest about how these comments and their constant resurfacing in conversations made them feel emotionally, it took vulnerability, for these very triggering comments to stop.

In my own story with disordered eating, only a very limited number of people know what I went through and how hard the journey out of it was, and unless you've been down this path before, diet culture talk, body talk, body shaming, is simply a part of the mainstream conversation, and you see no harm in it.

When I was recently faced with criticism over eating a certain food, I tried to argue my way out of it with all the science that is actually behind it, and then I realized that the only way to truly draw a line in the sand that made people understand that certain topics can be harmful or hurtful, is to briefly talk and be honest about my past. So I shared. I shared and felt the vulnerability hangover that came after, and I still shared. I could see the wheels turning in the eyes of the person in front of me and saw a sense of understanding finally claiming their features. Although I don't think it will take just one mention or conversation, I understood that talking about our own difficulties, issues, vulnerabilities, or past, from the heart, was the only way to truly set a boundary that would be respected.

So I told, and I opened up, and I will again, and I'll remind people of that boundary as many times as I need to.

These boundaries can sound something like this:

"You know, the reason why I don't like to to talk about this is that I actually struggled with a lot of restriction and disordered eating due to dieting in my past, I am now in recovery from that but it's still hard to have some of these conversations, do you mind if we talk about something else?"

"I know you have your own way of eating that might work for you, but I love eating in this way and I have finally found peace with food after a long history of a messy relationship with food so would you mind if we talked about something else? I was actually going to ask you about...  (your dog/hobby/recent vacation, etc)"

"I know you have thoughts about the way I eat and that my way of eating has changed. I know it sparks up a lot of conversation and jokes, and I'm happy to answer questions if you're really interested, but it's okay if you and I eat differently from each other, I'm going down my own path and it's been what has felt right for me"

"Everything's fine with me, I'm enjoying the way my life is right now, but you know it's always hard being the only single person/ person with no kids/person with one kid and having the same conversation at every gathering when there are so many different cool things about my life, tell me how you're doing..."

"I know you mean well and are concerned about me, but please know that I'm doing okay and I am finding my own way, I'm in the process of healing my relationship with food and the best way you could help me right now is by accepting me as I am, and sharing time with me where the focus isn't on weight and my body or my food, I'm on this whole new journey and it's going to go at its own pace (or, I have professionals who are helping me, I have a treatment team, etc)"

Setting boundaries in conversations is one of the hardest things to do, but when it comes from vulnerability, from our own stories, with a clear line, and a suggestion on how else the person can support us or the many other topics we can discuss, people will soon start realizing that certain topics can be harmful no matter how good our intentions, and what we can have conversations about instead.

To end today's episode, I just want to also remind you that no matter what happens, or what gets triggered, you can also walk away, and in the aftermath, there is also a way back to a better place within yourself, when you step back into the tools that are helping you, and it always starts with self compassion, a warm and comforting self talk to heal the wound, recognize why it hurt, that many others would have reacted in the same way, and we can then remember why this journey has been important and why it's worth it to continue on this kinder path of self acceptance, or whatever journey it is we are on.

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