How to handle unsolicited body/food comments (that often come from your Mum)
Many of the women I work with share things like this with me……
- My Mum told me that I look like I've gained a few pounds
- My mother in-law is always on a diet and talks about it openly.
- When I’m out with my Mum she is awkward about having lunch or enjoying food
- My Mum makes comments about my portion sizes/ how quickly I eat/my food choices
Comments about your body or how you eat have a tendency to stick. Very often these messages become absorbed into your inner dialogue without you even noticing. Your inner critic is very often someone else’s voice.
Sadly, research suggests that it’s families, and in particular, mothers are the most likely to make critical comments about weight.
I often get asked how to deal with unsolicited comments like this, and I think it requires three things:
- Clear boundaries
It’s likely that whoever is making the comments has been hit hard by diet culture: calorie counting, weighing out food, and messages about how women should be slim. It’s also likely that they haven’t heard people speaking up against diet culture or been made aware of the research showing how harmful dieting is.
When I was growing up it was commonplace for positive comments about a person’s body to be considered a compliment. My mother would be constantly scrutinising her appearance. Does my bum look big in this was not a joke but a regular and harsh reflection of how deeply she felt her appearance was connected to her worth.
Having empathy can help you understand that these comments say more about the other person’s relationship with food than yours.
The idea of wanting people to like how you look is complex. It’s good to feel like you look good. But if you rely on the positive opinions of others to make you feel good about yourself, you also give them the power to obliterate your self-confidence too. AKA external validation.
I appreciate this is hard with mothers, because as much as you’d like to think you don’t need her approval, it still hurts! Learning how to draw clear boundaries and communicate them is essential for you to feel safe around her and to build your self-esteem.
Having clear boundaries
Anticipating critical body/food remarks and preparing for it ahead of time can help you to gather courage.
It can be useful to have this conversation at a time that feels good for you, rather than waiting for a comment to be made and respond. But here are some thoughts about how you can handle both. Using words like ‘I feel’, ‘this makes me feel’ or ‘this is a trigger for me’ can help to clearly frame it as being about your experience and deflect defensive comments from the other person.
Ways to respond to unsolicited body comments:
I really appreciate you caring about me in this way, but it makes me feel uncomfortable when you talk about xxxx
I think you mean well by making comments about my body, but actually it feels really hurtful and it isn’t helpful.
I find it uncomfortable when you mention xxx – would it be ok for you to be mindful of that?
Thank you for sharing your concerns, can we move on now?
Your comments aren’t actually helping me to manage my weight, they are making me feel uncomfortable.
When you choose to have the conversation:
I’d like to talk to you about something that is important to me. When you make comments about my weight or what I eat it makes me feel hurt/angry/dissapointed…..
My feelings and views about my body and what I choose eat are quite different from yours so perhaps we can place these subjects off limits so that I can feel comfortable around you.
I’m working on being kinder to myself right now and I’d appreciate it if you could support me by holding off on commenting about my weight/hair/body/eating habits/fill in the blank
I feel that your comments about how/what I eat and my body are damaging my relationship with food, so I’d appreciate it if you refrained from commenting.
I know these conversations are hard. But there’s a very big chance that having them will make you feel stronger, safer in the company of family and increase your self-esteem.