When a friend is diet-obsessed

If you’re reading this blog post, maybe you have somebody you care about whose eating behaviours are causing you concern. Perhaps you’re thinking there will be advice you can use to help this friend or relative wake up to the dangerous course they’re travelling on. Let me save you the disappointment right now, this isn’t that kind of article.

“What do you eat on a typical day Esse?” that’s how the weary subject of dieting entered our conversation today. Lily and I have been meeting up for a coffee almost every Friday morning for the last year. We spend an hour or so talking about our work, our friends, our families, and inevitably the subject veers onto Lily’s latest diet and weight loss efforts.

“All sort of things. I don’t have a set meal plan. I just try to eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full.” I said.

“Well, yeah, ok. But what do you have for breakfast each day?” she said.

I felt like I was treading dangerous territory. I’ve told Lily before that I don’t believe in diets anymore and tried to help her understand why. This is a truth I came to realise before Lily and I got to know each other, a couple of months before our coffee dates became a regular thing, and I have been making steady progress toward recovering my relationship with food and restoring a positive body image.

“It depends. Sometimes I have cereal, sometimes I have toast, or fruit and yoghurt. Sometimes I have  pastry and a coffee! It changes.” I groaned inwardly. Even after last week’s attempt to get her to see the futility of dieting, the importance of not measuring her worth by her appearance, following it up by sending her links to videos on healthy lifestyles and articles on positive body image… even after months of my politely but consistently changing the subject when it she steered it onto weight loss… here we were, Lily on the verge of asking me for diet tips.

“What about for lunch and dinner? What do you eat during the rest of the day?” she said.

“Like I said, it varies.” I said, purposely being vague and hoping she would give up.

“Ok, but what do you usually have?” she insisted.

“Well, we have a lot of stir-fries and curries. I mostly cook from scratch. We hardly buy anything ready-made. We have pizza once a week or once every couple of weeks.”

“Hmm. Ok.” she said, thoughtfully.

“And crisps, biscuits, cakes, they’re in there too.” I added, laughing.

“How do you do it though, how do you stay so nice and slim?” she pleaded.

It was meant as a compliment so I took it as such, I swayed my shoulders in a mockery of showing-off and jokingly said, “Ah, thank you, you’re very kind.” then added seriously, “I just try to not eat too much or too little.”

With this, Lily told me about her latest endeavour to eat less carbs and have no more than 3 meals a day. She told me she feels bloated most of the time, she can’t get her lower abdomen to shrink and she is sure her legs could be thinner… etc etc. Lily and I are not very different in shape. To be honest, I would be surprised if I turned out to be lighter than her because I would guess my dimensions are a bit bigger than hers. Yet, there she was, thinking I am enviably smaller than her. Oh, and did I mention? Lily is 17 years old.

It’s frustrating. I have been there, I have reduced my self-esteem to the size of a set of scales, I have dived into the starving, calorie-counting, fat-free, sugar-free, flavour-free whirlpool. I was sucked in for nearly 9 years, and I have steadily and with great difficulty fought my way out of it. There have been times when I thought I was free and got sucked back in, there have been times I’ve been on the edge and daring myself to dip my toes in, but gradually I’ve left that part of my life further and further behind. I have slowly rediscovered the Esse that was sucked in and trapped by the binge-eating, body-hating, diet-addicted monster that could have easily turned into an eating disorder.

In Lily I see a reflection of my past, and it tears me up to see her making the same mistakes. I feel so helpless, no matter how many times I have tried I just can’t make her see how futile this pursuit of thinness is.