Toxic Conversations Vs. Recovery

Catherine Liberty's picture

We’ve all been there. Your sister calls you to let you know how many calories she burned at the gym tonight or one of your friends fills their Facebook status with self-hating nonsense about how much they loath their body.

It seems like something is always waiting to trigger us...

In reality, no matter how hard we work on bulimia recovery, it seems that there will always be someone or something waiting to inadvertently tear us down.

We live in a society where we constantly have to listen to other people glamourizing the latest starvation diets,  talking about how bad they feel for eating certain “banned foods” and detailing how they must lose X amount of weight in X amount of time.

There’s no denying that situations like this can be extremely discouraging when you’re trying to recover

It can be just as tricky to listen to people talk about eating disorders. I bet you’ve felt your heart race a few times when those topics come up, especially when people talk about eating disorders in a negative light or are perhaps clueless to the facts.

When some of my friends learned that I was accessing bulimia treatment online for recovery the questions came flooding in too - they were innocent, friendly and calm. But they were still so very triggering and I still had no idea how to remain calm in those types of situations.

Learning to live around non-food triggers, whether that is finding yourself around a lot of 'diet talk', “fat talk” or even just going about your daily life seeing commercials for weight loss is not easy, but in many ways it is essential if you are to succeed.

How do you do it?

It is impossible to click your fingers and make those triggers magically disappear so you have to get a little creative.

You can and should do your best to avoid toxic conversations but at the end of the day recovery is about living.

It is about getting out there in the real world. It is about knowing how to cope with difficult situations without bulimia and it is about experiencing all of the joys that this world has to offer without having to worry about censorship.

So it makes sense that the only way to live around these triggers is for YOU to make the change.

Like most people, in recovery I used to get so angry at my friends for talking about diets and weight loss while I was trying to recover. I'd even find myself falling apart if my husband mentioned food at the wrong time of day.

I used to put a lot of blame on the world for triggering me because I didn't understand:

I was the one in control of my world

My relapses were always "someone else’s fault" for a time. It took me a while before I realised that I was the one with the power. If I wanted them to stop triggering me then I had to take the steps to make that happen and slowly I leaned how to do that.

Strategies to help you deal with toxic conversations:

1. Physically remove yourself from the triggering situation

You don’t have to make it obvious, you could leave the room to “make a call” or to get a drink or visit the bathroom. This gives you the time to compose yourself, to give yourself a little pep talk and prepare mentally.

More importantly it also gives time for the conversation to pass over and move onto something else.

2. Change the subject

In the heat of the moment when you find your heart racing and your mind panicking about the subject matter this can be easier said than done.

In those cases a little bit of forward planning can be a great thing.

TIP: Think of about five go to topics or conversation changers that you can use next time you find people trying to include you in their toxic conversations. Remember conversation topics change naturally all of the time, it will be a lot easier to do than you think.

3. Think about the kinds of people you are surrounded by

Are they positive, strong people with depth and integrity? Do they make you feel like a better person and offer nurturing friendships?

Of course I am in no way saying that all people who engage in diet or fat talk are "bad people", I am just saying that you deserve to be surrounded by wonderful people who can support you in your recovery whether they know about your bulimia or not. It may be time to re-evaluate some friendships.

4. Challenge the subject

This doesn’t have to turn into an all-out heated debate (unless you’re feeling strong enough for such a wonderful endeavour). Instead why not make a quick comment about how sad it is that people always focus on self-hate, or weight issues.

EXAMPLE: I once started a discussion with a friend on this very topic. I asked "why is it acceptable to live in a world where we put ourselves down in public and people don't even think twice - but when we exhibit self-love suddenly people don't know how to react?" From that conversation we actually made a pact to openly show self-love rather than self-hate.

Eventually you will learn to deal with these situations naturally but strategies like this are a great place to start...

Recovery helps you to develop an inner confidence and a great desire to protect and nurture yourself.

I never thought I’d be the type of person who could take a stand against toxic conversations like this. I never thought I would be comfortable and confident being the "odd one out" when friends were engaging in diet talk but in reality that's exactly the type of person that recovery has empowered me to become!


joy's picture
This is a great article. All

This is a great article. All of the women in my family are obsessed with dieting, and I've recently found their "diet talk" very triggering. Thanks so much for the advice!

Shannyn8877's picture
I am still on the road

I am still on the road leading to recovery but I can completely relate to something you mentioned in this article. It is so easy to blame the cycle (over eating and purging) on someone else or a stressful situation when it is actually ME making the choice to do these things, if I can control it in the moment or not. I am working on realizing this! I am the one in control.

Thank you for your article!


Hotshop's picture
Me three...I find it very

Me three...I find it very distracting listening to my friends & family talking about diets and weight all the time...I used to happily discuss weight loss goals, new fads and exercise regimes but I know now that this stalls my recovery.

It's hard to resist the temptation to diet and to be happy with yourself just as you are but that's the goal...keep up the good work X

Hot shop

Catherine Liberty
Catherine Liberty's picture
Thank you so much for your

Thank you so much for your kind words everyone :)

I agree it can be so triggering. Of course sometimes we can't help but be triggered, especially when recovery is still very new. But as time goes on we do become stronger and we learn how to deal with these things.

One of the most important things I realized in recovery was that whether something triggered me or not was ultimately up to me. I couldn't make that change over night, but in time I changed the way I reacted to those situations so that I could become stronger.

It's sad that it has to be this way, but until we learn to change the world there will always be triggers out there.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this everyone!

Take Care,

Catherine x

Sass's picture
When I was in hospital for

When I was in hospital for anorexia, I found it hard to be around nurses who talked about dieting and to see lots of adverts for diet food in magazines and on the TV, especially when everyone was insisting that I ate non-diet food. I think the attitude was "there's nothing wrong about us talking about this - it's just not right for you because you're ill and we're not". But these things totally exist on a continuum. It frustrates me greatly that people try so hard to separate out diet issues and eating disorders. I used to do it too, as I felt following the diet line would trivialise the eating disorder and make me appear vain. But nowadays I'm not so afraid to identify the link - the association and the pressure is huge. At the moment I would find it hard to challenge people in conversation (I can't help feeling it would lead to scrutiny of my own figure - "It's okay for you, you're slim", or, even worse, "It's okay for you, you've learned to accept being curvy..."). But one day I hope I will have the strength to do it and maybe even persuade some people to change how they see things for the sake of their own wellbeing (they may not have an official ED, but so many people are making themselves hungry and unhappy nonetheless).


shooting star
shooting star's picture
Thanks for writing this

Thanks for writing this article. I've been finding I'm having big issues with being affected by people's conversations. Literally every single day I have to listen to coworkers talking about food, weight and diets. It is painful seeing people around me lose weight. It's hard because I know that I can't just 'go a diet' to lose weight I've gained in recent months as it would be detrimental to my recovery. While I know that losing weight isn't the solution to my problems, sometimes it feels like it is. I'm fairly comfortable with answering questions and in avoiding certain topics now, but I still find that my fairly frequent low moods become even worse when I'm subjected to this kind of talk. Just having to listen to it reminds me of how uncomfortable I am with my appearance, and my disappointment with myself for continuing to binge. I work in a fairly crowded, open office where it is impossible not to overhear chat between people several bays over... I find myself shouting 'la la la, shut up shut up shut UP' in my head a lot haha.... sad.

The only way for me to comfortably hear this kind of chat is to work on my recovery and self-esteem. In the meantime I would love to just put ear muffs on every time one of these painful topics comes up!

Pixie's picture
Excellent article. I've been

Excellent article. I've been wondering how to challenge this lately, oddly! My sister is skinny as a rake, yet goes on endless holiday diets and exercises all the time. Plus my mum is also tiny and eats very little. I woke up this morning to my sister saying to mum, that she'd like to eat breakfast and lunch, but there's just no time. WTF! I woke up to that! So insensitive, especially when I have to sit there and have proper meals in front of them. Your strategies will definitely help, Catherine.

Scared but moving forward

mchau's picture
I can totally relate. I have

I can totally relate. I have a really good friend and EVERYTIME she sees me she asks, "i've lost weight!!!! can you tell! yay, i'm so much skinnier! i can't wait to lose more!!" it's so frustrating she's always putting her weight loss in my face. i don't even know what to say to her but find myself avoiding her which i don't want to do. another friend of mine is always telling me how she's dieting and only eating healthy and how she needs to stay thin. it's difficult trying to "eat normally" when all my friends are trying so hard to lose weight and diet. i really wanna break out of that diet mentality.

~ You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection ~

Mouli's picture
I too have found it

I too have found it difficult. I've had friends on detox diets recently and I 've thought "that maybe I should........then I just stopped myself as it is NO, NO way, out of the question. I am trying to recover. I am not allowed to go down those roads anymore. As they're talking about it I feel like I am zoning out and smiling and nodding my head. Interesting point though about the choices. I am making choices and need to be responsible for my own actions. Something I keep telling my children. Ha!! Perhaps I'll have to start taking and acting upon my own advice now!! Thanks again m x

NikkiW's picture
Oh my word this is so common

Oh my word this is so common for me. I'm a dancer so im almost always hearing about the latest fad or how such and such has lost so much weight. i find it really sad but i good friend of mine lost a whole heap of weight, then her personality completely changed (or maybe mine did) and then every time i see her, although she doesnt do anything and means well, its a trigger for me. but its one thats slowely coming to grips with.

Its also really bad but i am so glad i stumbled on this article because i have a dance comp this weekend and half of me is wanting to do a "detox (more like huge fast)" and the other half is dedicated (mostly) to recovery. It actually feels so weird to not be chained to the latest fad but to be going with making better choices. Although i struggle horribly with having no food rules :(

Thank you again for posting this article - It makes alot of sense at the right time for me


"We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that created them"

Anonymous's picture
Thank you for a great

Thank you for a great article, for taking the time to help others with these triggering experiences and how we have choices and we don't have to be a victim..( I'm also referring to your article that starts with the Eleanor Ros. Quote.. About no one can make us feel a certain way without our permission .)
Thank you,

katrinafw's picture
Really relevant article for

Really relevant article for me too. I work as a gym instructor and fitness class coach so I'm constantly surrounded by people looking to lose weight/ overexercising and trying all the new fad diets. I try to advise them as best I can that a healthy balanced diet and exercise you enjoy is the key but so many want the magic pill and the quick fix. I also feel very judged and under scrutiny because I'm alot heavier and curvier than most people working in the industry. On good days in recovery I feel like a strong role model and so happy I can educate and help people to feel healthier, fitter and happier. On bad days itks the most triggering place to bé! Just looking forward to the day when the binges are gone and every day is a good day in recovery doing a job I love :-)

beachykeen's picture
I get this ALL the time at

I get this ALL the time at work and not just from coworkers. I'm a massage therapist and for some reason my clients feel the need to ask my opinion/tell me about whatever latest diet they're on (or their new workout regime or how fat they think they are). It's exhausting trying to stay neutral and not offend them while staying true to my needs as well. I can't just dismiss myself from the room and it's not very appropriate for me to challenge them. Other than changing subjects (which sometimes works) any advice ?

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