Recently a reader asked me about “introducing [intuitive eating] and [Health At Every Size] concepts to friends deeply steeped in diet culture who you know could really benefit from the message”. To be honest, it’s a question that I struggle with myself. Given that all of us who are on this path arrived here in a different way, it’s naive to think there is a single answer. I mean, if there were, wouldn’t we all be here already?
Need vs. Want
If you asked me, I’d say that everyone would benefit from learning about HAES and intuitive eating. Whether they want to learn more is a different story.
If you are considering talking about these concepts to a loved one, I invite you to explore why you’d like to share with them. Here are some examples:
- For your own safety, so that your loved ones can better understand the choices that you are making for yourself and perhaps stop making disparaging comments
- It hurts for you to see them struggle in the throes of diet culture, especially if you’ve been there yourself
- You have gained so much from adopting HAES and intuitive eating that you can’t help but share the good news
- They asked you (in an interested and respectful manner)
Unfortunately, only the last point represents someone who actually wants to hear about HAES and intuitive eating. That’s not to say that you can’t share with someone who isn’t interested, but there are more steps that probably need to take place if you want the message to actually land.
Ask for Permission
It may seem awkward or like you’re “giving up power” to ask for permission to talk about something, but think of the last time someone tried to push a message on you that you weren’t interested in hearing. It probably made you feel uncomfortable or defensive, right? Asking for permission shows that you respect the person that you’re talking to, and can pique their interest as well.
You might start your conversation by saying something like:
- “I want to talk about something that is really important to me; is it ok if I share that with you?”
- “It really hurts me to see you struggling and I have some ideas that might be helpful; is it all right if I share that with you?”
- “I have something that’s been really helpful for my own relationship with food; would you be interested in hearing about it?”
If their answer is yes, great, but also respect if they say no. A mistake that I often made in the past was to try to slide my point in even if they refused, which defeats the purpose of asking for permission in the first place. It’s OK if people are not ready to start the conversation on HAES, and some people may never be open to hearing it. When that is the case, it’s important to continue to live in your truth (which I discuss later in this post), and perhaps when others see the changes that are happening for you, they may be open to learning more.
Focus on Awareness
When we share something that we care deeply about, it makes sense that we want the person to embrace it in the same way that we have. In reality, it’s rare for people to jump from not knowing about something to embracing it and adopting it right away. In your own journey, you probably found that you were skeptical and did a lot of your own research before deciding to implement HAES and intuitive eating into your own life.
With that in mind, when sharing HAES and intuitive eating with someone who is still deeply entrenched in diet culture, don’t be surprised if they don’t jump in with both feet right away. Planting a seed and showing them that there is another way is enough. Most people will need to hear the same message many times over before they decide that it’s something that they want to pursue, if at all.
Speak to their Values
Someone recently shared with me a study where people who identified as conservative/Republican or liberal/Democrat were shown one of two statements on climate change. One statement proposed a market-based solution, while the other proposed government regulation. After reading their assigned statement, study participants were asked whether they agreed that climate change is happening.
The study found that conservatives who read the statement with the market-based solution were more likely to agree that climate change exists, while liberals agreed no matter which statement they read. The authors concluded that people are more willing to accept politically polarizing information when it doesn’t challenge their worldview.
In the context of HAES and intuitive eating, someone who values science probably won’t be swayed by arguments that focus on social justice. Someone who values physical health might not care about feeling happier or more free, but they might care about the potential harms of dieting and weight cycling.
Be the Change You Want to See
It may sound cliché, but actions do speak louder than words. Adopting a HAES and intuitive eating approach to your own life not only has direct benefits for you, but you will be sharing HAES and intuitive eating with the world in a way that words probably can’t express. This work does often feel like swimming upstream, and it can be harder when your loved ones are not swimming beside you (or worse, actively going the other way). Know that you are not alone, and we, and the message, will be stronger together.
If you are a professional looking to spread the HAES message to the public, I highly recommend this excellent post by Dr. Maria Paredes of Three Birds Counseling: Selling Health At Every Size: How To Market Brave