Setting Boundaries Around Food and Eating Is Important. Here’s How to Do it.
I never thought a lot about boundaries until the pandemic.
But over a year into this crazy time, I’ve taken a special notice of how few boundaries my kids have. This has led me to think about the fact that when it comes to nutrition, there are a LOT of situations where we – and others – could do with a lesson on boundaries.
Boundaries are what establish who we are and how much BS we’re going to take from people. I think they play a huge role in how we perceive ourselves.
When it comes to physical and emotional health, boundaries are key. They’re also important for healthy relationships – ones in which you feel validated, not violated.
Not setting boundaries (because let’s face it – it’s a task that’s not exactly fun) can lead to anger, resentment, poor self-image, and a breakup of relationships. We’ve got to meet the task head-on, get it done, and go on with life.
I joined forces with Patricia DiGiorgio, BS (Hons) Psych, for this post. She’s a follower of mine who recently posted a boundary graphic on Instagram that I thought was amazing. I messaged her to see if she’d be willing to write something with me, and thankfully, she said yes!
The first thing DiGiorgio told me was that boundary setting will only be effective if you respect and accept them yourself first.
She’s right. The first step in boundaries is believing that you’re worthy of setting them. And this can be a struggle in itself.
To start, figure out what about this boundary is important to you, and why you need to set it. Boundaries need to be about what’s right for you, not for others.
Some common nutrition-related boundary violations are:
Comments made to you about your weight or how you eat. It’s nobody’s business what you weigh or what you eat. I’ve written extensively about this here.
Allowing yourself to follow social media accounts that make you feel bad about yourself. This is a boundary that we all need to set, and there’s no need to have the actual boundary convo with anyone but YOU in this case.
Losing weight or changing your diet not because you want to, but because others want you to.
Subjecting yourself to diet talk when in a group. If your friends want to talk about nothing else but their diets and how much weight they want to lose, you need to set boundaries…or get new friends.
Accepting/not challenging comments from others that minimize or trivialize a condition you have, such as food allergies or celiac disease. Someone asking ‘how celiac ARE you?’ is not okay.
How to set boundaries.
It’s not always easy to set boundaries. We worry about what the other person will think of us, how they’ll react when we stand our ground. I get you: it’s scary, and I hate confrontation, too.
But the older I get, the more I realize that sometimes I need to hurt someone’s feelings for the benefit of my mental health. They’ll get over it, but I won’t get over having to deal with this person’s overstepping.
Remember: you deserve to draw the line where you believe it needs to be drawn, for your own well-being. PERIOD.
It’s not your job to be concerned about or responsible for someone else’s reaction. If they aren’t ready to respect your boundaries, you may need to back off from them…until they are.
Someone with good boundaries will respect yours.
When setting boundaries, consider what you can and can’t control.
For example, you can’t control how other people react, but you can control how you approach them, and whether you want to give them your time.
You can’t control other peoples’ perceptions, but you can control how you see yourself.
You can’t control what other people post on social media, but you can control which accounts you follow and which ones you don’t.
DiGiorgio recommends a few affirmations for people who are having trouble getting past their worthiness to set boundaries:
“I am worthy of setting and maintaining my own boundaries”
“I decide what I allow into my personal space”
“I deserve to feel respected and honoured by those I keep around me”
I recommend that boundaries not be set during the heat of the moment, when the situation is inflamed (if possible). Choose a time when you can have a calm, non-emotional conversation with the person or people.
For easy recall, DiGiorgio recommends the DEARMAN mnemonic tactic for boundary setting.
So how do we set boundaries around the common situations I listed above?
Follow the DEARMAN steps.
Describe the situation: being direct & sticking to the fact of the matter.
Say: “Dieting and weight come up often when I visit you, and it makes me very uncomfortable”
Express your feelings
Say: “I’m doing my best to not get sick from eating X food that I’m allergic to, and you questioning this is making it very difficult for me. I feel judged, and it makes me not want to hang out with you.”
Assert what you would like to happen
Say: “I would like it if you could please support me in eating the way I need or choose to.”
Reinforce why it’s important to you/to the relationship
Say: Getting together would be so much more comfortable for me if we weren’t talking about weight and diets the entire time. We’re more interesting than that, and I want to know what’s actually going on in your life besides what you eat!
Maintain focus on what you’re hoping to get out of the conversation (the boundary).
People often get defensive and try to throw the boundary back at us, like we’re being ‘too sensitive’ or, that they were ‘just joking.’
DO NOT allow the opposition’s defensiveness or hostility to cloud your
judgement. You might need to walk away at this point to defuse the situation in the meantime, then revisit it later.
REMEMBER! The boundary is what’s best for you, not what’s best for them.
This can be tough, because let’s face it: you’re essentially the bearer of the bad news that this person can’t overstep anymore. You’re breaking their comfort zone. Remind yourself that their comfort zone is breaching the line into making you uncomfortable, which is unacceptable.
Confidence shows the individual you are committed to maintaining this boundary. You might find it helpful to practice in front of a mirror or a friend before this all goes down in person.
This doesn’t mean negotiating your boundary, or giving up more than you want to. It means making the boundary palatable for everyone involved, while still getting what you want and setting expectations.
Only you can determine how much negotiating you’re willing to do in regards to boundary setting scenarios. In the end, you need to be satisfied with the resolution.
This could look like: ‘I want to spend time with you, so how about we choose an activity that doesn’t centre around food and eating?’
If setting boundaries with a person doesn’t work to your satisfaction, it might be time to spend less time with them, or to move on completely.
Remember that with boundaries, consistency is key. To makes sure boundaries last, you need to stick to the ones you decide to set, and try not to let things slide if they’re crossed or disrespected.
How do you know if you need to set boundaries…for the way you treat others?
On the flipside, setting boundaries for ourselves in terms of how we treat people, can be tough. It entails actually recognizing that we might be overstepping in certain situations. Exploring why we feel the need to breach boundaries can be a very valuable exercise.
If you make comments to others about their weight or how they eat, constantly talk about dieting around others, or tend to push your diet dogma onto others, it might be time for you to do a bit of work…on yourself.
DiGiorgio says, “oftentimes, some people are waiting to comment on other people’s lives because of their own underlying feelings of low self-esteem, anxiety, shame etc.
In psychology, we label this kind of behaviour as a trauma response-specifically the “Fight” response (out of the 4-Fight/Flight/Freeze/Fawn).
At some point in their lives, these people learned that controlling the situation- like commenting unnecessarily or being “the bully” – is a way they can protect themselves from harm. Journalling can be helpful both pre or post interactions with others….before, to help soothe inner worries or feelings of unworthiness.”
I also recommend seeing a licensed therapist if you feel like you need help with setting boundaries for others or yourself.
Healthy boundaries take work, but they’re 100% worth it.