It can be difficult when chat turns to food, exercise, and weight goals. But there are ways to avert those conversations if they make you feel awkward or anxious

Listening to friends or colleagues chatting about their diets, exercise regimes, and weight-loss goals can be really difficult if you struggle with your body image or an eating disorder. Sometimes, especially in the build-up to summer, it can feel as though it’s all anyone ever wants to talk about.

It’s all too easy to get sucked into these conversations, comparing your eating habits and weight with those of other people, which can lead to negative thoughts about your own body. Here are some tips on how you can cope when a chat turns to dieting, and how you can avoid getting involved without hurting anyone’s feelings.

1. Take control of the conversation

Although it may not feel like it, you’re always in control – no one can make you talk about anything you aren’t comfortable with. Try to move the conversation on to other topics, subtly at first, but don’t be afraid to be more direct if people aren’t getting the message. For example, you could try saying something like: “Anyway, enough boring diet chat – did anyone watch that great documentary last night?”

If you feel comfortable explaining why you don’t like engaging in diet talk, you could say something like: “I really don’t enjoy talking about dieting, it makes me uncomfortable” or “This kind of conversation brings back bad memories for me.”

Don’t be afraid to remove yourself from the situation. If the diet talk won’t stop, and you feel as though you can’t interject, go to the bathroom or say you have to make a phone call – or, if you’re at work, step away for a few minutes and make yourself a cup of tea or coffee.

2. Don’t engage when asked questions about your own body, weight, or eating habits

You’re under no obligation to give anyone information about your body – and it’s insensitive and unnecessarily nosy for anyone to ask. If you are faced with these kinds of questions, though, try responding with something along the lines of: “I’d rather not talk about that,” or “I think body image is a very personal thing.” They’ll soon get the message that your body is not up for discussion.

Similarly, if people question your eating habits, for example, a colleague asking how many calories are in your packed lunch, simply say you don’t know, and aren’t interested.

3. Never be afraid to order and eat what you want

This is easier said than done, of course – if you’re out for dinner with friends, and they all order salad, you might feel self-conscious having a plate of pasta. Try to channel that negative energy into a positive – be thankful that you’re in a healthy mindset that allows you to order delicious food and not feel bad about it. Remember that other people’s rules and restrictions are not your own.

It may be a good idea to avoid eating with certain people if they consistently make you feel bad about your choices – they most likely have issues of their own with food, and you don’t need to take them on yourself. If this is a someone you regularly eat with, politely ask them to refrain from talking about dieting at mealtimes. If they persist, explain that you’d rather eat alone – it might be an awkward conversation to have, but it’s important to distance yourself from people who don’t respect your boundaries.

4. Engage with others’ negative self-talk kindly, but firmly

Friends who are dieting will often look to you for reassurance with their appearance, or vent to you when their weight is getting them down. While it’s important to be a supportive friend, it can be difficult to balance this with looking after yourself and maintaining a healthy body image. When a friend talks negatively about their own body, it’s a natural instinct to start worrying about your own. Try saying something like: “I think you look fantastic just as you are, but if this diet will help you to feel better about yourself, then great. If it’s making you miserable, I don’t think it’s such a good idea.”

Remember, you’re not obliged to be the sole source of support for your friend – if they really seem to be struggling with their body image, encourage them to see a doctor or counsellor, rather than seeking reassurance from you all the time.

The key thing to remember is that ultimately, you’re in control of any conversation, and any awkward comments and questions someone makes are reflective of that person’s issues around food, rather than yours. Celebrate the fact that you are able to enjoy food, feel good about yourself, and chat about things that are much more interesting than dieting.