Unwanted, and unhelpful, advice can range from irritating to triggering, so we’ve gathered together some tips to help you handle it

Have you ever noticed how often people offer unsolicited diet and nutrition advice?

At work, celebrating a birthday with cake? Someone chimes in with their thoughts on the matter. Let someone know you’re feeling tired? Before you know it, they’ve given you a list of supplements as long as your arm. You didn’t ask, and yet, here they are, telling you anyway.

As a nutrition counsellor, exploring these situations is a regular occurrence for me in the clinic. I work predominantly with individuals restoring their relationship to food, their body, and themselves. Navigating these kinds of situations can be a minefield, especially when you are moving away from diet culture, and restoring your relationship with food. There’s no perfect way to respond, but the following are a few tips on how to navigate it…

Silence is powerful

Responding, or even engaging in conversations about food and nutrition, can feel draining at times – especially if you are navigating your own relationship with food. Even if you want to respond, sometimes, silence can be the most powerful tool you can use.

For some people, diet culture is so deeply entrenched, that regardless of what you say, it’s not going to change their mind. Opting for silence can indicate your disinterest in them, allowing you to save your energy for more important things in your life.

Them: I’ve heard we should all be making sandwiches out of lettuce leaves!

You: Stares into the distance and thinks about the cute cat you saw on the way to work this morning.

Make your response a neutral one

This is a great tool for situations when your mind is racing, and you don’t know what to say. Or when you’re trying to think of an apt comeback that you’ll look back on with reverence, but can’t quite find the words. Go for the most neutral thing you can think of, I like a simple ‘OK’, or ‘Mmhmm’. I think of this like sending the thumbs-up emoji – a very simple way of expressing ‘I’ve heard you, but this is the end of this conversation!’

Tell them what you really think

You may have to pick your audience here, but – if you’re feeling bold – you can try telling them what you think of their comment. Diet and nutrition advice is so sneaky that there is a silent, but a very present, expectation of how you will respond. Telling someone directly you don’t like what they’ve said can disrupt the flow, and turn that expectation on its head. This can be a very clear way of indicating how little interest you have in any nutrition or diet advice.

Try: ‘Thank you, but I wasn’t asking for advice.’

Lay down a boundary

Boundaries – an oldie, but a goodie. A boundary is a very clear line drawn in the sand that tells someone what you need. How you set down your boundary may depend on who is saying it, what context you’re in, and how often this topic has come up. It may be something which needs to be reiterated and rephrased to effectively communicate exactly what you want to say.

Use ‘I’ statements to let somebody know exactly how you feel and what you need. Try to be honest with yourself, but remember, you don’t need to go into depth, or offer them an explanation of why you’re setting the boundary.

You could try phrases such as: ‘I don’t want to engage with this topic,’ ‘This kind of chat isn’t my cup of tea,’ ‘I find this kind of conversation unhelpful, can we talk about something else?’

Recognise that it’s not about you

It’s a really hard thing to do, but try to acknowledge that what they’re saying isn’t about you. It’s about them, and might be to do with their relationship to food, a need to rescue, entrenched diet culture, or they might genuinely feel like they’re being helpful. Sometimes, acknowledging this can be useful to give yourself some distance between yourself and that person’s comments. It doesn’t take away from the feelings it brings up for you. However, it can give us a bit of space, where we can decide how to respond. In moments like this it might even be helpful to remind yourself ‘It’s not about me, it’s about them.’

If you would like to seek nutritional advice, visit the Nutritionist Resource or speak to a qualified nutritionist.

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