Food shaming is real and it’s happening around us every day. What is food shaming and how can you deal with it and stop shaming others?
I touched on avoiding food shaming and focusing on yourself in my post 6 Tips To Help You Eat And Live Healthy back in October, but I really wanted to write a post completely centered on this.
I read this post about food tolerances by Davida from The Healthy Maven, which then led me to find this post about food shaming by That Clean Life, and it really got me thinking. Food shaming is real and I experience it almost everyday. I seem to see it three ways: healthy eating shaming, unhealthy eating shaming, and shaming ourselves.
Healthy Eating Shaming
The first way is when I feel like someone is shaming another person for eating healthy. What does that look like? When you order a salad at a restaurant and someone says “Oh, you’re being healthy. How boring.” When you say no thank you to an offering of a baked good and that person tries to persuade you otherwise because “It’’s just one cookie, can’t you cheat on your diet?” When someone offers food and someone else interrupts saying “Don’t bother, she eats healthy.” OR when you do decide to indulge and get dessert at dinner and you hear “I thought you were eating healthy.”
Let me tell you, none of these interactions ever feel good. Rather than feeling supported, they bring you down. This doesn’t really make sense to me at all–why do people get judged for eating healthy food, when it’s what’s best for their body? I know people don’t always realize they’re doing this; they may be insecure about their own food decisions and trying to make themselves feel better or they might just not understand how much of an impact what they are saying has on someone, but it’s not okay!
I’ve struggled with learning how to handle these situations, but I do have a few tips that have helped me. First, always remain kind. Slashing back at someone with an insult is just going to add fuel to the fire. Second, educate yourself as much as possible. If someone says “you’re eating fat?! That’s so bad for you!” Come back with some facts about healthy fats and how they help your body function.
Third, make your response personal, relating your decisions to you. If someone asks why you can’t have a certain food, tell them you CAN have it, but you personally choose not to because you know the ingredients give you a stomach ache (or whatever the case might be). This focuses less on what you’re eating and more on you as a person.
Last, move on! This might be your first and only step if you decide the situation is right. If someone is judging you for working hard to be a healthier person, they don’t deserve an explanation. This can be hard in situations with close family and friends, but just try to shrug off the remark and keep doing what works for you.
Unhealthy Eating Shaming
I hate to admit I do this, but I often feel myself somewhat shaming others for their unhealthy food decisions. I honestly don’t mean to do this, but it happens all the time (and it may happen with you, too). Now I don’t go around telling people how horrible the food they are eating is for them, but I catch myself talking to people about their food decisions without them even asking for my input.
I’ve had people tell me about their new diet and rather than listening and being happy for them that it’s working, I find myself explaining why they shouldn’t eat that way. It drives me crazy sometimes seeing someone on a super restrictive diet, buying expensive products from diet companies, or following certain rules that seem wrong to me, but at the same time, it’s none of my business. I know I’m just trying to help them live healthy lives, but if they are happy and what they’re doing works for them, I need to learn to be okay with that. I will certainly, though, share my experience with food and what I’ve learned if they would like to hear it, but I’m just as bad at food shaming when I try to tell people how to eat healthy, even if I do it in a caring way.
Now how I “shame” people is a little mild–I am never rude or super judgemental (even though it’s still not okay for me to make comments towards others’ decisions). There are people out there, though, who are just plain mean and say stuff like “Do you know how many calories are in that slice of pizza?!”, “You’re not going to lose any weight eating that,” or, to another friend, “Do you see how much she is eating? No wonder she looks like that.” I feel like I don’t have to even explain how this is wrong. Someone’s food decisions have nothing to do with anyone else and food shaming them like this only brings them down.
I witness all sizes and ages of people get judged in different ways. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard “Well you can eat anything, you’re small.” or “I wish I was young like you and could eat whatever I wanted.” When really, I’m working hard each day on the food decisions I make to be a healthier person, and they act like I don’t even have to try.
I feel like I’m to the point right now where I can listen to my body and indulge when I want to (and I hope to help you get there too). I try to eat healthy the majority of the time, but sometimes a girl just wants some ice cream, and there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to enjoy that scoop of rocky road. It’s taken me a long time to be able to have a healthy relationship with food, and receiving comments from others when I decide to indulge only make it harder for me.
My advice? Stop commenting on other’s food decisions. You have no idea what they’re going through, what works for them, and how healthy they really are (this does’t mean you can’t provide helpful advice when asked). And if you’re the one getting food shamed for eating unhealthy, keep working hard at what works for you, try your best to ignore comments, and don’t be afraid to let someone know when they make you feel bad for your food decisions.
Do you ever find yourself eating something that isn’t considered “healthy” then automatically feeling guilty? Yes, it’s possible to shame yourself, and it’s such a terrible way to treat yourself! We all have days when we just want some chocolate or special occasions where you can’t deny a slice of your grandma’s homemade pie. There is no reason to make yourself feel bad over it, but instead it’s important to truly enjoy what you are indulging in, then continue eating nourishing foods when you can.
This can obviously become a problem if you struggle to control yourself and don’t indulge in moderation, but this comes with time and hard work. Pretty sure we’ve all gotten to the bottom of a pint of Ben and Jerry’s then realized we took it a little too far, but slowly you remember how you felt from that and you get better and better at avoiding this.
Eating healthy starts with your mentality. If you’re shaming yourself and making yourself feel bad about decisions, it makes it even harder to reach your goals and stay on track. You might end up in a restrict/binge cycle that only leads to unhappiness (I highly suggest you listen to this podcast episode about disordered eating).
This is why I find restriction does not work for me, because my mind is constantly struggling because it knows I’m not allowing myself to just eat what I want. Your mental health is key in this and it’s just as important to focus on feeling happy as it is to make the right food decisions. This can directly tie in with over-exercising too. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say, while eating something unhealthy “I need to do even harder of a workout tomorrow” (I’ll be sharing a post more related to this soon).
I find that it helps me to look at food more than just calories I’m putting into my body, but instead a way for me to nourish my body, increase my energy, and bring myself happiness. Rather than thinking “I need to eat this food because it’s healthy,” I try to think “I’d like to eat this food because it’s delicious and makes me feel great.” This can be a hard way to look at it, especially if you’ve only ever been taught to have a diet mentality and look at foods as “good” vs “bad.”
Also, there is no reason to not eat something for the simple fact that you enjoy it. Is that donut full of healthy ingredients that will make you feel amazing? Probably not, but if you want to eat it and you’ll feel happy doing so, then eat that dang donut.
Everyone is Different
At the end of the day, everyone is different. Yes, maybe I have the type of lifestyle that is healthy with occasional indulgences, but that doesn’t necessarily work for everyone else. Another person may struggle with indulgences because it messes up their mindset and leads to days of binging, so more strict eating works for them until they can have a healthier relationship with food. It’s amazing how different people are and how no one’s healthy eating journey is the same.
Hopefully this post opened your eyes to food shaming around you and helped you deal with food shamers and/or work on quitting it yourself. We all need to work together and support each other (and ourselves), rather than try to tell each other what is right and make one another feel guilty. What is right for you, may be wrong for someone else! Let’s all encourage one another instead of bringing ourselves down, because this whole healthy living thing is hard enough as it is.
Have you experienced food shaming? What has helped you?