Most of us have heard the term, “Keep your eyes on your own lane.” Food shaming is the act of taking our eyes off of our own lane to make someone else feel bad about what they’re eating.
Why is this a bad thing?
We all have our own personal preferences, and that’s perfectly fine. Our bodies are all different, and we may need different portions or different foods to fuel our bodies. What might make one person feel healthy might not work for another person, and again, that is totally okay. Our food choices are our own, and there is no “one size fits all” in matters pertaining to health and diet.
What shouldn’t I do?
It’s not okay to make someone else feel bad about how much or how little they’re eating in comparison to you. I really want to emphasize this point. Most of us know to some degree that shaming people for eating too much doesn’t feel good — but it hurts just as much when a person is trying to lose weight but their friends and family don’t support their efforts to reduce their portion sizes.
It’s not okay to call a person fat, anorexic, bulimic, or any other variation of these terms just because they don’t eat as much or as little as you. It’s not okay to passive-aggressively “joke” about this. Shaming does not drive people to change. Shaming leads to resentment, and it’s just plain not nice. If you feel the urge to question the contents of another person’s plate, perhaps you could think about why it affects you. Do you have your own personal guilt about how much or how little you are consuming? It is human to compare yourself to others, but it’s important to keep those negative thoughts to yourself and think about the reasons why another person’s food choices might trigger these negative feelings that you are projecting onto someone else.
It’s not okay to make someone feel guilty for consuming foods that you choose not to consume. Do you follow a restrictive diet where certain foods are off-limits? If that works for you, then that’s fantastic! Your own diet choices might not work for everyone else, so it really isn’t helpful to force others follow your own meal plan if they do not wish to do so.
What can I do instead?
Congratulate and encourage others when they make healthy choices. If a friend is trying to lose weight, do not make comments about their weight or appearance. Instead, tell them that you are proud of them for taking control of their health. If your friend has a plate full of vegetables, congratulate them for choosing to eat a colorful plate. Ask questions about what makes them feel stronger. Remember, it’s okay to ask questions. It’s not okay to make assumptions.
Invite your loved one to join you for a walk, hike, bike ride, frisbee game, etc. Use this time to really connect with that person, and form your own connection with your mind and body. Having a buddy around can encourage us to stick to healthy habits and make physical activity more interesting.
Be sensitive to that person’s needs. If you choose to invite that person over for a meal, do not expect them to conform to your own dietary needs. Ask them about their food preferences, and/or have a potluck.
If you are concerned about this person’s health, remember that only they can make the choice to change. Share what makes you feel healthy, but respect their boundaries. All we can do is be supportive, listen, encourage and learn. We cannot force others follow our own agenda.
Think about your own food hangups. Do you feel bad about your own food choices when your friend isn’t eating as much or as quickly as you? Does it make you roll your eyes when your loved one orders a salad? Does it make you feel guilty when you order a glass of wine, but your friend chooses not to drink? Remember, your loved one most likely isn’t judging you when they choose not to indulge. There is no reason to expect the both of you to eat identical plates or drink identical beverages. It’s not a competition. They probably aren’t trying to make you feel bad when they choose to eat vegetables instead of fried foods. If they are trying to make balanced choices, then that’s okay! Focus on your own food choices, and let them do what they need to do to feel strong.
Most importantly, remember to be compassionate to your loved one and to yourself. If you feel that you have made some insensitive remarks about your loved one’s food choices, take responsibility and apologize. Think about what led you to act this way, and reach out to a doctor or mental health professional if you need help.