Letting food consume you: Being careful how we talk about food

Guest post by Cassie

Be careful about how you talk about food, or the Yorkshire Pudding Troll will get you. Photo and terrifying food creation by Chef Tristan.
Be careful about how you talk about food, or the Yorkshire Pudding Troll will get you. (Photo and terrifying food creation by Chef Tristan.)
Like many people, I’ve spent large portions of my life trying to do something about my weight. But in this post, I don’t want to talk about how to lose weight, or how to work out, or how awesome it is to be X body type. Those posts are easy to find. I want to talk about how we talk about weight and food.

Let’s start with the most obvious point…

If it’s not your weight, don’t talk about it

People in your life are probably trying to lose weight, but just because they’ve told you that doesn’t make their weight loss your responsibility. Don’t be the douchebag who asks your coworker if they “really need another muffin,” or who tells your friend they’ll regret that pizza when they get to the gym. Unless they have specifically asked you to call them out on “bad” behavior, let them make their own choices.

Sneaky negative phrases

Everyday conversations about food usually involve negative phrases that we don’t even think about using. As a baker, my personal pet peeve is any variation of, “I’m going to have to spend an extra thirty minutes on the treadmill after eating this.” I want you to enjoy my baking, not feel guilty over it. I also don’t want you to make me feel guilty for providing you with baked goods or for choosing not to spend an extra thirty minutes on the treadmill.

“Guilty pleasure” is another phrase that bugs me. If a food gives you pleasure, then why should you feel guilty about eating it? There’s no overeating-confessional where you have to tell a food priest about your obsession with gummy bears. No one has the right to make you feel guilty for enjoying food, and you shouldn’t talk yourself into feeling guilty over it either.

“I should order an X, but I’m going to get a Y instead.” When we use phrases like this, we’re basically apologizing to our meal companions for how we eat. It makes us sound incapable of making good decisions for ourselves, and it also puts too much focus on what we’re eating. If you want a salad, order a salad. If you want a double burger with fries and a shake, order them without an apology.

You don’t have to justify your food choices to anyone. It’s your body.

Justifications should almost get their own category. “This is my cheat day,” or “I missed lunch,” or “I spent an extra ten minutes on the treadmill this morning.” Whatever variation you use, think about what you’re really saying. You’re saying, “I think you (whoever you are) are judging me for what I’m eating, so I’m giving you all the ‘facts’ to make that judgment with.” The person you’re eating with probably wasn’t judging you. They were probably too busy thinking about their own food to judge you. And even if they were judging you, that’s their problem, not yours. Don’t give people ammunition against you. You don’t have to justify your food choices to anyone. It’s your body.

Other people’s food issues and you

When you’re talking to people about food, especially people you don’t know well, remember that you don’t know their food issues. I’d feel pretty bad if I was talking to a recovering bulimic and I said something like, “I ate so much I think I’m going to puke.” Talk about unintentionally insensitive!

But your conversation may not even be that awkward. Maybe you’re just talking about how you ate too much cake at your birthday party. The person you’re talking to could then feel guilty because they ate as much cake as you did, or because they think they overate, too. I don’t mean that you should feel like you have to be overly-sensitive to other people’s issues, but it’s important to be aware that the negative things you say about yourself can affect how other people feel about themselves.

Giving others permission to judge you

Every time you talk about your weight or your struggles with your weight or your struggles with your perceptions of your weight, it’s almost as if you’re giving other people permission to judge you. Some people will judge you no matter what, but the majority of people who come into contact with your food don’t care what you eat. The clerk at the grocery store probably didn’t notice your three bags of candy and tub of whipped cream until you guiltily pointed them out. Your coworker probably didn’t care that you ate two doughnuts at the staff meeting until you said you were on a diet or hated that you couldn’t fit into your skinny jeans.

People love to give “helpful” advice, and telling them what you dislike about yourself is almost like a flashing neon sign that says “Butt in here!” If that’s what you want, then go for it. If not, then be careful whom you talk to about your body.

If you’re happy, be happy

If you’re happy with your weight, then be happy! Don’t talk yourself down. Embrace positive words and thoughts. Focus on how great you look in that outfit or how happy you are with your curves. Don’t apologize for being happy with your body. Too many people want what you have, and too many people will try to tell you that you’re wrong to be happy. Don’t help them out by saying it too!

Letting food consume you

Here’s the thing, y’all… Food is meant to keep us alive. Yes, it can be comforting and huge portions of society are built around eating rituals. But ultimately, food is meant to keep us from dying. It was never meant to be something we lived for. But between gluten-free diets, Weight Watchers, vegetarian/vegan lifestyles, Paleo, etc., we’re people who can’t stop talking about food restrictions. And I get it — I do. When we make major life changes, it becomes something we obsess over for a while. We deal with food multiple times a day, so when we make big changes to our diets, it affects us constantly. But if you find that you’re talking about food more than your new hobby, or baby, or job, then you should take a step back and make sure you’re really talking about the things you want to be talking about.

I want to hear your talking-about-food tips! Surely I’ve missed things that are important to you. How do you encourage people to speak positively about their bodies?

Comments on Letting food consume you: Being careful how we talk about food

  1. So often, conversations like this are started out of loaded statements. “Ugh, I’m so fat, I can’t eat this.” “I should have a salad, I need to lose X pounds.” If you are trying to make healthier choices, you go Glen Coco. Personally, I like to think of it more as putting better fuel into my body. A statement like “I feel way more energized after having a big green smoothie” is intensely more affirming than saying “I want to have a slice of coffee cake, but I have to have a smoothie.”

    Also, if you haven’t seen it, this Amy Schumer short is hilariously accurate: http://time.com/57502/inside-amy-schumer-food-shaming-clip/

  2. Food is one of my hobbies, and it’s something I enjoy talking about — but usually in the line of “I found this great new recipe for X, and it’s so delicious!” I have foodie tendencies (although not quite the budget to indulge all of them), and my brother owns a vegetable farm, so a fair bit of my time is spent researching, sourcing/purchasing, preparing, eating, and thinking about food. For me, though, bodies don’t really come into the discussion that much. Yeah, sure, the food I eat impacts my body — and sometimes I’ll say something like “I’m really craving X” (usually veggies in my case, ’cause that’s how my body rolls) — but most of my food-talk comes from genuine excitement about food, ’cause I’m passionate about it. So, I think the issue isn’t entirely how much, but why and how we talk about food. Or maybe I’m just boring everyone else when I talk about this new tortilla recipe I found and how it makes the best tortillas I’ve ever had. :-p

      • Wheat flour tortillas (adapted slightly from Flatbreads and Flavours)
        2 c. hard unbleached white flour
        1/2 tsp. salt
        3T lard [original calls for corn oil, but mentions that lard is traditional; I didn’t have corn oil]
        1/2 to 3/4 c. warm water

        You will need a medium-sized bowl, a cast-iron or other heavy griddle or skillet at least 8″ in diameter, and a rolling pin.

        Combine the flour and salt in a bowl. Cut in the lard, and blend it thoroughly. Gradually add 1/2 c. warm water, stirring with a fork to moisten the dough evenly. If it is too dry to gather into a dough that will hold together, add a little more water. Gather the dough into a ball, turn out onto a work surface, and knead briefly. The dough should be neither particularly wet nor especially dry, but easily kneaded.

        Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces. Flatten each between lightly floured palms to a disc approximately 3″ in diameter. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rest for 30 minutes.

        Heat an 8-inch or larger cast-iron griddle over medium-high heat until very hot (make sure your griddle is hot enough before beginning to cook the tortillas).

        On a lightly floured surface, using a rolling pin, roll out a tortilla until it is 7–8″ in diameter. Place the tortilla on the griddle; if the griddle is sufficiently hot, the first side should cook and become speckled with brown in approximately 45 seconds. Turn the tortilla and cook for 45 seconds longer. Remove and wrap in a kitchen towel.

        As each tortilla is cooking, you should have just enough time to roll out the next tortilla. Stack the finished tortillas one on top of the other, and keep them wrapped in the towel. Serve warm.

        Tortilla dough can be stored in the refrigerator, well sealed in plastic bags for up to a week. Before rolling out the tortillas, let the dough come to room temperature.

        You can also store leftover tortillas in the freezer, well sealed in plastic. To reheat a cold tortilla, place on a hot dry cast-iron or other heavy skillet or griddle for 30 seconds, flipping it over halfway though. Once reheated, tortillas toughen quickly, so reheat them only as you need them.

        My notes
        These are actually surprisingly easy, and incredibly delicious when they’re fresh. They do lose a fair bit by the second day, so saving the dough would be better than saving cooked tortillas — don’t get me wrong, they’re still decent tortillas the next day, they’re just not much of an improvement (other than price-wise) on the store-bought kind. And that’s a bit disappointing the day after you’ve been in tortilla-heaven.

        The step where you make the discs is pretty important. Take the time to actually make them round — how round they are at that stage in large part determines how round you’ll be able to make them when you roll them out.

        That half-hour of rest time is a good chance to make refried beans, chop veggies, make guacamole, grate cheese — prepare whatever you want to put in your tortillas. Alternatively, if you’re some sort of über-prepared kitchen ninja who already has everything ready (or, y’know, you decided to buy everything pre-made and pre-chopped), you can use that time to clean up your kitchen. Or play video games. Whatever floats your boat.

    • Oh, I’m totally with you. I’m always super excited about new recipes and talking about how ingredients work together to make baked goods delicious 🙂

    • I enjoy talking about food, too. I get excited about vegetables. I just can’t help it; eating plants makes me giddy.
      BUT when I point out my excitement at a veggie-laden meal, I’m not demonizing other foods at the same time.

  3. Thanks for posting this! So simple yet so not obvious for a lot of people.

    A while back I heard someone say (after having yet another adult beverage): “I’ll have to run some extra miles in the morning to make up for this.” And he actually meant it! That’s the first time I’ve ever come across someone who followed up on that. He and his wife are crazy in shape, so I know they’re paying attention to calories in/calories out. So many other people say it just to give lip service to the “guilty pleasure” idea.

    • Some people see it as a math equation, and that’s fine. But a lot of people also tie it into their self worth. In order to “deserve” something, they must do x. And if something prevents them from doing x, then they feel crappy about themselves.

  4. Such a great post. My (male) friend told me recently he wants to loose weight (which is cool, good for him), and has been asking me for some advice. I was kind of horrified to realise all the negative but “helpful” things about diet and food that I’ve clearly internalised over the years – even though I’ve never been overweight or had to go on a restrictive diet for any reason.

    It really woke me up to the fact that women (in particular) are bombarded with very negative messages about ourselves. Men are to some extent too, of course, but they are not quite so bombarded with the sneaky “you should have this not this” or “this has fewer calories” or “guilty pleasure” messages.

    I guess I already knew all of this on some level. But having a male friend talk about his weight really made me realise how strange women in particular are about food, and how negatively we discuss it. Somehow it stands out more if a man starts saying stuff like “this is my treat day”…

  5. I am really happy to see this article.

    One thing: I have to be on a gluten-free diet. Sometimes I loathe talking about it, but I often have to choose between checking to see if I can eat something or not eating anything. As someone who is recovering from an eating disorder, it’s a little uncomfortable to see “gluten-free” listed off right before “weight watchers”…

    • I feel ya. I enjoyed this article very much but I blanched seeing “gluten – free diet” listed like that. My gluten – free diet is medically necessary and if I can avoid bringing it up I will. However, I think this reinforces the author ‘s point. If I’m eating with folks who don’t know me well and they find out I’m gluten free they want me to list all my symptoms and the conversation inevitably turns to weight loss. It’s very stressful for me. I just want to enjoy my food, not deal with their body issues.

      • One summer I lived in a co-op and saw a girl who was clearly struggling with body image start to fall down the slippery slope (running 5 miles a day on an injured foot, fasting because she “wanted to see what it was like”). Her boyfriend was gluten-free by necessity, and at one point she decided to “give it a try” too. It sucks that people conflate medically necessary diets with ways to lose weight, but it absolutely happens.

        • I think in the case of gluten free it’s far more…….hmmmm, let’s say “medically optimal” than most people realize.

          I am not celiac or gluten intolerant, and yet I have found enormous benefit eating gluten free. Less bloating, less water retention, fewer breakouts, better sleep, and yes, some considerable weight loss. (Fewer empty calories and more nutritionally dense, satiating foods and less overall inflammation). My husband, mother in law, and parents have also reported various health improvements after going gluten free. None of us *need* to eat gluten free by medical necessity.

          • Glad you found something that works for you. But for me that tradeoff wouldn’t be worth it right now, and I’ll just leave it at that.

          • Gluten-free is medically optimal, sure…for some people, up to and including you. It is not universally medically optimal, because nothing is.

            Also remember there are degrees of gluten sensitivity, so it’s entirely possible that you do have a sensitivity, even though it might not show up on tests, for example. I would even go so far as to suggest that you absolutely do have a sensitivity of some degree, since not eating gluten makes you feel better than eating it does.

            Another thing to remember is that some celiacs GAIN weight when they go off gluten, and that’s absolutely a good thing for them, because they weren’t absorbing nutrients properly. Even the symptoms of legit celiac vary.

          • hmmmmm I thought we weren’t supposed to talk about our diets in this one tiny comment section of the internet?

    • But please understand that going gluten-free is also very trendy right now. Many, many people are doing it for perceived benefits, NOT because they are medically diagnosed with wheat intolerance. Gluten-free diets are being promoted by celebrities, in magazines, in cookbooks, on TV, in restaurants, by food manufacturers, yada yada yada, all over the place.

      There will always be some people who need to follow a special diet for a medical reason (high blood pressure, diabetes, allergies, etc), but there are always many more who follow special diets due to popularity or cultural pressures.

      No matter the reason tho, this post has a really good point about not letting one’s internal dialog about food become everyone else’s conversation about food.

    • The one that drives me batty is when people learn that I’m on a gluten-free diet (recommended medically), it’s all they bloody want to talk about. Like, I’m a zaftig girl. I know that. I am not blind. I am built like a hobbit and I dance ballet. I see my weight frequently in a leotard and ballet pink tights, and that is harsher than bathing suit season. I am not exactly comfortable with my weight for a lot of reasons, but I’m reasonably healthy, reasonably active, and eat well for my restrictions/allergies. I’m aware there’s a lot of them — no gluten, no shellfish, no pineapple, no pine nuts, minimal dairy, no pork (Jewish) — and I recognise that it’s really difficult to figure out what to feed me. But even when I bring my own food or there’s a gluten-free menu whilst eating out, man, the food conversations zero in on my food issues and they do not let up. I get that it’s a weird thing, and that people are interested in (or highly disparaging of) the gluten-free thing. But it always turns around to my weight. “How much weight have you lost with the gluten-free thing?” “Are you going to go paleo to get the rest of the weight off?” etc.

      The thing that this has made me aware of is two-fold: one, that the food intake of people with restricted diets is open for public commentary; two, that the bodies of fat women are public property. When you put the two together, I don’t get to focus on the food I love, or making positive statements about what I’m eating. I have to justify my choices or be hounded — either for giving in to a fad diet or for not taking my health seriously.

      So the thing I would say back to being careful about how we talk about food is to be vigilant about how we shape perceptions of food, and whose food choices are open for commentary. There is a real sense of entitlement about discussing non-standard bodies and non-standard diets as if there isn’t a whole person attached to them, and that makes eating out harder than the diet restrictions themselves.

  6. So, I have a somewhat related question… obviously I would never fat-shame or body-shame a person. But sometimes I do this to my dogs. Now, weight for pets is a much different issue than weight for people, but should I stop this in case a child overhears me and assumes I think the same way about people?

    This is a great article with a lot of fabulous tips. Thanks for sharing!

    • Two of my three pets (all of them are rescues) are getting progressively fatter, but it makes me happy. Like, I can’t ever imagine looking at a person and going “Wow! Check out your gut! You’re gaining so much weight! Good for you!” (Not that I comment on people’s weight or body, fat or thin, but you get my point.) Why do we think fat animals are adorbs but not fat people??? My dog’s belly is cute. And so is mine. (Or at least that’s what I’m going to keep telling myself. 😉 )

    • Yes.

      I mean, just care for your dog the way you think she needs care…but maybe not make fat-shaming types of statements about it.

    • It is definitely a different issue for pets, but pet body shaming can still hurt people, for sure. I am a self identified fat lady, and generally I’m very body positive. However, when people are talking about pet weight loss and transition from talk about helping their pet become healthier, and start heaping verbal abuse upon the animal, it can get very uncomfortable (in my opinion, of course). Obviously the cat/dog/whatever doesn’t give a damn about being called a “lazy fatass” (or much worse) constantly, but in this human’s case, at least, it often feels like aggression, and very much like it’s something the person wants to say about fellow humans. Of course it isn’t always the case, but such behavior can absolutely be incredibly hurtful. There’s a big world of body-hating out there for humans, and the attacks are so often personal it can be hard at times to distinguish when they are not.

      Normally I wouldn’t make a comment like this, but you asked and I had an answer. (Well, not about children specifically…but in this case I don’t see much difference between children and adults. Perhaps adults “should” be able to somehow divine when a person is being passive agressive or not, but many adults have years of distrust built up.) At the end of the day, if you don’t want to unintentionally hurt someone, there’s no need to verbally shame an animal who doesn’t speak your language. The people who actually understand you might be getting a message you didn’t mean to send.

      • Usually the conversations happen between my fiancee and I (“Dog looks chubby, we should take him on a longer walk”); it’s only a concern because he’s a Chihuahua mix and when they put on weight it can really shorten their lifespan. That’s why my mind initially went to kids overhearing it – they aren’t comments we usually make around anyone but us and the vet, but that might change when we decide to have kids. But that’s an excellent point – even adults overhearing comments like that could be really hurt. And honestly, since I used to have an eating disorder and still struggle with eating habits sometimes, they probably aren’t helpful comments for me, either!

      • Huh, I give my cat crap for being a lazy chubster all the time. Mostly because she is on a vet mandated diet as a result and, well, it’s kinda frustrating to me to enforce it and I guess I take that out in the form of verbal teasing I know she can’t understand anyway. It never once occurred to me that my comments towards my cat might make some of my larger friends uncomfortable. I will definitely try to be more conscientious about this in the future. Thank you.

        • It depends on the cat. I have a 15 pound cat that understands human speaking pretty well and even makes a meowing noise that sounds suspiciously like the word “no”. He also understands the word “fat” but actually runs over to us and purrs when either my husband or I say it. What I’m trying to say is your cat may actually understand what you’re saying in terms of the words. Understanding the context is probably going to be lost on her.

    • I would say NO – don’t be careful. Go ahead and say something that might be “bad” – and then – talk to your kids about why that wasn’t the best thing to say, and why you slipped and said it anyway.

      I think it’s a GREAT opportunity to talk to kids.

      Full disclosure – I don’t have kids – so perhaps I simply don’t understand. Sorry if I overstep here…it’s not my intention to offend.

      But I’m always confused when people try to shelter their kids from what I see as learning opportunities. We hear it all the time, “I don’t want to have to talk to my kids about …” But kids will be exposed to everything we want to shelter them from eventually anyway. So why not use the opportunity while your kids are still young (and listening to you before their peers) to teach them what you want about those topics?? Sex. Drugs. Healthy Body Image. Gay Marriage. Diet and Exercise. Tolerance. Religion. Right vs Wrong. The list goes on and on…why not use EVERY opportunity at your disposal?? Why not MAKE your own opportunities??

      My mother handed a romance novel when I was maybe 11 years old. (this one) There was a lot of sex in the story – and she let me read it, and then talked to me about sex. That was WHY she handed me the book – she wanted to talk with me about sex. We also talked about why the School Librarian was surprised that my mother gave me that book. That was much more interesting conversation for me, and one that my mother didn’t expect, but that I learned a lot more from.

      Why not use EVERY opportunity at your disposal to teach your kids what you want them to know and do and believe??

      • This is a really interesting approach! I have a young daughter and I would love a post about it, if you were comfortable writing about it in more detail. Had your mother talked much about sex previously? How did it shape your views?

    • For me I think the difference with pets and people is this:

      We are 100% responsible for our pets health. We are in charge of everything they can eat, their exercise, and their checkups. So WE HAVE TO make those decisions for them. So it literally is our responsibility to choose to do things like overfeed or overexercise or undervaccinate or whatever. So, while they of course love the food, they are not making the conscious decision to be large and proud, or lean and mean.

      People are 100% for their own health. So they are in charge of eating exercising nutrients medical visits etc. So they may have CHOSEN to be the way they are. But they may also have medical issues affecting their body weight shape size. So we cannot assume to know why they made their choices. And they have all the strings and baggage of our culture and their upbringing and friends and family and media, tied in to how they feel about it and how they act on it.

      Animals don’t hear the body shaming the way we do. But I find, in my experience working in the animal medicine and care industry, that people will often treat their pets if they are trying to cut back on food themselves. It’s like, I can’t eat any cake tonight so I’ll give Boofa an extra cup of biscuits. And people will often easily transfer the cutesy pet body shaming talk to themselves.

      So I try really hard to avoid talking about it, to people or pets. Because really, nothing positive comes out of the conversation. With humans, I don’t talk about it unless the person brings it up specifically. With pets, I do bring it up, as a medical concern, and then after that it is up to the owners to take action.

  7. First I just want to tell you how much I LOVE this article. Seriously, you hit on so many things I would love to change about how we talk about food.

    It’s hard, but I’ve learned I can’t really can’t stop people from talking about how bad they’re being when they get cheese on their sandwich or order dessert or grab another piece of brisket. I haven’t hit on the magical phrase to say that will make them realize that it’s just food and they should stop thinking of it as bad or good, so the best thing I can do is to just focus on me.

    Some people like to start talking about how shameful that brownie is that they’re eating because they do feel bad and want someone to commiserate with them, and the best way to get them to stop is refuse to play along. Sometimes I’ve definitely said, “whatever man, I ran today so I’m really hungry,” but much better might be something like “whatever, this is exactly what I want right now and it’s delicious.” You are totally right that those things don’t need to be justified, and I think when people say problematic things it’s a lot more about needing you to validate them and their choices than it is about you. Even if they’re judging you hard about that brownie, it really is their own issues at play.

    I know because I’ve been on the judge-y side of it! (Although I never said those things out loud.) I spent a couple years in high school obsessing over food and exercise and my weight. It wasn’t quite alarming eating-disorder levels of bad, but might have headed that way if it hadn’t stopped. The thing is, nothing my family or friends could have said would have really snapped me out of it right away. It was something I needed to shake on my own, and what finally did it was going away to college (where I loved being independent) and deciding that worrying about food all the time was not nearly as important as passing my classes and building up a great social life.

    So what to do now? Don’t engage with the shame spiral. Deflect if you can. If it’s someone you see on a regular basis and you feel close enough to them, sit them down one-on-one and tell them that kind of talk bothers you (easier said than done, I know) and then just let it go, because it’s definitely about them, not you.

      • This is exactly what I do. I don’t believe in policing other people, from either direction–I’m not about to command anyone to love or hate their body, or eat or don’t eat, or anything, really. I’ve found it’s plenty radical to just vocally not give a shit about food morality, and it usually gives people pause, and I like to think I’ve planted a seed, that maybe I’m contributing to a culture where someday nobody will feel like they have to apologize for their food.

  8. I love this. I read a piece maybe a year ago that talked about how the words we use around food can affect our children and it really made me step back and take note of all of the things I did, most of which were mentioned in this. My husband and I have really been making strides, not only for our kids, but for ourselves and those around us, to STOP IT. Eating a delicious donut brings a smile to my face. Saying ‘I’m being bad’ while eating it doesn’t change any of anything, but it does send a negative message to everyone around me.

    We eat mostly healthy, honestly for the kids, but we have been working really hard to change our relationship with food so that our kids can start out having healthy relationships with food. And I think having a healthy relationship with all kinds of food, both super healthy and super not, comes right back to what you said: don’t let food consume you.

  9. As someone who has a (medically) complicated relationship with food, I’m extremely grateful for this article. We have convinced ourselves that we are one-size fits all (literally!), when the real truth is that one-size fits none. In my quest to figure out a happy medium of good food and a healthy body, I found that I like what Michael Pollan says on food: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” – it’s a great mantra, that if you’re making the choice to eat healthier that it does not mean you need to eat healthy 100% of the time. There’s a debate that’s occurring in the Food world. Some say eat to live, others say live to eat. I can’t help but wonder why it can’t be both? Once in a while eat a cookie, a brownie, or a chocolate shake. Own the fact that you’re eating it. Savor it. Love the taste of that chocolate shake.

    I have to abide by a pretty strict diet for medical reasons (no meat, no dairy, and eating more frequently in smaller meals), but that doesn’t mean that once in a while I don’t have a piece of cheese or some bacon. I usually end up feeling guilty about it, but I shouldn’t. For all the reasons listed above, I should own the fact that I’m eating the way that I do.

  10. As someone who recently discovered some crazy food allergies (seriously, I can’t have corn, dairy, eggs, nuts, or most meat, among other things) I end up thinking/talking about food a lot. In some ways though, its been a blessing because I have stopped beating myself up over “bad” food choices; some days I have a frozen burrito for breakfast because there is literally nothing else that I have can have, and that’s ok. It is more important that I eat something, even if it isn’t the healthiest thing for me, then not eating anything (also, frozen burritos are dang tasty).

    Having a restricted diet for any reason can suck. I’ve found the best counter balances for it is to have a sense of humor about it, and embracing it. Pinterest/the internet can potentially be an awesome place to make both the preparation and consumption of food fun.

  11. An oddly liberating aspect of life in Indonesia (and, I imagine, most developing countries) is that fat = wealth, health, prosperity. If you’re chubby, it means you’re doing good.

    One of the first questions that people ask is “Have you eaten yet?” Not “How was your day?” but “When was the last time you ate rice?”

    People just don’t have hang-ups about food here, which I guess makes since, because it wasn’t that long ago that food was hard to come by (and for many people, still is).

    As an aside, living here has made me completely get rid of any body issues I had. I’m not a thin person, not by any stretch of the imagination. I’m 5’7″ and wear an 18/20. Even at my thinnest, I’d still be around a 14 — and people here would STILL think I was massive. My bone structure is Western. And big. No matter what I do, I’ll be considered ‘fat’ — so I just let it go and embrace it.

  12. Ultimately the obsession with food / weight goes back to so many industries WANTING us to feel bad about ourselves! People wouldn’t buy things like makeup and Spanx and curling irons and diet pills and acne cream if we hadn’t been told that there was something undesirable or even shameful about our current appearance. Or bigger TVs and latest smartphones and new fashions if someone hadn’t told us that what we already have isn’t good enough to make us happy. It’s marketing! If we all woke up tomorrow morning satisfied with who we are and what we have, many industries would go out of business.

  13. Thank you for this!

    “Eating healthy” can mean so many different thing to people. We’ve come to the conclusion that we’re going for nourishing most of the time. For us, that might mean eating butter and natural fats but someone else’s body might totally not do well with that! Same for food allergies and sensitives, eating broccoli might tear through someone’s gut but really nourish another person. So now a pet-peeve of mine is the broad scope of what “healthy” is because well, I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all.

    Which leads me to size. I never want my kids to treat anyone poorly. So if I’m putting myself down, they hear that people of my size are worth putting down and treating poorly. I have to watch it and it’s a struggle after spending plenty of time doing it through the years.

  14. Nothing independently constructive to add, BUT, a short bit of recommended reading. Barbara Kingsolver addresses this briefly in her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (a good read, regardless!) She talks about food stigmas and feasting, and brings up the vilification of a necessary and pleasurable activity.

  15. The negative phrase I notice the most among my friends is justification. It really bothers me. When a friend says “I don’t usually eat this many cookies”, I’m so tempted to say “oh no, me neither”, but the truth is, I love cookies! I do eat this many regularly, thank you very much! And I enjoyed them, until you came along and tried to project your guilt on me.

    Of course the reason I’m affected by their words is because I have my own food issues… In fact, I was tempted to add “don’t worry, I don’t actually eat a ton of cookies” to this post in order to justify myself!

    When a friend says “I don’t usually eat this many cookies”, I’ve started to reply with “you don’t have to justify yourself”. I’m not sure if that’s appropriate, but it’s usually pretty effective at stopping my own guilt. Perhaps a better reply would be “really? That’s a shame, these cookies sure are delicious”.

    • I make comments like that, but I don’t normally mean it as justification. I guess it could easily sound like “I don’t normally eat this many cookies [because it’s bad and I’m normally not a bad person]” but what I usually mean is either “I normally don’t eat this many cookies [so now i wonder if there is something going on with my body that I should possibly be paying more attention to]” or “I normally don’t eat this many cookies [and I’m starting to suffer the consequences so don’t be surprised if I seem totally unwilling to chase after my toddler in a moment]”

      But then I’m underweight and far more likely to be judged for *refusing* to eat a cookie or brownie than for indulging. Which, by the way, is JUST as frustrating and insulting.

      • Interesting! That does show that we should always give people (especially our friends!) the benefit of the doubt.

        However I do think in context you can differentiate between justifying because of guilty, and justifying because of those reasons you mention, and the guilt justifying is the one I notice the most.

        • Totally unrelated but I was so into reading about delicious foods stuff that instead of reading “the benefit of the doubt” I though the sentence was encouraging me to give people “the benefit of a donut” which would be awesome BTW…I could totally start handing out donuts….

      • Because I am pretty thin, people assume that anytime I don’t eat something, it must be because I am on some extreme diet/don’t eat enough. I get told things like
        “come on– you’re so skinny.”
        ” It won’t make you fat just this once”
        “It’s ok for you because you’re thin”
        “Don’t worry! It’s low fat!!”
        “I’m not as good as you” — if I said no thank you to a cheesecake, which I actually really dislike.

        Another problem people perceived as thin enough have is that when other people are talking in negative ways, our attempts to change the tone of the food/body talk are met with jealousy and eye-rolling. “You just don’t understand! I have to feel guilty because I am not skinny enough.”

  16. Thanks for this article. Fat-shaming runs deep in my family. Definitely with the “guilty pleasure” thing or the “I shouldn’t be eating this”. I’m still working with being okay with my food choices and one of the things that I love LOVE LOVE about my husband is that whenever I fall into the “justifying what I’m eating” thing, he kind of looks at me like I have two heads because why would I need to justify my food to him? He doesn’t question if I buy ice cream at the store or pick up crackers or snacks or whatever. He is so non-judgmental and it’s really refreshing because so many people in my family are judge-y about things. My grandmother regularly tells me I need to do X or Y to lose weight and mostly I ignore her, but it’s not cool and I’m starting to reply with variations of it not being her business to comment on my body.

    I wish everyone would wake up and realize that shaming your own or other people’s food choices can be more unhealthy than the food itself.

  17. I’ve been a bartender in a restaurant for 8 years now, and the behavior in the article (I should really have X but I’m going to have Y) is almost like a ritual for some people. The excuses people make are extensive as the menu itself. It makes me wonder- Do I have a judgmental face? Am I embarrassing them by asking if they want fries? I am an order-taker, not an order-judger. Now your behavior while sitting at my bar on the other hand… I judge.

    Also, I’ve noticed that people who make the healthier choices get some uninvited trash talk too. “My burger looks so much better than your salad!” or “You might as well get fries with that burger instead of the broccoli, you’re already screwed,” etc., etc.. My own husband is constantly making comments about the healthier food options I shop for. When I pick up the “low-fat” or “no-sugar-added” type of items, he says “Gross.” This makes me feel like I’m gross for liking things. I’m just trying to make the healthier choice and now I feel bad about it, but not as bad as I would feel for eating the full-fat hummingbird food that he chooses to eat. (He’s a twig and still wearing the same size clothes as he did in junior high.) I don’t chastise him for being a hummingbird though, he can’t help it.

    I’ve tried talking to him about it directly, and when that didn’t work, I used sarcasm (our native language) to make the point that it’s not okay to say these things (“I didn’t realize they took a vote and decided you had the supreme judgement of food worthiness.” Or “Did I miss the election again? Dang.”). He doesn’t get it.

    • My sister is very much like your husband in judging people for liking things. One of the most irritating to me is how a person takes their coffee. I can’t stand coffee without it being sweetened enough to mask the bitter taste, and I do enjoy adding flavoring to my coffee such as Irish Creme, English Toffee, etc. My sister, on the other hand, calls it “foo-foo coffee” if there’s anything in it other than cream or milk. Even her son, whom she allows to have coffee, uses her made-up name for altered coffee, unconsciously shaming anybody else for enjoying the variety that coffee flavorings have to offer. Why can’t we all just like what we like and let other people like what they like?

      She’s the same way about alcoholic beverages. If you happen to enjoy a sweet, “girly” drink – say, Fuzzy Navels, for instance – you’re the equivalent of a high school student who hasn’t yet acquired more “adult” tastes for alcohol. I’m sorry, but if I’m going to be drinking an adult beverage, I’m not doing it just for the buzz; I’m drinking it because I like how it tastes. I’m not trying to set myself up to become a heavy drinker just so I can say how wasted I let myself get that time. I’ve been through my nights of straight vodka and parties after which I drove home drunk, and I can say that I’m not proud of myself for it. Why we feel the need to be proud of our own youthful stupidity, I don’t understand. Why we must shame others for choosing to enjoy themselves rather than “maturing” toward drinks that have more burn than flavor, I just don’t get. When I eat or drink, I want to enjoy what goes into my mouth and feel satisfied when I’m finished. If that means I like something you don’t, that’s fine with me. If you’re not fine with it, that’s your problem and you should learn to keep it to yourself.

    • I wonder if something like “I like it, and you don’t have to eat it” might work, at least for reinforcing to yourself why you’re buying stuff your husband finds “gross”. If you don’t think it’s gross, and you’re the one eating it, then really it’s your business.

  18. I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the last few months. One of my best friends and I, who are the same size and struggle with similar body image issues, have talked a lot about our frustrations and our plans for eating healthier. This was great at first – it didn’t take over our conversations, and it was a way to voice some of our insecurities in a safe space and relate to each other. More recently, however, I have noticed that it is becoming increasingly negative on my friend’s end, and while I want to maintain that safe space for her, I don’t know how to respond (although I have stopped bringing up my own insecurities and I generally try to steer the conversation toward more positive expressions). It has really got me thinking about my own attitudes toward food.

    Here’s the thing: I love food. It is most definitely one of my passions, and I love to talk about it. This is not to say that I have never had a more complicated attitude toward food, but for years now I have striven to frame it solely in positive terms. Food is nourishment for our bodies, and it is one of the most central features of our cultures, our social interactions, our family lives. And it is delicious! I don’t feel bad about my body when I eat because the act of eating is also the act of providing my body with what it needs to live, with or without a little extra padding.

    What I hate, though, is when food talk centers solely around perceived health value. I might crave salads, and I love veggies, but there is no need for me to be a food evangelist. I once had an acquaintance extoll the virtues of her daily kale smoothies and tell me, after I explained that my father was being checked out for celiac disease, that she had lost 14 kilos after going on an elective gluten-free diet. This was also at a holiday meal. While I appreciate that she is passionate about her food, the relentless focus on health (as related to weight), was hugely annoying and even offensive. I don’t mind in the slightest that people have different priorities and restrictions when it comes to diet, and I enjoy talking about them, but let’s find a way to do so without the subtle or not-so-subtle judgement.

    • Amen about other people’s food issues. Years ago, a friend of ours went through a period of personal, physical hell before being diagnosed with celiac disease. Her emotional stress of not first knowing what was medically wrong, withdrawing herself socially, and then having to adapt to a totally different lifestyle than what she was used to….it was heartbreaking seeing her go through it.

      Fast forward to the current day: I have a group of friends (from a separate social circle) who jumped on the gluten-free-for-weight-loss bandwagon. Sure, they’re seeing results…although my guess would be that because they’re choosing to be on a diet – regardless of the “fad”-diet of choice – they’re making more of a conscious effort to eat better, be more physically active, etc. Anyhow there’s one side of me that bites my tongue because they’re happy and I don’t want to discourage them, but then there’s the other side who remembers what my girlfriend went through and can’t stop thinking about what a dick they are unknowingly being. It just grates on me – especially when they make comments comparing it to the success they had when they did Atkins.

  19. One of my pet peeves is people telling me how fat they think they are and why they can’t eat something then pointing out my size (I am short and petite). “Oh well you can eat what you want” or “you need more meat on you.” It really frustrates me because I am a healthy weight for my size and am relatively happy with my body. I don’t like people trying to guilt trip me about being happy because they aren’t happy.

    On the other hand when talking about food I try to mention foods I love to eat or cook. The conversation is infinitely more productive. I get along really well with people who love to eat and try new foods. Bonus if you can swap recipes or restaurant recommendations too.

  20. Oh gosh, I love this article. When I was 19, I was anorexic. Didn’t eat/ wouldn’t eat for hours, sometimes even a day. I knew that I was doing it too, but it was the one thing I was in control of. Fast forward 13 years and I am a bit heavier than I should be. I know it. I want to and am starting to lose a few pounds. However, I feel so much better about myself now than when I was 19.

    I do have food issues (sweets are my downfall), but I refuse to obsess over what I should and shouldn’t eat. Instead, I make it a point to cook more so at least I know what I am putting in my body vs. whatever takeout food I get. I think that helps.

    Also, since I can be self-conscious, I am vigilant about not food-shaming other people. I think it’s terrible when people do that (to me or anyone else). Most food talking I do is about what people are cooking. I love recipe talking.

    • I could have written this! I’m so much happier now and have a better relationship with my body than when I was thinner.
      I eat what I feel like, whether it’s salad or pasta or chocolate, and trust that my body will let me know what it needs.

  21. One of my biggest peeves about the way people talk about food is the constant comparisons of themselves to others. Everyone has a different “normal,” and I don’t think we should judge ourselves or each other based on someone else’s normal. We all have different eating habits because we have slightly different needs, based on genetics, environment, and lifestyle. This idea that there is “one right way to eat” and “one right body type” is absurd, and I hate the media’s constant barrage of “perfect” bodies and new diets every week.

    One of the things that has been very interesting (and also uncomfortable and sometimes upsetting) to me, is that, as someone who has a naturally very thin body type, people like to compare themselves to me, which has become more common as I’ve gotten into my mid 20’s (when I was a kid, adults used to just ask in a very concerned voice whether I was eating enough or insist I eat to the point of being uncomfortably full; kids would taunt me and call me creative names like “Skeletor” or “Anorexic giraffe”). It’s upsetting to me because I feel like my very existence as a thin person makes people feel bad about themselves, and I have a hard time figuring out how to handle those sorts of situations. I usually try to give the person a compliment and direct the conversation elsewhere, but it always leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth. I also find that I sometimes police my own eating habits around people, and end up going a little hungry because I don’t want to be “that girl” rudely eating a huge cheeseburger when everyone else ordered salad.

    • I have always been the skinny one. I had no trouble with that until I got really sick and lost even more weight. Everyone always says something about it until I explain that it is a health issue. I can’t swallow anything bigger then a grain of rice and sometimes even have trouble with that. I obsess about food and eat babyfood and smoothies but can’t seem to put on any weight. 5’4″ 78 pnds.
      Parties and restaurants are nightmares.
      People who don’t know me think I’m anorexic.
      I’ve been surviving like this since ’91 so I’ll continue on but I do think language is important.

  22. Great article, and very thought provoking! Most of what we say about food doesn’t NEED to be said out loud. When someone says something about calories or whatnot, I have just started assuming that they are talking to themselves.

    Also, I think the phrase “clean eating” is bullshit. I originally heard that term about vegan diets, and now the paleo crowd uses it. Did your food fall on the floor? (Has it been less than 5 seconds?) Then your food is clean.

    So what I have to say to all of you is “MMmmmm, FOOD.”

  23. I love this. I recently gave up calorie counting when I realized I was feeling guilty for sitting down and eating a piece of sourdough toast with my 2 year old son (who really likes his “toh”). I am generally a very healthy eater and my kids are healthy eaters too. I cook nearly 7 days a week and we eat very well rounded, healthful meals, with treats in moderation. There is a positively spun dialogue in our house about healthy nutrition and wellness habits, but I realized that counting calories was putting a very negative spin on what used to be a positively framed topic. I enjoy food and sharing it with others and I want to be the kind of mom who can sit down and enjoy a piece of (generously) buttered, sourdough “toh” with my 2 year old son at a too-low-to-the-ground-for-me toddler table and think that the only thing I’m counting these days is the number of crumb-covered smiles we share

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