Tips for responding to family and friends who pressure you to make unhealthy food and lifestyle choices.
Never make allowances for food shaming.
Whenever you make the decision to have a healthier lifestyle, you will undoubtedly face difficulties breaking old patterns.
One of the difficulties you will face, friends and family members making light of your decision or flat out discouraging you from maintaining healthy habits.
They will do so by food shaming you.
What Is Food Shaming?
Food shaming is hurtful behavior used to admonish someone for their eating habits.
Food shaming is when someone negatively comments on your food choices solely because their preferences and opinions don’t align with what you are eating. Typically, food shaming is based on individual preferences and personal opinions.
Food shaming is offensive and it is the most offensive when the shamer is a friend or family member. Those close to us tend to have the most impact. Judgmental comments like, “You shouldn’t eat that!” or “You’re really going to eat ALL that?!” are food shaming comments.
But, food shaming can be something as simple as a disapproving look.
And, food shaming doesn’t only happen to a person whom another believes is eating too much or eating unhealthy food. Food shaming can also go the other way around.
Friends and family can also shame with comments about a healthy lifestyle. “Your only eating salads,” and, “A little dessert won’t hurt you,” are also forms of food shaming. As you can see, food shaming can cut you both when you’re being unhealthy and when you’re doing everything right.
Being aware that food shaming is happening and putting a name to it is the first step in combating it.
Issues With Food Shaming
The person doing the shaming may believe they have good intentions.
When they hurt you, they may believe they’re doing what’s best for you. But, they’re wrong. And, them shaming you is often the result of their own insecurities and dietary practices.
It does not matter if food shaming is the act of admonishing healthy eating or shaming overindulgence. It doesn’t matter if the shaming is simply the result of the shamer not understanding your diet, a low-carb or vegetarian diet for example. The negative effects are still the same.
What Is The Psychological Impact Of Food Shaming?
Say you have just embarked on a healthy diet in order to lose weight. You are at Sunday night dinner and your mother-in-law scoffs at your full plate of veggies.
Likely, you will feel deeply uncomfortable . And you will wonder if she is right that, “You can’t JUST eat vegetables, have some steak and mashed potatoes!” Because you are new to healthy eating, in addition to the fact that you are young and insecure, you will be more likely to internalize the comment.
Once you internalize the criticism, you will question whether your healthy choices are worth the criticism and attention of others. Fortunately, there are others like you who have experienced a similar food shaming scenario.
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How To Combat The Negativity
A healthy family dynamic (or friend dynamic) includes supporting and encouraging a positive body image and healthy food choices.
Healthy family relationships are those where your family does not try to make you feel bad for your choices, healthy or not. It is a good idea to remember that your eating habits are your own, and only you can know what your body needs and wants.
In trying to lose weight, those around you can feel threatened that you are making positive changes. And, subconsciously, they may attempt to sabotage you. Simply remember, they’re doing so due to their own insecurities.
When a person food shames you, especially if it is a regular occurance, that is when you need to start distancing yourself from those people. And, you need to distance yourself from them regardless of whether they are related to you.
That can be a very hard thing to do. In many instances, it is impossible to get away from it. So, if you can’t physically distance yourself, emotionally distance yourself.
How To Respond To Family And Friends Who Push Unhealthy Foods
There is a time and a place to have a cheat meal.
Having one is encouraged. First, having one once a week prevents the desire to give up and binge eat your favorite foods randomly. Second, a cheat meal is a great reward for your hard work.
If someone comments on your unhealthy food choices, or conversely, tries to push unhealthy foods at you when you are trying to eat healthy, there are a few ways you can respond.
This is what I call “explaining your ‘why.'” Why are you wanting to make changes in your life? What would it mean to accomplish your goal? How would your life be different?
It is opening yourself up, being vulnerable, and being honest with the people around you. When they can start understanding why you are doing this they will be able to help support you.
Here are some tips for responding to criticisms of healthy food comments:
- Explain that you are taking control of your health and that you will not stand for anyone making hurtful comments about your choices.
- Ignore the comment the first time and make a mental note to distance yourself from the offending person in the future. By ignoring food shaming the first time, you will have the opportunity to develop an appropriate response for the next time. And, it will come. Saying things like “maybe later,” “not right now, but thank you” are a few of my go-to responses.
- Share why you are eating what you are eating. Ex: “My body is craving vegetables, and I believe in fueling my body with what it needs.” Or, “You might think I am eating unhealthy foods, but I actually allow myself one cheat meal a week and here is why…”
- Be aware of how the other person might be feeling and be willing to address it. Often times, people feel like you are leaving them when you begin to make a new life choice. They will no longer have their friend who will sit in the car with bags of drive through on your laps talking about how great (or how awful) life can be at times. They are mourning the potential loss of the relationship.
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Trust Yourself, not the Shamer
To summarize, understand that what you eat – healthy or otherwise – is your choice. It is up to you to choose whether you eat healthy or unhealthy foods.
You should never feel insecure or upset due to the negative comments of others.
There is a time and place to eat both healthy and unhealthy foods. When someone makes a rude comment about your food choices, it only reflects on their internal discomfort, not on you.
Distance yourself, physically or emotionally, from those who do not wish to see you succeed in having a healthy lifestyle or who are happy shaming your food choices.
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