Sometimes it seems like everyone has an opinion on what we eat. Whether it’s family, friends, doctors, or even the media, everyone has their version of an ideal diet. When we discover the diet that works best for us, we want to share it with others, but if we aren’t careful our sharing might turn to shaming.
A food bully is someone who believes that their way of eating is superior and, as a result, judges, shames, or criticizes someone else’s food choices that don’t match their own. This can be a malicious and manipulative online content like an unfeeling media source looking to sell some new diet product or an unintentional comment voiced by a loved one who just wants to raise their concerns. Food bullies don’t always mean to come from a place of judgment or criticism. Oftentimes, our family and friends want us to be healthier. However, instead of helping loved ones develop healthy food choices, food bullying can often lead to fear or insecurity around food, which can be very damaging.
Another form of food bullying is food pushing, which refers to the social pressure people can exert to make someone eat something that they don’t want to eat. This could mean demanding someone eat a slice of cake at a party or coercing a vegetarian relative to eat the lasagna you spent all day making because it would hurt your feelings if they didn’t. Food pushing is just as detrimental as food bullying because it can bring up similar feelings of guilt or shame about our food choices.
Sometimes we aren’t even aware that we could be food shaming another person. In fact, you don’t even have to address someone directly to cause them to feel shame about their food choices. Simply making a negative comment about nutrition or a diet could be damaging to someone listening. You never know exactly what your loved ones or even strangers are eating, so it’s best to make sure what you say couldn’t lead to feelings of shame or guilt for another person.
Some examples of food bullying could include:
• “Oh, I would never eat that.”
• “You know that’s going to kill you?”
• “You shouldn’t be shopping there for food.”
• “Don’t eat that, it’s not organic.”
It would be impossible to list all the ways talking about food can turn into food bullying, but you can still be cautious about what you say to ensure you aren’t causing the people around you experience insecurity about their nutrition.
“The bottom line is to respect choice and realize that there are different ways you can eat healthy,” said Gale Pearson, a registered dietician and certified diabetes educator at TPMG Nutrition Services. Eating healthy looks different depending on your culture, lifestyle, and financial means. The best way to combat food bullying is to understand that there isn’t just one way to eat healthy.
It’s important to stop food shaming in its tracks before it can do damage. Feelings of fear or guilt towards food can result in unhealthy changes in eating habits, financial instability, or even eating disorders. Food is meant to be enjoyed and respected. Understanding the difference between expressing concern and criticism is critical for reducing food bullying in your own life. One way to be sure you don’t accidentally become a food bully is to ask for consent before giving advice. This could look like, “You know I just recently tried something new in my diet, do you mind if I share it with you?”
No one should feel ashamed or guilty about their food choices. If you struggle with these feelings, consulting with a registered dietician could give you a better idea of how your nutritional needs are being met. Don’t take a food bully’s word for it. There are so many ways to eat healthy and yours might look very different from your family members, friends, or even someone online. Consult with a TPMG dietician today to find your unique plan for healthy eating.
About Gale Pearson, MS, RDN, CDCES
Gale Pearson, MS, RDN, CDCES is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator with over 25 years of experience working with patients on dietary and nutrition wellness planning. Gale received her undergraduate degree from Hampton University and her Master of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics from Howard University.
With extensive experience in nutrition counseling, Gale works with her patients to develop strategies to improve their eating habits and lifestyles, in turn helping them to manage their weight and medical conditions. She credits witnessing her patients’ symptoms and overall health improvement as a result of the lifestyle changes as one of the most gratifying and rewarding aspects of her career.
At TPMG Nutrition Services in Newport News and Williamsburg, Gale provides one-on-one consultations, nutrition and weight management counseling, and diabetes education.