There’s no one-size-fits-all diet, and it’s time to stop judging others for what they put into their bodies. This was a hard lesson for me to learn as a health coach — I found myself constantly telling people how to eat healthier, and caught myself rolling my eyes when I saw people eating what I considered junk food.
But the more people I worked with, and the more I got to know my own body, the more I realized how individual our relationship with food really is. What we eat is intimately personal. It’s not up to me — or anyone else — to determine what someone should or shouldn’t eat.
What people eat is their business, and that’s why food shaming has got to stop. Here are six common behaviors that it’s time to put to rest:
1. Making comments on food someone is eating
It’s time to end comments like, "You're going to eat THAT?” and "I thought you ate healthy!” Hearing a comment like this can make someone feel bad for what they’re eating, and prevent them from fully enjoying it. If someone judges you for your food choices, try to understand they are probably trying to help, take a deep breath, and bring your attention back to the pleasure of eating.
2. Scowling at others for where they eat, such as at their desk
As long as they’re not being invasive, there’s no reason to pay any mind to someone for eating while they're doing something else. There could be all kinds of reasons why the person wants to eat this way, none of which are anyone else’s concern. Feeling judged for eating at your desk or elsewhere can make people feel self-conscious. If you receive judgment for doing this, remember that you have every right to nourish yourself in the way you want.
3. Shaming someone for eating or not eating meat
This is a classic food-shaming behavior — calling someone insensitive for eating meat, or deeming someone pretentious for choosing to be vegan. Many people have legitimate reasons for eating or not eating meat, and judging someone only pushes them away and makes them feel misunderstood. If you’re being judged on your relationship with meat, remember that you are completely entitled to your own diet, even if it doesn’t make sense to other people.
4. Making people feel bad for not finishing their plate
Growing up, I was always taught to finish my plate. But the truth is, no one has the right to force anyone to eat more than their body wants. We are in charge of how much we put into our bodies, and if that means we only eat half the food on our plates, so be it. In that same vein, if someone continually finishes their plate even when they’re not hungry — good for them.
5. Commenting on someone’s ability to "get away with" eating whatever they want
Let’s put an end to telling others we wish we could eat like them. Next time we see a slender person eating a piece of pizza, instead of asking how she gets away with it, remember that we have absolutely no idea what she had for breakfast, how much she works out, or the make up of her genetic blueprint.
Alternately, if you find yourself being asked how you eat the way you do, have compassion for the fact that the person asking feels like they can’t eat what they want. Then focus on enjoying your food.
6. Suggesting healthier alternatives
This is a tricky one. With so many awesome gluten free, vegan and sugar-free recipes out there, it’s hard not to offer people alternative options of their favorite foods. However, this might make them feel like they shouldn’t be eating what they love. If someone offers you a healthier version of a food you love, recognize that the person is just trying to help you and share something cool they learned.
At the end of the day, the only reason we judge or criticize others is because we are hard on ourselves. Practice self-compassion if you beat yourself up after you’ve eaten too much, mindlessly or had something that didn't agree with you. And if you truly want to help the people around you become healthier, commit to being a living example of how joyful it can be to listen to your own body’s needs and desires.
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