Have you ever been out with a friend grabbing something to eat, poring over the menu and when you get ready to order, you begin to make excuses—out loud or to yourself—for what you want to choose?
"Oh, I did a really hard workout this morning so I earned this avo toast." Or another: "I haven’t really eaten much today so it’s OK for me to have this scone."
Whether you know it or not, you’ve just food shamed yourself. Food shaming is feeling like you shouldn’t have that scone even though you really want it because you’re afraid of what the person you're with might think or say, or need to justify a treat to yourself. After all, you are meant to be the healthy one, right?
Or perhaps even more annoying is when someone else does it to you. "Oh you’re going to eat that, are you? I didn’t think you ate gluten!" I’ve gotten this a few times, and I know firsthand how frustrating it is to hear.
The importance of being an "honest" healthy eater.
This is an important topic to share because if everyone viewed healthy eating as an endeavor that never involves the occasional indulgence, it discourages people from trying to be healthier in the first place, or worse, it could encourage a very negative, restrictive relationship with food.
As someone who is passionate about and promotes wellness, I do try to lead by example and show that there is a balance, which is what makes eating healthy actually sustainable and enjoyable. It's so important to be honest: Not even wellness gurus are perfect kale chompers 100 percent of the time. Furthermore, it's simply easier and better for your relationships if you can loosen the reins and indulge a bit when you're socializing.
It's not about being perfect.
I want to point out that I’m not encouraging a constant influx of junk food, but I do believe that in this day and age it’s difficult to avoid all less-than-ideal ingredients all of the time...and that’s completely OK! The alternative—all perfect all the time—would be unreasonable.
So next time you see your favorite yogi or foodie post a photo of, gasp, not a smoothie bowl—good on them! They're being honest with their following and that's to be admired. It's only through honesty that we can begin to dismantle food shaming.
Here's what you can do next time you catch yourself food shaming:
1. Be honest with yourself.
You know when you’ve filled yourself with real, nourishing food that has provided your body with what it needs and when you don't. If you're filling up on empty calories, consider putting that second cookie back or walk away from buying that takeout because your body deserves nourishment and care in the form of good, whole foods.
2. Acknowledge that everyone has their own vice.
And it may be different from yours. Your treat may be a brownie but someone else's may be a glass of wine or a big juicy steak. No matter if it’s sweet, salty, or savory, we all have a weakness. So even if you're choosing a superfood salad over dinner with your pal, don’t make her feel guilty about ordering something different.
3. Be aware of the difference between advice and shaming.
With my educational background in food, I do have a lot of advice to share, but I'm mindful of when I dole it out and how I go about saying it. Giving advice to someone who’s struggling on his diet and wants to know how to cook more healthfully is quite different from waiting until after someone has already ordered his steak and proceeding to lecture him about red meat.
This can be especially tough when it comes to family, so take extra measures to clarify that you’re giving this advice because you’re worried about his health and want him to live longer. It has nothing to do with his character whatsoever!
4. A healthy relationship with food is balanced.
Developing a sustainable love of healthy food sometimes means having your cake and eating it too. Over-restriction can quickly become a negative drain that ends up doing more harm than if you just gave yourself permission to enjoy that cheese board! I eat really well 95 percent of the time. If I had to extend this to 100 percent, I’d lose my mind, so this is where I draw the line and put my sanity first.
Bottom line, be honest with yourself and respect your well-being, which includes your happiness and mental health too. Shame shouldn’t be associated with your food; instead, replace it with love, understanding, and positivity.