Do you Need to Eat That?

Thanks to awesome reader Jeanine Adinaro for this submission, just in time for the holidays.  I knew I had to write about it because just the thought of being asked that made my skin crawl.

This is such a loaded question. What do you mean by “need”? Are you asking if my glycogen stores are depleted? If I am near starvation?  If my body at this moment requires the precise nutrients that are delivered by cornbread stuffing covered in gravy? Or do you feel that fostering a relationship with food that is based on guilt and shame is in my best interest?

This question is custom-made to make someone feel ashamed.  I think it’s asked for one of about three reasons:


The person asking the question has decided that it is their job to pass judgment on your activities.  Being too cowardly to directly state their opinion, they use this question as a mode of passive aggression to “make you admit it to yourself”.  This is one of those situations where they would probably claim to be mistreating you for your own good, also known around this blog as “Pulling a Jillian“.

If the person asking this question truly cared about you and your health (however misguided they might be), they would talk to you about it in person, alone, at an appropriate time, and they would ask a question that invited dialog, not try to embarrass you in front of people while you’re eating what is supposed to be a celebratory meal. That right there is some bullshit.


Remember that some people never got past Junior High and nothing makes them feel so powerful as judging someone else and then making them feel like crap. Maybe because they are drowning in…


The person asking the question perhaps struggles with their weight, their guilt about eating etc. and since they feel guilty for enjoying the food, they think that you should feel guilty about it too, or they want to deflect attention from their behavior to yours.

The degree of difficulty on discerning someone’s intent in this sort of thing can range from “no duh” to “who the hell knows”. Here’s the thing though, from my perspective it doesn’t matter why they are asking it:  I am not ok with being asked, and I get to choose how I am treated (as least when it’s done to my face).

So you’re at a holiday meal, you take seconds on mashed potatoes and someone asks the dreaded question:  “Do you need to eat that?” It seems like the table falls silent, waiting for your reply.  What do you say?

First, quell your rage and resist the urge to put them down (Yes, I do need these mashed potatoes.  Did you need to marry that jerk?)

Second, as with so many situations where people lash out at you, remember that this is about their issues and has nothing to do with you.   If emotions well up, consider that you may be feeling embarrassed and/or sorry for them, and not ashamed of your own actions.

Now find your happy (or at least your non-homicidal) place, and try one of these:

Quick and Simple (said with finality)

  • Yes (and then eat it)
  • No (and then eat it)

Answer with a Question (I find it really effective to ask these without malice, with a tone of pure curiosity.  If you’re not in the mood to have a dialog about this, skip these.)

  • Why do you think that’s your business?
  • What made you think that I want you to police my food intake?
  • I thought that you were an accountant, are you also a dietitian?

Pointed Response (be ready with a consequence if the behavior continues)

  • I find that inappropriate and offensive
  • What I eat is none of your business, and your commenting on it is unacceptable to me
  • I have absolutely no interest in discussing my food intake with you

Cathartic (but probably not that useful if you want to create an opportunity for honest dialog)

  • Yes, because dealing with your rudeness is depleting my glycogen stores at an alarming rate
  • If I want to talk to the food police, I’ll call 911
  • Thanks for trying to give me your insecurities, but I was really hoping to get a Wii this year
  • No, but using my fork to eat helps to keep me from stabbing you with it

Guilt is not good for your health. So I hope that if you choose to eat it, you also choose to enjoy it.

17 thoughts on “Do you Need to Eat That?

  1. I remember inviting my boyfriend to meet my parents for the first time. Things were going great until dessert came up we decided my mom would go out and get some pies and come back.

    So she did but she got a cake too. We all had a piece of pie at the dinner table except my dad who had cake. I guess the cake was really good and he wanted me to try some so I did and my mom goes ” do you really need to be eating that?”

    I was embarrassed to say the least here was my bf’s first visit to meet my family and my mom has to pull the do you need that line. I just ignored it and told my dad that it was really good and moved on, but ignoring it sure doesn’t help you feel better.

    I think this holiday season I will try to have a better response ready.

  2. “Thanks for trying to give me your insecurities, but I was really hoping to get a Wii this year”

    Best line ever!

    My mom asks me this question on a fairly regular basis often while going for the exact food I am. I ignore her but it does affect the way I eat sometimes. I’ll have to try one of these lines sometime.

  3. Yep, the socks are rocked once more. 🙂 Luckily I’ve been able to quell this from my father generally speaking, but I’m gonna have to try a few of these if he gets going again. He did buy us a Wii last year though, so I’ll have to come up with something else I want, LOL.

  4. “No, but using my fork to eat helps to keep me from stabbing you with it”

    LOVE IT!!

    I have a million and one “do you need to eat that” stories, all of which mirror those already being posted. But I had to comment my joy over that line.

    1. Thanks Ruth, glad you liked it and sorry you’ve had to put up with being asked a stupid question millions of times!

  5. Ruth directed me here… and oh. Oh wow. My entire childhood, summed up in a post. However, if I wasn’t hearing “Do you really need to eat that?” from my mother’s mouth, it was her lifting the end of her nose and oinking at me. And people wonder where my self-esteem issues come from!

    I will definitely be reading more of this blog.

    1. Glad that you like the blog. I don’t even know what to say about oinking except that if my mom caught your mom making animal sounds at the dinner table there would be a mom throw-down.

    2. My mom tried to comment and failed but asked me to tell you: “Seriously, someone is going for seconds on potatoes, dessert etc and THAT’s the problem NOT the barnyard noises and looking up someone’s nostrils (that’s always attractive). Tell me the time and place and I’ll definitely have a Mom smack down with the oinking, face making Mom”

  6. BEST BEST BEST comeback line EVER!!! I am SO going to use this one at the next possible opportunity! LOL

    “No, but using my fork to eat helps to keep me from stabbing you with it!”

    Great blog entry, Ragen! Thanks as always for the great tips!

    1. Ugh – in the office! I’ve been self-employed for so long I didn’t event think of that. Glad that you liked it.

  7. The response I was thinking of, to put in the discussion-initiating category, is, “Do you NEED to ask me that question?”

    But I would probably go with “No.” and then eat it.

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