Will Perform for Food

Nothing to proveI think that our current society seriously messes a lot of us up around food and eating, and that goes for people of all sizes.  One of the places where I often notice the results of that mess is the way that we talk about food.  I’m not talking about the way that we talk about liking or not liking food, or letting someone know what food allergies/sensitivies/needs one has, I’m talking about the way that we perform around food when we eat with others.

Sit at a restaurant for 20 minutes and I can almost guarantee that you’ll hear some version of each of these (possibly triggering) phrases:

  • This is SO MUCH FOOD, there’s no way that I could eat it all!
  • I’m going to have to do two hours on the treadmill to make up for this cookie.
  • I skipped lunch so that I could eat here tonight.
  • I’ve been so good, so it’s ok for me to cheat and eat this.
  • I exercise because I like to eat!
  • I did an extra mile on the treadmill this morning, I deserve this!
  • This fits into [my weight loss diet] for [these reasons].

All of these things might be true and I’m not trying to tell people what they should/should not feel or do around their food.  The ideas of “earning” food through exercise, or why we make food a moral issue (sinful, guilt free etc.) is the topic for another post.  My question today is more about why we feel the need to talk about this out loud.

We make lots of personal decisions every day without talking about them out loud.  Many people who would think nothing of saying or hearing any of the above phrases at a business meeting with a catered lunch would never be comfortable in the same meeting hearing or saying “I kind of have to pee but I don’t have to go that badly so maybe I’ll finish this TPS report and then head to the bathroom.” or “I really have to poo but I’m hoping the bathroom will be empty so I’m going to wait until the meeting breaks up and people get off this floor.” (Some people might be very comfortable with these things and of course that’s totally ok, I’m looking more from a cultural perspective.)

I think that a lot of it is the way that our society places value, even morality, on food – “sinful” dessert, “guilt free” baked chips, eating “clean” – leads to us treating decisions around food as a public performance that justifies our choices often at the expense of (purposefully or inadvertently) shaming or triggering others others.

If I get a plate of food and I decide that it’s more than I want for whatever reason, that’s fine.  If I decide to vocalize that, I may inadvertently shame the person next to me who ordered that same plate of food and does intend to eat it all for whatever reason, and I add to a world where food decisions need to be justified and rationalized out loud and I’d rather not be a part of that.  Just like I don’t want to engage in negative body talk, I also don’t want to engage in negative food talk.  I want people to be free to make their own decisions about food for their own reasons without feeling like they need to justify those choices to anyone.

At the end of the day I think that since I never know what’s going on with the people around me  (lots of people are dealing with disordered eating and eating disorders, food sensitivities and allergies, health issues etc.), I would rather be safe than accidentally triggering or shaming.  So while I’m happy to talk about food – what I like, what food I don’t, recipes and preparations etc.,  I eat what I eat for my own reasons and I don’t feel the need to talk about those reasons at meals.

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102 thoughts on “Will Perform for Food

  1. Isn’t the negative comment about food while eating the equivalent of shaming each other’s lunch “bag/box” in school? I have the impression we learn pretty early to judge our – and other people’s food, mostly negative, too.

  2. I cook at a hospital cafeteria and the amount of “justification” people speak aloud to no one in particular when they know others can see their choices is maddening. The words, “I really don’t need this,” are some of my least favorites; I’m **so** grateful to you, Ragen, and other body peace warriors that have taught me what I eat requires no apologies or explanations.

  3. This is one of my biggest personal annoyances around food. People sit down to what I thought was a meal only to spend more time explaining why they are/aren’t eating a particular item/have done something to justify their eating a particular item/would never let such-and-such a thing pass their lips in a month of sundays… and neither should anyone who wishes to claim valid entry to the human race/are only eating half/will eat it but without the garnish that most of us expect… it drives me up a tree and leaves me stranded in the topmost branches.

    And then some people start in on me. I’ll never forget an evening when I had had a particularly rough day emotionally and Mr. Twistie took me out to one of my favorite restaurants. Some friends came along. All was well until I decided to order dessert. I chose creme brûlée, a dessert I happen to find particularly comforting when I’m in a miserable mood and that I don’t make for myself.

    Immediately the other two women at the table started in on me. They declared that when one is going to commit the immortal sin of eating something sweet, it has to be chocolate or it isn’t worth the extra calories.

    They learned the power of the Laser Glare that evening. I wanted creme brûlée, dammit. Chocolate cake wasn’t going to hit the spot that night, and neither would calorie shaming.

    BTW, the creme brûlée was excellent. It doesn’t have to be anyone else’s thing, but I like it a great deal and when I want it at a place that makes it well, I’ll get it if I have room to eat it and can afford to pay for it.

    In return for being left alone to decide my own dessert, I won’t tell you what I think of yours unless it’s to say I’ve ordered it there before and think they do it very well.

    1. I think your dining companion could have made her comment okay if she just added a few words to her statement, like “oh, I hope it’s good and hits the spot. For me, dessert isn’t worth it unless it’s chocolate.”

      1. I work hard in my classes at school to help my students understand opinion vs. fact when it comes to food preferences. I actively require my students to rephrase the negative comments against a food item (ex. spinach) into a personal opinion comment… Ex. spinach is nasty.. becomes “I don’t like spinach and think it is nasty”. I explain that blunt comments that are posed as facts can not only harm feelings of those around you who do like that food, but it can insult the person who took time to carefully and lovingly make the meal for you to serve the needs of your body.

      2. The question that I ask again here is why bother to say it out loud?  Why are we talking about our personal assessment of calories and worth and food?  What does saying “for me calories aren’t worth it unless it’s chocolate” actually bringing to the conversation, especially considered in balance with it’s chance to make others feel uncomfortable or triggered?



        1. That’s what hit me so hard about this column. I was already becoming aware of my need to voice my food issues in an apologetic manner (and trying to stop for my own good). I hadn’t thought of the fact that voicing my triggers might trigger other people.

          We forget how much our words can affect others.

        2. Exactly, Ragen! She could have just said she wanted to order the chocolate cake because she loves chocolate without imposing any sort of judgment on my choice of dessert. Or she could have said she had decided not to order dessert at all. I’d have been fine with that.

          But bringing up calories on top of dissing my choice of dessert on an evening when she knew me to be emotionally fragile, to boot, was completely uncalled for.

          She’s a good friend and I know she’s been programmed this way, but pretty much the only thing that saved her a public sock in the jaw was the fact I was far too depressed to act on my seething anger.

          1. Yeah. If she had to say SOMETHING, she could have said, “When I’m down, I usually go for a chocolate dessert” or “I didn’t realize you loved creme brulee–I’m more of a chocolate cake fan.” You can discuss preferences without the judgement and food shame.

        3. At the youth group where I’m an adult advisor, we use the phrase “Don’t YUCK someone else’s YUM.” (It doesn’t always apply to food — it can be about music, or cosplay, or whatever.)

      3. Exactly. “FOR ME.” There are a billion great desserts out there (including creme brulee) that aren’t made with chocolate!!

    2. I come for Ragen’s blog and stay for Twistie’s comments. I am recovering from ED and it is talk of “clean eating” that pisses me off the most — maybe because Clean Eaters and the GO PALEO crowd are so often like Cult leaders when they try to push their weird eating moralities on you. I consciously stay food neutral in my talk and it is a conscious effort because we are NOT trained to be that way. It is about self-awareness and it takes practice. Also, now I want some creme brulee. 😀

        1. Me, three.

          I have my own weird semi-paleo eating habits, sure, but I’m not going to tell anyone else to eat the way I do, much less evangelize about it and try to convert others. I’m comfortable that it works FOR ME. Comfortable enough that I don’t need other people doing it too to feel good about it.

          In addition to “clean” eating, “eating ethically” really winds me up. As long as I’m not stealing anyone else’s food or shaming them for what they eat, I’m eating quite ethically enough, thankyouverymuch.

          (Agree about the ❤ ❤ ❤ to Twistie, too.)

        1. (feels all loved and squishy inside)

          Thanks, guys. It’s been kind of a long week and a little propping up means more than you could possibly know, right now.

  4. Well, as a recently diagnosed diabetic, sometimes I’ll comment to my husband that this or that food did bad things to my blood sugar last time so I’m going to skip it/only have half/whatever this time. Usually in response to his asking if I want whatever it is… I feel bad if I accidentally trigger someone, but at the same time he’ll only know if I tell him and it seems a little rude to ignore the question or just say “no” with no explanation. We’re still figuring out what I can/can’t eat and in what amounts so we do have to talk about that.

    1. Hi Erin,

      To me this can fall under the “letting someone know what food allergies/sensitivies/needs one has” that I talked about, there’s also the option to just say no thanks, or only eat the amount that you want etc. Of course it’s all totally up to you.


      1. I have this issue also. In some cases i can medicate for the increased glucose impact, but I don’t always want to ‘shoot up’ more humalog to eat certain foods… and then there’s hershey bars… lol… I PLAN those babies into my routine on stressful days.

    2. For what it’s worth, I am very easily triggered by food talk, and “this food did bad things to my blood sugar the last time I had it” would not be problematic for me because it’s so personal and specific. Other people’s mileage may vary, of course.

  5. Thank you for bringing up this topic. I’ve been around this kind of food policing all my life, and I’ve had enough. Most recently, I had a parade of this at my desk at work. I brought in donuts for my team, and had them at my desk. More than half of the people who took a donut stood there and food shamed themselves before taking it. Several of the added in some shaming for me–how I shouldn’t tempt them. It completely ruined my feelings about doing something nice for my team. Seriously, people. If you want the donut, take it and enjoy it. If not, don’t. Skip the fucking mea culpa.

    1. I soooooo know what you mean. The other day one of my work friends was leaving so I spent all night making her these french provincial cookies with little Eiffel towers and poodles and dogs with berets. They were a work of art. And of course everyone ate them but only about 3 people thanked me. One person actually critisized me for using too much sugar in the icing!!!!!! Like it came as an enormous shock to him, that iced cookies should be sweet. And it actually made me embarrassed.

      1. People are jerks. And society is totally fucked up. I would have loved your cookies! Don’t these people realize that they are really hurting others? And that it is especially hurtful if you make something nice to show someone you like him/her and they ruin it with their complaints about sugar… Ugh!

      2. I feel hurt on your behalf. First of all, those cookies sounded delightful, especially the dogs with berets. 🙂 But then to have only three people say thank you for that effort and for one person to have the nerve to criticize you is sad. What a shame people can’t simply enjoy, or not if they choose.

      3. I would have totally loved and adored your cookies, emmaandcath. They sound wildly cute as well as delicious.

      4. The vast majority of the time when I have given people treats as a gift, I have gotten the “Oh, you’re killing me,” kind of response. Unfortunately, it’s how many people say “thank you” for treats in our society. I just grin and say, “You’re welcome!”

    2. We have one person in our office who will say aloud, “Don’t judge me” before he picks up a cookie or donut or something that has been brought in. And while we’ve all told him, “We won’t judge you,” I believe that he still expects that. I know that I certainly won’t judge him and at least one other person that’s made that comment to him won’t, but since I’ve heard the others who’ve said that to him self-shame over food, I can’t vouch for them. It’s really a shame that people cannot simply accept the gesture, say thank you, and enjoy the item.

      1. I once had managers treat everyone in the office to ice cream for reaching an important milestone.

        Then, while everyone was enjoying the ice cream, one of the managers (who brought sorbet popsicles for herself) picked up one of the packages and expressed how shocked and dismayed she was that the ice cream had so much fat and so many calories.How TERRIBLE it was, you know?

        Duh, bitch! It’s ICE CREAM!

        I hate when people do that.

    3. behavioral reinforcement… if they shame themselves, tell them they can’ have one.. it would make you sad to know you added to their stress

    4. Hear hear, Courtney! I take huge pleasure in baking, sweet and savoury, and I often try things out on my colleagues, who are always appreciative, but spread the offer beyond my immediate team members, and the “I really shouldn’ts” and “oh, well, it’s only a small slice” and “you are SO naughty” comments start. I don’t force anyone to partake, for heaven’s sake! They can have whatever size slice they like, or nothing at all, that’s fine by me.

  6. Thank you for this! So incredibly pertinent. As a dance major at a University I deal with so much body and food shaming from other dancers. I try to speak up or tune it out with headphones. This really hits deep.

    Best, London Mahina

  7. My MIL does this all the time. What’s worse is that if for any reason (too full, don’t have craving for it, don’t like the kind, not feeling well) I refuse the dessert or eat less than usual, she assumes it’s because I’m on a diet or trying to “be good”. She doesn’t even bother asking, she just says it for me, out loud. And I’m pretty sure she doesn’t believe me when I tell her what the actual reason is.

    The other day I said I didn’t want to bring home a piece of birthday cake (that I made and brought over for FIL’s birthday) and she went for the whole speech about how it’s because I don’t want temptation and how she’ll have the whole cake now and it’ll be hard for her to avoid eating it (basically I’m trying to make her fat by not taking some cake?). She wouldn’t even let me say anything. The reason I didn’t want to take it was because it had fresh strawberries and whipped cream in it, it was very hot outside and we didn’t plan to go straight back home. I was afraid it’d go bad if it sits for too long in the car.

    1. G’YACHK!

      This is as close as I can come in letters to the sound of frustration on your behalf I made on reading about your MIL.

        1. Kap’lah (or however it’s spelt), my friend.

          The Klingons have great words for a lot of stuff… and you haven’t really seen Hamlet until you’ve seen it in the original Klingon.

        2. I’m not sure what the word would be in Klingon for that, but, interestingly, the Klingon word for “that’s great news”, buy’ ngop, literally translates to “The plates are full.” 😀

  8. Thank you for bringing this up. There are some people in my family that always talk like that. “Oh, I can’t eat that much! Oh, no dessert for me!” Sadly I think it triggers my dad far more than me. He always struggled with his weight, but had no problem to eat in public or anything, he liked to eat. But for some time now I realized he avoids eating in front of other people, even if it’s just my mom and me – and later eats secretly in the kitchen. Or he eats secretly before dinner or lunch so he can say “I am not hungry, I don’t want much (or anything at all)”.
    I think, all this negative food and body talk helped to trigger him into this, and – maybe even more sad – he sometimes actively participates in this talk now, to shift the shame away from himself, I think.
    I often thought about talking to him privately about this, but I also want to tell certain people to stop their negative food talk – and your posts are a big help for me! Thanks again!

    1. Your dad’s situation is a perfect example of how people do not stop to think before they open their mouths and utter words. *sigh* Much love and support to you and to your dad. ♥

    2. Damn, Klara, I feel for your dad. This is clearly doing a number on his relationship with food and his self-image. I don’t have a lot of practical advice, but I do have a lot of sympathy for your situation – and his.

      1. Thank you for your kind words! I wish I can talk to him about this some day, though it’s not so easy for me as we did not always have a good relationship. But it hurts to see him this way.

  9. I suspect that a lot of the food talk you’re describing comes from people who have been shamed for their eating habits in the past. Phrases like “Are you sure you NEED that?” or “I thought you were on a DIET” or the dreaded “You’re gonna get SO fat [from eating that]” are prevalent (and of course, bad) for people of all sizes. As far as I observe, Americans tell kids to “finish every scrap of food on [their] plates,” and then suddenly–the fear of FAT creeps in and kids are suddenly NOT supposed to eat everything on their plates. It’s no wonder that people develop food issues regardless of size.

    The other point is that for many people, myself included, there’s a very real relationship between how much exercise we do and how much food we can eat if we want to keep blood sugar at good levels. Reasonable people can disagree about how and when this should be discussed (surely dinner with close friends has a different conversational tone than a business lunch), but I don’t believe that the intention is to shame anyone. After all, most of what people say has much more to do with themselves than with other people. I wish we could get to a point where someone can say “I wish you wouldn’t discuss that around me, I find it triggering” without accusations of being “too sensitive” or a party pooper.

    1. “The other point is that for many people, myself included, there’s a very real relationship between how much exercise we do and how much food we can eat if we want to keep blood sugar at good levels. Reasonable people can disagree about how and when this should be discussed…”

      There’s also a real relationship about how much insulin one must inject to eat a certain meal, but you usually don’t hear that being loudly discussed in a restaurant. “Oh, this chocolate cake is to die for! I’m taking x units of insulin just so I can eat this!” For most people, the point of loudly discussing exercise while eating is that the “good” behavior (exercise) is supposed to compensate for the “bad” behavior (eating “bad” food). So even if your explanation about exercising before eating is supposed to be scientific, it probably won’t be interpreted that way by most people.

  10. I am 52 years old, and NEVER thought about this in that way. Heard all the fat-talk, and have naively wondered why the SAME people over and over show up for dinner after not eating anything but one raisin all day…

    Ragen, I am literally your biggest fan. Thanks for opening my ears.

  11. Love this post Ragen!!!

    It’s funny I half knew this already (that the food talk is some sort of warped attempt to win approval) but I have still fallen into the trap of feeling self conscious about eating a normal sized lunch at work, surrounded by women who eat nothing but tuna and salad while agonizing over their calorie intake and sharing nutritional myths. To the point I avoid the staff kitchen now (also because they are boring, boring, boring people and they sort of all have tuna breath).

    But next time I can’t avoid them it I know how I will deal with it. “I think I need to pee, but do I really need to pee? How would I know, how many times a day is normal to pee?”

    1. Yeah, I’m kind guilty of this myself, FOR myself (thinking of the dinner Friday night wherein I had beer, and cake…and then said I would have to not eat anything for a month. ‘I need to pee….’ Thanks so much for this, at a time when I really need it.

    2. Yeah, I avoid the staff kitchen at my office. There is a group of gals here who have decided to do the same diet together. It’s all they talk about now. They constantly inventory eveything they’ve eaten that day or talk about food prep. Wasn’t obsessive interest in food one of the effects they observed from the men who participated in the Minnesota Starvation Experiment?

      1. Yes it was. Since we are biologically geared to search out more sources of food, and think about food when we’re not getting enough.

        Think about all those medieval texts where food makes some kind of appearance. We obviously know what they were thinking about.

  12. I’ve really cut down on going out for girl’s night because of this. Given that conversation revolves around dieting or sex , and they all work with my husband, I pretty much eat in silence. Kind of defeats the purpose of girl’s night. Even when I would diet I didn’t get the idea of going out to a great restaurant only to make yourself feel bad about eating the food. Now that I’m off the rollercoaster it makes even less sense.

  13. I understand how the things I say while eating in public can be triggering or shaming for other people, but I feel like I’m being thrown out under a bus for saying them. My most frequent sayings are “I can’t have that. It won’t fit into my day,” and “Oh God, too much sodium!”

    Reading this blog post makes me put up a mental note to STFU when going for food. I didn’t intend for this to be read in a snarky/pissy tone of voice.

  14. I’m one of those people who likes to post pictures of my food on Facebook, especially if it’s something I’ve made.

    One of my “Friends” used to always say “You’ll have to do extra time on the treadmill after that!” or some other such bullshit.

    My response was usually “No. No I won’t.” After a while he stopped. Still, if he hadn’t I probably would have gone off on him.

    I mean, fine, if YOU want to talk such foolishness about yourself, so be it. But keep me and MY relationship with food out of it.

    Extra hours on the treadmill, indeed.

    1. I speak up pretty much the same way. I have a foodie group made up of food snobs and several of them are very weight conscious, too. They always say things like how guilty they feel, etc. I always come back with a comment like, “I don’t look at food as a moral choice,” or “I refuse to feel guilt or shame for eating. It’s counterproductive.”

  15. This post could be put up once a year, once a quarter, even once a month, and still be incredibly timely. I hear this all around me at work and when eating out at certain restaurants. I’ve put a kibosh on it from myself at home. (Never had to stop the hubby from talking this way because he has not developed the habit of talking about food in this manner.) I’m grateful that I don’t hear this kind of talk at my favorite restaurant, because I don’t want those experiences marred. And when I’m at the monthly stitch & bitch, we’ve all talked about the fact that we are done with the fat-shaming, food-moralizing, body-hating conversations. 🙂

    1. I once had a friend who was obsessive about her weight and diet.

      Every time she ate anything it was all: “Oh, this is so baaaad for me!” But she liked to eat.

      I hated going to restaurants with her because she’d recommend something tasty, we’d eat, and the first words out of her mouth were negative. About how fattening and evil the food was, or how much she has ruined her diet.

      It was maddening. I don’t have a lot of female friends, but all the other ones were never that bad.

      It was horrible.

  16. I have this problem at work. Way too much talk about what we “should” and “shouldn’t” eat, how “good” or “bad” something is. Sometimes I bring in donuts or pie when I want to be nice and share something with my co-workers, and I don’t appreciate it when they analyze it for calories or whatever. Eat it or don’t, I don’t care, just say “thank you” if you take some. That’s all I care about.

  17. Thank you for this post, Ragen — it comes at a particularly good time for me, as I’m becoming concerned for someone close to me who is worrying a lot about being “overweight” despite being both thin and extremely fit, and I’m trying to be more conscious about possibly triggering them.

    It also caught my attention because I have been known to say that I exercise in order to eat — although I don’t mean it in the sense of earning food. Rather, more movement = lower blood sugar for me, which = more freedom in what I eat. On the other hand — I’d never say that apropos of nothing at a meal or in order to justify what I’m eating. Still, after reading this, I’m going to be more careful about talking like that.

    Having been on the receiving end of people who are overly concerned about what and how much I eat, though, I definitely appreciate the perspective. Like the rest of my journey, it’s a daily uphill struggle, but reading posts like this one really helps.

  18. “Just like I don’t want to engage in negative body talk, I also don’t want to engage in negative food talk.”
    Amen. Mostly I adhere to this, but may come close to the line when, as a diabetic, I say a sweet treat has to be yummy enough “to be worth it”.
    Getting other folks around me on board is a whole nother matter.

  19. I have a friend who loves her diet soda… extremely. Once I asked about it and she said, “well, If I’m going to consume something with alot of calories and few other nutrients, I wan to CHEW it.” What a great, non-negative comment about her use of ‘diet’ food.

  20. I am guilty of this, but usually around other people who are obsessing about weight/diet. I’m still trying not to do it though, and not to start obsessing about my food when I’m with someone who worries about ‘eating too much’.

  21. I get so irritated by this kind of talk when I bring in treats I’ve baked for my classes or coworkers. I love doing it; the baking itself and brightening people’s day a little, but it annoys me so much to hear the inevitable “Oh no, I can’t, I’m being good today” or “Oh, I shouldn’t, this is so bad/sinful/wicked!” Usually I don’t respond to these comments, because it’s their right to refuse and I don’t want to look like I’m pressuring them, but sometimes I can’t resist saying something a little snarky, like “They’re brownies, not war crimes.”

    A couple years ago, I observed a somewhat different and surprising example of just how comfortable our culture is with judging/policing/pressuring other people’s food intake. My younger brother (17 at the time of this story) hates nuts. Of any kind, in any form; he’s tried them multiple times and can’t stand them. During one of my visits back to Virginia, we were hanging out at his best friend’s house. While his best friend’s mom and I were chatting, she asked me, “So, are you allergic to nuts, too, like your brother?” Thinking she had just assumed he was allergic because he never eats them, I explained that I like nuts, and he doesn’t, but that neither of us has any food allergies. On the way home, I mentioned this to my brother, and he told me that for years, he’s been telling everyone he’s allergic to nuts. When I asked why, he said “Do you know what happens when you tell people you just don’t like something? ‘Oh, but they’re so good! And they’re so healthy for you! Have you even tried this kind? Come on, just taste it!’ I’d rather just lie than have to have a whole conversation about why I don’t want almonds or whatever.”

    As a fat person and a vegetarian, I’m no stranger to people offering all sorts of comments and judgments on what I do or do not eat. But it was a bit of a surprise to realize that this is so ingrained in our culture that even my brother, who’s tall and thin/muscular, basically fitting every stereotype about what a “healthy” body looks like, has experienced so much food policing around a simple preference that he’d rather lie than deal with any more of it.

    1. I hate beets. I have hated them since I was three years old. I realize that many people love them, so I can only surmise that they taste quite different to those who love them and to those who hate them.

      To me this is not a big deal; I hate beets so I choose not to eat them. But I live in a major beet-growing area, and since I moved here ten years ago I’ve been astonished at how many people try to persuade me that I MUST really like beets — maybe I’ve just never had them cooked right, or I’m just being ornery, or something … but it just isn’t POSSIBLE that I actually hate beets!

      Really, some of them seem almost evangelical about it. Eat Beets or Suffer Eternal Damnation. It’s weird.

      I have seriously thought about inventing a life-threatening Beet Allergy just to get people to accept that I don’t want to eat beets.

      Final note — when I have gone to dinner at the house of someone who’s never had the beet conversation with me, and they’ve served me beets, OF COURSE I’ve eaten them and said nice things about how good they were. This is basic politeness. I completely agree that when someone has gone to the trouble to cook a meal for me, I should eat it and BE NICE, even if I don’t like what they cooked. That’s where the difference between “don’t like that” and “have genuine allergy to that” is important.

      1. I have a terrible texture issue with beets. I actually enjoy the flavor, but when I try to put them in my mouth, my mouth hits the eject button. I can’t help it. If someone puts a plate of beets in front of me, I’m not eating them, not because I wish to be impolite, but because I doubt most people would appreciate witnessing the way I redecorate their rooms.

        And then there are mushrooms. There I have both the texture issue and a flavor one. As with you and beets, I’ve tried different varieties in different ways over the years. I’ve been assured over and over again that I really LOVE them, I just don’t know it yet.

        Folks, I’m past fifty, an avid cook, and an adventurous eater. If I was going to find a way I like mushrooms, it would have happened long before this.

        That’s why when I have people coming over to eat at my house for the first time, the question I ask is ‘what don’t you eat?’ I honestly don’t care whether it’s an allergy, a moral decision, a religious restriction, simple dislike, or a bad mental association. If you tell me you don’t eat beets, you won’t find them placed before you (even in the pureed form that I can enjoy). If you tell me you don’t eat meat, I won’t try to sneak any onto the table. If you are doing the gluten-free thing, dinner will be free of wheat, barley, etc. I just want to make sure that people will be able to enjoy what I put before them.

        But I have, in the past, found myself forced to tell a few people I was allergic to mushrooms to get them to stop trying to make me eat them.

        1. Yet another reason why you’re wonderful, Twistie!!! I am SO appreciative when people ask me “What don’t you eat” before I come over for dinner. If they don’t ask, it’s really awkward to try to tell them but it’s so much nicer all around when they do ask. I do the same myself, and like you I don’t care if someone’s reason for not eating X is religious, allergic, medical, or just they think X is gross. I’m just happy to know beforehand what my guests don’t eat.

        2. Twistie, based on this and several of your past comments, I get the sense that eating dinner at your house would be an absolutely excellent experience, both culinarily and socially :).

            1. That’s it! Dinner’s at my place tonight! We’ll all eat what appeals to us, pass on what we don’t want to eat, and entirely fail to make any negative commentary on anyone else’s food choices.

              But do feel free to gush if you enjoy something particularly. That’s the best pay a cook can get.

        3. I have the same policy here. Which has in the past ended with me having to cook three separate meals because I had friends with non-overlapping food allergies/needs. Always happy to do it though.

      2. Same here but with tomatoes. My dad is allergic, and gets canker sores in his throat, which could get so large they block the airways. I don’t like tomatoes, but I do like a little ketchup from time to time, and pizza sauce. But that’s about it.

        But to hear my mom go on about how I don’t like or eat tomatoes, you’d think the end of the world was coming, and there were 50 asteroids on the way, and the only way to prevent it would be to eat a tomato.

  22. I also posted this comment on Fat Nutritionist.

    “Trigger warning.

    Hmm. This guy is speaking for “free” at UofCalgary next Wed. It’s in conjunction with his new book: Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind.

    I think he’s a representative of the same-old, same-old. I got the info about it from the alumni email newsletter, and my dad (of course) is going. I can’t imagine he’ll give out real health advice, since it’s not about health, but physical appearance.

    All I ever needed was your blog, Michelle, and it’s a breath of sanity in this world of crazy ideas. Have you heard of this guy before? Seems like every Tom/Dick/Harry is writing a book about how slovenly we are.”


    I love your blog too Ragen. I’ve found so much support here!

  23. Oh, I totally loove beetroot. Hey, Twistie, have you tried it baked, served in a salad with balsamic vinegar and rocket and a nice goat cheese… Ow! Stoppit! Just kidding, OK?! If you want revenge, try persuading me to eat a banana.

    Seriously, though – I think a LITTLE of the pressure can come from a nice place of wanting to share things you love. But if it goes on – what is that even about? Why do people care what you don’t want to eat, if they’re not feeding you?? The absolute worst, though, is when they try to sneak stuff in. My friend can’t tolerate onion, but her mother insists on chopping it finely and hiding it – and then she gets an upset stomach all night. Lucky it’s not a serious allergy 😦

  24. I hate the negative food talk and try not to do it. I say that first one on that list a lot, though. I see the amount of food there and KNOW it’s too much for me, but I also KNOW I will try to fit it all in, so I think I am trying to tell myself that I don’t NEED to eat it all, but then I do and feel sick. I simply can’t do intuitive eating. And if I don’t limit myself someway, even if it is to say “I will take home half of my burger and leave half of my fries on the plate,” then I will end up getting sick in the bathroom. I usually don’t explain all that to people and thankfully my boyfriend and most of my friends thankfully don’t make it an issue at the dinner table or what-have-you.

  25. This is excellent and I had not really thought about this topic before. I wonder if when people do this- men or women, it is to prevent other people from saying something worse. This really goes to show how food shaming and fat shaming shape even our conversations about our own meal. It is like insulting yourself before someone else does. It is a very telling statement that people feel the need to voice out loud how they earned/need to earn/ can’t possible eat all that… before someone else shames them. Thank you for brining this up!

  26. I really enjoyed this perspective. I think a lot of the time these comments are about deflecting judgement from others; I used to do it myself. I’d say something like “wow I don’t usually eat sugar but this time I am going to indulge!” or “what a big portion! I can only eat half.” to deflect what I felt the other person was thinking and might say: “she is way too fat to be eating that” or “is she going to eat that whole thing?” I have had such awful comments thrown at me before, and I guess I was trying to say something first so they’d shut up. I can see how none of it is necessary, though. I still sometimes feel the need to defend my food choices to people. Maybe that is due to inner guilt about eating something I “shouldn’t”.

  27. This has been bothering me for awhile now and I would like to ask what you all think. As a kid and even now I still get “Don’t eat before dinner, you will ruin your dinner!” now normally I don’t eat right before dinner unless I am really hungry, like for example, you tell me dinner is at 5 and it’s an hour or two late and I haven’t eaten anything since 11am or noon.

    I also noticed my mother only does it to me. I get a handful of nuts or whatever and I get told I am going to ruin my dinner meanwhile my father can be stuffing his face with chips and she doesn’t say a word.

    So my question is. Is she food shaming/policing me when she says that?

    Ps. I am not the only fat person in the house. My father is also fat.

    1. In my opinion, your mother is being your mother. My mom did the same thing to me up until she died. In the case of a mom, I don’t think it’s food policing or shaming so much as just not being able to transition roles well. It was once her job to check your behaviors regularly, after all. I would not presume she means anything shame-wise by that comment. I think she just wants to make sure you’ll eat what she cooked so she doesn’t feel like she slaved over a hot stove for nothing. You know? Just my two cents. 🙂

    2. I am sorry to hear that. And though it may not sound so badly, she seems to hurt you with her words, especially as there seem to be different standards for you and your dad. I guess she doesn’t mean to hurt you, but as she does, I think the best way would be to try and talk to her in private about the feelings her words are triggering. This is certainly not easy, but if she does not know what her words are doing to you, it won’t change, I guess. But most importantly, try not to accuse her or get angry or mean! Just tell her in a quiet situation, that it hurts you if she talks to you like that, though she does not mean it.
      And yes, maybe she says these things because it would be frustrating for her if she makes dinner and nobody eats. But maybe you can tell her that you love what she cooks, and you sometimes just eat some nuts because you are really hungry, and not to annoy her. That’s what I would try to do.

  28. Ugh, yeah. I have to deal with this kind of stuff when Mr. Katje and I go out for dinner with my in-laws, especially when one of them’s on a diet. I got so fed up I wrote a blog post called How Not To Be a Dick to Your Friend/Loved One/Relative with Eating Disorders. (Full of swearing and pictures of food; also has fatphobia, description of child abuse, misogynistic language, and disordered eating.) No hope that any of the relevant parties will see it, of course.

    Because it is super triggering for me. My ED triggers are so bad I can’t even look at the nutrition label on a package because the second my brain scans the calorie amount I start my starvation-binge deathspiral cycle. Listening to someone go on about how they’ll have to make up for what they’re eating on the treadmill or making comments to Mr. Katje about how he’s eating “so much” (and of course it’s not good enough that he never gets dessert when we go out to eat, EVER; he’s eating TOO MUCH and puts too much sugar in his coffee, the horror, the shame!)…I just really want to punch someone. Repeatedly.

    Thanks for your (sadly always) timely post, Ragen. All very well said.

  29. Maybe this is just my social circle, but I feel like I am being forced into saying these sorts of things to justify not eating more food. Some of my friends actively try to talk me into eating something I really don’t want. I have one friend in particular that really acts offended if you don’t want to eat the same food he’s eating. I think when he’s the only one ordering extra food it makes him feel like an over eater, but if he can talk other people into ordering the extra dessert/sides/apps too, then he’s not eating too much cause everybody else is eating the same thing.

    It’s just something I have noticed certain people I know doing. Trying to talk others into eating more so they don’t feel bad ordering more food when everyone else is truly satisfied with less.

    1. Ah yes, the social pressure to overeat so as to assuage someone else’s guilt for wanting to eat a particular thing.

      This is where Miss Manners’ advice is so very useful. She makes the important – and surprisingly freeing – observation that you don’t need an excuse. All you need to do is say ‘no, thank you.’ And when pressed, keep repeating ‘no, thank you.’ It is a complete and polite answer that cannot be argued against, because it leaves nothing for them to wheedle you about other than ‘no’ which only becomes effective if you allow it to be.

      Where necessary, I have followed up ‘no, thank you’ with the Painfully Obvious Change of Subject, such as asking loudly ‘how about that local sports franchise?’ to make it clear the subject of what I choose to order is now closed.

      It takes practice and a bit of stubbornness, but it does eventually work.

  30. The food policing never ever EVER stops. I let myself be baited into diet talk when I went for my annual checkup–which I have to have if I want my birth control prescription renewed, or they would never see me. The doctor “compassionately” asked me what I had eaten for dinner the previous night. Well, I was pretty proud of having been able to wring enough money out of the grocery budget to let the family get dinner at the hot food counter at this one supermarket that has a cook on staff who actually worked in a restaurant in Taiwan, so when you order broccoli beef you get broccoli beef. Which I had. Lots of iron and dark green veggies, which I’d been craving, and enough rice to soak up the delicious sauce. Hey, look, doctor lady, I ate my veggies and got my iron and protein. Can I have my Good Fatty sticker now?

    She jerked back, wrinkled her nose, and said, “Ew, those rice bowls are so fatty.” Then she tried to push me back on Weight Watchers.

    In Weight Watchers, I learned that I wasn’t supposed to eat at the hot food counter because even if I got nothing but veggies in my rice bowl, the soy sauce would cause me to retain water and push up the reading on the scale the next day. Instead, I was supposed to buy Weight Watchers meals, which cost twice as much for a satisfying amount of food and contained ingredients I still don’t know what they even are, and if I couldn’t do that I was supposed to “save money” by using Weight Watchers cookbooks, which call for “wholesome” ingredients I couldn’t afford before the damn recession. I don’t even know anybody who can afford some of that stuff.

    But I know she thought she was being extra super compassionate by basically telling me I was stupid for buying a tasty and satisfying dinner that would leave me feeling energized, nourished, and ready to face the evening chores.

    I switched doctors.

  31. I used to be one of “those people” when I was younger. I could have the cheesecake if I just did 200 situps afterwards and then walk on the treadmill for a half hour. The misery!

  32. I have a coworker who does this to me all the time–not about food that they’re eating, but what I’m eating. I’ve heard such things as “Oh, I love peanut butter, but it’s *sooo* bad for you!” (as I’m eating peanut butter and pretzels) and “So much sodium in those pretzels!” Pretty much anything I eat is up for dissection and comment. It used to bother me until I realized that I really don’t care what other people think of what I eat–it’s my choice. 🙂 Thanks for the great post!

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