Dealing With Family and Friends Food Police

Don't Judge just nomThis post is a danceswithfat tradition, offered for those who may have to deal with inappropriate friend and family behavior during this “holiday season” (whether they are celebrating any holidays or not.)

Ah, is there anything more fun than being under surveillance by the Friends and Family Food Police?  There are only a couple of things that I can think of – root canal, shaving my head with a cheese grater, a fish hook in the eye…

This happens to almost all of my fat friends, but to be clear it happens to thin people too – food judgment and shaming happens to people of all sizes and it’s never ok.

I think that we need to remember that fat hate and body shaming is modeled for people all over our culture, fear of being fat is a driver of a lot of behaviors.

First, I always suggest that you be prepared for boundary setting when you go into this type of situation.  Think about what your boundaries are, and what consequences you are willing to enforce.   So think about what you would be willing to do – Leave the event?  Stay at a hotel?  Cease conversation until the person can treat you appropriately?  Be sure that you know what you want and that you can follow through.

As an example, I’ll use that age old shaming question “Do you need to eat that?”

This is such a loaded question. What do they mean by “need”? Are they 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 and gravy? Or do they 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 psychologically 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 “of course” 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 make that decision.

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?

If it’s me, first I quell my rage and resist the urge to put them down (Yes, I do need these mashed potatoes.  Did you need to be a total freaking 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.

Finally I suggest you 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, maybe skip these.)

  • Why do you think that’s your business?
  • What led you to believe 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, please don’t comment on my food choices
  • What I eat is none of your business, and your commenting on it is not ok
  • I have absolutely no interest in discussing my food intake with you
  • I’m not soliciting opinions about my food choices.

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 Pie-1-1
  • I’m sure you’re not proud of the completely inappropriate behavior you just exhibited, I’m willing to forget this ever happened
  • 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

I don’t believe that guilt is good for my health and I’m definitely resisting arrest by the Family and Friends Food Police.

Like this blog?  Here’s more cool stuff:

Become a Member For ten bucks a month you can support size diversity activism, help keep the blog ad free, and get deals from size positive businesses as a thank you.  Click here for details

Buy the book:  Fat:  The Owner’s Manual  The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here for details

Book Me!  I’d love to speak to your organization. You can get more information on topics, previous engagements and reviews here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!

Dance Classes:  Buy the Dance Class DVDs or download individual classes – Every Body Dance Now! Click here for details 

I’m training for an IRONMAN! You can follow my journey at

A movie about my time as a dancer is in active development (casting, finding investors etc.).  Follow the progress on Facebook!

If you are uncomfortable with my offering things for sale on this site, you are invited to check out this post.

39 thoughts on “Dealing With Family and Friends Food Police

  1. Love it. I am also a fan of the embarrassed-for-their-rudeness approach — “Wow,” as in “wow, you really just said that out loud! How rude — you must be so embarrassed!”

  2. This post is a great tradition. I’m dreading the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s because the constant chatter around the office will be about how guilty folks feel about what they ate during the holidays. In my perfect world, there will be no moralizing food. Roll on, perfect world.

    1. Ya know my thought on people that have the nerve to complain about how much they are going to eat or how much they ate during this holiday or that…….eat a freaking salad and shut up because I plan on enjoying stuffing myself until I’m comatose.

  3. This article has gotten me one step closer to my dream of someday having a comeback for any of this food-police crap. Usually, I just stand there like an idiot with my mouth hanging open, watching rudeness and bigotry take the day. Thanks Ragen!

  4. My sister has a fallback response to pretty much any confrontation or snarkiness that I find helpful in many situations: immediate, unhesitating, non-aggressive honesty. Helpful relative: “Do you really need to eat that?” Me: “That’s a really offensive question and I’m not going to answer it.” Something about that approach makes me feel really empowered and prevents me from dwelling on the encounter and coming up with what I should have said.

    1. I like trying to be overly honest. It embarrasses the haters without being aggressive towards others who are just misguided. “Well, actually, I do need to eat this. I’ve been trying to overcome a lifetime of body hatred and learn to eat what I want, when I want, without shame.”

  5. My stock answer to “do you really need that (fill in the blank food item)” is to smile and say “Yes, yes I do.” Then I take a big bite and make yummy noises.

    Of course, if the question isn’t phrased like that, it takes away from the impact of the response. In that case, it’s good to fall back on the old Miss Manners standard of a frosty stare and an “I beg your pardon.”

    That one really lets people know their question or comment was out of line without giving them anything to argue. Never give them anything to argue if you can help it. Many of them try to continue without one, but it only makes them look as rude and ignorant as they are acting.

  6. I used to deal with this because one of the worst offenders had been my younger sister. Now that she has a toddler, is recently married, and is now pregnant again, she’ll probably be too busy navigating her first Thanksgiving dinner this year to bother me about what’s on my plate. But when she did, my favorite comeback was either to answer her with the question of “How is that your business?”, or to turn around, insert earphones, and walk away. I find that the “turn around and walk away” approach works best for me, because this particular person does not limit her judgemental behavior to food choices, and, as such, cannot stand to be ignored. She expects either compliance or an argument, then gets angry if someone supplies her with neither.

  7. My worst offenders are my mom or my dads wife aka the stepmonster. Never fails at a meal that they invited me (different houses) they make a snide comment (hey how’s the weight loss going since the surgery?). Surgery was 8 years ago and I weigh more now than before the surgery. And then the hypocrites always send the left overs home with me.

    1. That is just like my Grandma used to behave. “Here, I saved this from yesterday for you” – and when I ate it “You really should not eat so much” … Grandma was an angel but this got on my nerves. I found her out much too late in life. She also used the line “Fran knows what is tasty” as an accusation …

        1. While this was probably a rhetorical question, I have heard it referred to as a double-bind. Also as a “mindf#ck”.

          In either case, it’s messed up, and so is the person who generates it. 8P

      1. My grandma did that all the time: “grandad made me buy these cookies, you should eat some so I don’t have to look at them anymore, you shouldn’t have had that cookie.”

      2. My Grandma used to do that to me, too. “Why aren’t you as slim (a word I LOATHE) as your cousin (the endomorph gymnast)?” she’d say, and then hand me some cookies. Loved her to death, but she had some issues…

  8. I hate the anxious feeling in my stomach while I wait for someone to say something. I think I eat strangely (as in, I don’t make natural food choices or take normal bites) because of the anxiety. I wish I could just eat in front of people and feel normal.

  9. I’m all for embarrassing displays. The first time someone ever fucking said that to me at a meal, they’d be quickly wearing whatever they were commenting on. After they regained their hearing from having me scream in their face that I don’t take criticism from losers, whether they are family members or not, they and everyone else present would be of a mind to never, ever, say anything like that again. Personally I’d rather have people tiptoe and be on their best behavior and/or not attend holidays than EVER put myself through that again.

  10. I like the quick & simple method myself. I’ll happily agree with whatever they say and then enjoy the food anyway.

    “Do you really think you should be eating that?” “Yes!”
    “That is so unhealthy.” “Yep, it is!”
    “That food is so bad for you.” “It sure is. Mmm mmm mmm.”

    I’m lucky in that I’ve never had anyone who was really determined to shame me. Most of my experience with negative food talk seems to be well-meaning dieters who assume I’m interested in commiserating. My thought is that there’s almost never any alternative narrative, that food with fat and sugar taste good, and that eating food that tastes good is pleasurable and morally neutral. It’s ok to be fat, it’s ok to be fat and eat food with lots of fat and sugar in it. And it’s ok to do those things and enjoy them.

  11. I’ve also considered getting excited, as if they’re introducing a game. “Oh, we’re playing police? Since you took food police, I’ll be the fashion police. Seriously, that blouse with those pants? You must have gotten dressed in the dark.”

    I wouldn’t actually say it because I won’t lower myself to their level of rudeness, but a pleasant “I suggest you mind your own business” also works. Then I walk away.

  12. Completely unrelated, because I’m too lazy/busy to go searching for the original post – OMG I actually came across a bag of “Biggest Loser” celery sticks the other day! I was so annoyed and put off and annoyed all over again, because I was looking for precut celery sticks (because I LIKE CELERY and I’ve developed tree fruit and nut allergies to almost every “healthful” snack out there, so I was looking for something to munch on/scoop hummus or peanut butter that was a vegetable. NOT because I was trying to “diet”). Anyway, I original kind of shrugged off your post about the Biggest Loser carrots, thinking it was kind of a silly reason to not buy your vegetables, until I was faced with it myself. I couldn’t bring myself to it, and it pissed me off that I now I have to go to another store for my celery.

    ANYhow. I love this post, too. Keep being awesome and an inspiration, woman. And thank you for all that you do.

    1. I had no idea that corporate packaging was so endemic down there. In Canada, the only thing I’ve found (so far) is Weight Watchers yoghurt, made with art. sweeteners, and no fat. Not even the lactose free ones go that far.

  13. i wanna throw this in, cos it must happen to someone besides me. i’m not thin, but i am eating disordered. it was only after reading this blog that i learned that was not just not uncommon, but not singular only to myself. my mother died long ago & i dont bother w/ whats left of my family, but when i did it was this:

    why dont you eat?
    [you know i dont eat. i never eat.]
    why wont you eat?.
    [it’s not you, it’s got nothing to do w/ you. i’m not hungry, i dont want anything, you know i dont eat. i’m just not hungry {on & on & on & on & on & on & on}]

    then there would be a bunch of screaming at me, & blaming, & condemning, & all sorts of things like that, because he—this is my father, above—& my sister REALLY eat. i mean, my father really was a food addict. i KNOW from personal experience this is not true of everyone, no matter what they weigh [i am not thin, as you will see from my last comment]. while he was alive, though, food was his obsession as it was one of my sister’s. probably still is. for many reasons: i dont know & i dont wanna know.

    last bit, after all the above begging & fury about my not eating:


    [said by the same dead father, in various ways, to me, over & over.]

    i’m sure this happens to other people, i wrote this cos the combo is not often addressed & i though some reader other than me might want commiseration of the co-misery.

    happy holidays.

    1. I’m so sorry you had a family like that. I’m sure alot of us have similar. I hope you can enjoy life now that he’s gone and a major stressor is gone.

  14. I am SO stealing the “using my fork keeps me from stabbing you with it” line! Thanks, Ragen! It made me snort coffee out my nose!

  15. So, my sister is big, and my mother (her step-mom) has never been (but still pretty much eats what she wants.) So, she has probably done this to my sister before. It could have rubbed off on me — because on some level you want to “help” the person make better decisions — but thanks to blogs like this I have learned what a terrible thing it is to ask this of someone.

    So, from my point of view as a family member who could be asking this question, I think that the “That is an offensive question that you should not ask,” is a good response. It sucks that you have to teach your family that, but I know if my mother just got a short “Yes, I do have to eat that,” or similar response, she would just assume the person didn’t want to “face the problem” (right then) and would continue to bring it up in the future to try to “help” the person. The “That is a rude question that is not your business,” response, I think makes it a bit more clear that you are not just deflecting them THIS time, but really indicates that you are consciously not going to talk to them about what you eat. Heck, if you want, follow it up with a bit more lecture on how fat does not equal bad. (Although maybe don’t take it there if you don’t want to have a longer conversation about this issue with that person….)

    The family members like me, who might ask without realizing how it is none-of-my-business (because I see mom doing it, therefore think it’s okay), will definitely back off. The worst ones probably won’t. I know it sucks that some people have to be taught these things, but we learn what “manners” are from our family, and if we are allowed to learn from a parent or grandparent that this is an acceptable social question, we might not know any different.

  16. I saw something kind of awful over Thanksgiving. No one directly said anything to me, although I overheard the idiotic “no thanks, no rolls for me, I had a baby 4 weeks ago and I’m not back to my pre-baby weight” which caused me eyes to roll out of my skull. Then I saw two young women (same one as above) tell their dad to stop eating, make him feel bad for eating, and try to get him to go for a walk after dinner, stating that he needs exercise. I was proud of him for having another helping of jello even after hearing their comments, and for refusing the attempt at singling him out for “needing exercise.” But it made me wonder at what point I should say something on his behalf. Would he appreciate it or would he rather fight his own battles? What could I say?

  17. I can’t imagine making comments like that to somebody! I don’t think people in my family would be bold enough to blatantly say something like that during a family meal, but my grandmother has made comments like, “You’ve gained weight! You need to exercise!” and my mom has made comments about what I’m eating when it is just us. Even with stuff like oatmeal… I usually make a single serving of oatmeal for breakfast, which my mom tells me is “enough for three people.” Or once when my brother poured me a glass of milk, she said something like, “Wow, that is way too much!” MYOB MOM!!!!

Leave a Reply to Elizabeth Hall Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.