Handling The Friends and Family Food Police

Guilt Free EatingThis 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 weight stigma, 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.

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17 thoughts on “Handling The Friends and Family Food Police

  1. When I first starting reading the article, my mind immediately went to an entirely different kind of reply.

    On Twitter, some of us have taken to replying to obnoxious questions – particular ones which imply we are stupid or uninformed – with blatantly sarcastic confusion. Something like, “I don’t know what kind of uniform a slut wears, so I can’t offer comment on if her skirt makes her look like one.”

    Now it doesn’t always work – I had one moron a few months ago, who was trying to explain to me what the “real” definition of feminism is, and when I said, “No, I haven’t spent the better part of my life studying gender inequality, reading feminist authors and actively participating in intersectional feminist movements. Please do explain it to me,” he actually took that entire statement as factual and fed me his obtuse definition. I’m still shaking my head over that.

    But when you’re in person, around the dinner table, intentional incredulity conveys better. Imagine what their response would be if you simply stared at them blankly and said, “I don’t understand the question.” It’s in the same vein as answering their question with a question, but it puts even more onus on them to explain exactly what is wrong with you eating it, taking the wind out of their passive-aggressive sails.

    If someone in my extended family (the immediate would never) did this to me, I’d take great delight in pretending I didn’t understand their question, and watching them waffle between being blatantly fat-shaming and just retracting their question and shutting the hell up.

    I always try to follow Tara’s advice from Leverage, “If you’re uncomfortable, use it. Make them feel uncomfortable.” And it’s an even more appropriate when they’re the one MAKING you uncomfortable. 🙂

    1. Along the lines of “I don’t understand the question” – a good answer is “What exactly did you mean with that question?” There isn’t an answer that doesn’t make the person look like a jerk, really.

    2. I was in high school when I discovered the power of the question “Why?”

      Repeat, repeat, repeat, and make them drill down to the base reason of why they are saying/doing/demanding the thing that they are. Eventually, they either have to admit that they are just being jerks, or they give up in disgust and retreat.

      Always ask with an earnest expression, and no malice, so they feel the need to answer and explain themselves.

      A perfect demonstration of this technique can be found in the old Doris Day movie, “Pillow Talk,” where Rock Hudson uses it on a man who tells him he needs to get married.

  2. Thank you! A few years ago, my Mother asked me if I’d considered WLS while she was handing me a slice of frosted banana bread. I posed the question in return: Did you know people die from that surgery? Do you want me as I am or miserable or dead? She had no idea what it involves but she thought I should consider it. She stopped asking after that. My (smaller) sister later informed her how dangerous it could be, the cost and the recovery time. I never heard about it again.
    In the same vein, I have a friend who has several serious diseases and her weight is constantly up and down. She is extremely pale, some days almost bluish. I, on the other hand, have good skin and hair and although I stay out of the sun, I have a healthy skin tone. There is much to be said for feeding your body what it needs and a little extra. I am who I am and most of the time,
    I accept that. It’s a journey.

  3. I deal with this every year from my daughters wife. She is the most wonderful person in almost every respect, she’s a doctor, an absolute champion in the Oregon LGBTQ movement who was a peronal guest of the Obamas at the White House to talk about marriage equality. Maybe even more importantly she’s an an amazing wife and a wonderful adoptive mother to my grand daughter. but every time we see her she just can’t stop commenting on me and my wife’s food choices and her “concern” for us.

  4. Love these the best:
    Quick and Simple (said with finality)
    • Yes (and then eat it)
    • No (and then eat it)
    Brilliant! End of story!

  5. This really is great! Everyone should be empowered to eat what they want without guilt. I wish we all could stop putting other people down! What an odd culture it is, if you step back and look at it!

  6. First of all, I love the phrase ‘glycogen stores’.

    Second, I also recommend self-care before and after. I find family incredibly stressful for many reasons and always make sure to plan time with friends and do whatever else makes me feel okay.

    I hope everyone has an excellent holiday, eats some favorite foods, and hugs people they love.

  7. “Do you really need to eat that?”

    “As much as you needed to wear that sweater today.”

    or just go with the tried and true “blink and stare.” Stare and don’t answer. 9 times out of 10 the person starts babbling and sounding incredibly inept. Just keep staring and blinking. Stare and blink.

  8. Or just ask them back – “Do YOU need to be eating THAT?”

    Because they probably don’t need to be eating turkey, mash potatoes, stuffing, pie etc either. Why are they eating that and not a grilled chicken salad, or something that is generally considered ‘more healthy and moderate’? Oh, because they are enjoying themselves on Thanksgiving? Then perhaps they should allow you to do the same thing.

    I’m 5ft female, 28 years old, and weigh 96lbs. We don’t have Thanksgiving here in the UK, but at Xmas (and any other feast for a celebration.. and in my family we have LOTS of those!) you bet I go back for seconds, or thirds, and not small portions either. And then, I will have lots of dessert too.. and spend the evening snacking on cheese and crackers or whatever is available. No one questions me about it!

    Although to be fair that might be because my family arn’t jerks, they don’t question any of the fat members of our family about their food choices either… at least not at the table, I obviously don’t see what goes on behind the scenes regarding that.

    We all eat a lot of yummy stuff at celebratory feasts! It’s what they’re FOR! 😀

  9. Thought of you this morning – I miss you and am grateful. to have you in my life even tho u r one of my westest friends! I like your subtle no guilt eating formula! I / we, Patricia and my sister Patsy, are in Boulder and enjoying the stuffed feeling from a feast at the Boulderado Hotel.


    Stan Tyler Champions Edge Coaching Programs stan@champions-edge.com 512-289-0604


  10. I am really grateful that the Fat Police among my relatives now live too far away to travel for Thanksgiving. I am doubly grateful that when I ask my Not the Fat Police relatives to move the cookie tray to the kitchen, they accept that I don’t want to nibble myself into a carby stupor and don’t start making approving noises at me for “dieting.”

  11. I am visiting my family for Christmas and, while I highly doubt they will say a word about my eating habits or portion sizes, especially since moved out, I always feel at least slightly timid and afraid that someone will say something and I will be unable to defend myself, thus becoming embarrassed.

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