Handling the Holiday Food Police

Absolutely nobody asked you
Picture of three fawn pugs, two sitting upright and the middle pug slouching “Think we shouldn’t eat that? Think we don’t need seconds? Turn to page 9 in your hymnal and join us in a rousing chorus of “Absolutely Nobody Asked You.”

This post is a danceswithfat tradition, offered for those who may have to deal with inappropriate friend and/or 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 a few of things that come to mind immediately – 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.

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. Then follow three steps:

State the Boundary 

“It’s not ok to talk about what I eat.” or “It’s not ok to comment on my body” etc.

State the consequence you can follow through with

“I’ll head home” or “I’ll take my dinner into another room” or whatever makes sense for you.

Follow through

Someone starts talking about your food choices? You get up, pack up and say, “Looks like you’ve chosen not to respect my boundaries so, like I said, I’m going to head home. We’ll try again next year.”

You can also choose to engage in conversation. 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:

Judgment

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.

Power/Superiority

Remember that some people’s bodies left junior high but their mentality was, tragically, left behind. For those who never psychologically got past Junior High, nothing makes them feel so powerful as judging someone else and then making them feel like crap. Maybe because they are drowning in…

Insecurity

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, which you are under absolutely no obligation to do.)

  • 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 an InstantPot 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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9 thoughts on “Handling the Holiday Food Police

  1. I elected to stay at home with my roommate, eat in my underwear, and watch cheesy Christmas movies. Christmas Chronicles on Netflix is super funny!

  2. Sorry if this ends up being a duplicate comment. WordPress’ overly aggressive filter is eating my comments again.
    Today when my son and I went to visit my mother, she gave him a flannel shirt to try on and while he was trying it on she patted him on the belly and said: “you need to lose this gut.” I didn’t know this happened until he and I were headed home.
    My son isn’t a child, he’s 28 years old. But he is high-functioning autistic and he wrestles with depression and anxiety, including agoraphobia. My mother also likes to have the TV on and tuned to Dr. Phil or the news or such, and there are a lot of very loud and aggressive ads. He doesn’t show outwardly that he’s being overstimulated, but he tends to withdraw after we leave.
    My mother refuses to believe that my son is autistic and insists that his anxiety is “all in his head.”
    I don’t know if it’s worth bringing it up with her, because she’ll end up turning it around on me and insist that I’m just “angry” and am “attacking” her. Attempting to have a reasonable discussion with her never works because she is a master gaslighter.

    1. How painful for you son and for you! I have also struggled with family members ignoring my needs and gaslighting and it is never easy. I wish you and your son the best.

  3. Very unpleasant for you and your son. I’d limit contact as much as possible. Consider confronting her, stating your views on her hurtful behavior towards your son; while accepting she will most likely not be open to any change in her behavior. If she can’t be respectful of others needs and feelings, she may find opportunities for family contact drying up. It is her choice.

  4. I didn’t have a direct challenge to my weight/food choices, but there was so much goddamn diet talk. It’s so pervasive and irritating because to most people it’s just normal. It’s normal to feel guilty about gaining weight/being fat. It’s not something I have the spoons to challenge especially not when it’s pretty much everyone there.

    1. Yeah, that gets super old regardless of whether it’s a holiday, although the holidays seem to magnify it. I hope you were able to do some self-care for it later.

  5. Our local paper (we still have one, such as it is) ran the usual hideous article about how people think “one big meal won’t hurt you”—but it MIGHT! Full of calorie shaming, food shaming, “tips” to limit your intake, and alarmism. On Thanksgiving morning. SMH.

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