Options for Responding to the Family and Friends Food Police

Cathartic responses to _Do you need to eat that_ TwitterWith options from  practical, to discussion prompts, to cathartic, this post is for anyone who may want some options to deal with inappropriate friend and/or family  and/or coworker behavior during this “holiday season” (whether they are celebrating any holidays or not.)

(I also have a video workshop about this called “Talking Back To Fatphobia”  it includes a pay-what-you-can option and you can find it by clicking here!)

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. On the other hand, you are under no obligation to center the feelings of people who are doing you harm, nor is there any requirement that you open yourself up to more possible harm by creating a dialog. If you’re just fucking over it and want that to be clear, these can be a good choice.)

  • 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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5 thoughts on “Options for Responding to the Family and Friends Food Police

  1. My son and I went to lunch with my mother on Wednesday. She says “my friend wrote me and said that her doctor told her she was overweight and diabetic, and now she can’t eat potatoes.” I’m a fat diabetic, and I happened to be eating potatoes with my lunch.
    In my mother’s case, I find the best response is to say “that’s nice” and keep on eating. She revels in drama, so having a non-reaction is the best way to short-circuit her.

  2. “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.”

    ^This, and there’s not enough “this” in the world for this. If someone’s actions result in harm, it doesn’t matter if they’re being deliberately cruel, if they “meant well,” or even if they really meant well. The harm is still done.

  3. Seriously. Why spend ten second trying to suss out the Why behind the What. Rude is ride is rude.
    It would be just as rude if it was: Why are you in that wheel chair, what’s that thing on your face, how much money do you make, how is your sex life, ‘what’ are you, etc.

    Some people are rude and mean and like it. Some people are rude and mean and don’t know it, some people are curious and have poor boundaries, some people believe they are the elected/God given arbiters of all moral, ethical and practical considerations in life and just need to share their views with you…

    And none of them are worth the time it took to write this out…

    Too much over sharing in US society has lead to an increase of over sharing one’s views on other people. Way too much.

    If they “mean well”, they need to learn what that really means; and it isn’t “Oh my goodness, I need to help you make better choices about your life!”

    I need to show you to the door. Have a nice day…

  4. A good general guideline is this.
    If the perceived problem isn’t something that someone can fix within a minute or two (i.e. spinach in their teeth, unzipped fly, that sort of thing) then don’t mention it. You won’t do anything but cause them unnecessary anxiety.
    On the lunch date mentioned in my previous comment, I was wearing a rather loud pair of pants that I’d gotten on clearance. I thought they were fun. They were green with black stripes. My mother also had to comment negatively on my choice of trousers. It wasn’t something that I could readily fix to her liking. I didn’t have another pair of trousers in the car, and, further, what I was wearing really did not impact her in any way. I simply said, “I thought they were kind of cool”.
    I didn’t really care one way or the other about her opinion, but she did hedge a bit, saying, “well, yes, I suppose they are.”
    I’ve learned not to react to my mother too much. She’s 80 years old. It isn’t likely that she will develop tact anytime soon.

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