We are gradually becoming aware that it’s not OK to body shame someone for being too fat/thin, but what about food shaming? I went for a coffee with a friend today, at a cafe that makes lovely home-made cakes, and ordered Mississippi mud pie. ‘Ooh, comfort eating?’, said my friend – making me justify my decision.
She didn’t leave it there either. When I was absent mindedly picking up the last shards of chocolate with my finger (it was very good cake!), she actually took my hand away and said ‘You’ve had enough of that!’
Now I’m a healthy person of normal body weight with a super-healthy diet who cycles 100 miles most weeks and isn’t on a diet. In fact, it is caffeine that I have most difficulty with and I shouldn’t really have been drinking the large cappuccino. Even if I was morbidly obese though, I am an adult and I am going to make my own food choices. If I want a slice of cake with my coffee, I’ll damned well have one!
It wasn’t an unusual incident either. A while back I went to an open garden day with some friends, and was wandering around with an empty ice-cream tub in my hand until I came across a bin, and my friend came up and took the tub from me, then said ‘Oh, it’s empty – I thought you’d gone back for seconds’. If I had actually eaten two ice-creams, what business would it have been of his? I wouldn’t tolerate my husband saying such things, let alone a casual friend.
At a party, a relative came up and said quietly as he passed ‘Whenever I look over at you, you are eating’. Now he was just being nasty, and it was a family party, so I was numbing my senses with alcohol and simple carbohydrates, but it’s notable that food shaming was his choice of weapon. Another female relative has refined guilt over eating to such a fine art that she is offended if you refuse food that she has made but judges you for eating it! Needless to say, there is no pleasure in eating at her house.
Now I’ll admit to being a greedy person. I love my food, eating’s my main pleasure in life and I tend to treat myself with it on days out and special occasions. It’s probably a character flaw, but everyone has character flaws, there are worse ones to have, and since when is it polite behaviour to go around pointing them out?
The culture of guilt around food is so deeply ingrained that people not only beat themselves up for eating, but they inflict guilt on those around them too. It can get that every mouthful of food from the ever-growing list of ‘naughty’ foods is loaded with guilt, even while the media is saturated with ads for ‘indulgent’ food (and corresponding ads for ‘healthy’ food). The irony is that guilt about eating leads to less rational eating habits and triggers overeating and eating disorders. I am convinced that the first step towards achieving a healthy diet and normal body weight is to abandon guilt, diets and restricted eating – in yourself and other people. Unless someone has specifically asked you for help in reinforcing their willpower, it is not OK to draw attention to what/how much/how fast they eat.
Until now I have ignored people’s attempts to food shame me, because I’m a polite person, but enough is enough. The next time someone does it, they are going to get told. If I have coffee with you, you’ve been warned!