Izzy Harris explores the negative effects on self-esteem and body image of commenting about others’ food choices.
Have you ever been about to eat something, when the person sitting next to you takes it upon themselves to critique your food choice? Often it’s in the form of a question: ‘Do you know how many calories are in that?’ or ‘Oh you’re eating dairy. Do you know how disgusting the dairy industry is?’. Sometimes it’s a statement ‘I would never eat all those carbs’ or ‘That’s a lot of food for a young lady!’
Sometimes people are expressing concern for your weight ‘If you eat any more of that cake you won’t fit into your jeans anymore!’
Sometimes people are criticising where your food came from ‘If you saw where that cheese came from, you’d be so disgusted. You should go vegan like me’.
Sometimes people are surprised at how much you can eat ‘How can you eat all that, aren’t you full?’
And sometimes people just don’t like what you’re eating ‘How can you eat that, it literally makes me sick’.
For years I’ve been used to people commenting on what I’m eating, how much I’m eating, when I’m eating and every aspect of the food I’m putting in my mouth. I’ve heard people comment on what my mum has chosen off the menu, what my friend is eating for dessert or even what strangers are eating at the bus stop. I’ve heard it so much that it’s completely normal to hear someone critiquing or commenting on my food choice, and what’s equally as normal is the sense of guilt and insecurity I feel every time this happens.
Sometimes the person commenting on your food choice is your friend. Sometimes it’s a relative. Sometimes it’s even a stranger. But it’s never acceptable. We live in a society where the way we look, especially our weight and size are under constant scrutiny. It’s impossible to go a day without diet industries, social media and TV shows telling us that we need to lose weight, diet, shed pounds and tone up. As a result, we live in a world where body image issues and anxiety rates are rocketing year on year. This is such a problem that girls as young as seven have actively tried to lose weight and girls as young as five are concerned about their size.
And it’s not just girls bodies that are under the microscope. The media constantly tells us that the perfect male body should be covered in muscle with airbrushed skin, leading to eating disorders in men too. There is no doubt that, amongst young people in particular, these unachievable beauty standards have already damaged the way we perceive diet and the way we choose our food.
When there is so much existing anxiety around dietary choices, why should people make us feel even guiltier for eating? Why should people make us believe that we should be choosing what we eat based solely on how it will affect our appearance? Why is it that people believe that our food choices and bodies are fair game to critique and question?
These types of comments can often trigger eating disorders, anxiety and body image issues and it needs to stop. The media already piles on the pressure to eat and avoid certain products to look a certain way. There is already such a major focus on food that eating disorders are common, every other person is dieting and every food choice is more stressful than it was twenty years ago. So surely, passing judgement on what people are eating or when they are eating just adds salt to the wounds. But, nevertheless, there are ways of changing how we talk to each other about food.
However strongly we feel about the dairy industry, when someone is about to eat their lunch is not the right time to make them feel guilty for consuming dairy products.
However worried we are about someone’s weight gain, when they’re enjoying a piece of cake is not the time to make a flippant comment about getting a ‘summer body’.
However shocked we are at the amount of food someone is eating at breakfast, now is not the time to joke about where they put it all.
Most importantly, comments and questions on food choices don’t always come from a place of judgement. Grandparents might just be joking when they talk about their surprise at how much dessert you’re eating. Your classmate might not even care about how many calories there are in your lunch, but her comment might be a reflection of her own insecurities. A stranger at the café might genuinely be worried about the meat industry and wants you to make an informed decision when you choose off a menu. But if you’re that person, and you’re commenting on someone’s food choices, take a moment to think about how that comment might make them feel. If it might make them feel guilty, anxious, embarrassed or insecure, perhaps its best left unsaid.
If your food choices have ever been commented on or criticised, remember this; what people comment on is often not a judgement of you, but a reflection of their own insecurities. If someone questions how many calories you’re eating, they might be worried about how many they’re eating. A comment on weight gain might indicate someone’s concerns about their own weight. Someone who criticises the type of food you’re eating, might be channeling their own insecurities. So whilst it’s easy to be upset and annoyed when people comment on what you’re putting in your body, remember that it might not be about you.
This isn’t about being politically correct. This isn’t about stopping people from making a joke. This isn’t about silencing people with opinions. This is about kindness. If it’s going to make someone uncomfortable, don’t say it.
And if someone does comment on what you eat, eat it anyway. It’s your food, your decision, your life.