I have been food shamed today. A woman commented on the size of my lunch at work to then explain her successful weight loss journey. I felt attacked and I was so ready to get defensive – I probably did a little bit-. I felt ashamed of eating my food and so the first thing I did was justifying the nutritious content of my lunch. But I noticed something else. I have been that woman plenty of times before. I have been guilty of food shaming people around me all this time based on my own preconceptions of what “good” and “bad” food is.
“That’s too big for you”
Let’s start from the beginning. I was mixing my salad at work today when this woman approached me and said “oh that’s such a big bowl of lunch for such a small woman”. I immediately felt the need to justify why I was having what I was having and the calories in it-. And so I proceeded: “It’s only a salad – half a bag of mixed leaves, 1/3 of a cucumber, 1 small red onion, a small tuna can and 80gr of wild rice with cyder vinegar and ½ table spoon of extra virgin olive oil dressing. It’s about 380 kcal” -I concluded. “Oh, okay, it just looked like you wouldn’t be able to finish it”, she said. She clearly noticed I was being defensive and overall surprised someone I had never spoken to would be commenting on my food choices.
She then went on to tell me that she was on some sort of diet and she had lost a stone. I congratulated her and said any food can be eaten as part of a healthy diet and the only thing needed for weight loss was a calorie deficit. She then explained that the miracle diet she was in, was incredible because there were no calorie or food restrictions and she could eat what she fancied. She said this as she pulled a bowl of pasta with soy sauce from the microwave. I was ready to start a lecture on nutrition but I decided to stop. It was clear she wasn’t very educated on nutrition and she was not very aware of the food choices she was making, but it was not my place to tell her.
Guilty of the same mistake
I was certainly annoyed and upset at this woman’s comment on my lunch however, it made me realise that I have been that woman plenty of times. That woman didn’t know much about nutrition, but neither did I when I started losing weight trying hundreds of miracle diets.
I have been the woman who felt bad when I saw other people thinner than me eating apparently “bigger/unhealthier/bad” portions of food and tried to project my own issues with food onto them. I have been the person commenting on other people’s food choices imposing my own – in many occasions- wrong ideas of nutrition.
Not long ago, one of my tutors came into the gym with a big bowl of fruit, yogurt, seeds and nut butter. The first thing I did was calculating the calories in my head and I said “OMG, that must be 1,000 kcal”. I was food shaming him. Without realising I was portraying, my fear of eating – fear of calories, calorie-dense food, simple carbs- on him. This was unfair and moreover illogical. Every person needs a different calorie intake depending on their lifestyle, body composition, age or gender. And regardless, everyone has the right to eat whatever they please without any comments or judgement from others.
Towards a positive relationship with food
This woman, or my housemate when she commented on the size of my lunch yesterday-, have no idea of the struggles that I may be going through with food. Neither do I of the struggles other people may be going through when I comment on their food choices.
I have spent all my life calorie counting. I have spent all my life talking about fat, calories, protein, carbs, to the extent that I hated eating. I still struggle seeing food as anything else than “a thing that can make you fat”. I still check the calories and nutritional values of everything before I eat it – except on a cheat day, of course (yes, I am working on this too)-. I am now thinking in my head whether actually the lunch was that big that it was noticed. I still have labels of “good” and “bad”, “healthy” and “unhealthy” However, I am learning, and I am making changes.
I have learnt how to stop eating when I am full. I have learnt to eat when I am hungry -even if it is not x or y time of the day-. I have started eating whole grains. Which sounds ridiculous but for someone terrified of carbs, it is a great win. So when this woman commented on my salad the first day in years that I included rice in it, I felt the need to justify my food choices and I got terribly anxious. But I acknowledged it was my problem and I did not have the right to project that onto her.
Food is more than nutrition
I believe it is important to take care of ourselves and our bodies and nourish and honour them. And nutrition is possibly the best and main way to do this. However, food is also enjoyment, culture and pleasure.
It is obvious than a doughnut is a less healthy or less nutritious choice than a fruit salad. However, who am I to comment on anyone’s eating habits unless they give me permission to do so? How do I know that the person eating that doughnut may be doing it only sometimes as part of a totally varied and nutritious diet?
Food is a complex topic. Eating disorders take the lives of people all around the globe daily, so food shaming should not be taken lightly. Lesson learnt: shut the fuck up unless you are asked.