I’ve come to realize that people love to comment on what someone else chooses to eat. If you were to eavesdrop at any restaurant table you might hear various forms of “Did you hear the latest news? You shouldn’t eat olive oil, butter is back in now. Have you heard about the new Brittany Spears diet? Are you Paleo? I’ve heard that carbs make you fat. I heard that you shouldn’t eat grains and meat together. Maybe you should try juicing. I stay away from white foods” and the list goes on and on.
As if our choices in what and how much we eat are up for debate and discussion. My work with people with eating disorders and body image issues proves time and time again that we can NEVER assume we know better what that person should or shouldn't be eating. And commenting on it, no matter how well-meaning or benign you mean it to be, will not turn out well.
Recently I attended a family wedding. At this wedding there were delicious cupcakes in place of a traditional cake. Given my love of all things frosting and hatred of the actual cake part (yes I am one of those people) I decided to eat only the frosting off of a cupcake. It was absolutely heavenly, and since there were several different kinds of cupcakes, I thought it was my duty to try the other kinds of frosting off the cupcakes. And let's be real how often do you get to eat gourmet cupcakes. As I went for my 3rd cupcake, a family member commented "Melissa! You're going to gain 10 pounds with all that frosting!" As she chuckled to herself, I felt myself sink. I was, as we say in the therapy world "triggered".
Now let me state that I do not think this family member had any intention to hurt me by her comment. I think she honestly thought she was making a joke and thought nothing of it. However, as an eating disorder therapist I could not help but be flooded with all of the hidden meanings of her seemingly harmless comment.
First of all, as a dietitian and someone that understands calories and metabolism, this is just a ridiculous comment. There is no physiological way eating the frosting off of three cupcakes could cause someone to gain 10 pounds. It takes 35,000 extra calories beyond what you burn in normal daily living to gain 10 pounds. I don't count calories, but I'm pretty certain 3 cupcakes do not add up to 35,000 calories.
Secondly, and more important, what if I DID gain 10 pounds. What would that mean? Her comment implied that gaining 10 pounds would be something I would not want to happen. This would be an unacceptable outcome. As someone who has been through hell and back with her body, I take great pride in being okay with my body now. I realize that my body is a vehicle to take me through the myriad of life experiences. It is not something that needs to be scrutinized, hated, and controlled on a daily basis anymore. Nor it is something that must conform to what society says is acceptable. Perhaps now my body is what society deems as acceptable, but I know that it will change throughout my life and I will not always look this way. There may be life experiences and changes that cause me to gain 10 pounds, or more than 10 pounds! Does this mean that if I gain weight I am not acceptable? I sure hope not.
I was rather surprised how much this comment affected me. My inner therapist wanted to speak up and tell this person how hurtful her comment was, but I realized a wedding was not the best place to have this type of conversation. I removed myself and took a walk outside and realized why I was so upset. My heart was hurting for all of those suffering with poor body image because of comments like these. Often times this is all it takes to make someone decide that they need to change what they eat. That the next time they reach for that cupcake or something else deemed “bad” they should think twice about how this food may affect their body. That “bad” food causes one to gain weight, and this should be avoided at all costs. That our bodies are the most important thing and we should value them over any enjoyment we may get from food.
Not everyone will be affected by words like these. But the fact remains that you never know how someone will take something, or what kind of internal war they have going on in their head. What someone else chooses to eat has no impact on you, so the next time you think about commenting on your friend’s/ spouse’s/ co-worker’s/ partner’s food, think twice about the intention of your comment. You may be saving someone from a lifetime of questioning their choices on the very thing that keeps us all alive.