Never Say Diet

Dealing with the friends and family food police

Nov. 25, 2013 at 6:00 PM ET

Dealing with the Friends and Family Food Police
Sean Murphy/riser/getty images /
Dealing with the Friends and Family Food Police

“Do You Need to Eat That?”
This one is a classic. There are several responses you could make:
•Yes (and then eat it)
•No (and then eat it)
•Who made you food police?
•I thought you were an accountant, are you also a dietitian?
•Thanks for trying to give me your insecurities, but I was really hoping to get a Kinect this year.
•No, but using my fork to eat helps keep me from stabbing you with it.

“She’s a vegetarian, but you wouldn’t know it to look at her” 
Time for some boundary setting. State the problem, set a boundary, and a consequence you will actually follow through with: “I don’t think this is funny. If you continue to make jokes at my expense I will leave and we can try again next Christmas.” Then follow through.

“What’s your guilty pleasure?”
A good comeback: “How many years in hell do you think we’ll get for eating this cheesecake?”

Ah sinful, guilty, decadent, divine food. Our society has a really unhealthy relationship with food—from assigning moral value to it, to assigning moral value to ourselves for eating it. How does being guilty about eating a food help? Does guilt burn a bunch of calories? When I hear the phrase “guilty pleasure” about food, it makes me think of hiding in a corner with some cake and I don’t that’s a healthy way to view food. As for the whole sinful/decadent/divine thing, how am I supposed to know if seconds on stuffing will lead to moral turpitude? You can’t have a healthy relationship with food until you can view it as food and not morality.

“I put some diet soda for you in the fridge.”
Ever opened up a beautifully wrapped gift to find a diet book? Or have a relative make a sugar-free pie “just for you?” Ever had your aunt get milkshakes for all of your cousins and a diet soda for you? You are not alone, and these “gifts” are not ok. At best, gifts should be something that the receiver actually wants. At worst they should be something that does not send the receiver into a shame spiral. In these cases you can accept the gift and burn it, confront the giver at the time you get it, or talk to them when they are alone. Be honest and let them know that their gift hurt your feelings and that you aren’t soliciting advice or assistance with your eating or your weight. No matter what you do, know that the giver is in the wrong, not you.

“…but we love you!”
Often if you confront your family members and friends on inappropriate food policing, you’ll find yourself on the defensive as they insist that you are being too sensitive, or that they are doing it out of love, or that they aren’t ganging up on you—they just all care about you so much. Here it can be useful to ask if they would enjoy everyone in the family giving them constant unwanted advice. If they say they would, then simply explain that your definition of “love” doesn’t include that kind of shaming. If all else fails, try some of that boundary setting from earlier.

“I was watching Oprah the other day and she was talking about…”
It seems that almost everyone has a relative who quotes Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz or Oprah as if whatever they say is the absolute truth. Perhaps it’s time to remind them that, while they are allowed to choose anyone they want as an expert, you are not required to believe a word these people say and not interested in hearing their advice—not from them on television, and not from your relatives after.

“No nothing for me thanks, I’m being good.”
In these cases your best shot is to gently point out what’s happening. You can go with the direct approach: “Wow, we seem to be really dealing with some mixed messages here.” You can try to add some humor: “Um, I appreciate the mixed messages but I like mine one at a time.” Or you can just smile to yourself, shrug your shoulders and go on.

“At this rate you’ll weigh 1,000 pounds in 10 years.” Or, “If you keep losing at this rate there will be nothing left of you.”
Often people are shamed not for their current state but for a mythical future that the shamer is making up. It’s not uncommon to hear: “You might be healthy now, but someday you won’t be.”

Best responses here: “If you’re psychic you could at least give me tomorrow’s lottery numbers.”

Way to go, kiddo!”
Every time you eat a carrot stick your dad bellows, “What a great choice!” While you appreciate the attempt at positive reinforcement, you would prefer that there be no comment on your food choices at all. When your Mom lets out a shocked “Wow, that meal is really healthy!” try saying “Let’s try that again with about 99 percent less surprise.” If your aunt says, “I’m so proud of you for losing weight!” Respond “There are plenty of things I’ve done that are worth being proud of, can we focus on something less trivial than my weight?”

“A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips.”
So there you are, enjoying your delicious holiday feast when it happens. Someone eats a couple bites and then pushes the food away saying “It’s better to let it go to waste than waist!” Or maybe your cousin eats only salad with a smug, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” These can be hella annoying but if people are applying them to themselves, it’s their business. If they are suggesting that you live by these sayings, then smile, firmly say, “I would prefer if you would keep your platitudes to yourself,” then have a forkful of mashed potatoes.

You Know the Line You Shouldn’t Cross? Look Behind You.
There are some things that are just inappropriate. You get to decide for you what those things are for you, but they definitely deserve a direct response:
•“Do you know how much fat/cholesterol/calories are in that?"
Comeback: “Yes. Do you know how rude you’re being right now?”
•“Are you really going to eat all that?”
Comeback: “Yes, and I’m really not going to stand for being shamed about it.”
•“I’m just saving you from yourself (while grabbing food out of my hand)” Comeback: “You are completely out of line, it is absolutely not ok to even comment on my food, let alone taking it away from me. Stop now.”

A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.

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