Have you ever encountered this situation?
You are out to eat with a group of friends or colleagues. Everyone orders their food, and when it’s your turn, you order a salad with no cheese, an olive oil based dressing, and extra avocado. All the sudden you get eye rolls, and remarks about you “making everyone else feel bad”. You laugh it off, but in reality you have heard this before, not once, not twice, but pretty much every time you go out to eat with certain people. It becomes routine to get passive aggressive, backhanded remarks about your healthy eating choices.
Health Shaming. It’s A Thing, And It’s Not Okay.
Wait what’s health shaming?
It’s making someone feel ashamed or embarrassed because of the way they eat, exercise, and choose to handle their personal health. It’s bullying. Health shaming can be family members teasing you around the holidays because you avoid indulging in sweets, to colleagues at work making fun of the “healthy” food you bring to lunch every day, or always drinking your “weird green juice”. It can even go as far as cyber health bullying for the way someone looks or food choices they make.
It may seem silly, and some people may say “brush it off I’m just kidding”, but let me just add a little perspective to health shaming if it was reversed. Imagine if someone was making these comments.
“Fried chicken in rancid vegetable oil? Do you know how unhealthy that is?”
“Your too fat, you should go workout right now”
“Eww don’t you know that dressing is filled with nasty chemicals”
“Why do you sit on the couch all day and watch tv, don’t you know you are going to get fat”
You would be taken back if someone said any of these to you, right? They are TERRIBLE statements! It feels the same way to people that eat clean and healthy.
Health shaming can take an even darker turn. For example, Jordan Younger from The Balanced Blonde. Cyber bullying got SO BAD for her when she made the switch from a vegan lifestyle to a non-limiting and holistic lifestyle incorporating different types of food. She receive death threats, and dealt with people saying nasty, nasty things about her on a daily basis. All because she personally decided to change the way she ate based on HER PERSONAL BODY. No one else’s body…she did not tell anyone how to eat or force a diet, she just wanted to do what was best for her personal body.
Shaming Someone Because They Eat Healthy Is Just As Bad As Shaming Someone Who Eats Unhealthy.
Let me address how I eat. I have Celiac (an autoimmune disease in which my small intestine is hypersensitive to gluten and sometimes makes it hard to digest food), a sensitivity to certain grains, and I have terrible reactions to most dairy. I avoid processed and added sugars because they make me feel sick and bloated. So yes I eat clean, real food, and most importantly I enjoy it. I truly enjoy how I feel when I eat clean and very much dislike the after-feeling of eating unhealthy. I don’t like feeling sick and bloated for the rest of the day. I also indulge. I do. I just have my own form of indulging. I pick and choose what is worth it to me, and that might be different than other peoples choices. These statements I hear from people hurt. I choose to eat clean because I love the way my body feels, I love feeling energized, in an upbeat mood, and eating REAL FOOD. I don’t enjoy chemical concoctions where I can’t pronounce the the things I am ingesting.
Family and Health Shaming
Health bullying is the worst when it’s your own family making the comments. Coworkers and other people I can brush off, but when it’s family, it takes a major toll on you. In the moment I just try and laugh it off. I don’t shame anyone for making unhealthy choices, so why should it be okay to make fun of my healthy choices? I have cried many of times after leaving a situation because of comments I received. For the longest time it felt like my family didn’t even believe my digestive issues. They thought I was just exaggerating. Now I will say, my family has gotten SO MUCH BETTER over the years, but when I was first starting my healthy journey, and my changes in eating seemed drastic compared to how myself and my family ate before, the comments and whispers hurt. The hardest part was, I don’t even think my family realized how much it hurt, to them it was friendly teasing and remarks, but to me it was more. The stabs hurt, and I felt like I was constantly defending my eating habits and choices.
Here Are Actual Statements I Have Heard From Friends, Family & Coworkers.
I have known for a long time I was going to write this post, so these are statements I wrote down in the notes section of my phone after hearing them.
“Oh there’s Kayleigh again showing us all up and eating healthy”
“Gosh you make me feel terrible about what I’m eating”
“So that’s why you are so skinny”
“Aren’t you going to eat more than just a salad”
“You know it wouldn’t kill you to eat 1 piece of cake”
“Oh there Kayleigh goes again bringing her own food to eat because ours isn’t good enough”
“The food you eat is so weird”
“Jeez you eat too healthy”
“You are showing us all up by working out right now”
“You need to put on a few pounds”
“That sucks you can’t eat anything here”
“Your too skinny, you need to eat dessert”
I always imagine what I would say back – but I never do…
“Jeez you eat too healthy” – “Too healthy” what does that even mean? Is that possible? By eating “too healthy” do you mean I treat my body well and don’t give it things it can’t digest?
“The food you eat is so weird” – Fruits, vegetables, chicken, turkey, eggs, fish, dark chocolate are weird? News to me. Ok ok I’ve been known to have kelp noodles from time to time, but again that’s kelp from the sea, which is a plant. Are eating plants weird? Personally I think it’s weird to eat genetically modified organisms and chemicals created in a lab to taste a certain way. The top 5 food additives in processed food are: artificial sweeteners like aspartame, high fructose corn syrup, monosodium glutamate, sodium sulfite, and sodium nitrate. Do you even know what those things are? Or what they look like? Would you eat the plane by themselves? Probably not. So I think that’s weird.
“You need to put on a few pounds” – According to my height, weight, body fat mass, body mass index, percent body fat, and total body composition I am actually in an ideal range. So no, I don’t need to put on a few pounds. I just maintain my weight.
“You’re too skinny, you need to eat dessert” – Oh gosh how I love this passive aggressive way of telling me to eat dessert. No, I don’t need to eat anything if I’m not hungry. And no, my body does not “need” a processed sugar cookie, that is not a thing. Plus, I am not a huge sweets person (salty is more my thing). If I want dessert, I will have it.
“That sucks you can’t eat anything here” – Thanks… But I know my eating choices are different, so it doesn’t come as a surprise to me when I go places and it does not fit my style of eating. That’s life. A lot of times I am prepared for that and eat ahead of time or bring my own food.
What To Do About Health Shaming
I know that some people avoid eating healthy in social situations in fear of being targeted with questions. I get it…you know you will get comments and you would rather just avoid it all together and eat “like everyone else”. Don’t let that bring you down! Stick to the way you want to feel and what works for YOU no one else.
Don’t ever, ever be ashamed for taking care of your body and caring about your health.
I don’t enjoy being shamed and bullied for my eating choices. I never say anything to someone who is eating unhealthy. BUT if they are eating healthy I’ll praise them! I love on Snapchat and Instagram when people send me their healthy meals or drinks for the day, I get so excited and always respond words of praise back. You should NEVER feel shamed for eating healthy, you should feel confident and strong knowing you are treating your body well!
The message is this, health shaming exists, and it’s not okay. If you want to eat clean and healthy, then do it, and be proud of it! Don’t ever feel guilty over the foods you want to eat! And if you don’t want to eat healthy…then that’s okay to! But don’t make someone else feel bad because of their personal choices about their body.