It seems an unfortunate by-product of living in the technical age that we unwittingly expose ourselves to the opinions of others on a daily basis. Every time we post something on social media, we are opening the door to judgement and comment from others. This can be about just about anything, from our clothes to our cars, our bodies types to our food choices. It is the judgment around what people are eating that I am finding particularly unsettling. We seem to have allowed the practice of food shaming to have become a social norm. When I was growing up we were told it was impolite to comment on other peoples’ food, and that unless you were going to say “that looks delicious,” you should keep your mouth shut. Well, I for one think it’s about time we brought this principle back.
I remember starting out on my journey toward well being and being made to feel extremely self conscious when anyone would mention the change in my diet. I was a bigger girl than most of my friends, and I was trying something completely new and unfamiliar. At lunch with the girls, their comments, no matter how well meaning made me feel like I was somehow getting it all wrong. I felt embarrassed and ashamed. What was wrong with me that I couldn’t get it right? Why was something which was so effortless for my peers such a struggle for me?
Over the years I have learned one universal truth. Everyone struggles. Everyone has times when they feel like they have no idea what they are doing. Everyone will experience times of trial and error, in all aspects of their lives, not least with their nutrition. Sometimes we may decide to try a new diet approach on, just to see how it fits. These are times when we will be particularly sensitive to the insensitivity of our family and friends. In other words, these are times when we need everyone to mind their own business and shut the hell up!
Food shaming can have serious and severe consequences for some people. It can serve to exacerbate already unhealthy relationships with food. It can lead to feelings of guilt around food, which are always to be avoided. Furthermore it can be extremely isolating, with people resorting to eating in secret or at least not eating in public. Eating should be a pleasurable experience, not something which causes stress and anxiety. Each individual’s journey is different. If you know where you are going and you’re happy with the road you have taken, ignore everyone. Don’t let them get inside your head and undermine your confidence. Because the thing about judging other people is that you do it without knowing the whole story. Now, I am by no means saying that we shouldn’t support each other, and offer advice if asked for it. What I am saying is comments like “wow, that’s a lot of food,” or “should you be eating that on your diet?” are as unhelpful as they are hurtful.
A wiser woman than I says “Do your best, until you know better and when you know better, do better.” Maya Angelou. This really resonates with me. For about two years I followed a fairly strict Paleo diet, eliminating or restricting lots of food groups like grains, dairy, refined sugars and legumes. I was fully convinced that this was the ideal way to be eating and extolled the virtues to of it to anyone who would listen. It didn’t matter to me that my hair was severely thinning, I had no energy to train and I was completely cut off from my social life due to my inflexible attitude towards food. I was completely deaf to the please of my family friends when they were trying to tell me that I was in trouble. Part of me wishes that I had listened to them, but a bigger part of me knows that it was something I had to come through on my own. I alone had to come to the realisation that my behaviour was not in alignment with my goals. I wanted to get fitter and stronger as well as getting leaner, and none of this could happen because I was starving myself of essential nutrients. A classic example of trial and error.
I have often said that one of the most difficult things about trying to make lifestyle changes is dealing with the opinions, comments and unsolicited advice of other people. For me the training has always been the fun part, the nutrition side is a manageable challenge, but these barbs and back handed jibes are enough to push me over the edge. I am at the stage now where I maintain a fairly balanced and healthy diet. This involves eating quite a lot of actual food and very little “junk” food. People are often amazed by how much I eat and believe me when I tell you, they are not shy about letting this be known. I do what I do in consultation with my coaches and I careful monitor and track my progress. In short, I am confident enough in my dietary approach to brush off the negative comments. However, I am well aware that this is not the case for everyone, especially those for whom this is a new thing.