Eating disorders are not much to joke about. Did you know that some studies suggest that three quarters of women in the US experience “disordered eating”? This means that, though their symptoms don’t constitute a psychiatric diagnosis of an eating disorder, they engage in unhealthy eating patterns. This means things like frequent dieting or establishing rigid rules around eating. With so much of our societal interaction built around consuming food and beverages it’s no wonder that we would be preoccupied with it. I have a suggestion that may help all of us – unless someone is eating something poisonous, spoiled, or human, STOP COMMENTING ON HOW AND WHAT PEOPLE EAT.
Well-intentioned, but potentially damaging
Years ago, when I was in my mid-twenties, I was out to dinner with friends. I don’t remember what exact dish I had, but to my recollection, it required a bit of preparation before eating. Maybe adding some kind of condiment, maybe pulling off a slice of onion… An otherwise-kind friend made the comment “You know, I’ve noticed you always have to prepare your food before you eat it. Like, you have to get it ‘just so’ before you can start.” I know she didn’t mean any harm. She was just making what she assumed was an off-handed observation. But now, I rarely have a meal in public where I don’t think about what she said. I get paranoid that other people are watching how I handle my food. I worry that they think I’m high-maintenance. (I’m not – just incredibly neurotic.)
I’ve had other negative experiences around people’s opinions of the way that I eat. From people who criticize my food choices, to those who comment on how fast I eat (a habit from middle school when our lunch period was about 15 minutes long), everyone seems to have an opinion of how I consume meals. I was a picky eater as a kid and teen. When you couple that with being skinny, I had multiple people accuse me of being anorexic. And I don’t mean they drew me aside and gently expressed their concern. I mean they either loudly confronted me in public, or went behind my back to gossip about it. I know that I can’t be the only person who has had these kinds of things happen. We need to stop talking about HOW people eat.
Mind your (table) manners
I know what you may be thinking. “Man, she is WAY too sensitive! Millennials will get triggered by anything!” It’s certainly possible that I am too sensitive. But I think my point still stands. We are all way too preoccupied with how other people eat, possibly because of our own discomfort with how we, ourselves, eat. Maybe it’s partially due to the increased awareness of dietary restrictions. Some people take food very personally and if you say you can’t eat what they offer, they feel personally offended. When your aunt rolls her eyes because you have to follow a gluten-free diet, it might be due to her own insecurity about her food habits.
Furthermore, as our world grows smaller and we are exposed to new cultures and ways of thinking, we need to be mindful that not everyone eats the same way that we do. I only recently learned that there are other cultures in the world that eat very late at night for their last meal of the day. Apparently, eating your last meal several hours before bed is not a universal thing. And that’s not to mention religious restrictions around certain foods.
A second helping
I don’t want people to think that we can never talk about food with one another, and we might not have to completely stop commenting on how people eat. But if you feel compelled to say something about what a person is eating, stop and ask yourself why you want to do so. Are you close to this person and have a concern that they may be engaging in destructive habits? Or are you doing it as a put down? Too many of us, if we’re really honest with ourselves, are doing the latter. And we can do better.