Whether you’re unwrapping a burrito, microwaving leftovers, or shaking up a desk salad, lunch mates often feel the need to comment when food arrives. Sometimes, they’ll seem jealous, like, Oh, I wish I could eat something like that instead of my salad. Other times they’re straight-up rude, like, Fries again, you’re so bad! But most of the time, the comments from the peanut gallery are annoying and borderline offensive.
Obviously, sharing a meal is a very social experience, but sometimes it can feel like your peers are judging how healthy you are. And that can take all of the joy out of eating. The solution in these tricky situations is to “challenge the food police,“ which is one of the 10 principles of intuitive eating, a mind-body approach to health and eating. In this instance, the “food police” is anyone who keeps track of the unsustainable rules that diet culture has put in place — they can be your roommate, your family member, a random person on the internet, or even your self.
“Challenging the food police involves reframing internal judgments and critical thoughts around food, as well as setting boundaries and being prepared for food comments from other people who may be seeped in diet culture,” says Kathleen Meehan, MS, RD, LDN, a non-diet registered dietitian in Houston. Part of healing from diet culture involves identifying it when you see it or hear other people talking about it, she says. “It can be helpful to recognize when another person is playing the role of the food police,” she says.
So, how exactly do you call out the food police, without coming across like a jerk? Well, you can always choose to change the subject or take yourself out of the conversation altogether, Meehan says. Or if you have the energy to engage, Meehan says you could try something like:
“Actually, I used to feel that way around *insert whatever food* but now I’m working on giving myself permission and it’s helped me to feel happier and healthier.”
“I’ve learned I feel my best when I eat satisfying foods without guilt.”
“I’ve noticed that restriction actually increases my cravings, so I’ve been practicing honoring cravings instead.”
“I’ve been practicing intuitive eating, and it’s helped me to be so much more comfortable in my body and around food. I’d love to share some resources if you’re interested.”
Or, if none of those phrases really capture your feelings, you could simply say, “Your comments about food are making me feel uncomfortable,” Meehan says. It’s important to keep in mind that you’re not being overly-sensitive. “Passing judgments about food choices keeps you stuck in diet culture,” she says. When you’re able to cultivate “non-judgmental awareness,” you’ll not only improve your relationship to food, but also notice your thoughts and be able to respond accordingly in uncomfortable interactions like this, she says.
All of this advice is also applicable to your internal “food police” as well. “You might challenge yourself by recognizing distorted thoughts and reframing them,” Meehan says. For example, you can practice observing your “food thoughts” neutrally, like, Wow, I am feeling really hungry, but that makes sense, because it’s been a few hours since I had lunch. Instead of, I wish I didn’t feel hungry, because I’m supposed to be on a diet. “Negative food thoughts are less likely to arise the more you practice using curious, compassionate, and neutral statements,” she says.
Ultimately, eating should be a pleasurable experience for everyone. And if you absolutely must provide commentary on food whenever you see it, you might want to binge-watch Top Chef and call it a day.