How To Deal With The Thanksgiving Food Police

Is there anything more fun than being under surveillance by the Friends and Family Food Police at the holidays? There are only a couple of things that I can think of –- root canal, shaving my head with a cheese grater, a fish hook in my eye…

This happens to almost all of my fat friends, but to be clear it happens to thin people too –- food judgment and shaming happens to people of all sizes.

I think that we need to remember that fat hate and body shaming is modeled for people all over our culture; fear of being fat is a driver of a lot of behaviors. Regardless, I believe that we can choose to teach people how to treat us. I understand that this can be difficult with family. For me, personally, the bar doesn't change. I have a way that I insist upon being treated. If you can't live up to that then you just don't get to be in my life and it doesn't matter if you're the mailman or my father. I give people clear information, and several chances, but I don't keep anybody in my life who consistently fails to treat me with the level of respect that I require. That's how I do it but it's not for everybody so what I suggest is deciding what your boundaries are, and what the consequences for breaking those boundaries are.

First, I always suggest that you be prepared for boundary setting when you go into this type of situation. Think about what your boundaries are, and what consequences you are willing to enforce. So I wouldn't suggest saying "If I get one more word of body shaming I'm never speaking to you again!" unless you plan on following through with that. Otherwise you just teach people that you are someone who doles out idle threats while taking their bullying and bad behavior. So think about what you would be willing to do –- Leave the event? Stay at a hotel? Cease conversation until the person can treat you appropriately? Be sure that you know what you want and that you follow through.

As an example, I'll use that age old shaming question "Do you need to eat that?"

This is such a loaded question. What do you mean by "need"? Are you asking if my glycogen stores are depleted? If I am near starvation? If my body at this moment requires the precise nutrients that are delivered by cornbread stuffing covered in gravy? Or do you feel that fostering a relationship with food that is based on guilt and shame is in my best interest?

This question is custom-made to make someone feel ashamed. I think it's asked for one of about three reasons:

Judgment

The person asking the question has decided that it is their job to pass judgment on your activities. Being too cowardly to directly state their opinion, they use this question as a mode of passive aggression to "make you admit it to yourself". This is one of those situations where they would probably claim to be mistreating you for your own good, also known around this blog as "Pulling a Jillian".

If the person asking this question truly cared about you and your health (however misguided they might be), they would talk to you about it in person, alone, at an appropriate time, and they would ask a question that invited dialog, not try to embarrass you in front of people while you're eating what is supposed to be a celebratory meal. That right there is some bullshit.

Power/Superiority

Remember that some people never got past Junior High and nothing makes them feel so powerful as judging someone else and then making them feel like crap. Maybe because they are drowning in…

Insecurity

The person asking the question perhaps struggles with their weight, their guilt about eating etc. and since they feel guilty for enjoying the food, they think that you should feel guilty about it too, or they want to deflect attention from their behavior to yours.

The degree of difficulty on discerning someone's intent in this sort of thing can range from "no duh" to "who the hell knows". Here's the thing though, from my perspective it doesn't matter why they are asking it: I am not ok with being asked, and I get to choose how I am treated (as least when it's done to my face).

So you're at a holiday meal, you take seconds on mashed potatoes and someone asks the dreaded question: "Do you need to eat that?" It seems like the table falls silent, waiting for your reply. What do you say?

First, quell your rage and resist the urge to put them down (Yes, I do need these mashed potatoes. Did you need to marry that jerk?)

Second, as with so many situations where people lash out at you, remember that this is about their issues and has nothing to do with you. If emotions well up, consider that you may be feeling embarrassed and/or sorry for them, and not ashamed of your own actions.

Now find your happy (or at least your non-homicidal) place, and try one of these:

Quick and Simple (said with finality)

  • Yes (and then eat it)
  • No (and then eat it)

Answer with a Question

I find it really effective to ask these without malice, with a tone of pure curiosity. If you're not in the mood to have a dialog about this, skip these.

  • Why do you think that's your business?
  • What made you think that I want you to police my food intake?
  • I thought that you were an accountant, are you also a dietitian?

Pointed Response (be ready with a consequence if the behavior continues)

  • I find that inappropriate and offensive, please don't comment on my food choices
  • What I eat is none of your business, and your commenting on it is unacceptable to me
  • I have absolutely no interest in discussing my food intake with you

Cathartic (but probably not that useful if you want to create an opportunity for honest dialog)

  • Yes, because dealing with your rudeness is depleting my glycogen stores at an alarming rate
  • If I want to talk to the food police, I'll call 911
  • Thanks for trying to give me your insecurities, but I was really hoping to get a Wii this year
  • No, but using my fork to eat helps to keep me from stabbing you with it

Guilt is not good for your health. So I hope that whatever you choose to eat this Thanksgiving, you also choose to enjoy it.

This post originally appeared at Dances With Fat. Republished with permission.

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