10 things you need to know before you speak
To all fellow diners, waitstaff, servers, restaurant employees and patrons, school educators, friends, family, and frankly, everyone, everywhere…
Today is January 3rd, the beginning of a new year. Resolutions and advertisements including weight loss, diets, wellness campaigns, lose holiday pounds, gym memberships, “new year, new you” plague conversations, media, our personal lives, and meals. Almost every message is one of restriction…weight, intake, food variety, portions, in order to attain society’s unrealistic standard of beauty that we are taught is defined by the scale. Today is the day to start changing the conversation.
You don’t know me. I could be anyone – a nine-year-old little boy, an 84-year-old woman, a young or old athletic person, a pregnant lady, a professional football player, a healthcare provider, a person in midlife, or a 16-year-old adolescent. I may appear to be sick or look fit and healthy. I could appear to be overweight or underweight.
These are the things you need to know before you speak…
1. Don’t comment on the caloric content of my meal unless I ask you. In a society that is obsessed with diet and weight loss you assume that I want to know how many calories are in my food choice. Whether my meal is loaded with what you consider excessive calories, or whether it’s considered a “healthy” choice, it is my choice. You don’t know my health requirements or needs. You don’t know whether I have cystic fibrosis and am struggling to meet my daily caloric requirement (it may take 5,000 calories per day just to maintain my weight). You don’t know if I am a 12-year-old or a 50-year-old experiencing anorexia, struggling to nourish my body, while at the same time questioning the amount of calories I’m trying to feed myself. Your comment on the excessive calories in the meal I just chose may influence me not to eat, not meet my nutritional needs, not to nourish my body.
2. Don’t comment on whether you consider my meal choice to be “healthy” or “sinful”. It is my choice. I know the nutritional requirements and needs of my own body. It is something that cannot be seen and should not be judged by you.
3. Don’t comment on the portion size of my meal choice. I may be undergoing chemo therapy and struggling to restore weight that has been lost as a result of the cancer and chemo. Whether or not the portion size is appropriate for my body is for me to determine, not you.
4. When you serve my meal, don’t offer to bring a “to-go” container before I’ve even taken my first bite because you feel I should not eat all that food. That judgment may impair me from adequately nourishing my body. I may suffer from anorexia and you just stole the permission I had to nourish my body by making a judgment that I should not eat my entire meal. Your words could cause me to question my food intake and could be a catalyst for food restriction.
5. Don’t choose whether or not to offer me dessert based upon my size. It is not your decision whether or not I should be eating dessert. You cannot tell by looking at me whether or not I suffer with cystic fibrosis, anorexia, bulimia, diabetes, cancer, etc. You cannot tell by size alone what someone’s nutritional requirements are. Don’t judge my nutritional needs by what I look like. Remember there is “Health at Every Size”.
6. Do not comment on the fat content of my meal selection unless I ask you. I may have recently undergone brain surgery and may need additional fat to heal, because 60% of the healthy brain consists of fats. I may be pregnant and require high fat for brain development during the fetal period. I may be struggling with an eating disorder and need to restore fat content in my body in order to heal my vital organs as well as my brain; by commenting you are imparting your judgment on me, which could have a detrimental effect and stop me from eating the fats I desperately need. Or I could possibly be suffering memory loss and need additional fat to heal.
7. Don’t comment that I should be eating more vegetables or choosing a salad that is a healthier option. I could possibly be anti-coagulated with warfarin, which means that my vitamin K intake must be closely monitored. My consuming additional vegetables or greens may cause my blood to clot, which may result in me having a massive stroke or even die. Your comment could influence me to eat an excessive portion of greens, which could severely compromise my health.
8. Don’t advise or instruct me as to what my diet should be. Your nutritional requirements and ethics may be different than mine. Don’t impose your body’s needs or your choices on me. You might be my teacher, parent or friend, but you telling me to eat only fruits and vegetables, no fat, may severely harm me; I may be genetically predisposed to an eating disorder. Your instruction may cause me to lose weight, take away my permission to nourish, which could be the catalyst for any eating disorder to begin in my mind and body. I know you would not want that to happen. So instead, teach me about balance. Teach me that “all foods fit” and are good in moderation. Don’t impose your beliefs on me. Your words could damage my relationship with food for the rest of my life.
9. Don’t tell me that some foods are “good” and some foods are “bad”. Foods do not have moral value. You may be my teacher, parent or friend, but your instruction may make me afraid to eat birthday cake, cookies, ice cream, or other foods I used to love. You telling me not to eat fat may cause my brain to atrophy and may cause me to have memory problems. Having fat in my diet can actually make me smarter. My body needs 30% fat for normal function and for my brain to function. Your prescription of only “good”, “healthy”, “real” food might not meet my body’s nutritional needs. You see, I respect you. I look up to you as my teacher or my parent. Imposing your beliefs, your food rules, and your nutritional needs may compromise my health and mental state. I am not “good” for eating a salad, or “bad” for ordering dessert. I understand that your intentions are pure. Instead, please teach me that all foods fill a need –sometimes nurturing, sometimes comforting, sometimes celebratory, and always nourishing.
10. Don’t comment on my weight or tell me I shouldn’t eat something because it will affect my weight. Your well-intentioned comments about my weight could have long-term negative consequences on my health. Whether positive or negative, they could cause me to view my body with different eyes. I may be a 10-year-old, and it is very possible that your comment will affect me for the rest of my life. It may result in me having more body dissatisfaction. It may be the trigger that causes me to struggle with disordered eating, even if I am of normal weight. You may be my parent, have the very best intentions, and just expressing concern, but your comment may backfire and contribute even more to my struggles, my body dissatisfaction and my body image. It may cause me to question every bite I take for the rest of my life. Please don’t saddle me with this burden.
When did it become acceptable in our society for anyone to comment on someone else’s meal choice and nutritional needs? Who granted you the liberty to impose your food rules, restrictions, and beliefs on me? Unless you know my personal history and my nutritional needs, it’s none of your business. You need to think before you make unsolicited comments. You cannot determine my nutritional requirements just by looking at me. You do not know my struggles or invisible illnesses. Just because you choose to be vegan, vegetarian, eat “clean”, eat only “real” food, consume a no fat diet, does not mean you have the right to judge me based upon my food choices and caloric intake.
Please do not look at me and think, “You should not be eating that, it has too many calories and you’re fat.” Because even though you may not be saying it, I can read it on your face.
… and frankly, it’s none of your business.
Instead, today, I challenge you to change the conversation. Society has defined the food parameters by which we measure others and ourselves. By creating conversation and awareness we have the opportunity to know better. To do better. Let us stop judging people by the food they to eat. Let us not define people’s health or nutritional needs by their body size or shape.
Let us remember that “food is fuel” to our bodies and every BODY is individual and unique with different needs.
I challenge you to start the conversation NOW by sharing this blog.
Written by Cherie’ Monarch, a mom with a passionate heart.
If you are caring for a loved one with an eating disorder, please reach out for peer support on Facebook – Eating Disorder Family Support Network Mom2Mom, Eating Disorder Family Support Network Man2Man. Professionals please join us at Eating Disorder Family Support Network Professionals.
If you have been affected by an eating disorder or disordered eating and would like further information or help, please Contact Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness for support at (866) 662.1235 toll free or firstname.lastname@example.org.