We’ve all done it to some degree.
We’ve piled on our groceries at the store, sneakily eying what the person in front of us is buying. Lettuce and a bunch of vegetables? Must be trying to watch his weight. Ice cream and a candy bar? She’d be better off not eating that.
And it goes the other way too. We try to hide that bag of M&Ms under the bananas and kale, or we wonder if the guy behind us thinks we should put that doughy bagel back on the shelf.
It’s nearly unavoidable, especially with social media. Try scrolling through Instagram without seeing a picture of someone’s dinner or cups of froyo tagged with “Eating sooo bad tonight” or “Just had to cave to the temptations” or “Eating back all the calories.” When did food become a sin?
More than ever, people feel entitled to comment on others’ bodies. We’re under constant judgment in-person and online. And it’s not simply a matter for overweight people. What we say to each other about our appearance or food choices affects everyone, regardless of body size.
Comments like “Better watch what you’re eating!” lead to objectification, which in turn contributes to eating disorders. As psychology researchers Christine Peat and Jennifer Muehlenkamp state, women in particular “are encouraged to take an outsider’s perspective on their own bodies.” When we allow what others’ think to control our own actions, that’s when we lose touch with ourselves. Their study even found participants suppressing hunger cues and gaining a heightened sense of social anxiety.
Food-shaming takes away the element that most eating disorders center on: control. Since we can’t control public comments, we feel vulnerability and shame.
And we tend to consider food either “good” or “bad.” We think about what we “should” do or “should” eat, rather than what we truly want to do. If we continue to internalize others’ comments, soon they become our own.
So, how do we stop food comparison and food-shaming? It really comes down to each individual. We must learn to consider our bodies our own business. Make your body a dictatorship, not a democracy.
Consider others’ comments a reflection of themselves, not you. You are in command of what you do, no matter what. Even if we get into a cycle of negative thoughts, they are changeable. Mindfulness can help reconnect us with our emotions and bodies, gaining self-confidence and getting rid of objectifying thoughts.
And we need to disassociate morals from eating. Food—whether an apple or a brownie—is nourishment. That’s all. It shouldn’t contribute to guilt or public shame.
So, yes, feel free to post those pictures of a healthy dinner or that decadent cupcake. But see them for what they are: food. Think of them as outfits. Each person wears different clothes, but that’s what suits their preferences.
And just as you don’t want others to remark on your food, recognize when you judge others too and try to stop those thoughts. By using our words to lift each other up, we can all gain a little self-confidence.
Our bodies are beautiful. Food is a gift.
Those are two things we should never feel guilty about.
Fuel for Thought: How do you see food-shaming? Is it a problem? What ways or when do you feel guilty about what you eat? What kinds of thoughts do you have when you see others’ food choices?