Now that the holidays are here, eating season is switching into high gear. Take this under advisement, from someone who deals with the fallout of these comments in my practice: there are some things you should just never say to people. Eating and weight are two topics that you should really leave alone, because even though you may know someone well -- or not -- people can be sensitive about these things even when you don't think they are.
Eating habits and peoples' bodies are intimate details as far as I'm concerned and shouldn't be fair game for comment from anyone. Many people keep the details of their food struggles hidden, and you never know whom you're going to offend with a casual comment. Here are the top six things you should never say to someone about his or her eating or their weight:
Do You Really Need That?
This one really pisses me off, to be perfectly blunt about it. I most often hear it said by parents to their children or by one spouse to the other. Like many offensive comments, this one likely originates from the speaker's insecurities, not the receiver's behaviour. Plus it's crass, never mind rhetorical and passive aggressive. All anyone ever NEEDS is love, food, water, shelter, and oxygen. Of course they don't NEED that second cookie, but what's it to you? Is it worth shaming someone because you've got an issue? Comments like these stick with the receiver for a long, long time, and that's never worth it. Look inside yourself and try to identify why the person's eating habits are bothering you so much, then either shut your mouth, or address your feelings in a more constructive way.
Why Don't You Eat More? Why Are You So Skinny?
The devil is in the details, and in this case, the details are how you communicate your concern to someone (assuming you're actually concerned about them when you say this and not just being an ass). Blurting out a judgmental statement about how skinny someone is is ridiculous. What are they supposed to say in response? It's also likely to put the other person on the defensive, which isn't a great way to get them to open up to you if that's what you're going for.
If you're legitimately concerned with how thin someone has become, it can literally save his or her life if you take it upon yourself to address the issue with true concern. Making wisecracks about their body, however, isn't helpful.
Instead, sit down with the person in a private place. Tell them that you're concerned about them and why, and ask them if you can help them in any way. Don't push them, and don't be judgmental. Listen to them, and let them know you're here for them. You know, like a friend should be.
Oh You're Being So Good, Eating a Salad!
I get this one all the time because I'm a dietitian. For some reason, people who have their own food issues seem to care a great deal about what's on everyone else's plate. It's really irritating eating a meal or snack when you know you're being watched, and the comment feels judgmental. I used to have someone in my family who commented on everything I ate, and it was insufferable. I dreaded being around her during meals, and believe me -- if you keep commenting about other peoples' food, no one will want to eat around you, either. Eyes on your own plate.
Come On, Just Have One...It's Your Favourite, I Made it for You!
I don't care if the most famous chef in the world made it for me, if I don't want it, don't force or pressure me into eating it. Period.
Please understand that people who are committed to eating healthfully need you to back off, and that when they refuse your food, it's not a reflection on you. It's incredibly rude to push someone to eat something that they don't want, whatever their reason may be. If you're on the receiving end of this comment, and you feel trapped, take some of the food for later and ditch it or give it away after you escape.
Look at her, She's Supposed to be on a Diet and She's Eating Cake!
Just mind your own business. Comments like these, usually in collaboration with another like-minded person who likes to gossip, are nothing but mean-spirited. What do you care if a person you know is supposed to be trying to eat healthily but chooses to eat a plate of French fries? You've never done that yourself, Miss Perfect?
No one lives his or her life flawlessly, nor would I recommend trying, especially in terms of nutrition. Perfection doesn't exist. Instead of criticizing, think of something nice to say about the person and try to remember that we're all human.
Just Don't Eat So Much And You'll Be Fine!
Hey, thanks for the tip. If it were that easy, wouldn't everyone be at their ideal weight? Food choices and eating behaviours are so complicated, and to oversimplify a person's overeating issues to the point of telling them to just stop eating so much is absurd and thoughtless. Please try to realize that comments like this aren't supportive or helpful. If the subject comes up, ask the person how you can help them succeed with their nutrition goals. It feels great to be a supportive friend, and they'd do it for you, right?
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