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Yes, I Eat Healthy. No, I’m not Trying to Prove Anything.

If you’re eating a burger and French fries and the person sitting across from you is eating salmon and a salad, it can sometimes be easy to feel like they’re judging you, like they think they’re better than you, like they’re trying to prove something.

I get it. I’ve been there. I’ve been on both sides of that table.

But the truth is, if I’m eating a pile of vegetables and you’re eating a burger and French fries, it has nothing to do with what I think of you or the way you eat. I might be eating this pile of vegetables because the burger contains some ingredient my GI system can’t tolerate. It could be that I’m not that hungry, or that I’m bloated from my IBS and want to eat something low in fat that won’t aggravate my tummy. It could mean that I’m just not craving a burger, and that a pile of vegetables sounds better at the monent. Yeah, it might mean that I’m intentionally choosing an option I think is healthier, because healthy eating is important to me. It might even mean that I’m struggling with eating disorder thoughts and can’t get up the courage to do what you’re doing right now.

But rest assured, what I choose to eat has nothing to do with you. And I’m certainly not judging you. I acknowledge that our metabolisms are different, that you have a different weight and height, a different blood type, that your day might have been very different from my own, or even that you have a different set of values than I do.

Oh, and by the way, I love a good burger with French fries, and if I’m not eating one right now, it mostly certainly doesn’t mean that I never enjoy them

What’s got me on this rant for today’s What I Ate Wednesday?

Today, when I went to lunch, they were serving German-style entries in the hot food bar: brats, schnitzel, potatoes, saukerkraut, and minestrone soup. The hot food didn’t sound so appetizing on such a hot day, and I’ve been feeling a bit burned out on all the beef and pork I’ve been eating lately, so I opted instead for items from the salad bar: lettuce, carrots, broccoli, baby tomatoes, and chicken salad, which I used to make myself a chicken salad sandwich on gluten-free bread.DSCN1487I only scanned the hot food very quickly, decided it wasn’t what I was feeling, and left the food line for my drink, when a fellow staff member (whom I’ve never met, given that there are 700 of us) called out to me, “Hey, you missed the cookies!”

“I’m gluten-intolerant!” I called back. (This is what I say to people most of the time, since it’s easier than explaining that my GI system has a hard time handling large amount of fructans, which is the carb in wheat, not gluten, the protein.)

“It’s good, it’s good,” she said. “You’re eating right.”

And here’s the thing. On the page, that comment sounds pretty innocuous. But at the time…and I might be reading way too much into this…I think I heard a hint of something in her voice, almost like she was irritated at my choice of lunch.

Of course, I have no idea what this woman was actually thinking. Whatever her intention, however, her comment got me thinking about the many times that friends or family have seen something I’m eating (often avoiding whatever they’re eating simply because of food intolerances) and have used it as a platform to express how much “better” of an eater I am than they are, and, whether they say it out loud or not, how guilty they feel about their own meal.

Because, if this woman really was irritated with my lunch tray (again, pure speculation based on her intonation), then she was irritated, not really at me, but at herself. Because she, like just about everyone else in the United States, has been taught that the way she eats is wrong.

I hear this guilt talk when I enjoy sugary treats or fried foods with friends and family. But for some reason, I especially hear it when I eat fruits and vegetables around folks, or I mention that I can’t tolerate soda (too much fructose), or I say no to piece of cake that I actually maybe really want to eat.

“I wish I had that kind of self-control,” I’ll hear. “I really should eat healthier.”

The response you’re most likely going to hear from me? “You should enjoy your cake.”

Today (Tuesday as I write), I actually chose lighter, fruit-and-veggie-rich options for all three meals.

For breakfast, for instance, I opted for my usual oatmeal with peanut butter and brown sugar with half a grapefruit on the side.

DSCN1479 (2)I tend to opt for oatmeal out of all of the breakfast selections, partly because it’s a wheat-free, lactose-free option, partly because I try to opt for higher-fiber options when they’re available (IBS), and partly because I really like oatmeal.

Why grapefruit? Not because I think it’s a miracle weight loss fruit. Because I like grapefruit, and I’ve had pineapple and/or melon most breakfasts this week. Gotta shake it up.

Grabbed a banana at about 9. Does a big bowl of oatmeal hold you all morning? Cuz it definitely doesn’t hold me. Good thing I’m pro-snack.DSCN1480After lunch, I actually didn’t eat an afternoon snack. I was pretty full, having not even quite finished my plate (rare for me).

Supper was barbecue tofu and another big salad with sunflower seeds, carrots, broccoli, pepperoncini and blue cheese dressing.DSCN1489The other options were chicken fingers (wheat), baked beans (never liked ’em), vegetable soup (sounded too hot), and pork chops (still just a little burned out on the beef and pork). Also, the tofu here is consistently quite good.

So again, I chose a more traditionally “healthy” meal. But I wasn’t trying to prove anything. I wasn’t judging the dudes at my table who only ate chicken fingers and barbecue sauce, or my Russian friend, who likes to take six pieces of chocolate cake when it’s available. If I could eat 6 pieces of chocolate cake without IBS symptoms or anxiety, I would be over the moon!

Speaking of which…I’m getting hungry. I think I’ll finish off the night with a gluten-free brownie and some soy milk on the side.DSCN1513Yep. Definitely a good choice.

If someone is judging you for what you eat (which, of course, is possible), that’s their problem. They’re the one struggling with unhealthy body image, anxiety, a need for control…perhaps even an eating disorder. Trust me. I’ve been on that side of the table too. And trust me, I really regret it.

On a completely unrelated note: the longer I stay here in the mountains, the more I fall in love with these little guys:DSCN1509 Marmots. (Oops. Revision as of 6/23: they’re actually ground squirrels.) They’re so cute when they stick their heads out of their little dens.

What kinds of comments do you get about your eats? Complimentary? Aggressive? Downright mean? How did you respond?

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17 comments

  1. Emily says:

    I do agree that is is a struggle, and I think I’m reminded that so many have been affected by advertising and false views of what is healthy and why everybody has to eat one way to be healthy. Keep eating the way God made you Joyce! Eating gluten free brownies is TOTALLY wonderful, and salad bars are delicious!

  2. Diane Wahto says:

    Love the picture of the marmot. As for other people judging you, one of my Tuesday lunch friends thinks it’s her job to tell us what we should or should not be eating. I’ve learned to tune her out. Sometimes I have a problem at Tuesday lunch because I’m the only one trying to eat sensibly. A couple of the women say they’re too old to worry about losing weight or staying healthy. I don’t think a person ever gets too old for that. I also don’t think it’s anyone else’s business what you eat or don’t eat. People should pay attention to what’s on their own plates.

    1. Joyce says:

      I agree. I think you really ought not comment on someone else’s plate unless you’re a doctor–just like you shouldn’t comment on someone’s weight unless you’re a doctor. It’s each person’s own business.

  3. For my internship/job out of college I worked in an office of all women in their 30’s or 40’s and they would all get very rude about what I was eating and it drove me insane. They would try to push treats or eating out all the time on me (half the time I just couldn’t justify the cost more than anything) and get annoyed when I politely declined. And then when I would eat something, they would poke fun at me. It was pretty miserable.

    1. Joyce says:

      That’s so unfair, Morgan. I’m so sorry to hear that. What you choose to eat is your own business.

  4. Quill says:

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Between this blog, discussions of anorexia and dietary restrictions, and talking with the student athletes I tutor, many of which are on special diets, I’ve really come to appreciate my ability to eat whatever I want. I admit that I probably eat more carbs, ice cream, and “cookie cake” than might be best for me – but that’s what my body asks for, so it might be right. My mom often remarks on what I eat, suggesting that I should eat less, but I always ignore her – I may not have the best physique, but I’m healthy and happy. I’d rather be healthy, happy, and carefree than have the “ideal” body. Sure I wouldn’t mind looking better, but I don’t really care that much, certainly not enough to really put any effort into it – and I think that’s the way it should be.

    1. Joyce says:

      Hey, Quill. Good to hear from you. I think it’s insightful to be thankful that you don’t have to worry about special dietary restrictions. There is no “ideal” body–it varies enormously from culture to culture, and even if there were one, nobody can be “perfect.” I agree with you that it’s healthiest to be comfortable in our bodies the way they are.

  5. Cora says:

    Ah the consistent struggle. Basically I just think / wish ALL comments about people’s food choices were just kept silent. Even when they are completely innocent, there is so much turbulence around food these days that you just have no idea how a comment could affect someone. Especially though coming from a history of disordered eating, I can only imagine that choosing the “healthier” option can raise eyebrows to some – which is not fair – because as you said, we never know what someone’s day was like and who knows, maybe you had your big burger and fries just the night previous. So you are allowed to have anything you want and the reasoning is only of your concern. Glad you stuck to your guns and had exactly what you wanted on this day girl. It all looks delicious, healthy and nutritious.

    1. Joyce says:

      You’re right. I’ve become much more aware about how many people deal with disordered eating and could have a negative reaction to things I say. It’s complicated, sometimes; you know from the thoughts I’ve shared on this blog that I struggle with those unhealthy, calorie-obsessed thoughts. But I also try to eat healthfully for the “right” reasons to, while still allowing myself treats. I think it’s true what they say about intuitive eating–I’ve found that, if I truly intuitive eat, I crave all kinds of different things, including (yes!) fruits and vegetables.

  6. Ellie says:

    I feel lucky, my coworkers just eat what they want and no one really cares. I mean, if someone is making an epic sandwich, we’re all like “YO THAT LOOKS GREAT!” but it’s not side-eyed or malicious. I know how that feels though because when I went vegan in college, because I wasn’t eating meat, people would just assume it was “to be healthy” and I didn’t care enough to educate them about the killing animals part.

    1. Joyce says:

      I’m glad to hear you have coworkers who are polite and respectful, Ellie. (Epic sandwiches are totally worthy of comment–“That looks delicious!” is a totally legitimate thought to share, in my book!)

  7. First, those mammots are TOO CUTE. I want to be where they are!!

    Second, I love love love this post because I just dealt with it the other day. I think as someone who has struggled with anorexia, I feel pressure sometimes to NOT choose the “healthy” option if that makes sense. If I’m out with friends or family and I actually want a salad, I feel guilty ordering because I worry what comments will be made or if they will judge the ex-anorexic girl for getting salad, etc.

    It’s tough because food shaming/judgment can go both ways and some days it feels like damned if you do, damned if you don’t! Like Cora said, we should just keep our mouths shut when it comes to what other people are eating. Eyes on your own plate!

    1. Joyce says:

      Amanda: I totally hear what you’re saying about feeling pressure to not choose the “healthy” option because it can feel like if we do, we’re relapsing. I think it’s important to be really careful about examining our motives–and yes, keep our eyes on our own plate.

  8. This is so awesome–thanks for sharing this! I work in an office where people often push certain foods on me and make me feel bad when i dont want it. I cant eat gluten so my choices are often limited. I could really relate to this!

    Yesterday I ate 345357 servings of chocolate, today i ate mostly greens!

    I’m going to share this post in my next link roundup for sure!

    1. Joyce says:

      Thanks so much for the support, Heather! 345357 servings of chocolate sounds like a really awesome day, and I can totally see why you’d want to eat greens the next day.

  9. Chelsea says:

    I totally understand this! I happen to love my ‘healthier’ food and I also struggle with IBS. People may judge but really if my food makes me happy and keeps my stomach happier then I don’t care what others think I will eat my food!

    oh with the oats, whip egg whites into them! If makes them super fluffy and adds protein. the reason your oatmeal doesn’t hold you over long is because you breaky doesn’t have hardly any protein 🙂

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