What is Food Policing?
Posted on February 02 2021
...and why it needs to stop!
Food policing is behaviour that labels food and eating as either good or bad, and gives food varying (and arbitrary) levels of moral value, often in the name of “health.” These labels could come from the internal messages in your head to outward comments from friends, family, colleagues or even total strangers.
These labels could include comments or “food rules” such as:
- "I am being so good or so bad for eating a certain food."
- Commenting on what’s on someone else’s plate...like “Oh you’re being so good/healthy today!” or “Oh you’re being so naughty!”
- Someone commenting that you’ve eaten a lot (or not a lot) at a meal, commenting on the size of your portions, etc.
- You should eat more of X food and less of Y food.
- You shouldn’t or do not need to eat a certain food.
- Commenting that you (or another person) will have to work off what was eaten, or that you had to “save up” in order to “indulge” at that meal.
- Allowing yourself to eat certain foods only if you have “earned” them, or feelings of guilt or shame if you’ve eaten a “forbidden food.”
- Eating only within certain timeframes, even if you are hungry.
These comments 100% come from Diet Culture and are 100% fatphobic.
They also are not helpful and can ultimately lead to more harmful eating behaviours, because they damage the intuitive relationship between you and your body and make it more difficult for you to honour your unique hunger and fullness cues.
Caveat: I am not a medical professional, dietitian, nutritionist or psychologist. I am offering my thoughts based on my own lived experience of living in Diet Culture for 40 years, struggling with eating disorder behaviours for 20 of those years, going through outpatient counselling, and educating myself through reading and listening.
I first started getting policed about my food choices in my first year of university. I was 17 turning 18 and not coping well with the change. I did not know what I wanted to do with my future career, and I was anxious about being in a new social setting and not having any of my friends at school with me. I turned to food as a coping mechanism for comfort (see my January 1st post - this is completely OK and normal behaviour!)
I would get comments like, “You shouldn’t be eating that.” Or my personal favourite, “You need THAT like a hole in the head” (insert sarcasm and eye rolls here).
I’m sure that these comments came from a place of love and concern, but they also fell on deaf ears as this wasn’t the right way to help me at the time. This eventually led to more harmful behaviours, like consuming food out of spite to prove that I DID "need the food like a hole in the head,” bingeing in secret and eating in my car so I could “destroy the evidence” before anyone could find out. Over 20 years later, I am still hesitant to eat fast food in front of other people for fear of judgement and food policing.
This behaviour continued in not one, but two romantic relationships, when I would be shamed by my partners for certain food choices, told I couldn’t bring certain foods into the house or that I had to eat a smaller portion because, “Girls shouldn’t eat that much.” This again led me down the path of Secret Food Behaviours, even going so far as playing hooky from work so I could have the house to myself and eat some fries in peace. And I love me some fries!
You have the right to connect with your body at a meal, to eat and nourish your body in whatever way feels best for YOU. You have the right to decide what and how much you are going to eat at a meal. You have the right to do these things without shame, guilt, restriction, anxiety or comments from anyone else about what you are (or are not) putting in YOUR body.
If Brene Brown has taught us anything, it's that guilt and shame are far more damaging to our overall health (and our health includes not only our physical health, but our mental and emotional well-being) than eating some fries. Now that I have the space from these toxic relationships and have worked on rebuilding my intuitive relationship with my body, I've re-learned those hunger and fullness cues. I'm able to decide for myself what I do and do not like to eat, or how much I want to eat to feel satisfied. Some days it's more, some days it's less. Some days I feel totally in tune with my body, others I don't. That's OK - Diet Culture teaches us that we have to be "perfect" with our food and diet in order to be a "good person," but perfection is not the goal here. Working from home through the COVID-19 pandemic has also helped, because I don't have the Food Police showing up at work, commenting about my lunch or asking why I needed to bring a snack to a meeting.
If you are someone who is reading this and has made these comments, whether about yourself or thinking you are helping someone else, however well-intentioned you might think you are, please stop. These comments are not helpful, and ultimately do more harm than good.
We need to stop attaching a moral value to food. A person is not “good” for eating a salad or “bad” if they eat a burger.
We were all raised in Diet Culture and these comments are considered “normal” in that culture. Often, they’re passed down from generation to generation. You hear them…well probably everywhere…so it’s natural to repeat them to future generations. These harmful messages will continue to be repeated if we allow the vicious cycle of Diet Culture to continue. But it CAN stop with us if we focus on our own plates, and less on others’.
Here are some helpful resources to help you fight the Food Police:
- What to do when someone is policing your eating
- The problems with food policing
- How to get rid of the food police
Wishing you nothing but the best!
The Curvy Shop