The Courteous Healthy Eater

Foods I love to eat.
Foods I love to eat.

People who make an effort to eat in a way that supports their health have a bad reputation.  It seems that many times, the healthy eater is also the judgmental eater.  Let us band together, fellow healthy eaters, and change this stigma by killing it with kindness.

If you aren’t sure if you have the right to talk to someone about his/her food choices, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Is this person my child?
  2. Am I this person’s doctor?
  3. Did she ask me?

Unless you answered yes to one of these questions, you do not have the right to talk to this person about his/her food choices.

The following suggestions are for everyone who eats food, regardless of your personal choices:

  • Don’t Comment on Other People’s Plates: When you see someone eating something you think looks unappetizing or that you would not eat yourself for whatever reason, you do not have to tell the person who is eating that what is wrong with her food.  In fact, you may consider that this person could very well have eating choices of her own that impact her health, mental or physical.  You may even imagine that this person is very sensitive about eating or suffers from an eating disorder if it helps you mind your own business.
  • Let Other People Make Their Own Decisions: Let other people decide what they are going to eat.  If you think the diet they are following is stupid or unnecessary, that’s okay.  Don’t follow it.  But let each person have the autonomy over her own life to decide for herself if and when she wants to make a change.
  • Don’t Assume Everyone Hast the Same Goal.  Do not tell a heavy person that if she stopped eating X she would lose weight.  Conversely, do not tell a thin person that she needs to eat a cheeseburger.  That is not your stomach or your body, you do not get to decide and your opinion is insulting unless it is requested.
  • Be Polite Online: When you see a picture of a food you don’t eat, you do not need to comment about what’s wrong with it.  You can continue to not eat that food, but really, the world does not need to know about it.
  • You Don’t Need to Broadcast Your Food Choices.  Many people are surprised to find out I am vegetarian because I don’t make a big deal out of it.  When I go out to eat with other people, I order the vegetarian option without ever mentioning it to the other people at the table.  If I am offered an appetizer that contains meat I simply say “no thank you.”  If I am offered a soda, again “no thank you.”  If I have a question about the menu or a modification, I make it to the server and I am polite and gracious.
  • “No Thank You” is the End of the Conversation: Conversely, when you offer someone food and they refuse with a “no thank you”, your job is done.  For whatever reason, that person does not want to eat the food at that time.  You really do not need to know why.
  • Stop Talking About Your Diet Constantly: If you follow a particular type of diet, let’s say you follow the Low Radish Diet, unless someone asks you about it, you probably don’t need to tell them.  The world is awash in dietary advice and most people are just sick of it.  Conversely, if you think Low Radish Diets are really stupid, you should probably stay away from Low Radish Diet communities.  Let people make their own choices.  If they choose not to eat Radishes, that’s their business.  Even if you believe there’s something inherently harmful in eliminating radishes from your diet, it’s really not worthwhile to go to the Low Radish community and start attacking people.  This is completely ineffective.  You cannot deny people the opportunity to make their own mistakes and discoveries.
  • Your Diet is Your Job, Nobody Else’s: If you are allergic to a food, then it is very important for you to avoid that food.  Asking to know what is in a dish is perfectly acceptable.  If you are concerned about  being able to choose a restaurant that will cater to you, always be willing to research and make suggestions.  When I go to visit someone, I check out Yelp for good vegetarian restaurant options I can suggest.  You can even call the restaurant and ask them if they can make substitutions for your restricted diet.  However, this is your job, not anyone else’s.  In any case, it is quite simple to be civil and non-accusatory when asking questions.

Eating is a very personal activity.  Only you know what you need and how you feel when you eat certain things.  Never assume that what you feel yourself is what everyone feels.  Think about it, do you really want anyone telling you that the food you’re eating is gross or deadly while you’re eating it?  Of course not.  You want to enjoy your meal in peace.

There’s nothing wrong with sharing things that improve our health and make us feel good.  But let’s start doing it from an angle of leadership instead of reactionary fear.  This is my thought process when I share my food photos:

I want to show people how beautiful, appetizing, and appealing food can be when it didn’t come out of a box, can, or drive thru window.  I don’t want them to hear “what you are eating is bad and wrong”.  I want to say “what I am eating is delicious, I really enjoy it, and look, isn’t it beautiful? It’s also pretty easy, really!  You can cook it will just take a little practice.”

Because I do believe in these things and think they could really help a lot of people, I want to promote what I love.  I do this from the perspective of my own choice, rather than tearing down others choices.  People are far more likely to be open minded when you are kind than when you are judgmental.

Eating should not be a source of constant stress.   If you find yourself worried or angry about what strangers around you are eating, it may be time to examine your own relationship with food.

If you want people to accept your choices, then you have to be accepting of the choices of others as well.

43 thoughts on “The Courteous Healthy Eater

  1. Amazing post! This is exactly why I don’t tell people I’m a dietitian when I go out to dinner with a group of new people – I’m not judging what they’re eating, and I don’t want them to think I am. I love that you search for restaurants that are vegetarian and take the initiative to call a restaurant if you need to. Fantastic ideas.

    1. Lauren I am also a Dietitian but I proudly let people know (after all I worked just as hard as the architect, teacher and musician to find and do something I love) and then I demonstrate what a good dietitian does: offer information if requested. RDs have a bad rap and need to work to reintroduce themselves to the dinner table.

  2. Great post. Also, being open to others food choices, such as vegetarian has brought me to find some wonderful food and delicious cuisines. Had a close friend not been vegan I probably never would have tried making Ethiopian food and my family would have never embraced the lentil! And sadly I have been guilty of many of the things you mentioned but am getting way better about keeping my eyes on my own plate!

  3. I’m a healthy eater. I never comment on anyone else’s food. I really don’t care one way or another what others do with their bodies. But others always seem to want to comment on my life’s choices.

    “Are you on a diet?” (No.) “Why don’t you eat meat?” (Many reasons, most of which aren’t pleasant dining discussion.) “I know I couldn’t live depriving myself like you!” (I don’t feel deprived. I’m happy eating the way I do.) “You know you REALLY want to have ___. Just have some! You only live once!” (I know what I do and do not want, and I know I only live once, which is why I watch what I eat.). And this: “Do you want any?” “No, thanks.” “Are you sure?” “Yes, but thank you.” “Come on, just a bite…” “Really, no.” It goes on and on.

    Everyone needs to just butt out of everyone else’s business.

    1. I can really appreciate where you are coming from. It’s the people who eat unhealthy who make a lot of the remarks. People tell me all the time how lucky I am to be slim. I am slim from running for an hour, 4-5 days per week. I am slim because I like the way slim feels more than I like more food than my body requires. There is no luck involved. It’s gets old, having to defend your healthy habits. Then, if you answer one of their questions truthfully, like you did in brackets, it ends up being taken as preaching.
      I never comment when someone says they don’t like a particular food. Why, because I hate onions and people constantly say ridiculous things to me like, there’s only a few in it, they are cut up really small, you won’t even taste them, or just pick them out!
      Eat whatever you like and allow others to do the same, without comment.

      1. OMG! I hate onions too and I’m constantly having to explain and get the same comments you do. “There’s hardly any in there, you’ll never be able to tell” Actually I can smell them before I taste them. My sister tells me to grow up! 😦

  4. Very well said! I really love this page and love your attitude. What I eat is a way of life, and not a “diet” for a little while until I return to my old way of eating.

    I read a lot of recipes of all sorts and I *mentally* make my substitutions while reading them, and don’t comment or complain. Also I agree with Jess, there are a couple of people who are insistent about trying something. Here is what I will say in the future: Yes, I am sure! No means no, and I don’t owe you an explanation. (Well, I’ll have to soften that one a little!) Also, I now have braces, so that has turned into a convenient, excuse, but it won’t be long lasting!

  5. Really good, Kate! I decided I would not tell my current employment how I eat, however they did notice. I still try to not make a big deal out of it. Thanks!

  6. Thanks so much for this, Kate! I’m reminded of a long-ago story of a woman who had been on a very restrictive diet for many months. She’d worked hard, stuck to it, and lost several pounds. Her husband was very proud of her progress and often commented on how “good” she looked now that she was eating only healthy foods.

    One day, a very long, hard day, she came home exhausted, feeling like a cold was coming on, really miserable, and craving a chocolate bar – a treat that she had strictly denied herself for months. Her hubby came through the door just in time to watch her rip open the chocolate and start munching. He was horrified, and barked out at her: “Honey! How could you DO this? You were doing so well on your diet!!”

    Her response: “You don’t know how many I WANTED!”

    1. Amen. I’ve recently lost 80 pounds, but I still have a ways to go to be at my ideal weight. It’s so annoying to stop at the convenience store for a cookie or something, and get a dirty look from the cashier when they ring me up, as though they know anything about me. Yup. I’m still fat. I’ve been even bigger. But sometimes a girl just needs a friggin cookie, not judgement from a convenience store cashier.

  7. Love this post! Great message that we should all follow…

    Just as a point of observation, I think it’s interesting (and true) when you say that “eating is a very personal activity.” I find this interesting because I think this has been a major shift for society just in the past few decades. Eating used to be very much a community/family activity. You ate what mom/grandmom put on the table, or (going back even further) what the community prepared (centralized food supply from community ovens, etc) because it was the only option available. Only recently have we as humans had so many choices and so much freedom to decide what we want to eat (and what not to eat). Sad that, with this individualization and freedom of choice, we have 1) overwhelmingly made poor/unhealthy choices and 2) attack one another’s choices so frequently.

    1. So true Xani. There are so many choices these days, in all facets of our lives. Eating simply and healthily eliminates a lot of options, which simplifies our lives. There’s grocery aisles I don’t even have to go down any more 🙂

  8. Fantastic post. I think your 3 questions can and should be applied to most situations in life when a person wants to share an opinion.

  9. Fantastic write-up lady. I feel that, based on your dietary etiquette, you’d be quite welcome over to my house for dinner and boardgames and othersuch shenanigans. I’ve always said that I appreciate the discipline it takes to be vegan, but I’d appreciate it a bit more if my vegan friends weren’t so adamant that I join the club.

  10. Great post. I think how positive or negative you are on any given subject is much more influential than the point you are trying to get across. Positive attitudes and kindness invite people in.

    1. I totally agree that parents need to be careful how they speak to their children about food and weight. But I also think it is a parent’s job to teach children about eating for nutrition, health, and to support an active long life. Not from a position of judgment, but from a position of teaching and encouraging healthy choices 🙂

  11. So well said! I often share posts online about GMOs and Gluten free diet info, but I simply post them to inform others who may be interested, much like when I post jokes, I do so with the hope they make someone laugh, while others may be offended. You can never please everyone.

  12. Oh boy did the world need an article like this one!! I would add “Do unto others as you would want done to you” .. I hate it when people try talk me OUT of my healthy eating habits and so I refrain from forcing my ideas on others.. every living being is fighting their own personal battle at any given time.. so just be kind.

  13. I hate it when people make comments about what I eat full stop. Be it a massive greasy burger or a big fat salad. My body, my diet, my business. If I want ‘advice’ I will ask for it!

  14. “Stop talking about your diet constantly” oh my dear Lord! you are so right! I’m so sick of people who think they are the guru master of dieting. ugh. Great post! 🙂

  15. Lots of people have this black and white thinking and believe that there is a right and wrong way of eating. Since their way of eating or dieting is the “right” way then they have to go to war with others who have different preferences and opinions.

  16. Great point on how you should never tell a fat person they would lose weight with X, and a skinny person should eat a cheeseburger. I have found that a lot of people try and “fix someone”, when they should really just focus on themselves, and then showcasing yourself as success. I have found more people look to me then, when I’m setting the example.

    Great post! Thanks so much for sharing.


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