If you’ve ever had anyone walk in to your cubicle as you were inhaling a Quarter Pounder with Cheese and say, “I didn’t know anyone ate fast food anymore,” congrats: You’ve been food shamed. You should know you’re in excellent company, as it’s happened to Health staffers at previous jobs (see No. 2 and No. 4), Olympic athletes, even celebs like Heidi Klum and Demi Lovato.
“Once foods are called ‘good’ and ‘bad,’ then the people who are doing the eating are judged good and bad as well,” Pamela Peeke, MD, author of The Hunger Fix, told Health. But don’t let food bullies get under your skin: People who are made to feel embarrassed about their guilty pleasures are less likely to make future healthy choices, according to a 2015 study in the journal Appetite. Instead, fight back with this field guide to the biggest Judgy Jennies out there and how to hang on to your dignity and your more-evolved-than-theirs approach to healthy eating.
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The passive-aggressive metabolism praiser
“You’re so lucky you can eat ALL that.”
On the surface, this person is praising your superhuman metabolism and digestive tract, so why do their words make you feel all queasy inside? Because she is getting her jab in, implying that you suck down food like you’re going for gold at the Coney Island Hot Dog Eating Contest. Just remember, though, it’s not about you, it’s about them. “People tend to declare more negative comments and judgements when they themselves feel less grounded in their own eating behavior,” explained Dr. Peeke, who is also an expert in food addiction and senior science advisor at Elements addiction treatment centers. “There are mixed emotions involved—envy that perhaps a more slender person can ‘get away with it’; terror and fear that the judging person will fall to temptation if overeating is going on around them.” Your best bet? Don’t engage. “Simply smile with grace and change the subject,” she advises.
The food fascist
“You can’t eat a tuna melt in this office.”
That’s what a Health senior editor was told at a fashion industry job she once had (it was orders of the boss lady). No faux flattery here; these people are straight-up with their efforts to control what everyone else consumes. Take the family member who says, “I don’t permit sweets in my house” when you come bearing a bakery box, or the diet-trend-hopping friend who announces, “I can’t have any gluten at the table,” evidently suffering from the only known case of Sudden Sight-Induced Penne Intolerance. “Women especially tend to veer toward perfectionism in their eating,” Dr. Peeke explained. This kind of rigidity, though, “sets people up for disordered eating.” And it can be contagious. So why not be conveniently busy the next time a dinner-out invite comes from your super-obsessive friend?
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The snack obituary writer
“Whoa, I didn’t know they still make double-stuff oreos.”
In a golly-gee tone, this trickster feigns shock that your occasional treats are actually on store shelves in America in 2015. Really—if they find you eating a donut, it’s like you were caught smoking opium and must have some overseas connection to secure your illicit goods. Hold your head high and enjoy your occasional Ring Ding, Dr. Peeke advised. In fact, she recommends following a reasonable 80/20 rule: “Nourish yourself with delicious whole foods 80 percent of the time and leave room for treats 20 percent of the time. This way you have breathing room to just be human.”
The mean minimalist
They present, as fact, your lunch choice. It’s as if there’s no need for commentary; the simple statement about what is on your plate is damning enough. One Health.com editor was subjected to this understated put-down at a previous job. “I felt ashamed of my choices and I never got it again for lunch,” she recalls. “But how is it their business? They don’t know what I eat at home.” If you’re always having to defend your Taco Tuesday, Dr. Peeke added, “limit your time together because it’s just plain too toxic to hang out with people like that.”
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The salad slammer
“Look at you with your teeny kale salad again.”
This is the reverse food diss, in which you feel criticized for happening to like green juice, salmon over greens, and a teeming quinoa bowl. The implication is that you’re showing off, or trying to make friends and colleagues feel bad about their lunches (you aren’t, right?). Nobody should feel self-conscious breaking out their lentil-tofu bake. So why the snide comments? “When someone is the outlier and practicing a healthier lifestyle choice, it will make people who are not uncomfortable,” Dr. Peeke said. “My advice is to smile and say, ‘I’m feeling great and enjoying my meal. I hope the same for you.'”
Just try not to say it through a snarl.
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