Because I’m petite and people know me as a specialist in eating disorders, when I dine with others, they often eye and comment upon my food consumption. After decades of eating under a microscope, I’m used to it, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy being scrutinized or having my food habits be the talk of the table. When you’re just starting down the road toward ”normal” eating and don’t yet have the self-trust or confidence—or the words—to respond effectively, the situation can be even harder.
Recently, I was at a party and passed on having what looked like a piece of very uninspiring, unexceptional birthday cake. Immediately, people misinterpreted my decision as self-denial, assuming that I was rejecting something deliciously fattening in order to stay slim. I took the opportunity to explain that I love sweets and generally eat small amounts daily, but that this particular cake had zero appeal to me. People looked at me as if they’d never considered that a “bad/forbidden” food need have appeal to be eaten! Feeling pressured, I took a thin slice and made a swipe at tasting the frosting. As I had expected, it was unappetizing and unenjoyable and I put down my fork.
At the other end of the spectrum, when I’m eating a high-calorie or high-fat food, people gape at how I can do such a thing and possibly “keep my figure,” based on the diet-think supposition that one must avoid sweets and carbs to maintain a healthy weight. This reaction happened to me at lunch several weeks ago when someone insisted that I “must” have a very rapid metabolism or exercise “all the time” to be able to consume foods like the slab of whole-grain bread with nuts and raisins I was swooning over. I explained that I rarely like the bread served in restaurants, but that this was exceptional and delicious.
Questions about eating can put those who are trying to eat “normally” on the defensive. Rather than take remarks personally, I try to use them as opportunities to educate. The goal is to calmly, neutrally explain “normal” or intuitive eating without being attached to the outcome that someone must understand or accept your explanation. Sadly, some folks repeatedly make the same remarks and ask the same questions of me about food whenever we’re dining together—as if I’d never shared my ideas about eating with them. I can’t help that.
My job is to eat what I want no matter what anyone else thinks or says, stay healthy, take care of myself emotionally, and help people understand that intuitive and “normal” eating are worthwhile and reasonable goals to pursue. After that, the ball’s in their court.