Food Shaming: Changing How We Talk About Food

This content originally appeared here. Republished with permission.

By Brenda Manzanarez, MS, RD, and Cynthia Muñoz, Ph.D., MPH

You know you shouldn’t be eating that kind of stuff, right?

If you’d just eat better, you wouldn’t have to take so many medications.

I know someone who cut out all carbs and cured their diabetes; have you tried that?

Do any of these comments sound familiar? Maybe someone else has said them to you, maybe you’ve said them to someone, or maybe you’ve thought them about yourself. Either way, comments like this, even if they have good intentions, often come off as judgmental and shaming. This type of “advice” can cause confusion, anxiety, frustration, and an unhealthy relationship with food.

Our Relationship with Food

Food is important when it comes to keeping blood sugar in range, but managing diabetes is not just about glycemic control—we also need to juggle lifestyles, health goals, and mental health.

There are so many factors that influence our food choices, and you cannot see those factors by just glancing at a plate. Food is an important part of our lives, and it can have so many meanings to different people. It can mean health, love, sense of community, or pleasure, but for others, especially people with diabetes, it might cause feelings of anxiety and fear.

Changing the way you eat is a major lifestyle change, and major lifestyle changes always take time.

While you are on this journey, unsolicited advice from strangers and even loved ones can feel more like judgment and might cause you to question yourself or feel guilty about your own choices.

Changing the way you eat is a major lifestyle change, and major lifestyle changes always take time. There are a lot of things to juggle when managing diabetes, so be patient with yourself and with others.

Unintended Consequences

Food shaming often happens when someone’s own preferences and opinions don’t line up with others’. Judgmental comments like “you shouldn’t eat that” may be a projection of their own frustrations or a reflection of their misconceptions about diabetes.

As clinicians who work with children, teens, and young adults with diabetes and obesity, we know that talking about food can be very difficult. We also know that negative comments, pictures, and memes on social media can have a harmful impact on someone’s emotional well-being, especially people with diabetes.

No one should be shamed about their food choices.

No one should be shamed about their food choices. Shame leads to negative feelings about food, which can lead to anxiety, depression, and even disordered eating. And these conditions can cause more damage to physical health than poor diet.

Rethink the Role of Food and Your Health

Instead of thinking of food as “good” or “bad,” or judging people (or yourself) by the way you eat, picture food and eating as being neutral and adopt a non-judgmental way of thinking. The food you put on your plate, is just food that will provide energy and nutrients to fuel your body.

Unlearning what we have been exposed to takes time but being aware of those negative thoughts is a start.

Instead of thinking of food as “good” or “bad,” picture food and eating as being neutral.

Remind yourself that there is no one right way to eat with diabetes— it has to be tailored to your own unique needs— like your budget, taste preferences/favorite foods, cultural norms, cooking skill, time, etc. And you don’t have to feel guilty about enjoying a treat every now and then.

Break the cycle and be nice to yourself and to others. Instead of criticizing people, ask them how they feel about the changes they’ve made and have them decide how they feel about it. If appropriate, provide encouragement.

If you are concerned about a loved one, privately ask how they are doing, and don’t offer advice unless they ask for it. Ask if there is anything you can do to support them, and/or seek information about healthy food choices and incorporate this in your own life as a form of support for your loved one.

If you feel this is a big issue in your own life, don’t be afraid to seek out help—talk to your primary doctor or with a therapist. If you don’t have a therapist ask for a referral from your doctor. To find a mental health provider with knowledge about diabetes, check this directory.

Bottom Line

Food is meant to be nourishment for our bodies and to be enjoyed; find a balance that works for your health, be confident in your choices, and be accepting of other people’s choices.

If you find yourself wanting to criticize someone else’s food choices or appearance, don’t! This is generally not helpful and can have a negative emotional impact.

A neutral and non-judgmental way of thinking is best when talking about food and diabetes; there are no “good” and “bad” foods. The key is to balance what you eat to get the nutrients you need.

If you receive a negative comment from a stranger on social media or in person, remember that person doesn’t know you and how you take care of yourself. Don’t beat yourself up and continue to focus on ways to be the healthiest version of yourself.

Source: diabetesdaily.com

How People Invalidated My Feelings Towards My Diabetes

By Madelyn Corwin

I haven’t felt this way about my diabetes before this year. When I was diagnosed, it was a “do or die” attitude. No time to cry. No time to make my classmates pity me.

My teachers rarely believed me when I said I needed to get a snack for a low of 40. I believed them when they’d tell me, “I’ve had diabetic students in the past, but it’s never been like this. None of them have needed to leave the classroom this much.” I believed them.

I thought I was being dramatic. I thought I was doing something wrong. And that I was annoying. So from those points on, I hid it. Injections in the bathroom and skipping the nurse’s office before lunch. Sometimes I wouldn’t even inject for lunch because I’d be walking with my friend to the lunchroom, and I didn’t want to cut off our conversation because I had to inject myself. I’d skip completely. Because I was always told, “It’s not a big deal,” “You’re fine,” “It’s not deadly.” I didn’t want to be different. And I feared the comments of “Oh, you have to go do that?” because I thought people would think I was weak for injecting myself.

Photo credit: Madelyn Corwin

That’s how bad it got. I’d sit in the class after lunch period, and my vision would be so f***ing blurry, I couldn’t see the board or even focus. And then the teacher would, of course, get mad at me because I couldn’t answer a question they’d randomly called on me for. I’d play soccer with blood glucose levels up in the 350s and think it was fine. I’d get yelled at for “not running to the ball quickly enough.” I didn’t wanna say “because I’m f***ing dying coach!” I didn’t want to be viewed as weak.

I wish I had this community (Diabetes Online Community) when I was in high school and my early college years but I didn’t. I take myself so much more seriously now. I got my first A1c below 7.4% since I’ve joined this community. I’ve gotten rid of my microalbumin. My vision doesn’t blur as bad as it used to during highs. I eat healthier. I always give insulin. I always correct highs. I always change my site. I always check my sugar. I don’t think I would be able to do all that without meeting everyone I met online. Because I was conditioned to believe I was fine. That nothing was wrong. That I was normal. But that was the furthest thing from the truth.

 

I was made to feel for 8 years of having type 1 diabetes that my disease wasn’t serious and that if I complained about it, the typical reply was “at least you don’t have cancer.” I am so glad I found thousands of other type 1s online, especially those who’ve lived with this since they were kids as well that I can relate to. I used to have thoughts in my head like, “This s**t is so f***ing hard. Why am I always being told it’s not a big deal by perfectly healthy people?” or “I can’t believe I’ve had to do this since I was a kid and I have to do this for the rest of my life and everyone’s first response is, ‘At least, it’s not cancer.’”

I stayed quiet for seven years. I didn’t share with my online friends what was wrong with me because I was conditioned to believe it “wasn’t a big deal.” I thought if I told people what was wrong with me, they wouldn’t care, or they’d just say the typical “well, it’s manageable!” comments. I even hid the struggles from people I dated, which caused me to not take good care of myself because I wouldn’t correct if I was high because I didn’t want them to think I’m being dramatic or “too serious” about diabetes.

Photo credit: Madelyn Corwin

Photo credit: Madelyn Corwin

I’m so glad I found all of you. It helps me feel more validated for all the hard work I put in every hour of the day just to see the next. I feel my hard work to keep my body alive is finally recognized through the people I met online. I don’t think I was ever validated like this before. I was told I was “normal” and “can do anything” but I’m so glad I met some of you all to tell me that we aren’t normal, and we do need to have boundaries, and that’s OK. Thank you.

Source: diabetesdaily.com

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