Reverse Judgment: When Healthy Lifestyles Are Judged
“Not judging others’ food choices” is a pretty popular topic on Real Food blogs. As someone who has been learning to live a healthier lifestyle since 2008, I can tell you that there are times when I haven’t kept my mouth shut or kept my stares under control when I see people eating what I deem to be unhealthy. It is so important that, if you are a lover of local, organic, non-processed Real Food, you not judge those who are at a different place in their journey.
No matter where we find ourselves along the way, there will always be some ahead of us and some behind us. As soon as we think we’ve got it all figured out, an article will show up in our inbox or someone will share a link on Facebook that proves we still have much more to learn.
What I don’t read much about is the judgment that occurs the other way around: when those of us who are trying to learn and make healthier choices for ourselves and our families are judged by those who are not. You’d think it would be ludicrous to look down upon someone for striving to better themselves by learning and gaining experience with wholesome foods or natural remedies, but it happens.
And it’s probably happened to you.
I try not to be the food Nazi. I try so hard not to judge others for their choices, and I cross my fingers and say a silent prayer that they won’t judge me for mine. But they do.
When I eat out with people who eat differently than I do, I’m “that person”. That person who asks what oil the food is fried in. That person who wants to know the base of the salad dressing. That person who orders the burger without the bun and the potato without the margarine. That person who carries sea salt in her purse and brings her own gluten-free soy sauce to the Asian restaurants. I never go to a restaurant and order straight from the menu without making at least three changes/substitutions to whatever I’m ordering. I’m the person who suggests eating at my house over eating at a restaurant, the person who has to make special requests at family gatherings, the person who often chooses not to eat what others have made if I know that food will make me feel awful later.
“Can’t you eat it just this once?”
“Oh come on. Live a little.”
“It’s not like it’s gonna kill you.”
“There are people starving all over the world, and you won’t eat this because it has ____ in it??”
I have felt guilty over the way I eat. I have felt embarrassed because of how I eat. I have felt like a snob because of how I eat. These types of comments bring shame and guilt — and I’ll even be so bold as to say they’re meant to. The looks, the comments, the judgment are meant to make you question your choices and ultimately give in to the opinion that you should, just this once, eat (or allow your children to have) a food you are uncomfortable with simply because it won’t kill you or somehow your eating it will make a difference to starving people all over the world.
In the past, I’ve tried to deal with these feelings with polar opposite extremes. I’ve tried sitting quietly, not drawing attention to myself, pretending that I don’t notice the stares, eye rolls, or snickers. Or I’ll nervously talk people’s heads off over why I’m making the choices I do, citing research and anecdotal evidence to back myself up. Neither of these extremes makes me the life of the party. :/
Healthy Choices Make People Uncomfortable With Their Own Unhealthy Choices
Then I realized why people make comments, roll their eyes, and stare: some of my choices make them uncomfortable. They automatically assume I’m judging them for ordering a Diet Coke, baking with white flour and sugar, or going through the drive-thru. Even when I’m absolutely not.
There is a heavy atmosphere of perceived or assumed judgment when people’s choices differ from one another. It doesn’t just happen with food, although food has been one area where I have been on both sides of the fence — judging others and being judged myself. This argument works both ways, and most of the Real Food community has been proactive about encouraging one another to not sacrifice relationships and friendships on the altar of healthy eating. I love that about our community. However, I don’t see many in non-Real-Food circles standing up for their crunchy friends and encouraging the same respect and love we give them.
Blatant lack of respect and grace becomes apparent when others are presented with an opinion or choice differing from their own, especially when it makes them uncomfortable. This is never more obvious than in a group of mothers, who can be wretchedly unmerciful in our judgment of each other when we find out another mother is choosing an alternative path than our own. You’re “that mother” — the one who homeschools, the one who doesn’t vaccinate, the one who won’t take her kids to the playground at McDonald’s for play dates. The one who’s rubbing people the wrong way just because your choices make them uncomfortable.
Think I’m kidding? Try showing up to your kids’ preschool class and informing all the moms that you’ve decided to homeschool. Or show up to play group and announce that your child is unvaccinated. Watch how quickly the waters stir. (By the way, I’m not suggesting that you actually do these things. I don’t ever want anyone to promote strife and dissension!)
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone out to dinner or coffee with someone who knows I’m a health nut, and when they place their order, they immediately follow it with some type of apology, justification, or excuse.
“I just NEED chocolate today!” Fine. Eat chocolate. We all NEED chocolate at one point or another, including me.
“I know you don’t approve, but this sure is good.” It doesn’t matter if I approve. You are the one who has to live with your choices, not me.
“Don’t judge! It’s been a rough day/week/month!” I’m not judging. Really. I go for anything with salted caramel on a bad day.
I can say or do nothing, but they automatically assume I’m judging their choice! And why? Because something about sitting across from the table from a self-proclaimed health freak screams judgment to them, real or not. Yet, when the roles are reversed and I find myself apologizing to dinner guests because I’m not serving bread or because I’ve used some unconventional ingredients to make a healthier dessert (black bean cupcakes, for example), it stings a little.
It all boils down to fears and insecurities. If a person is insecure in their choices while you sit across from them completely secure in who you are and what you’ve chosen (food or otherwise), that’s intimidating. Even when you don’t mean for it to be.
My Point Is This …
The choice to eat Real Food (or homeschool, not vaccinate, breastfeed til your kid is 6, or anything else unconventional people do) is YOUR choice. It’s MY choice. I don’t make this choice to draw attention to my choices or draw attention to someone else’s different choices. I make these choices because I believe they are the best for my family and myself, and as I learn more, sometimes my choices change.
Why does our society look down on people who desire to better themselves? I don’t know why it’s become acceptable to criticize someone who chooses organic produce over fast food, but it’s not acceptable for me to walk up to someone holding a bag of Cheetos and a Slurpee and tell them they’re making a bad decision. It’s taboo for me to suggest a grain-free option at a gathering, but it’s perfectly fine to serve bowls and bowls of antifreeze-filled ice cream with artificially colored sprinkles, fake cherries, and high fructose corn syrup to children.
That’s a double standard for ya.
I’m not speaking out about this because I feel a need to defend myself. I don’t. I’ve been at this long enough to know that I’m going to be criticized — by family, friends, and even strangers. I haven’t always been comfortable being “that person”, but I am now, and I try really hard not to assume judgment that isn’t actually there. I try even harder to make sure the people I’m around don’t have even a hint of perceived judgment from me about their choices.
I am strict about what I eat about 80-90% of the time. I want to put the best food that I can into this body that I have been given to steward for such a short time.I love organic produce, local eggs, a good bone broth, and a farm-to-table restaurant. I love feeling good inside and looking my best outside. I’ve put thousands of hours of time into learning WHY I eat the way I eat. I won’t apologize for any of it.
When I’m in the other 10-20%? I live it up, let my hair down, and enjoy the heck out of myself. I indulge, within reason, within the comfort zone of the foods I’m able to indulge in — like margaritas with chips and salsa or my favorite Pamela’s GF chocolate chip cookies by the bag full. I won’t apologize for this either.
Most of us Real Foodies aren’t judging your lifestyle simply because we’re changing ours. We are the ones who have to live with our choices, our bodies, and our symptoms when we eat something that doesn’t agree with us.
If you love the farmers’ market, milking your cow, cooking everything from scratch, and making your own deodorant — GREAT. If you eat at Burger King everyday, skip breakfast, and take a pill for every ache and pain you have — GREAT. I may not agree with you, but again, I don’t have to live with your choices just like you don’t have to live with mine. No matter which side of the fence you’re on, it never hurts to keep growing and learning. There are always going to be people who are looking for something wrong with everyone. They’re unhappy and insecure. And probably constipated. 😉
And it’s perfectly OK to be friends with someone who believes or lives differently than you do! It’s not your job to make me a fast food “convert”, and it’s not my job to preach at you to be healthier. I am really good friends with a vegan and really good friends with a fast food mom. They aren’t my friends because of how they eat; their my friends because I love them and they love me. The only debt we owe anyone is to love them right where they’re at, without trying to find a way to “evangelize” them to our side.
(Now, if someone asks you for help making healthier choices or asks for your opinion on something, of course you should give it to them — because that’s them inviting you in! But you should still love them no matter what they decide.)
Whatever your choices are, own them. Make choices everyday that you can be proud of, no matter what anyone else thinks. Just don’t judge others when their choices are different from yours.
And if you’re curious about why the hippies and granola-eaters in your life are always offering to bring homemade, dairy-free ice cream, Paleo cookies, and gluten-free cake to parties or if you don’t understand why we’d rather cook dinner for you instead of going out to eat, JUST ASK. One thing we foodies all have in common is a passion to share what we know with others. 🙂
Have you ever been on the receiving end of some reverse judgment? How did you handle it? Do you make an effort not to judge others’ choices, even when they’re different from your own?
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