This weekend, when I was camping with the Girl Scout troop I volunteer with, my co-leader said something that surprised me: “I told myself that I was going to watch what you eat this weekend and have whatever you have.” Apparently, she had been impressed one time at a meeting when I turned down ice cream because I said I was having dinner afterward and didn’t want to ruin my appetite. What I hadn’t said was that, in addition to having those dinner plans, I had also overeaten at work that afternoon. Had that not been the case, I’m not sure I would have had the self-restraint to say no to some Ben & Jerry’s (at a later meeting, I gladly indulged in a Carvel ice cream sandwich).
The experience was a poignant reminder of something one expert told me when I was working on a story a wrote about food shaming a few months ago: You really have no idea what a person eats when you’re not around. And since our diets are all about the big picture—and not whatever you happen to notice someone noshing on in any given moment—the food habits of others you witness are definitely not worth guilting yourself over.
Still, it’s something that many of us do. Today, I got a text from the same woman mentioned above saying, “My watch Robin diet worked! I lost almost 2lbs this week! Now how do I get a video camera to follow u this summer? Lol.” Oh, the irony; I don’t actually feel like I have great eating habits. At all. Sure, sometimes I’m successful at my attempts to load up on produce-filled salads and snack on fruit with protein-rich Greek yogurt. But at other times (and a lot of other times lately), I stress eat, overindulge, or snack just because I’m tired—or for no discernible reason at all. Luckily, it seems like in this case the food comparison is somewhat motivating. But it’s not the only time something like this has happened. People at work have told me that I’m always so good about practicing self-control and turning down sweets. Again—that’s not at all in line with how I view my own eating habits. (I wish I could resist dessert more often!)
So the next time you find yourself noticing how or what someone else is eating and starting to compare how it stacks up against your own food tendencies, I hope you’ll remember this post and tell yourself that the person could have skipped the previous meal, just eaten a snack not too long ago, be planning to eat a big dinner, or any number of other situations about which you’re totally clueless. Rather than feeling bad (or good) about your own eating choices based on theirs, focus on listening to your cravings and hunger levels and choosing foods that will satisfy those. (And check out this other advice on how to stop comparing your food choices to other people’s.) If you ask me, that’s a much saner and less stressful way to nourish yourself.
photo by Kwekwe