Think before you talk. Many people do the second, few do the first. And this can cause a lot of harm around you, because you never know what the people listening to you are going through.
I, specifically, know what happens in the case of eating disorders, and how phrases that people say nonchalantly and lightly are terrible both for people who’re suffering from these illnesses or trying to recover, and for those who are prone to them for some reason.
Below I’ll explain some of the most harmful and, at the same time, common phrases. These aren’t phrases you must avoid just when you’re with a person you already know has that problem (I’ll make a post about that). But phrases that you should always avoid, because as I’ve said you don’t know what seeds are already in the mind of who listens to you, and also so you can stop the injurious diet culture that has driven crazy our relationship with food as a society.
1. We’ve pigged out! / I’m so full
When the portions were perfectly normal. For some reason, these kind of phrases are considered as praise, to say that the food you’ve been served was very good, but the only thing they get is that people who’d eaten well now feel embarrassed because they think it was too much. It’s better to say: the food was delicious, everything was so yummy, etc. How much each person has eaten, and how that amount fits in their own eating pattern, is a private question.
That’s why it’s fundamental to avoid phrases with inclusive plural such as the first one; but more subtle things as the second one are dangerous too, because if others have eaten the same as you they’ll feel guilty. It’s very common for people with eating disorders —in recovery too, because you aren’t able to control the portions— to compare their food with everyone else’s to make sure they aren’t “overeating”.
2. I haven’t had breakfast / lunch / dinner
Said with a certain touch of pride, as if it was an achievement and proclaiming it deserved an applause. As if that showed your willpower. Please, keep it to yourself. You’re making people who have had that meal feel bad about it, inferior to you.
Other times, it’s not so much about the food itself, but about the glorification of busy, like, I had so much to do that I didn’t have time to / forgot to eat. I don’t know when we went from the law of least effort to zero rest, believing that the more you do, the more you are. If you’re soooo busy that you don’t even have time to take care of your health, that’s a problem.
3. I’m so fat
When you aren’t. Other people who are like you —or have body dysmorphia and see themselves like you— will think then that they’re fat too and need to lose weight. In fact, I don’t know why we always have to talk negatively about ourselves and our body. Even if you truly want to make a change (and it would be healthy), why not do it out of love and not of hatred? And, of course, if you see yourself fat when you aren’t —perhaps influenced by certain very twisted beauty standards—, check your own thoughts, lest you’re entering little by little into an ED.
4. This has / burns x calories
Numbers shouldn’t control our life. We can eat and move without everything having to be a compensation for something else. No one needs you to boast about your knowledge when you haven’t been asked. Let alone people who’re trying to distance themselves from this mindset and stop obsessing about numbers. Counting calories and macros is useful in certain circumstances. Telling someone in public: “but do you know how many calories that has?” never is. That’s called food shaming. Announcing how many calories the walk you’ve just taken has burned, neither. People have gone out to spend a nice time with you, not to make it fit into a calculation.
5. X is super bad for your health / causes cancer
Don’t contribute to spread nutrition myths. Always check your sources and don’t say anything unless you’re completely sure. The trend now within diet culture is to restrict nutritional groups and every day dozens of scaremonger news come out saying one thing and the opposite. The only way to put an end to this is with critical thinking. In addition, it’s very difficult to generalize, or to judge someone’s diet by a single meal, or to know their own needs. It’s seldom black and white. When it is, prepare to give an explanation and offer positive alternatives. OH, AND NEVER EQUATE HEALTHY AND LOW CALORIE.
6. I’ve sinned / fallen into temptation
Save that kind of language for Confession. Nothing makes me sicker than the “religionization” of food. Ordering one option or another from a menu isn’t going to add or subtract morality points from your score. And, as always, the biggest problem is what you convey to others. Maybe for you it’s cheating on your diet, the pleasure of the forbidden, and you find that funny, but it might not be like that for others. For others, moral adjectives imply serious things. By the way, if you’re following a diet that you abhor and where you’re constantly craving “forbidden” things, that diet is probably wrong.
7. I usually just eat x
You don’t have to justify why you’ve eaten more one day. Even worse if you’ve actually eaten as always but you want to make others think otherwise. Again, eating less doesn’t make you a better person. But, even if you’ve really eaten more that day, justifications are unnecessary. I understand that, in order for that to be true, first of all people should refrain from making comments about others’ food, and then no one would feel the need to justify themselves. But you can start that cycle!
Truth is, it should be the same when someone eats less, even if it’s hard for me to say that because of how triggering it is when people eat very little. But oh well. That problem would end if people only ate little when they wanted to eat little, and not when they feel they have to eat little to make a good impression (specially women).
8. I’m going to walk off / burn the food
Moving, walking, working out, should never be a compensation for eating. At most, eating is the necessary condition to be able to do all the other stuff. Just like you don’t have to justify what you eat, you don’t have to justify your exercise. In fact, you shouldn’t work out for that reason, at least not only. Think about positive reasons to work out, how it’s going to enhance your health, your strength, your mental clarity, and yes, also your appearance, but not just because you lose weight. Don’t perpetuate the idea of exercise as a punishment for the “sin” of eating.
I invite you, then, to inspect your way of talking about food before others, and to avoid this kind of phrases, with all their variations. It’s not about walking on eggshells, but first of all about changing your thoughts —if you say those things, it’s because you’ve been abduced by diet culture— towards healthier ones, and then about reflecting that in your words. And about being conscious of the impact they can have on others. Ask honestly what Psalm 141 says: “Set a guard, Lord, before my mouth, keep watch over the door of my lips”.