Food Bullying

Food bullying: Hospitality gone wrong

Image by Dennis Crowley

Bullying is not something most of us would normally associate with eating. Yet, many of us can identify with a food bullying experience. And the time when this this form of bullying tends to occur the most is during the holidays.

Still not convinced? Imagine this scenario. It is Thanksgiving and you have just arrived at a relative’s house. Normally you would gulp down just a bit more food than what your stomach may safely be able to hold, but this year is different. Why? Because your are trying to watch your weight and take it easy. Therefore, you refrain from piling up your plate like usual. But here comes the pushy relative who insists you eat more and they will not take no for an answer. You have just been food bullied.

More often than not, those who engage in food bullying are actually well intentioned. In their mind, they are being hospitable by making sure their guests are well fed. What will now be provided are 3 important tips for being hospitable to guests without crossing the line into food bullying.

Don’t get offended so easily
One of the primary reasons food bullying succeeds, is because targets fear sticking to their guns may offend the other person. This is because there are in fact many people who take offense when someone turns down food in their home. But what these people need to understand is there are a variety of reasons why someone may decide not to fill up a plate:

– They are trying to lose weight
-They have dietary restrictions requiring them to avoid foods high in sugar or salt
-They really did eat already and your house is not their only stop
-They have allergies to gluten, eggs, nuts or other ingredients prevalent in holiday meals
-They do not eat certain foods for religious or other moral reasons
-They are trying to be polite and not feel like they are imposing
-They really are stuck up
-Maybe your house is actually kind of gross

But regardless of the reason, bullying someone into eating something they do not want will never help. It will not make them change their mind about whether or not they dislike you. And if they do like you, they now feel uncomfortable because of how you just pressured them. This leads to the next point.

Remember, hospitality is about making people comfortable
A good host will always try to make guests and visitors feel more at home. Yet, a decent amount of people become legalistic about their version of hospitality. Offering someone food is a kind and polite gesture. And even if they decline the first time, asking if they are sure is still within the polite zone. But the bullying zone fast approaches when things like the following actions occur:

-Continuing to ask after they have said no twice
-Putting food on their plate without their permission
-Fixing them a plate, despite them saying “no, thanks”
-Pointing out how little they have eaten (in front of everyone)
-Trying to practically shove food in their mouth
-Announcing how much they should (skinny) or could (big) eat
-Making it clear that you will be upset if they do not eat/eat more

Making sure your company is fed may be the hospitable thing to do, but not if it is clearly against their will. And the precise moment it becomes food bullying is when the efforts to conform your guest trumps the efforts to accommodate them. So while you may feel at ease because they are consuming the food you pushed on them, they feel exactly the opposite of the way you intended.

Those who can do, and those who can’t bully
Food bullying is something that seems to be flat out irrational when someone attempts to begin or maintain a healthier lifestyle. If someone is trying to lose weight and actually seems to be making progress, why oh why would you try to push food on them? It is hard enough to lose weight in America between the junk that is put in most of our food and lifestyles which leave little room for regular exercise. So why would anyone seemingly sabotage someone’s efforts to be healthier?

The ironic part is the same people bullying food into someone’s mouth will often be the same ones asking, “what’s your secret” when they notice someone has lost weight. Even more odd is when the person who is overweight and has ongoing health issues, makes it their mission to convince someone to live it up like they are. But if it clearly is not working for you, it is probably best to avoid dismissing what someone else does as nonsense.

So as the holiday season comes around this year, how about we make a solid effort to avoid bullying our friends and relatives into unwanted meals. If someone refuses our offer, we should not force the issue to make ourselves more comfortable. If they want to know the ingredients in our food due to fear that it contains half the butter actually in it, just roll with it. The holidays should be about people having a good time versus fending off attention from the fact that some of us actually care about what we put into our bodies.

If nothing else, you should be very thankful for those who try to manage their eating habits. Because when the years of thoughtless eating finally take their toll, you just might need a relative in good health to loan you some well cared for organs.

By Corey Dorsey

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