What Is Food Shaming? — Examples and How to Handle It

Written by: Anugraha Joseph – BA (Psychology)

Last updated date : June 27, 2022

Table of Contents

What Is Food Shaming? — Examples and How to Handle It

  1. Types of Food Shaming
  2. Why You Need to Know about Food Shaming
  3. What You Can Do about It
  4. The Takeaway

Food shaming happens when someone criticizes or judges you for your food. Say you’re having dinner out with friends or family. You order what you like, but someone comments on your choice. No matter the kind of criticism, it makes you feel ashamed of your food choices. This article looks at food shaming in some detail, with some examples to help you understand if someone around you is shaming someone else over their food, or even to help you understand if you have sometimes done it.

Here are some examples of food shaming that can ruin your meal:

  • “That’s unhealthy, you know.”
  • “You eat so little! No wonder you’re so skinny.”
  • “Whoa! Your plate could feed an army!”
  • “That looks and smells horrible, how do you eat it?”
  • “That does not look edible. Are you really going to eat that? Which corner of the world do you come from?”
  • “This isn’t an eating contest; what’s that pile on your plate for?”
  • “Isn’t this your twentieth serving or something?”

Chapter 1:

Types of Food Shaming

As we saw above, food shaming can come in different forms. The person doing the shaming may be:

  • Criticising someone for having too much food
  • Criticising someone for having too little food
  • Judging someone for having ‘junk food’
  • Judging a food choice that is unique to someone’s culture
  • Criticising any aspect of someone’s food, like how it looks or smells

Food shaming can often be closely related to body shaming or fat shaming. What are those? They are, in a sense, the better-known relatives of food shaming. Body shaming or fat shaming is the act of mocking or criticizing someone’s weight or size. Such shaming may target someone for being too big or too slender. This is frighteningly common on social media these days, simply because it has become acceptable to talk about the pictures others post online, even if what you have to say is toxic. Research has shown that body and fat-shaming can make unhealthy eating patterns like overeating or undereating worse.

Put together, all this makes food shaming rather alarming.

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Chapter 2:

Why You Need to Know about Food Shaming

Food shaming is not very commonly known. This can mean that it happens without even people noticing it, or its effects.

Also, some kinds of food shaming get more attention than others. For example, research has found that teachers in school intervene when students shame others over having too much or too little food but do not interfere when the shaming happens over culturally different food. This is because body image issues are well known worldwide, and people have more information about how harmful they can be. Cultural food shaming is one of many examples of food shaming that can be quite harmful, but are allowed to cause harm because of a lack of awareness.

So, it is important to know what counts as shaming. What may be an innocent observation to you may be a devastating criticism to someone else. In the same manner, when you know what counts as food shaming, you can stand up for yourself when it is directed at you.

Another important thing to remember is that not all comments about food are shaming. Sometimes, a parent or a friend may point out something in your eating patterns out of honest concern. This may even become the first step to recovery from something like obesity caused by overeating, or some other habit that is dysfunctional.

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Chapter 3:

What You Can Do about It

Here are some tips and examples of how to deal with food shaming.

1. Be Empathetic.

First, you need to ensure you never do the criticizing yourself. Take a second to think before you comment on anyone’s food, even if it’s a close friend or family member. Could your comment be hurtful to the other person? If someone said the same thing to you, would you find it hurtful or irritating?

2. Understand Motive.

Next, if you think someone else is shaming you over food, try and understand why they are saying it. Are they about your emotional and physical health? Or is it just a way to put you down? It can be hard to figure out sometimes, but this is an important step to react appropriately.

3. Confront.

Thirdly, If you think someone is judging you for no good reason, tell them (in a nutshell) what you learned about food shaming from this article. They may not know, and this is an effective way to both educate and tell the person how their comment made you feel. You can even add a direct statement on your emotions. “Have you ever heard about something called food shaming? I recently read an article about it…” Or, “That comment makes me feel [name the emotion].”

4. Ignore or Deflect.

Not all comments require a reaction! Sometimes you may feel the best thing to do is to just carry on as if the comment was never made. This may even discourage the commenter. You could turn away and speak to someone else, or change the subject while speaking to the same person.

Lastly, you can even respond to the negativity with some positivity, like a compliment about their food choice: “I like what’s on your plate. It looks so healthy/ tasty.”

5. Deal With Your Food Guilt.

Finally, help yourself, literally and figuratively. Sometimes the negative comments can just pile up and affect your own relationship with food. Try not to obsess over what you eat. Realise that food isn’t necessarily black and white: good/bad, healthy/unhealthy, etc. A little ‘junk food’ now and then will not ruin your health.

At the same time, keep track of what you eat so you can be confident that you are taking care of your health. That will be the best tool in your belt to deal with the next stinging comment that comes your way!

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Chapter 4:

The Takeaway

To sum up, food shaming is a real problem; and it is commoner than you might think. You might have experienced it from others and may have even participated in shaming. Secondly, you can learn how to deal with it, whether you hear it or say it. Thirdly, you can deal with emotional problems that have resulted from food shaming. Further, if you struggle with unhealthy eating patterns or body image issues, you can learn more and get help for it, such as treatment and therapy. Do not struggle on alone, and don’t let the comments of others stress you out. Finally, enjoy your food! It is one of the many pleasures of life. When enjoyed and eaten in helpful ways, it positively affects not only the body but also the mind. Bon Appetit!

If you’d like to know more about food and mental health, you can learn about food guilt or binge eating. And while food shaming sometimes happens when you eat with others, that doesn’t mean eating with others isn’t fun and helpful! Learn more here about it. You can also take our courses on Body Image Concerns and Binge Eating Disorder Treatment.