How to Get Rid of the Food Police (Respectfully)

Marissa Ferrito, MA, a doctoral candidate at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine and extern through the Center for Weight and Eating Disorders, shares information on how to get rid of the food police. She received her master's degree in mental health and wellness counseling from New York University. She has experience in providing therapeutic services, psychological assessments, and pre-surgical evaluations.

As bariatric patients, you may have heard everything under the sun on what to eat and how to manage your health pre-and post-surgery. The fact is, there is clinical advice and then there is everyone else.

Here are a few ways to identify four different types of “food police,” why they comment, and how to respond respectfully.

Who Are the Food Police? Four Types of People Giving You Unsolicited Advice

There are several different types of people who may give you unsolicited advice. Here’s the line-up: the experts, the critics, the bad influencers, and the food pushers.

The Experts

These are the types of people who really believe that they know more about dietary sciences than you and really want to impose this information on you whether or not they're qualified to do so,” Marissa said. “They're most likely regurgitating headlines from news articles and not quite sure of the context.”

The Critics

The critics are the people who are always critics of your food choices, whether in a kind of a positive or a negative way, Marissa said. They can have the tendency to be passive-aggressive, may encourage you to consume more food or less, and offer “advice” on what you're eating or not eating. They're really going to pick at all the different things that you're eating and doing. There's always going to be something wrong with it that they're going to pick out.

The Bad Influencers

The bad influencers are usually the friends that tempt you to go off of your food plan to indulge. They will often offer to join you in whatever they're eating or drinking. Whether it's another glass of wine or a piece of cake.

You're making a lifestyle choice that will require commitment and effort, Marissa said. Sometimes, it can be hard for friends and family to adjust to change.

The Food Pushers

Everyone experiences food pressure. Food is wrapped up in our culture and in the way that we relate to each other. It’s how some people express love and affection.

Whether it’s a trip to grandma’s house (here’s how to do it in a COVID-safe way) or a special meal a friend has prepared for you, it can be hard to say no in these circumstances.
Another reason that people are pushing food on you can be related to concerns. They may think you are not eating enough, Marissa said. They see this as a form of “helping you.”

You can respond to this by showing your loved one that you are fine and well, by politely declining and thanking them for their concern.

Why Do People Comment About Food at All?

Sometimes friends and family mean well but have a hard time expressing themselves. They are accustomed to sharing their opinions and can be unaware that they are hurting your feelings. Here a few reasons for their commentary.

Ignorance

They may not understand your food struggle or simply don’t want to.

Discomfort

Some people really enjoy eating with company. For example, social events, dining out, family gatherings (follow COVID-19 guidelines). Eating alone can cause a sense of discomfort. So sometimes, they're offering food to be polite or simply to enjoy being around you.

Jealousy

This is a tough one, but still an unfortunate reality. Others simply may be jealous of your success.

People in your circle that have also struggled with weight may have a hard time accepting the new you, Marissa said. Your success may feel like a reflection of their “failures.”

People who have not struggled with weight can also show signs of jealousy based on your achievement. In these instances, you cannot take this personally. Be proud that you've done something good for yourself, you cannot control how people feel about it.

Sabotage

Unknowingly, people can try to sabotage your success. Similar to jealousy, deep down, they may not want to see you succeed. This can be particularly troubling for people on a new diet who can be a bit more vulnerable. They may feel intimidated by you making a decision to make healthier food choices. Try not to let them influence your behavior, find a polite way to refuse their offers.

How to Respond to Unsolicited Advice and Find a Healthy Support System

Remember: You don't have to explain yourself to anyone. If they're not part of your healthcare team, your health is not something you are obligated to discuss.

And, you are allowed to say “no.”

“Sometimes we forget, especially women, that no is a full sentence,” Marissa said. “Always keep in mind, that you do not have to always explain yourself. It can be difficult in some environments, but always remember to stay true to yourself and your choices.”

Here are a few examples of how to say “no” politely:

  • “I hope you enjoy it but I really don't want the calories.”
  • “Gee Grandma, I love your fudge but I'm not really hungry. I would love a cup of tea.”
  • “Thanks, but I've got it covered.”
  • “Thanks, but I'm following my doctor's advice right now and I'm happy with that.”

Find the language that works for you that's natural with the way that you like to interact with other people. These kinds of canned responses relieve some of the pressure of figuring out what to say in a tough situation.

Learn more about bariatric surgery at Penn Medicine

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Learn about bariatric surgery and get the support you need to continue on your weight-loss journey. We offer workouts, recipes and tips from Bariatric Surgery program team members, and stories from patients like you.

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