I saw a patient today that made me sad. She shared a story I have heard one too many times. The reason the story is bothersome is because the things some people do in the name of caring are so obviously not helpful at all, and actually very harmful. It seems like a no-brainer to me, if that makes sense. By that I mean those simple things, like manners, that everyone should know. Saying or doing something that if you have one iota of intelligence, you would know it is wrong.
But for some reason, people don’t get it.
So I decided to write about it because even if just one person reads this and changes, or reads this and shares it then maybe someone will stop. What I am referring to is the food police. Not the one stuck in your head. The real live one(s) many people live with.
The story goes like this: the teenager, who always played soccer and was thin and fit in high school goes off to college, stops her sports so she could focus on studying and then gains weight. Mom is not happy about this (and neither is the college kid), and mom wants to help her daughter. So she makes comments about what her daughter is eating when she is home visiting: “are you sure you want that much? Do you think you really need that?” On top of this, her dad and her younger brother have also joined the forces. They watch what she eats and feel they are “helping” her when they comment about those cookies or chips or ice cream sandwiches, “those aren’t for you, they are for your brother, you don’t need them!”
Or consider the young wife who has a few kids, gains weight and no longer fits into those tight jeans. She already beats herself up about this, and knows her husband is not happy. He says he just wants to help and that is why he feels the need to tell her when she has had enough.
What happens when mom, dad, brother and hubby leave? What would YOU do? If there was white chocolate mousse in my house (my favorite, and something you just can’t find easily), and someone said it was “not for me”, I will tell you what I would do. I would wait until they left, or went to sleep, and I would sneak it. Actually, no, that is not true because that would make me feel guilty if I had to lie. I would probably be honest and tell them directly that they better not leave it there because I will steal some!
But most people in this position are not able to be direct and stand up for themselves. They find it hard to say “look, I love chips, so if they are here, I am probably going to eat some, and I would appreciate it if you would mind your own business!” No, what I see is that children and adults alike all do the same thing when they live with the food police. They sneak. They binge eat. They feel guilty. Part of it is that they really do crave the food but much of it seems to be almost a passive aggressive resentful act against those trying to control them.
I remember clearly a middle aged woman who was in one of my non-diet weight management classes many years ago. Her husband was the food police (just trying to help her). She would sit and eat her Special K cereal with skim milk while he scoffed down his bacon and pancakes every morning. Then, she would watch through the window as he drove out of the driveway and around the corner. Once he was out of sight, she went straight to the fridge. She would binge on all of the foods he would not want her to eat. He did not understand why she was not losing weight when she barely ate. She had a lot of work to do with making that relationship healthy and one that would truly support and not control her.
So what would I recommend to family members who really do want to help? (You can share this with them if you agree):
- ASK your loved one how you can help.
- LISTEN to what they say. Sometimes it is helpful to NOT have certain foods in the home if it triggers someone to binge eat. Binge eating often leads to other disordered behaviors such as purging, and this is not what you want to happen. Little Johnny can have Oreo’s at his friends house or buy them at CVS, if his sister is struggling at the moment, he can live without them at home. Hubby can live without ice cream at home (go out for a cone when you want one! and take your wife if she wants to go too)
- STOP talking about weight. Or body size. Theirs, your own, your neighbors, Oprah’s, anybody’s!
- ACCEPT the beautiful person your loved one is that has nothing to do with the force of gravity on their body (which is all weight is, right?)
- PROMOTE health in your home. Make healthy meals. Play outside. Dance, play games, have fun.
- TRUST that your adult child or your spouse or whoever will figure out what is best for them. Be an example, NOT the police.
- IF you notice any disordered eating behaviors, don’t ignore it. Educate yourself (check out NEDA)for some support.
And if you are the one feeling like the criminal living with the food police, consider sharing this post. Blame it on me! If the dietitian admits she would be sneaking the white chocolate mousse….well, maybe they will understand.