The Harm of Food Shaming

What is Food Shaming?food-shaming-harm

With the growing conscientiousness about the foods we consume day-to-day, there is also increased probability for what is referred to as food shaming. Food shaming is when someone has a certain connotation or perception when referring to foods. For example, someone may hear the words “good” or “bad” in reference to food, and then interpret the eating of certain foods to mean they are “good” or “bad”.  Studies have found that as a result of this “good” or “bad” reference, a feeling of shame or regret can occur when certain foods are consumed, and unfortunately may lead to disordered eating. What we recommend is that we refrain from using judgmental or derogatory words in relation to foods.

Not every person who hears these terms will interpret them in this way, but many do, and therefore, are not learning for themselves how to eat all types of foods. At the Dr. Sears Wellness Institute, we encourage our Coaches to teach their clients how to eat the right kinds of foods, referring to these as “real food” or “right fats”. We also encourage a healthy diet by educating others on the amounts of food that their bodies will need. An important part of avoiding food shaming is to teach others about right foods in a non-judgmental, positive way. One way we teach our Coaches to inform others is to explain that some foods are more nutritious and help our bodies grow stronger; other foods may taste good but do not make us feel as good.

Common Phrases to Avoid Saying

Many of us do not even realize that we are creating a negative connotation to foods, that could result in eating disorders. Some of us probably even think this way of referring to foods as being normal. But with the newer term of “food shaming” – this is a habit that we should try to avoid, and here are some phrases to avoid especially when talking to children:

  • “You didn’t eat enough. Take a few more bites and you can be done.” (“You didn’t eat enough” equates to: “Don’t listen to your body, listen to me instead.”)
  • “Finish your food. There are starving kids in Africa.” (This can make a child feel guilted into eating more than he or she even desired, by using tragedies of people in a country they’ve most likely never been).
  • “If you eat all your dinner, you can have dessert.” (In a way, we are teaching children that dessert is the best part. What if dinner were the best part? We want them to again be the judge of how certain foods fuel their bodies.)
  • “Eat whatever you want, whenever you want.” (This can be just as damaging, as we are giving no guidelines, and until a certain age, children need us to present them with nutritious meals at proper meal times.)

Best Ways to Avoid the Harm of Food Shaming

Alternatively, we at the Dr. Sears Wellness Institute talk to children about which foods help them stay healthy. We use terms that children can relate to such as “grow strong foods,” “soccer foods,” “run-fast foods,” “keep-you-from-getting-sick foods,” or “beautiful hair foods.” We ask questions like: “What will offer you the most fuel for what you are doing today?” These foods-in-action terms will mean more to a child than adult words such as “health foods.”

Turn your home into one that promotes health. Here are some tips to be a positive role model for health:

  • Buy clean, healthy and fresh foods
  • Replace soda with sparkling water and cherries or berries, to make a fun bubbly alternative
  • Show your children that physical activity, appropriate for a person’s ability, can be a source of enjoyment and/or fitness
  • Go for family walks or bike rides after dinner
  • Go to the lake or beach for a day to swim and play Frisbee
  • Have fun in the garden, planting or harvesting
  • Rake a big pile of leaves to jump in
  • Limit TV time and encouraging family game nights

As adults, we have collected attitudes toward weight that are often unintentionally passed down, and can keep getting passed down to children. While you cannot control all the messages your children hear, you can do your best to set an example and create teachable moments to share your values about eating the right foods for fueling your bodies, with your child. This will allow room to focus on their character or accomplishments, not on the size of their uniquely made body.