The “food bully” scenario unfolds like this:
A client finally gets serious about taking care of themselves. Whether it’s weight loss or a physique goal, they make a decision and hire a coach (me) to help them achieve their goals in a healthy and sustainable way.
The client gets started. They start making real progress, and after a period of time, that progress becomes very noticeable to other people. These other people – the peanut gallery – had never taken notice of the client before, but all of a sudden, they feel the need to offer all kinds of negative, snide comments.
These people—whether they’re wannabe experts at the gym, co-workers, or even family members—just can’t help themselves. For whatever reason, they must offer negative comments about the client’s progress.
The thing is, I see this play out regardless of the particular diet strategy a client is following. I see it play out regardless of their training program. I see it play out regardless of their initial starting point, regardless of the nature of their progress, and regardless of their ultimate goal.
I’ve changed the names, but below I offer you a few examples of food bullying, from actual emails I’ve received from my clients. Keep in mind, these emails are from clients who have often achieved serious transformations in health, weight loss and physique. None of these clients were telling other people what they should be doing.
Email #1: Ryan
[some preliminary stuff about training left out]
As for diet-I spent a week in Florida on business. I did the best I could, given all day meetings and meals with co-workers etc.
I ate mostly whole food plant-based stuff, but probably higher fat than I normally would at home. There were a lot of lunches and dinners with our suppliers. I did my diet-strategy thing, but my oh my, it never ceases to amaze me at how much other people pay attention to what someone is eating (or not eating) and then sounding off on it.
I wonder if in my case, the comments or commentary are just going to come with the territory. I mean, if you look at me, I am a small-framed thin person. I can see why others would question why would someone who looks like me need to adhere to a certain life style of eating. If I were big and buff, or overweight, people would tend to understand why I would eat a healthy diet and they would not question it.
But a skinny, small-framed person like me? People don’t understand. You wouldn’t believe the inane comments. It happened time and time again on this trip, Coach. I would be out to dinner with a bunch of guys, everyone is drinking alcohol, they order every appetizer on the planet for the table and the table is full of dishes. When I pass on eating the junk food and drinking with them for the sake of drinking, the questions and comments would start. That is, of course, after a few of them had to go outside to have a smoke together as well.
As one guy said to me, very loudly, “YOU GOT TO EAT MAN, you have to gain weight.”
Just to have a little fun, I just throw questions at them to expose their ignorance. For example, I would normally ask them, why do I have to gain weight? Of course, I knew the answer, which is they think I’m too skinny.
I explained that small-framed people can put fat on their mid-section just like anyone else can, and that past age 50 it is important (at least for me) to eat healthy and be healthy so that I can, in turn, feel healthy. Yet I have been continually called out for how I am built for years and years, but previous to now and up until my 40s people would watch me down a lot of food and just conclude how lucky I was to be able to eat like that and stay skinny. No big deal, people kind of expect a skinny guy to go to town on food.
But what is new to me is people focusing on and commenting on a skinny guy that is NOT eating like a horse, like my former self did.
Oh well glad to be home and not having to face social situations with guys I do business with for awhile.
What Ryan describes is just plain old juvenile peer pressure. “You have to be like us, and to be like us, you have to eat like us.” The underlying assumption is that if you don’t eat like us, then you don’t fit in, and if you don’t fit in, there is something wrong with you.
And many of my clients are on the receiving end of such nonsense over and over again.
But within this example there is a great lesson for you all, which is why I included it here.
Picture the scenario: My client has a very slight and thin build. He was surrounded by over-weight people who felt compelled to comment both on my client’s physique and on his food choices. They used their own food biases and tried to push them on my client, thinking he would be an easy pushover.
But notice that he would not be pushed around. He politely and calmly combatted their irrational comments, with simple logic and rational thinking. That took a lot of guts. Here he was basically standing up to bullies. He realized that in that moment he had to choose his only goals and his own commitment to himself over sabotaging peer-pressure and just “fitting in” for the sake of fitting in.
He was not trying to change their choices; he was just letting them know that they were not going to change his choices!
Diet is absolutely fine. Still trying new vegan meals every now and again and building up a good selection of “keepers” now. Great stuff. I dunno if I’m quite as hungry as I once was or if I just got used to it, maybe a bit of both. It’s never difficult though.
But here’s something: I still get hit regularly from colleagues with comments like “I could never eat what you eat” despite the fact that 1) They don’t actually know what I eat, and 2) How would they know they could never do it if they’ve never tried?!? It’s totally bizarre.
This week alone I’ve been told I’m going to get osteoporosis because I don’t drink milk.
I’ve been told it must cost me a fortune in supplements to make up for my lack of nutrition.
I’ve been told I don’t get enough protein.
I’ve been told I must crave meat every day and that I must be miserable due to it.
I’ve been told I must have some serious willpower to stick to it – as though I’m somehow missing out on something.
I’ve been told “it’s ok for you, you’re only thin anyway” that’s hilarious that one, and here’s maybe the best one: “It’s ok for you, I get fat if I just look at a jam donut.”
And every one of these things were said to me by people who don’t exercise at all, most of whom are also morbidly obese, and they think I’m some sort of Olympian because I walk up 10 flights of 10 steps in a morning instead of using the elevator?!?
You should see their brains explode if I tell them I’ve run up them!
The mind truly boggles!!
I should note straight away, that this email is from a client who has lost over 100 lbs. and kept it off. And yet, instead of being surrounded by people who are curious as to how he does it and maintains it, they employ their own confirmation bias to rationalize why it would not be worth it to them to even be curious enough to find out.
As my client says above, these comments were all received in one week.
Each one, by itself, might not seem like food bullying, but when this kind of thing is constant and keeps coming from all angles, imagine how that feels. Even for my clients who are doing exceedingly well, and whom I know are very mentally mature and together, it’s no surprise they still end up needing an outlet to vent about the ongoing frustration of this kind of thing.
Food bullies prefer the status quo of their uninformed opinions regarding diet, energy, and weight loss, and that’s why you’ll often find subtle justifications for other choices in their comments.
And that speaks to my third email example. My client Eric has also lost a lot of weight and kept it off. He’s quit junk food and alcohol and has gone completely plant-based as well. Many people are asking him what he’s done to achieve such great results. Here is a recent experience of his:
Email #3 Eric
I have a friend I am concerned about. He’s obese and he falls for one gimmick after another. He always asks me what I’m doing, then he shakes his head about it like I’m nuts. Lately he’s been going on about ‘keto’ and now he’s even doing what you warned against, the keto diet combined with intermittent fasting. I hate seeing him go down this road knowing where he is going to end up.
I was trying to help him by sending him a few of your lectures on these topics. After all, he did ask me about what I’m doing.
When I explained to him there is no magic, no ‘carbs are the enemy’ and all the rest, he just didn’t want to hear it. Not only would he not even consider it, or consider your lectures, but he actually got mad at me. He actually lectured me that YOU obviously don’t know what you are doing—but then he admits that he didn’t even listen to your lectures I sent him!
I’m tired of people asking me what I do to lose the weight and keep it off, and then when there is no magic trick or gimmick, they just tune me out. Why ask me, then?
This last story is a different example of a food bully. This person claims to want help, but refuses to acknowledge that the answer might not fit their preconceived notions about diet and weight loss.
Again, keep in mind that my client has successfully lost weight and changed habits, and they’re doing it responsibly and sustainably. Keep in mind that the other person is asking my client about what they’re doing because what the food bully is doing is not working. Keep in mind that the food bully has never successfully lost weight and kept it off.
Given this scenario, why assume that you are the one who knows better? Why wouldn’t this be an opportunity to check your assumptions? It’s weird to hear about this kind of thing second-hand from successful clients, since it’s obvious that the bully is raving about a diet strategy that hasn’t ever worked for them.
For those of you who relate to the presence of “food bullies” in your life just keep in mind that their comments say more about them than about you.
Also, remember that any choice you make to better yourself should never be subject to other people’s approval.
I write this so that you will know that it is common. Don’t be blindsided by it. Think rationally and either pay them no mind (which will drive them crazy) or, as Ryan did, above, explain things rationally, and then refuse to give in to peer pressure.
You don’t need to be unkind. You don’t need to be a martyr. But you can still be firm. The more you approach this with a low-key, rational tone, the better. Keep in mind the old Ghandi quote: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”