How To React When People Criticise What You Eat

You’ve just made a commitment to eat healthily and start an exercise program. You pack your lunch and take it to work. You have made a really delicious healthy dish that you’ve been looking forward to all morning. Lunchtime comes and you whip out your lunchbox. You can’t wait to eat this yummy morsel and feel good about achieving your goal of becoming more healthy. Just as you are about to put the first mouthful in your mouth, a friend and colleague walks past. They say ‘YUK that looks awful! What are you eating that rabbit food for? Are you trying to lose weight? You don’t need to lose weight, you are already skinny. Get a burger in ya before you turn anorexic!”
Suddenly, you are not feeling so good.
Does this sound familiar? I’ve experienced other people’s criticism in relation to my food choices and I’ve heard of many other people who have experienced something similar. It’s never easy to deal with criticism so here are my TOP TIPS for reacting in a polite and friendly way (even if the other person has acted in a way that is less than polite and friendly):
1. Don’t Encourage the Behaviour
If you don’t want the person to behave in that way, don’t encourage it in the first place! To some this may be obvious, but many don’t realize that they are encouraging the criticism by acting in a certain way or saying certain things. I once overheard a girl sitting eating celery sticks complaining about how horrible it was and how she was too overweight to her friend. This kind of behaviour is ASKING for a comment whether it is positive or negative. Perhaps the celery girl wanted the attention, but if you don’t, don’t encourage it.

2. Don’t Take It Personally

Try to think about why the person would have said what they did. Often people don’t realise that what they have said may be offensive to you. They may be joking, or they may not realise that the comment came across in a negative manner. The person may have had a bad day and taken it out on you mistakenly. Note also that many people have self esteem issues or may have had a mental illness or eating disorder in the past which affects the way that they react. In either case, it’s not this person’s intention to hurt you so don’t react strongly.
I am an avid lover and student of anything relating to health and fitness and I would say I know a bit more than the average person about the topic. I found that often the thing that frustrated me the most was lack of awareness. Statements such as ‘Being a Vegan makes you sick’, ‘There is not enough protein in a vegetarian diet to build muscle’ or ‘You need to eat dairy to get enough calcium’ [All of which are myths but are to be discussed in other blogs one day] really got me going. But then I realised that generally people have only formed these viewpoints because of what they have heard in the media or because they simply haven’t researched the topics. I realised that I regularly form opinions on topics that I have NO IDEA about, simply because I don’t know any better. I hope that other people don’t get offended by my unsubstantiated opinions, and I try to respond in the way I wish to be treated.
I have heard it all – ‘vegans are no fun’, ‘Ewwww vegetarian food!’, blah blah blah. Once I cooked a huge dinner for someone and they didn’t eat it because it had no meat in it and said vegetarian food was ‘for f*gs’. It can get pretty frustrating BUT I have tried to learn to treat people how I wish to be treated and if I’m not willing to eat a dish WITH meat in it then I shouldn’t be disrespectful of the fact that a person is not willing to eat a dish WITHOUT it.
3. Ask Yourself Why The Other Person’s Comments Made You Feel So Uncomfortable
Just as another person’s behaviour can be reflective of their inner being, our reactions to their criticism can be a reflective of our own insecurities. Ask yourself why this criticism struck a chord – and don’t just think about ‘how bad they are’, think about what it is ABOUT YOU that makes you react that way. Your own lack of self esteem may make you feel insecure about decisions you make or it may be that you resent the person for a completely different reason. Whatever the reason is, you have the option of changing your future reactions by understanding what it is that makes you react, and trying to fix it. [the role and importance of counselling/psychology in freeing your emotions is another topic to be addressed in a blog soon]
4. Ask Yourself If There Is Anything You Can Learn
Sure, the other person may have a completely different opinion on what is ‘healthy’ – EVERYONE has an opinion – and they may have delivered their opinion to you in a really negative manner but there may be a way to learn from the situation.
If you look past the MANNER in which they said the comment, is there anything useful that you could learn?
Ie. If someone walked past and said in a very condescending way ‘Why are you eating that? Didn’t you know that such and such is sooo much better for you?’. In that situation, whilst the person acted rudely, you may still learn from the situation by finding out about a healthier option.
5. Respond in Kindness
Hopefully, the more you show this person kindness, the more they will reciprocate.

You are probably thinking ‘Why should I be nice to this person? They are rude.’ But, hey, if we all negatively reacted to each small rude act against us, there would be a war on our hands! Give the other person the benefit of the doubt and learn to respect them as a fellow human being – and you might even change the world while you do it. 🙂

6. Ignore the Behaviour
You don’t want to fuel the behaviour by reacting. Give a simple one liner response to acknowledge that you have heard the person but that their comment has had no effect ie. “ahh well you get that”. By not responding to their attack, you are taking control of the situation.
7. If all else fails…
 If this person’s behaviour continues to affect your relationship negatively, and they are a person you otherwise value as a friend/partner/colleague, it may be a good idea to discuss the issue with them. You may like to say something along the lines of “Hey Bob, I really appreciate our friendship/relationship and I would like to continue to be friends. I know you didn’t mean to hurt me but I felt upset by you saying that my food is for rabbits [or other specific criticism]. I have made a commitment to make healthy food choices and I would really appreciate it if you supported me in my decision and stopped describing my food choices in that way. Let’s go out for a coffee soon. Thanks so much.”
If the person is someone you feel is consistently making you unhappy in other areas of your life, it is possible that you simply aren’t compatible as friends at this stage of your life. If you no longer desire to have this person as a friend, slowly start to spend less time with them. If you reduce contact with them and put less effort into the relationship, you will most likely just drift apart without causing a horribly huge conflict. In circumstances where you are required to see the person often (ie. work colleague, the person frequents the same places as you or the person has many mutual friends), be polite and engage in small talk. I am of the opinion that no person is so horrible or unworthy that they should be treated without respect. Even if you don’t particularly like the person, you should look them in the eye and say ‘Hi, how are you?’ when you bump into each other and ‘Goodbye’ when they leave (whilst not always an easy task).
Let me know what you think – tell me about a similar experience you had and how you dealt with it. Leave your comments below 🙂