“Why don’t you eat some real food?”
“Ugh…you’re so healthy!”
“Going to the gym again?”
Health shaming is a pattern of relating to oneself or others that is toxic or negative to people practicing healthy habits. It works to deter people from adopting healthier ways of being or it disconnects people from each other. Health-shaming also acts as a barrier for people who wish to be healthy but are not yet able to actualize health in their lives.
Making a positive change in one’s health is difficult from a purely behavioral/habit change perspective. Throw in social pressure and cultural factors and health changes can feel like mission impossible.
The challenge of health-shaming begins when someone makes a choice that is different from our own. What do we do when someone chooses to do something for themselves is different from our own choices?
What can sometimes happen is an indirect put down in the form of teasing. It’s light hearted enough to be construed as a joke, but feels like a put-down. These jabs are subtle and often relate to the messenger’s own insecurities about their health.
What can be done to remedy this pattern is a good dose of acceptance. Acceptance on both sides. Acceptance that each person is doing what they feel is best for them. This works if you’re either the ‘healthy’ one concerned about something someone else is doing or if you’re the ‘unhealthy’ one and feeling guilty about ordering dessert.
If someone else’s choices triggers something inside of you that causes a reaction, it’s probably worth asking why. Perhaps there’s desire your body has for healthier foods or more movement. On the flip side, maybe your body needs a break from exercise or some sweet indulgence.
I will admit some people who are health fanatics do get caught in the illusion that they are better than others. Ignore them. No one is better than anyone else. We are all on our own journey facing our struggles and doing the best we can to be healthy with what we have learned.
Try to not perpetuate the resistance to health by bringing negativity into your mental space.
Health-shaming is a form of bullying. It’s actively putting down someone else’s attempts to take care of themselves by making them feel odd, strange, different or abnormal.
As an example of this, a client of mine experienced when she had some whole grain cereal on her desk. Her boss was going out to get a hamburger and offered to get something for her from the local fast food chain. When she declined, he said, “I can get them to put your bird food in the bun!”
On a deeper level, it’s very likely that her boss felt like his bid to connect through food was rejected and therefore reacted with a jab at her food. Food is one of the main ways we connect; therefore it’s important to find ways to keep the connections going without needing a cake in the kitchen daily.
So now that we know what the challenge is, let’s talk about how to cope with it.
First, resolve that you are doing what’s best for you and your health and others don’t have to like, approve, follow it for your choices to be valid or worthwhile. Decide that your health and body is worth it.
Second, accept others as they are. Don’t respond to negativity with more negativity towards them or yourself. Let the tension go and this will avoid creating any resistance to the choices that serve you. Acknowledge that they are reacting to you because of something to do with them, not you, and don’t take it personally.
Thirdly, stay committed to your health and when you slip, forgive yourself and keep doing what is most caring for you and your health. Ignore the naysayers especially when the judgments come from your own thoughts.
The more you practice making healthy choices and self-approval; the more the health-shamers lose their power and eventually leave you alone. In those moments, they might begin to move themselves closer to making a healthier choice for themselves instead of wasting energy trying to discourage you.
Move yourself and love yourself. With your health, you can achieve all things.