Every time I order food from a particular take out place, as soon as I hang up the phone I get an incoming call. An automated machine calling on behalf of my bank, reciting “We fear there may be fraudulent charges on your account […] Please contact our identity theft and fraud department immediately at …. “. Sometimes I even get a text with the same information. The most recent time, I received a call, text, and an email which even went so far as to inform me that my account had been put on hold (i.e. my card was useless) until I called them back to go over the most recent charges on my account. Every time this happens I have to call the bank, and listen to a stranger list the most recent purchases on my card- which of course always concludes with a report of the place I ordered food from and the amount charged.
When the very nice stranger on the phone asks me if this is my charge, all I hear them saying is “so- this extremely unhealthy carb full restaurant you ordered from AGAIN…you spent ____….Don’t you live alone? Geez how many people are you planning on feeding?” I feel embarrassed and called out by the universe for my eating choices and frustrated at the fact that I am forced to report them to a stranger. Even so, I have not yet had the guts to tell my bank that they can stop calling every time I order food from this place because yes, it’s always going to be me (I like to eat their food) so while I appreciate your concern and thorough job of protecting my identity, please stop asking me to answer for my food choices.
These interactions with my bank, although unintentionally and indirectly on their part, are a great example of food policing. I’m sure that many folks prone to food policing out there mean the best. Sometimes it’s good to catch ourselves though and ask – what good is food policing really doing?
If you’re concerned about a friend’s health, it will probably be much better received if you express those concerns in the context of health and caring for your friend instead of commenting on if they’re “going to eat all that”, asking them “if they need to eat that” and making comments such as “you sure don’t look like a vegetarian”. Food policing ourselves, i.e. making comments like “oh no, I don’t need anymore, I’m trying to be good” can have a similarly negative effect on those around us. Food policing may sometimes even sound like compliments such as “great job choosing that salad!”.
Unless a friend or partner has come to a plan of healthy eating or exercising on their own or at the suggestion of a doctor and specifically asked for your support, food policing may be more harmful than helpful. Hopefully you’ve been hearing a lot about eating disorders and how they affect college students over the course of this past week. Even if you think information about eating disorders seems a little too extreme to apply to you and your friends, we can all still be mindful of how our own food policing-whether directed at others or at ourselves in the presence of others- is affecting our friends and their body image.
If you’re genuinely concerned about a friend’s eating habits, make it a point to talk to them while they’re not in the middle of a meal or about to sit down to start eating. You may consider suggesting they make an appointment at Student Wellness to meet with a Clinical Nutrition Specialist or Nutrition Education Consultant on campus. They’re great folks who can help you, your friend, or a partner go over healthy meal planning and choices for them and their body. If you’d like to host a program on healthy body image or nutrition for your student group or hall, check out the health education and training services available at Student Wellness.