By Mina Kashani, NLC
Many years ago, long before gluten was a buzzword, I was diagnosed as “gluten intolerant.”
And everyone was happy for me. WRONG.
I have had to fight food bullying my entire adult life, and this became just another opportunity for those around me to judge my eating patterns. One would think that as adults we’d move past bullying. What I’ve learned is the opposite: people often manifest their insecurities around eating and food choices.
What Food Bullying Looks Like
I made a rule for myself once I started working in corporate America: No sweets at work. Simple enough.
However, every time you turn around there is a birthday, engagement, retirement…or it’s just Friday so that means cupcakes. I did not involve anyone in my rulemaking. It was just for me, and the only person that needed to follow it was me. But the comments I got ranged from funny to ridiculous to mean. “Are you really trying to get smaller?” “Just eat one bite; it won’t kill you!” And my favorite: “Are you anorexic?” All of these comments from adults in a professional setting.
Then I threw in an unheard-of food allergy and the games really began.
The situation that sticks in my mind to this day is dinner with a large group of girlfriends one evening. The group included meat eaters, vegans, vegetarians, and me, the lone gluten-free gal. I felt very comfortable with these women, as throughout the years we had accommodated each other’s eating habits without drama.
However, this particular evening, as I was ordering and making a few changes to the meal to accommodate my allergy, my friend, the vegetarian, spoke up. “Oh good Lord, Mina, your gluten-free thing drives me crazy. Just order,” she said. “It’s not going to kill you.”
I was in shock. This was a person I had hosted in my home for dinner many times. I had created special vegetarian meals for her, which many times meant cooking two separate meals. But my “gluten-free” drove her crazy?
How to Deal With Food Bullying
That night, I went home in shock and thought about the whole situation.
Why would my eating habits drive someone crazy? Why would what I had on my plate affect anyone else? It made no sense to me, because to be honest, I could care less what others had on their plates.
Unfortunately, this same scenario happened a few times with other people, but now I’ve learned to handle it better. I don’t meet their mean-spirited comments with comments of my own. Instead, I try to throw in a little comedy. I might say, “Okay, I will take one bite if you promise to come to my house at two in the morning when I’m in the fetal position.” That usually quiets them.
Thankfully, with gluten-free becoming a “craze,” there are more options on menus, which means less time spent discussing my meals with waiters.
Still, there will always be people who judge my choices and make comments. What I’ve learned to focus on is the fact that food bullying is about them, not me. It’s my plate, and I eat by my rules.
Mina is a yoga teacher and graduate of The Nutrition School. Her interest in health and fitness began early. She calls her mother “the original hippie chick” because growing up, everything was homemade and healthy. The main snacks were popcorn and fruit. This was paired with her Iranian father’s Middle Eastern diet, so processed foods were a rarity, and the combination made for an interesting diet, ranging from yogurt to cornbread.
Staying active is also a top priority for Mina, so after almost 16 years of practicing yoga, she became certified to teach four years ago. Yoga and hiking keep her sane and healthy. Mina currently resides in Belgium with her husband and finds every excuse to be outside and keep her obsession for tortilla chips under control.