Daniel Sher educates us and shares practical advice on how to make peace with the food police.
Who are the food police?
People who feel they have the right to comment on your dietary choices.
As a person living with diabetes, here are steps can you take to stop the food police from ruining your day.
One way of coping with the food police is to put yourself in their shoes. Often, they truly are coming from a place of care and concern. Even if their response is inflammatory enough to make you want to pull your (or their) hair out.
Recognise that often, when someone asks, “Are you allowed to eat that?”, the subtext of their question is: “I’m really freaked out by the fact that you have this illness. So, I’m making these comments to help me feel in control”.
Diabetes is tough for us who live with it, but it’s also taxing for our loved ones. Recognise that food policing might simply be a family member’s coping strategy. Once you’ve made peace with this idea, you’ll be better placed to educate and set boundaries to stop food policing for good.
Often, the food police lack an understanding of what people with diabetes can and can’t eat. For example, you may be shocked to learn how many people think that managing diabetes is simply about avoiding sugar. If only it were that simple!
If you’re feeling in a good enough mood, you can use your loved one’s display of ignorance as an opportunity to help them learn more about a) what managing diabetes is really about; and b) what sort of responses are and aren’t helpful.
Ultimately, however, the food police often leave us feeling angry and hurt; and we’re usually not in the right sort of space to educate. This is perfectly okay. In such situations, it’s important to own your anger so that you can set healthy boundaries.
Own your anger
Many of my clients are surprised when I tell them that anger is a good thing. Specifically, anger is a healthy indicator that something is off in a relationship. It’s a catalyst for important interpersonal change. Your anger lets you know that a loved one has overstepped a boundary.
If you’re able to channel your anger into a healthy response (discussed below), you’ll be using your emotion to help you establish appropriate boundaries.
To do this, it’s important to own your anger: acknowledge and accept its presence. Allow yourself to feel it; but give yourself some time to calm down before you act on what you’re feeling!
Your job, should you choose to accept it, is to set healthy boundaries. It’s possible to do this in a kind way, but you need to be firm and assertive at the same time.
This is where ‘owning your anger’ comes into play. Connect with whatever the food police make you feel – anger, sadness or frustration. Tell them frankly what you feel when they speak to you in this way. This will help them to understand that what they are doing is not helpful or appropriate. The phrases below may be helpful in such circumstances:
- “I know you’re coming from a place of concern, but what you’re doing is not really helping.”
- “My body, my health, my choices. Please respect that and ease off.”
- “If you really want to support me, you’ll stop making me feel ashamed and guilty.”
As a friend or family member of a person living with diabetes, how can you avoid becoming a member of the food police?
If you believe that the most important aspect of managing diabetes is avoiding sugar and carbohydrates at all costs, you should educate yourself before making potentially harmful comments.
This is a common trap that the food police frequently fall into. You see your loved one eating a delicious muffin and you make a critical comment based on the assumption that they’re mismanaging their condition.
A good place to start would be to read articles on www.diabetessa.org.za on managing diabetes. However, even if it turns out that your loved one is making a ‘wrong’ or ‘unhealthy’ choice, it’s important to make peace with the fact that, ultimately, it’s their choice to make. Not yours.
Control your urge to control
When we ask someone whether they should really be eating that slice of carrot cake, it’s usually coming from a place of genuine concern. However, it’s not having the intended effect, because it’s likely to infuriate and annoy, rather than encourage healthier food choices.
So, what’s the solution? We need to recognise the fact that our loved one having diabetes elicits, in us, an overwhelming sense of being out of control. By acknowledging this feeling, we see that it leads us to try to control our loved one’s behaviour by constantly monitoring and commenting on their choices.
We need to learn to start accepting the fact that much of life itself is uncontrollable. There are certain things, such as our loved one’s dietary choices, that we need to let go and allow. This doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t do anything to support your loved one in making healthy choices. Read on to learn how to do this in an appropriate manner.
Offer your support
How can you convert your desire to help into a response that is truly useful for your loved one? Stop speaking and start listening. Stop advising and start asking questions. Show your loved one that you are curious and that you care.
Instead of trying to tell them what they should be doing, ask them what you can do to support them. Make yourself available to understand; and be non-judgmentally curious about their difficulties and decisions.
Research shows that social support is incredibly important for us diabetes patients. In most cases, your loved one will benefit simply by knowing that you are there and that you care, in a respectful and non-intrusive manner. Sometimes, your loved one will ask you to back off. In such cases, it’s important to give them their space.
MEET OUR EXPERT
Daniel Sher is a registered clinical psychologist who has lived with Type 1 diabetes for over 28 years. He practices from Life Vincent Pallotti Hospital, in Cape Town, where he works with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes to help his clients thrive. Visit www.danielshertherapy.com