Many years ago, long before gluten was a buzzword, I was diagnosed as “gluten intolerant.”
And everyone was happy for me.
I’ve had to fight food bullying my entire adult life, and this became just another opportunity for those around me to judge my eating habits. 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’s a birthday, engagement, retirement… or it’s just Friday so that means cupcakes. I didn’t involve anyone in my rule-making. 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?” said one co-worker. “Just eat one bite; it won’t kill you!” said another. And my favorite: “Are you anorexic?” All of these comments came from adults in a professional setting.
Then I threw in an unheard-of food allergy and the games really began.
The incident that sticks in my mind to this day was a 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 thing” drove her crazy?
How I 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 couldn’t 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.
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