Dealing with the Diet Police

By , SparkPeople Blogger
By Beth Donovan (~INDYGIRL)

Have you ever been given the third degree about whether you should be eating a certain food or be adding it to your shopping basket? “Do you really need that?”

“Should you be eating that on your diet?”

Was it like a scene from a movie where the person was just short of a bright light and a table to bang their fist on, or more slick like the subtle questioning of James Bond? Needless to say, those are typical "diet police" interrogation questions, designed to keep law and order and take control of your world.

Who are the diet police and why do they pay so much attention to what is on our plates and in our shopping carts? Why do they question us in a friendly, yet conniving manner about our well being and progress? Why do they make comments at family dinners and in public that belittle us about our weight or what we are eating or not eating? Why do they blame all of our problems on our weight, as if we couldn’t have any “normal” problems or issues?

The diet police are various sects of people who all share one thing in common; they believe they can make better choices for you than you or I can. Most believe that any means necessary might need to be employed in the name of saving you from yourself. Their intentions are not always bad, but can be harmful, just the same.

Some diet police will do or say hurtful things “For your own good,” thinking that humiliating you enough will motivate you to change. They do this because they feel it is their job to take care of you. Instead, their constant belittling of you fosters a feeling of inferiority and shame. This simply makes many of us build up a wall and eat in secret and isolate ourselves, feeling as if we are not good enough.

Many diet police don’t believe people can make sound choices about your own nutrition. They believe in one way, their own. You should follow their diet, because it’s the one that works. They think that if you could just eat right and exercise, everything would be okay. They don’t understand the complexities of weight loss and the psychological impact weight has on a person. It is a simple formula, actually. Calories in and calories out is the formula, BUT not everyone metabolizes at the same rate and not everyone is subject to the same eating or exercise rules. This doesn’t even take into account depression, injury, chronic pain, and eating disorders, among other things. Losing weight is a very individualized thing.

Diet police believe they have the right to visually search your shopping cart and plate for offenses. They still have that “Good food” and “Bad food” mentality. They can be legalistic and not understand the concept of moderation, thus judging a person on what they do choose to eat.

Most diet police have never had a major problem with their weight, and therefore do not know the struggles that people who are significantly overweight face. Many lack the experiences to be able to empathize and motivate those they are trying to police.

Diet police doctors are a pet peeve of mine. They are the doctors that think you wouldn’t get sick if you weren’t overweight or that all of your illness would magically disappear with some diet and exercise. While diet and exercise will help you and boost your immune system, keep in mind that thin people get sick too and overweight people deserve the same medical care and compassion when they go to the doctor.

Diet police can start bad eating habits from the shame they cause. From my experience and others I’ve known, we’ve hidden food, binged, had bulimia, anorexia, compulsive overeating, felt shamed, eaten alone in isolation, avoided gatherings, not sought health care, avoided working out in public and believed we would never find love. So far, I have overcome all of the above and so have a few of my friends. Some still suffer and go to therapy to undo damage that was done by their diet police. If you have diet police checking you for offenses or “Trying to take care of you,” by improper means, have a talk with them. Explain you are on a fantastic new plan called SparkPeople and you know exactly what you are doing. No more policing allowed, but love without shame is always welcomed. EXPLAIN to them how they CAN help you in a positive manner and SHOW them SparkPeople. You may make a difference in their life.

How do you deal with the "diet police"?

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints


I have a Diet Police officer that I work with and when she does that, I throw it right back at her! And she hates it! I think it's funny because it's one of those situations where she can "dish it up, but she can't take it" (no pun intended lol). Or else I will grill her about her financial situation, since she's terrible with her money. Report
Great blog!! Report
I am somewhat the opposite. My mother does not think I should limit myself to only "healthy food" and does not support my weight loss. It is hard to have someone nagging the other way around too. Report
I wish I could print this out and give it to my grandmother, but she wouldn't read it or think it applies to her if she did. I was raised by her and had bulimia for many years. She doesn't say anything to me much anymore, but has hounded my 19 year old son for years, even though I have tried talking to her, AND gotten into yelling fights with her over it. She is 89 and won't change anyway, it's learning to ignore her comments or change the subject. Report
Thank you for articulating exactly what I have felt..I am copying this article and sending it to my daughter..I believe that people need to learn about their judgement calls no matter what their intent. My motto is think before you speak AND lets spread words of love! Report
My experience of diet police is rather different but just as annoying. I was 50 pounds overweight when I joined Spark and have lost approximately 14 pounds since then. A member of my family regularly looks me up and down and says stuff like 'Oh dear . . . . you won't lose TOO much will you?' The first few times I asked what she meant but she had no reply. Guess I don't need to say that she could do with losing quite a few pounds herself. Report
I had a psychiatrist who accused me of lying about losing inches because the scale didn't really change in the numbers. The guy said I was purposely buying my clothing too large so I may deceive my husband and others. Never mind that I had been lifting weights for several months. He told me I could not lose weight on my own, and that only surgery would help; all I had to do was let him write me into a local private hospital and I could get the lap-band in less than 72 hours. I freaked and left the office in tears. No one believed me until I went to my regular MD in an old pair of jeans and dropped them to the floor in the exam room so that he could see my smaller tuchas in bright purple undies! I could pull them right off without unbuttoning or unzipping; I had dropped three sizes! He promptly wrote me a referral to another psychiatrist. Report
I used to let them make me feel bad. Now I look them straight in the eye and say, "I've got to keep my weight up." Report
My Mom, who is otherwise my best friend, seems to have done a number on me growing up. She and my brother are both svelte with high metabolisms, while my Dad and I have spent our entire lives struggling with our weight. She's not MEAN about it, but now that I'm older I'm starting to understand the complex she seems to have given me. I started eating in secret before I even graduated 8th grade because, while my preternaturally skinny brother was allowed to gorge himself on Lucky Charms and cheese puffs and then order dessert without comment, I was hit with a constant barrage of, "Do you really need that?" "Are you hungry, or are you just bored?" "Just put down the fork." "Are you snacking AGAIN?" and "Didn't you just eat?"

I developed such a sense of shame about eating that even now I'm red thinking about it. It got so bad that my kid brother would be demolishing a huge slice of chocolate [insert pastry here] after a meal out, and if I tried to nab a forkful, my mother would chastise me. "Oh, don't. You don't need that."

I know it came from a good place, her trying to get me to be conscious about how I was eating and what I put in my body, but the only way I was able to lose weight at all was by telling her flat-out that I didn't want her help, or her questions, or her minding me, and that if I wanted her to know how it was going, I would tell her.

Still wish I could undo the lasting damage from my childhood, though. Report
Thanks, amazing article and very eloquent too:) Report
Thank you for the article. These types of people always upset me! I have two in my family and... you're right! They have never had problems with weight and know EVERYTHING about losing weight! Anymore, I'm not sure if they do it to feel good about themselves or if they truly care about my weight. Report
My husband is the worst! He's the ONLY one that polices me and he does it so effeciently that I often binge (when he's not around) because he's pissed me off so bad. Even when we go out he gets upset if I ordr anything but a salad! I've talked to him about it but he just does'nt get it. He thinks he's "helping" me. Report
Amen! My husband is the diet police and I have experienced all of this. I still tend to eat more when he is not around when he can't see though I fight it.... Report
After many years of the diet police encouraging me to eat (Yes!) even as they questioned my wisdom, I was blessed with a fantastic son-in-law. He firmly stated that he didn't like hearing me put myself down and wanted me to STOP. That changed my approach. If anyone were to question me now, I'd be likely to say, "Why do you ask?" or "I'm sorry. I don't recall asking for your advice." But no one says anything now that I don't. Report
i have several "diet police" in my life. Each day I hear those words.."can you eat that?". I quietly turn to them say "yes, as long as I serve myself healthy portions, I can eat anything that you can". I refuse to let these people bring me down. I do get frustrated, i may even get angry and spout off somedays, but I will take care, eat what I need to and lose one pound at a time the healthy way. Report
Wow, I have been fortunate enough not to have encountered one of these folks, and is probably good for them I haven't. I know that there are choices people make that aren't the best for them, but really, I've got enough on my hands with myself! Talk about crossing boundries. However, if some one is eating something that can actually kill them (like something I'm allergic to, but crave anyway) does a desire to preserve a loved one mitigate the label "diet police"? It seems that it is a situation akin to the anti-smokers, but for second hand smoke... Report
In my life, the Chief of the Diet Police is named "Mom," and she runs a determined public education campaign. My mother has both the metabolism and the nervous energy of a hummingbird after a double espresso - she is thin as a rail and I think that my being overweight actually causes her more anxiety than it does me. I wish that she wouldn't be so upset, but even more, I wish that she would stop offering helpful 'tips' every time I put *anything* in my mouth in front of her. I'm actually waiting for the day when she expresses concern about the ancilliary calories I may be absorbing when I hold my keys in my mouth to free up my hands... I know that it's well meant, and that her "concern" is really just that, but it doesn't make it any less irritating. Report
Its not until you wake up to the fact that you have to go lean for medical reasons, that eating healthy begins to makes sense. . after all fatty foods and carb upon carb desserts are sold right here in America, can't be anything wrong about that! No, the diet police do the 'great god of lean' one better, they set people straight by speaking to them in social environments, where its real easy to get the point across, among peers. Report
The damage done is complex, and the motivation behind it even more so. Report
I try really hard to not be the diet police with my daughter, but I'm not perfect and know that sometimes I cross the line. I also know that her overweight, diabetic grandmother who doesn't follow her doctor's recommendations will flat-out ridicule my daughter's choices, even after eating a 3-piece fish & fries meal from Captain D's. When I do make comments, I try to say things like, "That's OK to eat, but wouldn't this be a better choice?" I've been doing it mentally for myself too. Report
If you are eating something you shouldn't, I don't need to say anything. You must be saying it yourself in your head. If you're not, you should be. Stop looking for and making excuses and blaming your actions on others. Report
I've also run into the "diabetic police." Fortunately, when I was diagnosed, my doctor referred me to a diabetic educator and a nutritionist; and the first thing they both told the group was, "There is no such thing as a food a diabetic cannot eat. If you could eat it before you were diagnosed, you can eat it now. You just need to be aware of the proper portion size and write it into your meal plan." Once I explained that to my coworkers, they stopped worrying about it. They'll remind me to eat or to check my blood sugar if I ask them to (such as when we're on site at our trade show when schedules get wacky), but otherwise, they accept that I know what I'm doing. My roommate just asks me if I remembered to log what I ate. Report
Wow. This article is definately reading my book. I was raised a fat kid/teenager and over 36 yrs ago, I married a wonderful guy. A guy who looked past my weight (about 30 extra pounds at the time) and loved me. What I didn't know, is he looked past that weight because he felt he could change me. He was in extremely great shape, a health nut, exerciser, and sports player. I had 5 babies in 7 years and was blessed to be a SAHM. Through the years there's been food control issues between us. My husband, who was a BIG eater, could afford to be. By now he had entered physical therapy AND led large aerobic classes on the side. Yet, I continued to gain weight, staying at home and cooking (and eating) , taking care of the family. It was constantly "Should you eat that?", "Won't that make you fatter?", etc. Of course the answer was yes -- but the questioning just made it easier to eat my frustrations and unhappiness. One time, he went through the kitchen and threw out everything he deemed "unhealthy" and this was a time when I had no junk food in the house. If we had cookies, I baked them. If we had french fries, I fried them. He threw out the white flour, all sugars, and anything else he considered harmful. That started us on buying our "goodies" at the store and hiding them from him. After a while, he relaxed and things went back more to our normal. The day came when he was playing basketball at the gym and he suffered a knee injury. Superman had taken a fall - and with his usual 5-6,000 calorie/day diet he started gaining weight b/c he no longer could burn those calories like he did before. He had started eating because of depression and the frustration of not being healthy. In short, he then began to understand the struggle I had been going through all these years. Today, I'm still too fat, he's a little fat (but still very conscious of his health and exercise) and we are both Type 2 diabetes. It's sad, but honestly I wouldn't trade our bellies in if I had to go back to that former life. Before, when he would say "Are you eating that?" he was being controlling and judgemental. Now, when he rarely says "Are you eating that?" I know it's because he cares for me. Now, we are both working on getting "healthier" not "thinner". Because, throughout this long journey, I've learned that they are not necessarily the same thing. In the case of dieting, I believe the scripture "Work out your own salvation" may apply. Report
The people that are important to me are supportive, and I don't care what the rest think...My answer usually is " Well then.. maybe you shouldn't eat that.." ( in answer to their question; should you be eating that,..) Report
I tend to ignore them. If people have nothing better to comment on what I am eating or what I put in my shopping cart, their lives are very sad. I have attempted so many different "diets" and "lifestyle changes". I have found the one I want and believe me, I get grimaces from lots of people. I have chosen to go about 65% raw. Report
Food and diet police are all over the television in addition to the personal situations. Report
I NEVER say anything- I grew up with my mom second guessing everything I ate and it does not good. That doesn't mean I'm not gonna say something inside my head. Also, if I see that unhealthy eating is a regular thing, I'm not gonna be very sympathetic when you complain about not fitting into your clothes anymore. I'm sorry, but losing weight sucks and takes effort- if you're not willing to put in the work, what do you expect? Report
Actually I think the worst of the police are running around in my head. I don't think I'd buy into this so much if it weren't connecting a tiny little bit with what I might actually think as well. So, when I run into the "outside my head" diet police, it gives me a chance to stop, connect with my inner police and tell them both quietly that I am in charge of my decisions, so "Shoo"! Report
I have this issue with salt. The "Salt" Police we'll call them. Yes, I use it, and it appears that NO ONE ELSE DOES! Every time I'm in public with friends/family/strangers, as soon as I reach for the salt, SOMEONE has a negative comment! It got so bad that the last time someone made a comment to me, I told them off. I don't have high blood pressure, and I don't overuse it. It just appears that since I'm black, people assume I have it, or will develop it and feel the NEED to chastise me every single time I reach for the salt shaker. I've started speaking up and telling them what's on my mind on that regard. I don't get many comments on my salt intake anymore... Report
There are people like this? I honestly don't think I know any so I don't know how I would handle them. Either that or I'm very thick skinned which must really annoy them when I don't even notice. Maybe they recognize that I'm not easily pushed around? Report
hmmm, I may have to 'accidentally' leave this article laying around for a few people.

Thank you for putting it short, bittersweet, and to the point! Report
My favourite way works really well if someone's been rudely critical (although I'm exremely lucky andhardly ever come across Diet Police!). I look in wide-eyed, sympathetic surpise at them and say: "Gosh; I wonder what made you think that was appropriate - you must be so embarrassed!"

Seriosuly - works a treat. :) Report
In the past when I've tried to lose weight, it would be my husband who'd comment on what I ate. To be honest I'd end up eating more just to spite him, which soon spiralled out of control. THIS TIME I actually sat down with him and talked everything through with him, showed him my food diary on Spark and included him in every aspect. As a result he has been really supportive! Now he'll ask me in the evening 'how much room do you have left today?' and if I've not met my calorie minimum he'll get me a bit of supper or make me a hot chocolate. People need to understand what we're doing, then they can make VALID contributions Report
I'm fortunate that I don't have any "diet police" in my life. My friends and family know I am working on a healthier lifestyle. They've seen the results (14 lbs and nearly 7 inches lost) and they don't question me. If anything, they are very supportive. Report
1. Diet police don't get that this is a lifestyle change and that less healthy choices can help you stay on track in the long run.
2. Its a good point that sometimes a comment can make you feel guilty. What they think about your choices is their issue, how that makes you feel is yours.
3. I find myself judging people for their choices now - I have a friend on a low carb kick and I worry that this is not healthy for her. She says she feels healthier than she has ever felt and has combined it with food tracking, cutting out some problem junk foods (like diet soda) and exercise. I hope it is working for her but I worry that her nutritionist does not have her on a safe or sustainable path. Hard to know if that is my problem or hers!
The thing is, its never as black and white as we woudl like it to be. =)
oddly enough I don't really have to deal with them, if anything I have to deal with friends trying to encourage me to overindulge, or co-workers surprised that I am heating up frozen green beans for my lunch, and that I like it! But I am great at tuning out basically everyone's opinions that don't build anything positive towards my health/fitness goals, so that helps too. Report
I hope I'm not one of the diet police or exercise police. I don't think I am, but you've given me something to watch out for when I am trying to encourage someone. Thanks! Report
I deal with them by giving it right back because 9 times out of 10 they have an "issue" too and need to focus on that and not me. Report
I had a doctor once- I went to him to run blood tests because my appetite had suddenly gone through the roof and I had gained 60 lbs in 6 months! he refused the blood test and told me to "push away from the table" ...I told him to kiss my ample ass and found a new doctor! The next doctor found what was wrong and fixed it so that I can start to lose the weight! By the way- if you're in the SF Bay Area and need a doctor- I DON'T suggest "Dr Leslie Moretti" - bigole diva thinks he's a bigole JERK! Report
Judgmental people seem to have difficulty keeping their comments to themselves. However I think that that they have the same difficulty they are pointing out to you. I might (in a non-confronting way)agree at some time or other with them and say something like "you really know your calorie count. Have you ever dieted?". This might open a dialogue that could lead to a better understanding conversation between each of you. At some time or other I may have been cop-like to my partner. I realized that it wasn't helpful since it led to an argument and eventually distance between us. BUMMER!! Report
Someone is always a critic, I just ignore.
If I am in a good mood I might say "Your point being"? and say no more. If I am NOT being benevolent I just look incredulous and say nothing. Simply leaving them hanging with a leaded loaded silence weighing THEM down.

Last week some I had not seen in over 10 years said to me "Oh you sure have gotten round". I said "you sure have gotten old" & said no more. They sputter but could not respond. There was no reason for a response. FYI I LIKE being older : : := ) Report
The diet police annoy me... I usually answer them in a couple different ways. "of course it is", "why wouldn't it be", & "it isn't in yours?" Some co-workers have become my diet police since I started losing weight. For the people I like I use the first two responses, simple and polite responses. For the one lady I'm not a huge fan of, I always respond with the third. It starts her thinking of her own diet, and leaves me alone. Report
In a fit of pique, I asked a Diet Policeman to show me ID.

When she asked, "What ID?" I responded, "Your Diet Policeman badge".

I had decided I wasn't going to suffer any more blows to my self-esteem without giving as good as I got. Friends and relatives no longer give me "diet" advice. I get it from professionals here at Spark. Report
If I may add one more comment - because of her mother's "diet police" attitude, I have a niece who struggles with anorexia. I asked once and it was confirmed, that Momma (now my EX my sister in law) used to say to her girls "if you eat like that, you are going to end up like your auntie's" My niece will struggle with this issue her whole life - just as I struggle with mine. We commiserate with each other and I NEVER say I wish I had her problems, because I don't! I just love her. Report
I have been very public about my desire to live a healthier life. That is exaclty how I phrase it - I never use that other 4 letter word - D***. When any diet police feel they have the right - no DUTY - to comment - and ask "should you be eating that?" my response is short, sweet and simple "yup". No explainations, no excuses. Sometimes, if it is someone I like, I will say "and it's yummy - want some?" Report
I'm with GOLFINSUNSHINE. My friend and I are getting in shape together and we keep each other accountable. The other day I really wanted to indulge in a melty, cheesy sandwich for my "meal off" of the week. She suggested I order a half sandwich with a side salad instead. It was all I needed to satisfy my soul and not hate myself an hour later when I would have been overstuffed. I really appreciated it. Seems like not appreciating the honest efforts of the "diet police" that are close to you may actually be a way of blaming someone else for a guilty conscious about choosing a food you know isn't a great choice. Report
I have learned that the diet police doesn't always know what is best. I learned that when I quit drinking beer. I knew I had to do it for myself. I have used this in my approach to bettering my health. Report
My husband is the worst. He makes comments about everything, whether in public or not. I do believe he was trying to help, but instead I became so resentful and angry at him that it almost destroyed our marriage. I finally had to tell him not to make
ANY comments (good or bad) about my weight, my exercise habits, or what I'm eating because he is incapable of doing so with sensitivity and understanding. He doesn't agree and doesn't understand my point of view at all, but he is trying. I can feel the walls of resentment going away already... I just wish all those well-meaning folks out there would realize that we fat people know that we're fat and live every day feeling either worthy or unworthy based solely on whether we have a "good eating day" or a "bad eating day". It's exhausting and emotionally unhealthy, and the do-gooders with their "helpful" comments just make it all worse. Report
To me, this is "an award-winning article"!!!!! This is a subject I've not seen discussed before, but I believe it goes hand-in-glove with the stereotypes Hollywood portrays on-screen. "If you don't look like _____, then shame on you." And that, in turn, causes many of us to feel guilty, "stash the trash" and eat it later when "they're" not looking!!

Thanks for a GREAT blog!!
~~Jocelyn Newton~~ Report