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What You Should Consider Before You Say, 'That's All You're Eating?'

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As I am sitting in the dining center enjoying my spaghetti and talking to my friends, I happen to overhear some girls at the table next to ours.

“That’s all you’re eating?”

Such a simple question, yet it carries so much weight. Those few words are rude, and they have the potential to be so hurtful.

Why does it matter? Why do you care how much food somebody else has on their plate? If you’re not affected by how much they are eating, why do you need to say something?

After a discussion with my friends, I came up with five reasons you should not vocally judge how much another person is eating:

1. Eating disorders. Although it is not talked about very often, anorexia nervosa is common in teens and young adults. It is very possible the girl or boy you eat lunch with twice a week is dealing with mental health issues and trying to get better. But your comment could make her feel like everyone notices how much (or little) she’s eating, and judging her for it, which may trigger her eating disorder. Please do not be rude and do not judge — you may have no idea what the person sitting across the table from you is going through.

2. “Eats like a bird.” Some people, including myself, simply do not eat that much. When I was in elementary school, I went over to a friend’s house and upon noticing I wasn’t eating much of my macaroni and cheese, my friend’s mom commented, “You eat like a bird!” It’s true. I don’t eat a lot, especially not at one time. I prefer to snack throughout the day instead of having three main meals. Perhaps your friend at lunch just has different eating habits than you and is simply enjoying one of many daily snacks.

3. Food quality. What are the chances that everyone enjoys the dining center food every single day? Maybe your lunch mate simply does not like the food being served, so naturally he took a smaller portion. Sometimes I will take a little bit of food, even if I knowingly do not like it, just to be polite. Calling someone out when he could be trying to be polite yet discreet is unnecessary and may create an uncomfortable situation.

4. Sickness. When I get sick, my diet consists primarily of crackers and juice. My appetite disappears, and I can’t stomach anything besides small portions of bland foods. There are a variety of illnesses that can affect someone’s appetite or eating habits, and that person may not necessarily want to be vocal about their current health issues.  

5. Personal issues. You know that awful feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you are sad, angry or heartbroken? Your appetite vanishes even though you feel empty inside. During these times, your thoughts and emotions can consume you, so food loses its importance. There is no need to bring attention to what someone is or isn’t eating. Although they may be sitting across the table from you in the dining center, their mind might be far away and focused on something personal.

So the next time you see your friend eating only an apple for lunch, think about how your comment might affect them. You never know what could be happening in their life right now. Even though it may be an innocent question, it could have an unintended negative effect on your friend. Please think twice before you speak.

Follow this journey on Rach.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one phrase you wish people would stop saying about your (or a loved one’s) disability, disease or mental illness? Why? What should they say instead? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: June 10, 2016
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