I can’t tell you how many awkward moments I had when I was doing my 6 month experiment of no sugar. Somehow, because I was cutting one ingredient out of my diet to live a more healthy lifestyle, I became a poster child for “healthy living” to everyone around me. Somehow, because I was trying to break my addiction to sugar, my very presence made people uncomfortable at meals.
Turned into a Social Experiment
People often commented, “You must have so much more energy!” The top question I was asked was, “Have you lost any weight?” We are smart people – we know sugar is harmful to our bodies instinctively. It makes us sick, fat, and tired. But someone starts actually living that truth and people don’t know what to do.
Suddenly, people made comments when they ordered soda at a restaurant with me or apologized before shoving another donut in their mouth. They both admired me and were repulsed by my decision to quit sugar for 6 months. No one knew what to do when they invited me over for dinner. Friends laughed, slightly ashamed, as they ordered a big dessert or took third helpings at a potluck. I politely declined certain dishes that I knew had sugar in them even though it might be be unexpected, like salad with dressing or any beverage besides water. I had not expected this social aspect to be so difficult.
Shaming Others Is Never Okay
I have a dear friend who has recently decided to make some positive lifestyle changes, mostly in the area of healthy eating and exercising. Her coworkers don’t know how to respond to her lunches from home or turning down office desserts, so they have resorted to mocking and shaming her. I have experienced this myself. It’s like, because I am choosing to try to be healthier, suddenly I am a snob looking down on anyone who isn’t making the same choices I am.
This is not okay.
Why is this? Why don’t we respond positively to friends who are trying to eat healthy, work out more, and improve their health?
Why do we assume that different decisions automatically equal judgment?
Food in Society
I think this shows how closely food is linked to social status, social interactions, and our very identity. This is not surprising as we plan community time around meals of all kinds. Dinners out on the town with visiting guests, birthday parties with friends, family reunion potlucks. We spend time with the people we love while eating delicious food. We labor in the kitchen with love to provide those at our table with a meal. We literally cannot live without food or water.
Yet, people are addicted to food – sugar, carbs, salt, or fat – and many don’t realize it. Just like many other good things, too much can lead to an imbalance either physically or emotionally. This was the biggest and most shocking discovery for me when I quit sugar – I lived my life around sweet things. I remember waking up one morning a week or two into my newly sugar free life and wondering why I should even get out of bed that day. It was going to be just another day without sugar. WOW. Sounds like an addiction to me.
It had a hold on me greater than I knew until I tried to live without it. So when I quit sugar, I grew angry with people who would say to me “Wow, how much self-discipline you have! If only I could be like that….” Would you say that to a cocaine addict in rehab? No way – you would tell them how proud of them you were and you would offer them any support they needed. Research has shown how sugar is just as addictive as heroin or cocaine. But that was not the response I got. Instead, somehow my choices to eat a healthier diet were an automatic condemnation of theirs. Or, somehow I was suddenly a saint with immense self-control, admired from afar. Very frustrating.
So you friend, who is changing your diet or trying to exercise more — I applaud you and support you! Feel free to ignore anyone who isn’t understanding of your motives to live healthier. Find people who will encourage you – you need cheerleaders! And remember – not everyone is as into this as you are, so don’t try to convert people. Anyone who is really interested in changing their own life will approach you.
To you friend who is feeling convicted, annoyed, or frustrated about a friend or family member who is trying to be healthy – you have two choices. You can either be quiet and continue living your life the way you want without shaming them. Or, better yet, you can join in as their cheerleader.
Let’s start loving and supporting each other instead of heaping judgment upon judgment.
Indeed, the adventure begins, for us all!