Dealing with the Food Police

We know about the “diabetes police”—those people who, while trying to be helpful, can come across as bossy and even hurtful when addressing other people’s health issues. Then there are the food police—the people who can’t help but ask, “Should you be eating that?”

A group sit eating dinner while a couple give each other looks.

The holidays can be a particularly tricky time for anyone to navigate food situations: You’re more likely to be surrounded by treats and large meals laden with fat and carbohydrate, as well as family members and loved ones with good intentions and a long history of commenting on other people’s plates. We’ve all encountered them—and maybe even been a member of the food police at one point or another.

What to Do if You’re a Concerned Caregiver?

So what's the best way, as a caregiver, to make sure you're supportive without smothering, offering help without offending? Some simple steps can help you make meals go down smoothly, without a side of tension. Here's how to help your loved ones without policing them this holiday season:

Know Your Boundaries

No one is entitled to take charge of what or how much another independent person eats. The truth is, it's a thankless task, it doesn't help anybody and it can sometimes make the person's eating worse, not better. If you say, 'I'm only doing this for your own good,' you are being the food police. So if no one has asked for your opinion, it's best to keep it to yourself. You know that the question "Should you be eating that?" is loaded with criticism.

Set the Table for Success

Maybe your loved one or his or her health care provider has asked you to help set food guidelines together. If that's the case, you can provide plenty of food options that work with your loved one's personal dietary needs. That doesn't mean you don't provide stuff you wouldn't normally eat—it just means you provide options. Make slight modifications and make stuff that is accessible to people with diabetes. But remember, there's no need to single out the individual—healthful foods are a gift for all your guests.

Ask Questions to Learn More

For some, loved ones have genuine concern about a person’s health and diet. It’s possible to have very supportive 'food police' friends who don't criticize but inquire about how and what someone eats and how different foods impact blood glucose (or blood sugar). It’s important that these ‘food police” focus on encouraging and supporting their loved one.

What to Say if You’re One of the ‘Policed’?

So you know what to do to avoid becoming the food police—but what if you've been food-policed yourself? There are a few ways to handle it:

Shut It Down

You can do this in a few ways. For some, it may be easiest to simply walk away. Other people may turn the question around, asking, "Should any of us be eating this?" It's OK to say something, even if you think it might lead to a confrontation. Practice your response, even if it's just saying, "I love you," and ignoring the comment altogether.

Educate Others

People often have an inkling that sugar can be a problem for people with diabetes but tend to be clueless about carbohydrate sources in general. Sometimes it helps to explain why you’re eating foods that contain sugar. You can explain that carbs increase blood glucose, and we all have to eat them for energy.

Permit Yourself to Avoid Pitfalls

If a relative always gives you grief about dinner, you're allowed to stop by their house for coffee only. There's nothing that says you have to eat in an environment that makes you feel uncomfortable.

Fuel Your Body

You might think you can just avoid food when socializing, period, but most likely these situations—and your body—don't work that way. You don’t want to risk a hypoglycemic episode because you’re afraid to eat in front of others. Don't hurt yourself; treat and eat as needed.

Plan and Practice

Throughout the year, keep in mind that you're in charge of what you eat and when you eat, and stick with the structure of the meal plan that works best for you. No matter what kind of a modified diet you're on, structure is the backbone of it. Being positive and stable and self-respecting with your own eating is important, because it's you most of all that you have to satisfy.