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Poll: Justifying food choices

October 24, 2008

First of all, read this post from Elastic Waist.

People do this all the time around me. They seem to think that because I’m a health writer and am trying to live a healthy lifestyle, that automatically means that I’m judging them for everything that they do.

Therefore, they feel the need to justify: I haven’t eaten in hours- I’m so hungry- I haven’t indulged in a while- I walked a lot yesterday- it’s just a couple glasses of wine- I’m PMSing- I’m really stressed- there’s cream cheese in this so that’s dairy so it’s kind of healthy.

But it’s not just other people feeling guilty when they sit down to eat with me. I do it too. I constantly hear people saying to me Goodness you eat a lot- you eat nonstop- don’t let Sagan see what you’re eating, it’s not healthy enough- it’s got olive oil in it so you can eat it because it’s healthy.

I feel guilty, too. And I justify away what I am eating: I had boot camp this morning- it’s salad so it doesn’t matter if my portion is enormous- I know it’s not incredibly healthy for me, but that’s okay every once in a while.

Why do we feel the need to justify what we do to other people? We should only be doing what we feel is the right thing to do, and never mind if others are casting a critical eye over our eating choices. What’s your take on this? Answer the poll and leave a comment below!

29 comments

  1. We are conditioned very early in life to justify our actions. It’s part of life. We don’t want to be perceived as anything less than perfect.

    sorry for the deleted comment – made a typing mistake and didn’t want to be judged an idiot! 🙂


  2. Oh my gosh, Sagan, I totally know what you mean Throughout this entire abroad experience I’ve had to tell my host-family and my new friends about my interest in food and nutrition and the blog I have to depict the culinary journey. I say “had” because I probably would’ve told most of them anyway but I needed an excuse for all the plate pictures :). Whenever I go out to eat with anyone know I hear a great deal of excuses and sometimes feel like they’re watching me too. I feel like I’m supposed to be the example and that although splurging should be a healthy part of everyone’s diet I, somehow, aren’t entitled to privilege. I think it’s a perfection thing that I’ve obviously had trouble balancing before this. Any tips? 🙂


  3. I’ve already dealt with this, and now I’m confident and OK with how I eat, but it took a little time. I sent a post to my website about this yesterday, where I linked a former post of yours! It won’t be up for a week or so. Thank you!


  4. I think the problem here is that you are not seeing that everyone, everywhere, always, ALWAYS does this. Do you know why? It’s simple. Without an idea or what is virtuous, right and good, moral (all those “positive qualities”) we would have no idea at all what we should become. People’s identities are created by the people around them. It only makes sense that we would look to the same people to verify our actions. This becomes habit, and people do it forever. There really isn’t an escape from this. And why should there be? Without this quality no one would have an idea of what is “acceptable” and taboo would not exist. This might seem quaint and nice but if thought of thoroughly anyone could see it leads to chaos. In the end I think the best course of action is to accept this to be true. With this, just like eating, it’s IMPOSSIBLE to always abstain. Sometimes everyone will eat a piece of cake or justify something, there’s nothing wrong with either of these things. What REALLY needs to be done is to stop justifying the justification. In reality, it’s fairly unavoidable and everyone should just take it easy on themselves. Also, in the end, deep down I believe people WANT to justify their actions. Why not let them? And let yourself.


  5. i voted with the majority – it’s just become so innate for us to feel like we have to justify eating something indulgent, or make others feel bad about eating “better” than us. Food is all about judging these days. I read that post at Elastic Waist a few days ago and thought the line “You should order onion rings because you can’t just sit there and watch us eat! You have to have some of my fries…” was spot-on – that convo takes place at all-girl dinners around the country. It’s sad…


  6. Most of my social circle are “foodies”, so most of the time I don’t feel the need to justify anything. Most of the time I eat fairly healthy anyway, and people know that. I do sometimes justify things to myself though.


  7. Totally feel you on this one. I am definitely labeled “the healthy one” and sometimes feel like I’m an animal at the zoo when I decide to order pizza or something. People look and go oh my goodness… pizza? I didn’t know you ate pizza… isn’t that bad for you? I’ve tried explaining myself, or on the flip-side trying explaining things like that aren’t necessarily BAD if they’re natural… but no matter what it never sinks in. Now I just shrug my shoulders and smile. 😀


  8. Bag Lady- it’s all about striving for perfection!

    Danielle- it’s very difficult to balance. I will think on it! And will write a post of tips if I can gather some up:)

    Dr. J- thanks! We all need to increase our confidence, I suppose.

    Robin- yes, but it’s difficult to constantly face it day after day when it gets to the point of needlessness. And it is not good for a lot of peoples’ body image!

    Leslie- absolutely. It becomes something so apologetic and there’s this incessant urging for others to join in.

    Javachick- I’m glad to hear that! That’s such a great attitude to have.

    Catherine- smiles accomplish lots!


  9. I’ll be interested in seeing the final results of this.


  10. I’m new so you’ll have to explain “body image” to me. What I surmise is that it’s simply, the image of your body you have for yourself. If this is the case, then how do those words affect what your physical body looks like? Unless…I’m missing something entirely.


  11. hmmmmm. can I say I dont give a rats arse? 🙂

    people ALWAYS comment on how and what I eat (youre not eating the mushrooms?! those are so good for you!) because I am admittedly a picky eater (Ill eat anything to spare people’s feelings…if they made it for me…but if NOT? then I eat what I want commenters be damned)


  12. Sadly, this is one of my worst weaknesses. I always feel like people are watching me eat and that I need to explain or apologize for what I’m eating, healthy or otherwise! And yeah, it makes me sad…:)


  13. Dee- me too!

    Robin- I can explain it more in-depth to you later, but the basic concept is that your body image is the way you PERCEIVE your body to be. Therefore, you can have positive or negative body image. Someone with an eating disorder, for example, is going to very likely have major body image issues and part of the treatment will be to have a more positive perspective on their body image. And how other people react to us has a huge effect on our body image.

    MizFit- shoot, I should have added that to the list of answers! Love your outlook. And I’m super picky too:)

    Charlotte- it’s silly, isn’t it? And so sad!


  14. I’m pretty much guilt free. I’ve gotten to a stage in my life that I don’t really care what people think of me. Don’t know if that always a good thing, but it’s me.


  15. I admit, I have loosened my standards a bit as far as eating (maybe too much!), so I think I fall under the don’t usually care camp. Of course, 20 years ago I would have had quite a different answer!


  16. I haven’t really had this problem with justifying what I eat, I’ve had people say about what I’m eating but I don’t eat badly anymore so I don’t justify.

    I was depressed for two years and put on so much weight it was a huge change for those who knew me, I think now I’m over it and now fitter than I was before the depression they’re just really supportive and I’ve managed even to inspire acouple of people to change afew habits to get fitter and healthier.


  17. You make a really good point about people trying to justify their actions. It’s just, we’re giving us excuses sometimes to indulge, when really, it is OK to indulge regardless. So, we shouldn’t look at eating a piece of cake to be a sin.


  18. Hmm…you will have to explain that more in depth. But I think I see what you’re talking about. The contradiction I see here though is you seem to be saying that people shouldn’t care about what other people think as far as that sort of thing goes. But also that people’s opinions make a huge difference upon a persons’ body image. If this is the case then wouldn’t it be much simpler to just eat your dinner with people who have a similar outlook? (Most of the time anyway) I’m sure if everyone posting here went out for a dinner someplace you’d all feel great about each other and yourselves. I know it’s not possible to do since everyone seems to live in separate places but you understand. If you’re taking the time to eat with these people, they should be generous enough to respect your simple wish for courtesy. Could you not simply say “Well if you’re going to be so critical of what I eat then maybe I shouldn’t be eating with you.”? I think that most people would listen up.

    Lastly, everyone does it. Most people here I’m sure would get on their loved ones cases’ about their eating habits if they thought them destructive. (I remember you rebuking me a few times for not eating) but it didn’t really affect me in the short or long run. As you surely know, I’m healthy as a horse. (With just as much stamina…as you no doubt know)


  19. Big Girl- I think that that’s great. It’s good to be comfortable with yourself!

    Missicat- I expect that age is a major factor in all of this… should have included a part on the poll that includes age groups. Ah well, next time!

    Jack- am glad that you’re referring to a PAST depression:) That’s so good that you can inspire others.

    Sharon- exactly! Hence why I had a large piece of chocolate cheesecake last night. Mmm.

    Robin- but not eating for days is very detrimental, whereas having quirky eating habits (eg. enormous salads with no dressing) isn’t detrimental. And I’ve tried not eating with people, but its difficult when its the people close to you who are involved in this very issue. The other problem is, people oftentimes don’t realize the negative affect that their comments can make.


  20. It is hard eating healthy, especially when people don’t understand why there’s nothing you particularly want to eat at a hot dog stand or a cheap chinese restaurant. Doesn’t bother me because I’m going to live longer =)


  21. i am definitely guilty of this – but you make a valid point – why do we feel the need to justify our choices to anyone? great post!


  22. This is one of my pet peeves. I have really tried to stop explaining myself or offering excuses for what I eat. Food shouln’t be a source of guilt or a sign of moral achievement or failing.


  23. I think we justify our choices, no matter what they are, because people have a need to be accepted among others. People can be very judgmental so we tend to explain why we do certain things to ward off judgment.


  24. PB Boy- And when you’ve got all these delicious recipes involving peanut butter, why would you want to eat cheap Chinese and such? 🙂

    Loveofoats- it’s sad just how guilty we all are of this. We need to make a stand and stop it from happening!

    BlueberryHil- thanks for reading! And you’re right, food is a way to nourish our bodies.

    Crystal- yes. Which might be why this is something that moreso effects younger people, perhaps (with regards to acceptance)?


  25. I know totally what you mean. When I shop at the local grocery store, many times I see my karate students. I notice that they always kind of glance at what’s in my cart.

    Luckily, I eat very healthy, but I do have kid’s that snack on junk food.

    Tim Rosanelli
    View my blog at
    Sensei Talks
    Join our sit-up challenge at
    60 Situps in a Minute Challenge


  26. i dont do this. when people make comments about how much I eat, I just say i need it cause I work out a lot.

    No one really says anything around me either, but i guess i dont pay attention too much so i might.

    the only time it effects me is when we all go out to eat and i make all my special adustments (no this, whole grain that) and i get a little self conscious, but all my friends are pretty supportive, even though they dont eat well themselves.

    Kelly Turner
    http://www.groundedfitness.com


  27. I find myself doing it sometimes too!

    It’s funny how you can feel conspicuous for eating a lot or for not finishing something on your plate–and I doubt anyone else actually cares.


  28. Tim- I have to say, it IS kind of fun to peek at what everyone buys at grocery stores. I tend to only buy a few things at a time so it can be very strange combinations…

    Kelly- that’s sweet of them to be so supportive! Support is very necessary.

    Crabby- agreed, it IS rather amazing how self conscious something so simple can make a person!


  29. I love this post. I’m working on not “justifying” anything.. but rather eating 100% for happiness and health. This includes brussel sprouts AND cake!



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