My sister-in-law jokingly told me once that no one is going to invite me to social events anymore if I keep blogging about eating behaviors, and chances are she’s not wrong. On the surface, it may seem like I’m being critical. Yet under the surface…well, okay, I’m being critical. In my defense, having a daughter with an eating disorder has made me extremely sensitive to food related behaviors. That, and my low tolerance threshold for being annoyed, have led me to write about what I see as a troubling attitude towards food.

Since when have we felt the need to apologize to others for eating? I have seen this phenomenon repeat itself over and over, and I find it baffling.

Here’s an example — I was at a wedding, and the main course was served at around 10 p.m. As the beautifully plated food arrived, someone at the table more or less announced that he doesn’t usually eat this late at night, but since the food looks so good, he’s going to eat anyway. His demeanor was truly remorseful, and it occurred to me that he was actually apologizing to those around him for eating dinner.

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard various friends apologize when we go out to eat together that they are not ordering a salad. It’s not that they are actually saying the words “I’m sorry,” but something more along the lines of “I haven’t eaten much today and I’m really hungry, I think I’m going to order pasta,” as if there is a need to justify their menu choice to others. I may never get invited out by my friends anymore after this blog post; but if I do, please order whatever you want to eat and enjoy your food.

Somehow, we feel the need to rationalize our food choices to the people around us and apologize if we make what we think society perceives as “bad” choices. If I am the one around you as you are rationalizing what you are eating out loud, or even worse apologizing to everyone for what you are about to eat, I will most probably roll my eyes and shoot daggers at you, because OMG, really?? I don’t know how to say this nicely (and yet it won’t stop me from saying it at all), but no one cares what you are eating in a social setting; and if they do, they shouldn’t. Please, spare the people around you, and just eat. Or don’t eat. I don’t care either way. But just don’t talk about it.

Often, the people around us are our children, and I think that some of the messages that we are sending them are damaging because they promote shame around eating. It seems to me that if your child has heard you make sweeping proclamations of remorse, regret, or guilt about the foods that you eat, he/she will experience some sense of shame upon eating those same foods. How sad is it that there are 5 year olds who feel guilty when they eat a brownie? Or a freaking sandwich? And how healthy do you think this child’s attitude toward food and eating is going to be in the future?

I am not advocating eating whatever you want to, whenever you want to, if it endangers your health. What I am saying is to stop talking about what you eat or don’t eat in front of others. Stop assigning positive and negative values to food out loud. Just stop. While I am sure that all of us set out to model healthy eating for our children, this constant apologetic attitude surrounding food is laying the groundwork for something that is potentially dangerous — far more dangerous than eating a few too many cookies every once in a while.

“I really shouldn’t be eating this” seems to be today’s mantra, and it serves no purpose other than to make others feel guilty about eating. Half of the people who say it don’t even mean it; it’s just a way of apologizing for eating. Sometimes, it’s a way of fitting in. How sad is it that we have to be self-deprecating in order to feel socially accepted? Is this what we want for our children and grandchildren?

Years ago, one of my then ten-year-old daughters went over to my friend after her daughter’s bat mitzvah party and said to her “It’s okay. You can eat now”. My friend was puzzled and asked my daughter, “What do you mean?” My daughter responded, “For days, you have been saying that you can’t eat anything because you need to fit into your dress for the party. The party is over, so now you can eat.” My daughter (not the one with the eating disorder, not that it matters) was being absolutely sincere, and my friend was truly mortified that she had unwittingly taught my young daughter a detrimental lesson. I laughed it off, but thinking back, I now realize how vulnerable and exposed our children are to messages about food and eating, and how deeply they internalize these messages.

There are a lot of things in life that we should be apologizing for, but eating is not one of them.