Speaking Up For Your Own Sake

This is a bit tricky to write. But for many of us, it’s hard to speak up for ourselves. We are good at protecting our children, defending our animals, supporting the family. But when it comes time to speak up for ourselves, we fall silent.

There are many times we don’t stand up for ourselves–to carve out time for creativity, to speak up to ask for what we need, and to take a stand in a wobbly family situation. After speaking with my coaching clients, I have volumes of examples of how we turn over control to others.

imagesThis is about something much simpler–speaking up about the food we eat. A few days ago, I posted a comment on Facebook about not wanting to eat sugar anymore. Or sugar substitutes. I’m redefining my relationship with food, and while the decision is hard, I need to do it.

Most of the comments I got on Facebook were from the people I call “fixers,”–those who give advice without being asked to give any. And my email box filled up with them, too. “Drink a tablespoon of cider vinegar twice a day and you will lose weight,” one person said. I had said nothing about losing weight. “It’s not the sugar,” another person wrote, “it’s gluten. Stay away from it.” I don’t have a sensitivity to gluten, indeed, I love my carbs. Perhaps too much so. So that’s not helpful advice.

Sugar_071111_99029641The instructions went on and on, mostly from women “fixers”–people who give unasked for and unwanted advice. Some asked if I were alcoholic (no, although I no longer drink–because alcohol converts to sugar), others asked if I were an addict (Sugar? Yes. Drugs? No). I was told to go to Overeaters Anonymous, to speak to a bariatric surgeon, to fast two days a week, to eat a Paleo Diet, to become vegan, to eat a raw diet. I received stories of how much weight people had lost. Not a single one of these people knew any details about my decisions or held a medical degree, but they felt perfectly comfortable giving me advice i had not asked for.

I didn’t respond to any of them, because fixers make terrible pen pals. They just want to fix you in ways they feel comfortable with.

What made my eyebrows go up were the emails that told me to lie about why I couldn’t eat sugar–because amping up your desire to change to a medical emergency makes your struggle more believable and worthy of attention. And people will not go along with your desire to change unless you persuade them that you are sick.

big-dessert-636-378x414I was surprised. OK, I was shocked.  Until that moment, I thought that my desire to change was reason enough to not eat sugar. But it is not. The first conflict started when I turned down dessert in a restaurant. My lunch partner frowned and said, “You always eat dessert. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing is wrong. I am re-defining my relationship with sugar, and I am not eating dessert anymore,” I replied. This is actually all anyone needs to know. I do not need to cite my diabetic parents (one of whom died from complications of diabetes),  my weight, my energy level. In a world where privacy is suspect, I was expected to not just explain my decision, but also explain it to a friend’s  satisfaction, or have it rejected.

“If you don’t eat dessert, I can’t,” she said, pouting prettily.

“Of course you can,” I said, “I don’t mind and that is your decision.”

“No, I can’t eat all by myself. Let’s split a dessert,” she suggested

“It sounds yummy, but I’m not good with half a dessert. I’ll want more. I’ll eat yours,” I smiled, trying humor.

“OK, than we’ll each order one!” she crowed, having “won” the conversation. Before I could protest, she ordered two desserts. When mine was put in front of me, my mouth watered. I really wanted to eat it. I do love dessert. But I knew that if I ate it, the battle would start all over again.

In fact, as I stared at the dessert, I felt betrayed. Why do I have to eat dessert to images-2please the person across the table? I thought of pouring hot sauce on it to remove the temptation, but that would not be “nice” on my part. I wondered if I would have to eat the dessert for friendship’s sake, in order not to make my lunch companion feel bad about herself. This was getting very complex quickly.

In the end, I said I was not that hungry and took the dessert in a to-go box. And paid for it, despite the fact I had not wanted it.

images-1And that’s the kind of speaking up I mean. I’ve repeated variations of this scene over and over since October 3, when I ate my last gratuitous carb. I should not have to explain or defend my decisions. I should not have to answer questions about my weight, perceived addictions, or goals. My decisions are mine and I have good reasons. I don’t want to argue diets and green smoothies, or the evils of gluten, which I have nothing against and which does not upset my intestinal tract at all.

But sugar alcohols do. And I don’t need to be told that Stevia is “natural” (so is poison ivy and curare, neither of which I want to eat), or agave syrup. One more time, eating sweet things makes me think I am hungry, makes me crave sugar, and I am redefining my relationship with food. That’s it. Other than that, instead of diet advice, a bit of empathy would be welcome. But empathy is hard to come by. Because, as a stranger in the gym told me, “being overweight was a choice you made, so don’t expect anyone to feel sorry for you.” That’s pretty harsh, as a lot of overweight is not one choice, but many made while trying to please others before yourself. (To say nothing of hormonal or genetic reasons).

Most of all, I am disturbed that people who do have allergies to food, real allergies, are being diminished and made suspect by those who have control issues and need to pretend to be sick to have their way.

It’s really hard to speak up for yourself when the reply is based on shame, guilt, or reproach. I’ve been asked how much weight I’ve lost (if I give a reply, the other person will immediately tell me she has lost more by doing it her way), and told I should keep a food diary, weigh my food, weigh myself every day, once a week or not at all.

Oh, yeah, and if you go to the gym, you’ll gain weight, because muscles weigh more than fat. I didn’t ask. All I want is respect for my dietary decisions. I don’t need your approval for my decision, or your agreement, just respect. Because standing up for myself is a worthy action.

–Quinn McDonald is working on a book about the inner critic, who seems to have become ventriloquists on October 3. She knows that several people who are fixers will leave comments. And she won’t answer them. Can’t.


76 thoughts on “Speaking Up For Your Own Sake

  1. Quinn this piece is an example of why I read your stuff. As usual you hit the mark. I can put names on the fixers and the fakers because I think I’ve had lunch with them too. Thanks for saying what needs to be said.

  2. I waited 24 hours and read all the comments again before posting here.
    I´m a sugar eater and coffee drinker and you may want to disregard what I have to say.
    When people ask you (you as in Quinn and all the commenters) about your reasons to do or do not do anything, would you please consider it can be out of “small talk” reasons or true curiosity?.No need to defend your position, just share it. It can lead to somebody else changing too or not, but at least they know a bit more about you and what makes you tick.

    • hear, hear Paula! Another perspective. Just what Quinn’s blog is all about. I have dieted enough to know that when I tell my friends I’m making a change or trying to lose weight or even express my desire to be healthier, I garner more support from them. I don’t need to go into details.
      The more support I get the more successful I am. It could be an opportunity for others to make changes as well.
      To each his own and thanks for making the point.

    • Ahh, Paula. Good thought. And certainly a casual comment can be answered with a casual comment. But recently (at least here) people I know do a lot of unasked for advice-giving and personal question-asking. And there seems to be a lot of “my diet is more worthy than yours” comparison. We’re a competitive culture, and women don’t always support each other when it comes to weight. But i like your calming ideas. That’s the best place to start.

      And then again, if the issue hadn’t come up, or if my lunch companion had nodded and agreed, there would have been no need for a blog post!

  3. I went through the same exact thing. But, thank goodness my dear friends just said, “Good for you!” and went ahead and ate their dessert. It’s been a couple years now that I’ve drastically reduced my sugar consumption. Just cutting out all those cookies, candies, cakes, etc. that we tend not to notice. I still have a little something now and then, but you know what? It doesn’t taste that great anymore. I love it! I think I’m doing my body a favor.

  4. I have exactly the same problem with sugar since I gave up smoking two years ago. You are inspiring me to bite the bullet (not the chocolate kind though) and just give it up completely. 🙂
    What I want to question though, is when did it become ok to intrude into other people’s business and insist that they owe us an explanation for their choices? This seems so rude and insensitive to me that I have taken to giving people who do this a serious look and saying, “That’s an awfully personal question. Why do you want to know?” It usually induces red faces and spluttering, but they always back off!

    • A long, long time ago, the workplace was a place where we had “colleagues” and “associates,” and our friendships were developed outside of work. Then work became part of our round the clock life, and we had friends at work, married people from work, and thought of people we worked with as family. That made it a lot harder to keep people out of our business. With Facebook and Twitter, our every thought, emotion and health decision is up for everyone to see and discuss. I find it appalling what personal things we put on FB, particularly since we know FB sells the information to marketers. If you put up a lot of personal information about your health problems on FB, and then are denied insurance, don’t be surprised. I don’t want my photograph taken, and the simple request is never enough. I’m always asked if I think it will steal my soul or offer another explanation for approval.

  5. I have a weird thing about eating at potluck lunches + dinners, the events where lots of people bring dishes and then everyone goes through with their grubby hands and eats. I will just eat a few bits of fruit. Or eat what I brought. And everyone asks if I’m feeling OK, if I tried this or that. I just say I’m not hungry and leave it at that. I think it’s in our nature to care for and nurture others.

    • I think it’s in a lot of women’s nature to try to please others so as to avoid conflict and shame. I think standing up for your choices is a good thing. I’m still learning it, though.

  6. Pingback: un-shelving and 3 insights before lunch | late start studio

  7. More power to you Quinn! Some of my earliest memories are with my dad in the vegetable garden, feeding the chooks (chickens) and visiting my great aunt who kept bees so I am fortunate to grow up with a great dietary model. These days, I still grow some of my vegetables and herbs for the sheer pleasure of picking and eating immediately. Scarlet runner benas straight from the garden, mmmmm!

    I have always shopped the perimeter of the supermarket without realising it and the only packets I buy are coffee, spices and very little else apart from cleaning products. I do have the occasional glass of wine . . . an Otago pinot noir is some I love to share with loved ones, not every night and therefore tastes even better! Am I fanatical? No . . . I just respect my body: we’ve been through a lot together. Am I healthy? Yes, I’m fortunate to have inherited good genes. There are many who eat healthy and yet aren’t.

    I appreciate the difficulties in speaking up but a true friend will accept your choice which I know is not always easy. So keep up your resolve . . . I applaud your strength!

  8. Oohhhh….it’s all so true. The “helpful” people, the constant cravings. I have never been overly fond of sweets but my dear husband loves them. He never complains when I don’t share his enthusiasm. I guess he thinks there will be more for him! I do indulge now and then and generally don’t finish what I started. A bite or two is enough. It hasn’t helped my weight much though. I’m still and abundant woman (in so many ways)!
    I gave up coffee fifteen years ago. I noticed it gave me acid reflux despite my love of it. I still want it when I walk by an espresso cart or my husband is brewing his morning cup. I think to myself “just a sip”… Like you, I know I can’t go back. If I have a cup I’ll never want to stop again.
    My best to you for making the change. It can be done and you can do it!

    • I can do it today. That’s all I have to manage right now. Wow, you gave up coffee? That’s very brave, particularly with a coffee drinking in the house. I’ll probably always be an “abundant woman” and I think that’s the phrase I’ll use to describe myself!

  9. I am so proud of you, Quinn, for standing by your decision and for writing this post! And I’m sorry people keep writing comments and/or emails that make you feel you have to defend yourself (I’m glad you didn’t respond).

    I just don’t understand this mindset. Why can’t we just respect other people’s decisions and live peacefully with those decisions instead of trying to convince somebody to think differently? Whether it’s food choices, exercise choices, political choices, lifestyle choices, etc., why can’t we accept AND respect those choices? I always want to say to people who question or berate my choices (and most times forget), “How does this affect YOU?” Granted, this wouldn’t have worked with your lunch partner who pushed dessert on you.

    You are such an inspiration to me; you have incredible strength and tenacity. I know it’s a daily/hourly struggle but you keep pushing ahead. Way to go!!!

    • I think Meg Hess nailed it when she said, “It became an exercise in learning how to better tolerate my own helplessness.” People want to help, so they fix. Another reason is that people don’t want their friends to change, because it requires that they change. This was the case of the lunch friend–if I didn’t order dessert, she would have to admit she likes to eat dessert on her own, and that may have made her feel helpless and guilty. So if she couldn’t eat dessert, it was a reason for pushing me to join her. Peer pressure among adults is really no different than in high school. I guess we feel more comfortable when we all agree–Me? I like to get a bigger slice o’ life from people who have different views.

      And you are the perfect lunch companion!

      • I completely agree, Meg hit the nail on the head! Her comment is a keeper.

        And you too are the perfect lunch companion, I’m sure glad to call you my friend!

  10. Amen, sister. I gave up sugar a long time ago, along with bread/potatoes/pasta/pizza, etc., as well as caffeine. As for alcohol, I have a glass of wine on Christmas day and a drink or two on my brother’s birthday. That’s it. Food pushers can be aggressive and I had to learn how to deal with them years ago, at a time when I was till co-dependent and unsure of my boundaries. It was an exercise in asserting myself that has served me well. I’m not a fixer but recently I’ve read a couple of books and watched a couple of videos that strengthened my resolve. My resolve needs a tune-up every now and then. OK, every day I need it, so I am active with an online group of recovery folks. One of my catch-phrases that I like to use on myself is that someone else’s opinion of me (or my personal choices) is none of my business. When I was younger I used to be such a people pleaser. Blech!! No more of that. I guess as I am getting older I’m getting a little wiser. 😉

  11. I have run into the same situation since I have stopped eating carbohydrates. That is a long story I will not go into. I have learned not to give any reasons for this decision to someone who is “tempting” me or who is asking for my reasons. I do not have to “explain” or “justify” my decision. It took me a long time to learn this and I still struggle with it at times. Now I just try to say “no, thank you” or “I am not hungry”, over and over if necessary. Yes, some people get angry or upset. So be it.

  12. I appreciated your clear public statement in the earlier post about no longer eating sugar. I admired you being open and matter of fact about it and felt encouraged and supported in my own relinquishing of sugars. I also felt a little braver and subsequently have now told 4 people of my goal to no longer eat sugar. Thank you and I wish all that you may need will come to you. Robalee

  13. Thanks for the words today, Quinn. It is always my pleasure to read about your travels, experiences, explorations, creativity; well just to immerse myself in the open sharing that you do here on the blog.

  14. I wonder why desserts are assumed to be sweet? Your idea of pouring hot sauce on dessert started me wondering, and a quick search didn’t turn up much. I’ve never been very fond of sweet tastes, whether from sucrose or other sugars or from other sources. I do like bitter and hot tastes though; maybe I should learn how to make habañero pudding!

    By the way, are you avoiding all forms of sugar? Sugars are very fun substances for learning chemistry — I seem to recall there are six types divided into two groups. Let’s see…they all end in “ose”…sucrose, maltose, and lactose are one group, and glucose, fructose, and…um, that other one you never hear about are the other group, the molecules of which are the ones in the first group but doubled along with water (or maybe the water is excluded).

    • Galactose–the sugar high you get from watching too many science fiction re-runs. It’s actually the carbs that are causing my big problems, and the easiest way to cut carbs for me is to drop sugar. But I’ve also given up rice, bread, pasta, tortillas, and tamales. I cannot get away from all sugars, as most edibles contain carbs that are at least in part made of sugars or starches that turn to sugars. So I’m not adding sugar to anything (not in my coffee, eating plain yogurt, no canned drinks), and not buying things that has a carb count of over 12 g. of carbs per serving. When you start to look at the labels, you begin to realize that a lot of food has sugar added. Baking is impossible because sugar adds bulk and does all sorts of chemical things that make baking work. I can’t digest food alcohols (she said tactfully), but I can eat some fruit and veggies that have naturally occurring fructose and some sucrose. Most fruits have good fiber content, which reduces the effect of carbs.

      • That’s IT! Galactose only rarely appears by itself, unless interesting glassware and bunsen burners are involved. Baking is mostly sugar-based practical organic chemistry, I think. Anyway my connection with sugar is that it’s about the most interesting molecule that’s also abundant, free, and completely safe to experiment with.

        Starch IS sugar, almost. Longer chain of molecular bonds because you take away some of the H bonds in sugar and replace them with bonds to OH and O from one “link” in the chain to the next. That is, you can produce starch from sugar — all you need, as I recall, is water and heat.

        Now I’m wondering what happened to all my old chemistry equipment. My parents were afraid I was going to blow the house sky-high! (That was just silly; with the volumes of containers I had to work with, it couldn’t have gotten any higher than treetop-level)

        • Ohhhh, those Erlenmeyer flasks and Florence flasks were so beautiful. I don’t know what they called that distilling thing that looked like a big drop of water with the top, pointy end aimed at an angle downward to catch the distilling water. I can see you blowing stuff roof-top high, Pete. Even now!

  15. One year I gave up “being helpful” for Lent. It became an exercise in learning how to better tolerate my own helplessness. When I’m listing the “F words” to describe how we humans respond to anxiety (fight, flight, freeze, flock, fornicate) I now always add “fix.” My need to fix is deeply rooted in my efforts to manage my own anxiety. Being helpful (read: fixing) is often more about my own needs than actually about helping others. It’s complicated. I half remember a quote about helping that went something like this: “you can tell the helped by the hunted look in their eyes.” So, ironically, the most helpful thing I can do for others is to increase my capacity for discomfort, the ability to better tolerate my helplessness. That might give The Other enough space to grow their own strength to find their solutions. Surely we are called to genuinely come to the aid of the victim, but I need to find better ways to sort out the differences between real and imagined threats. And it begins with the work I have to do around examining what drives my own need to fix.

    • Yesyesyesyes! That’s what it is! It’s our own discomfort we are seeking to fix! That’s brilliant. And what was perceived as “coming to the aid of the victim” gets distorted when the other person is not a victim, but a willing participant in her own life. Thanks for the additional “F” words, too!

  16. Great post. It’s interesting how our decisions to change change our relationships. I am going through this with my daughters right now. They are not speaking and when I insist I am not going to get involved I get dragged into it somehow. Last night I got hung up on. Not my issue but I am in it anyway because one of them wants to be right and wants me on her side.
    I haven’t eaten sugar or wheat or drank alcohol for years and it is uncomfortable in eating situations, I have experienced some of what you have gone through and understand how hard it is, especially when you are in a siutation like you were with your friend. Good luck, it’s a real challenge but the rewards are great.

    • Standing up for yourself is a lot harder in a world where privacy is considered “hiding” or “denying.” And it IS a real challenge–every hour of every day. Thank goodness I’m busy writing the book!

  17. Hi, Quinn. You are right on again as usual in observing the ways of the world and targeting them. I find that eating sugar makes my arthritis worse due to the inflammation it causes so I have cut way back. It would be good to have the willpower to go completely the way you have, but I haven’t managed that yet, except in my coffee. By the way, it would be better for your sugar control if you stopped eating deserts and switched to stopping eating desserts…. 🙂 In many families especially Italian ones it’s all about food and not eating alone. I find that especially hard to deal with. They feel so insulted if you don’t eat with them even if they know you have just eaten.

    • Italians aren’t the only food pushers. Jewish families cook to prove their love (my latkes will bring a stone wall off a diet) and so do Indian families. After a long struggle with “cutting back” I realized that I either had to quit eating sugar or give up. There was no such thing as one cookie. I don’t understand how come people can eat one piece of chocolate. If there is chocolate or cookies in the house, I’m not done eating yet. So, no more at all. And yes, my knees now are happy for the whole five mile walk. And that’s a plus!

  18. I gave up TV about 9 years ago and had to put up with comments like the ones you’ve received and perhaps even crazier because doing so wasn’t a health concern. Stick by what you believe in and you’ll win in two ways…mentally and physically

  19. Congratulations on you sugar eliminating goal. About 7 years I eliminated sugar from my diet and noticed how great I felt. Headaches, muscle aches and 3 pm slumps disappeared. When I started this process and when the sugar cravings hit I grabbed a banana – went through lots of bananas. Please keep us posted on this.

    • I’m doing very well in the not eating it department, but I am not doing well in the “not missing it” department. The disappearance of the 3 p.m. slump was a huge surprise, though, and a delightful one. Bananas are a controlled substance for me because of their carb count, but the ones I get to eat, I enjoy their heightened (to me) sweetness SO much!

  20. Empathy here. You’ve described the turmoil I get into Every. Damn. Time. I am confronted with food I have happily chosen not to eat. Comments. Worries. Suggestions. Unwanted attention. Temptations. It seems insane to poke down food I don’t want in order to shut up those opiners, but I do it more often that I would like.
    I resonate with the allergy and the not hungry explanations in order to have an irrefutable and not-up-for-discussion response to these folks. Still they persist. I take notes from a Type I Diabetic friend who has never, to my knowledge, explained her situation, but manages to go to potlucks and intimate dinners/luncheons without ruffling feathers. I bet she could recount many times over the insensitivity of others! Yet, for her, it is an ironclad choice, whereas for me, it is a bit (not much) squishier and I’m still learning what it takes to pull this off.
    I keep hoping I will get less reactive to the food pushers and more in tune with my own values and choices,. Baby steps….
    Thanks for writing about this and I wish you continued success in managing it all and speaking up for your own sake.

    • I think that if we make decisions that aren’t health based, and we are instructors or sell our work, we are very tuned in to others’ opinions and feel they should be ours, too. It makes us people pleasers. But I also think there are diet pushers and I will continue to rant about them. But the Diabetes 1 woman, now there is a woman I want to talk to!

  21. You should never have to defend such a personal decision! Its not as if the world is going to end, is it? Its nobody else’s business except yours. And if anyone gets upset over it, tough! Life’s too short and precious to waste; live it as you want to and more power to you!

  22. Once again Monday morning starts off in the best possible way. Thank you Quinn for another EXCELLENT post. You (and your inner critic) rock!

  23. Hey, I’m with you on this one! I think it was about 7-8 years ago that I gave up most sugar intake. I rarely eat anything sweet because anything sweet that I put in my mouth usually tastes too sweet! I’ll eat dark chocolate sometimes and the batter when my son bakes, but never the finished product! No deserts for me. They just don’t appeal to me. And I despise the taste of anything artificially sweetened. If you’ve been doing it since October, you and the people around you are probably used to it by now.

    • Good for you! Being clear on what you need and don’t want is half the battle. Sadly, for me, who loves sweets, it’s still a struggle every single hour. But it’s what I want, so I’m sticking with it.

  24. Good morning Quinn( at least it’s morning here), I respect and understand you! That’s all I want to say for today and of course a warm greet from Holland, Miranda

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