Case in point:
I was walking along a scenic trail not far from where I live, enjoying the bright blue sky, the greenery, the fresh air, birdsongs, and generally just feeling grateful to be alive, healthy, and strong, when a man jogged past me. Well, it was more of a shuffle than a jog. Before he passed me, while he was still behind me, I could hear his feet scraping along the ground with each step, almost as though the effort to fully lift his feet was too much. I got the sense that he was struggling. It sounded like he was struggling. And when he did pass me, I got a look, and I continued looking for a while when he was in front of me, until he turned the bend and was out of sight. Indeed, it looked like he was struggling.
The man was very thin, and was sporting two knee supports. (The ones that look like thick, rubbery ACE bandages.) He had the physique of the semi-emaciated marathoner: not a lot of muscle mass, skin hanging loosely, pale pallor to his skin. His face struck me almost as gray, in fact. He looked like he had—in the words of that great phrase—“been rode hard and put away wet.”
As he passed me, several ugly, judgmental, closed-minded thoughts crossed my mind:
Man, is that guy thin. And he’s practically hobbling along. He’s not enjoying his jogging at all. I bet he’s a vegetarian or vegan, too, and he probably thinks the
After a minute or two, I said to myself, “Wow, Amy.”
“Did you actually just try to sum up that guy’s entire existence after he
hobbled jogged past you and your summation took approximately seventy-five seconds?”
Then, I was disgusted with myself. And rightly so, no?
Since I knew absolutely nothing about this guy other than he’s very thin and was out running in the middle of a weekday, here are some other conjectures that might have been equally accurate:
- This man is a cancer survivor, and it is a damn-near miracle that he’s still alive, let alone out here in the fresh air, moving his still-recovering and strengthening body.
- This man lost his spouse or significant other recently, and he is dealing with his grief by jogging along this beautiful trail.
- This man has been struggling with depression, and the fact that he was able to put his shoes on and come out here to the trail is a huge victory for him.
- This man is addicted to running, and he wishes he could stop, because he’s obviously not enjoying it, and he looks kind of debilitated, but he can’t stop. He doesn’t know how. Stopping is unthinkable, even while he recognizes the damage it’s doing.
- This man just f*cking loves to run, and no amount of joint pain or skeletal muscle catabolism is going to stop him, dammit, and anyone and everyone who wants to judge him for continuing to run no matter what, can just go screw.
Additional thoughts after the guy passed me included:
Who cares what woman would be attracted to him? First of all, maybe he’s gay, in which case he doesn’t even want women to be attracted to him. Second, if he’s not gay, then still, so what? Every Jack has his Jill, and every Jill has her Jack. We’re all attracted to different body shapes and sizes, different skin tones, hair color, eye color, whatever. This man could easily have looked at me and said to himself, “Yuck! What kind of guy would ever be attracted to a woman like that?”
What right did I have to pass judgment? What right do any of us have?
What I knew about that man is equal to what he knew about me: absolutely nothing. (Okay, that’s not exactly accurate. We knew that we both enjoy being out on that particular trail, and, at least as far as looks would have it, both our schedules allow for us to be out on that trail at 2pm on a Tuesday.) But that is it. I know exactly nothing else about him. And yet, a torrent of thoughts—all of them negative and moralistic—flooded my mind in the very brief period during which our paths crossed.
What, exactly, the heck is wrong with me?
I wouldn’t want anyone judging me based solely on my appearance. Certainly not at my worst, but not even at my best, either. (At my best, the danger is of being put on a pedestal: “Wow, she looks great, she must have everything together. She must never feel lonely; she must have everything she wants.” At my worst, I would expect to hear something like, “Wow, she’s kind of chubby for a nutritionist, isn’t she? Why should I take her advice?”)
There’s a point to this, folks, I promise. And it is related to food/health/nutrition. Here goes:
How dare we judge people when we see only the briefest moment of their life? The briefest flash. Perhaps the worst flash of that particular day, week, year, or lifetime.
How dare we?
How dare we judge the heavyset man pulling into the fast food drive-thru? How dare we judge the haggard looking woman piling Lean Cuisines into her shopping cart, or the exasperated parents with the screaming toddler up front in their shopping cart, as they toss a box of snack cakes in the back? Other than the brief flash we see, we know nothing about these people. We don’t know that the man was just laid off, and that, for the time being, he doesn’t have any coping strategies except a double cheeseburger, fries, and a shake. We don’t know the woman hasn’t gotten the message that it’s okay to eat fat now, and that the low-fat, low-calorie diet has been proven, over and over again, to be a massive fraud and failure. We don’t know that those parents have had their “little angel” on a gluten-and-casein-free diet for a few months and it hasn’t made one lick of difference, so today, just this once, they’re giving in for the sake of their sanity and getting that little bundle of joy some damn cupcakes just to get her to shut the heck up for an hour. Hell, if you and I hadn’t somehow stumbled upon Mark’s Daily Apple, or come across Robb Wolf’s work, or seen Wheat Belly or Good Calories, Bad Calories at the library, we might still be seeking refuge in and comforting ourselves with trans fats and sugar, and relying on frozen microwaveable meals to help us lose weight, too.
Bottom line: we have no idea—NONE—what anyone else is going through in the fifteen seconds or less we typically take to size them up.
I wouldn’t want someone judging me in my weakest, darkest moments. Granted, I’m pretty upfront about my shortcomings, but I hide plenty from you, too. (As I mentioned recently, I am finally beginning to emerge from the deepest, darkest hole I’ve ever fallen into. It was about 8 months of anhedonia/dysthymia. Total apathy. A flatline. My life had become one big “meh.” People could judge the hell out of me for that, but the fact is, they have no idea what I, as a unique individual, was feeling, and why I was doing the things I was, or not doing the things I wasn’t.)
Oh, poor Amy. Poor Amy, who has a roof over her head and lots of good food in the fridge, and a warm bed to sleep in at night. Poor Amy, who thinks she’s a sideshow freak (based on stretch marks alone), but who, by many other people’s estimations, is not a hardship to look at, and would not send heterosexual men screaming and running for cover.
[Cue the sad violin music.]
Oh, poor Amy is depressed. Poor Amy, who has no kids and no sh*tty, unsupportive husband, and no real responsibilities of any kind, except to write a blog post now and then, and she’s been promising to get back to the cancer series for almost a YEAR, and she can’t even do that. And she swears up and down that her dream in life is to be a novelist, and she has loads and loads of “down time,” but instead of using every last second of that to write nonstop until words bleed out of her eyeballs and fall onto the keyboard, she wallows in self-pity and squanders that time pondering her existential crisis and why everyone else is actually out there doing something that matters, and she…well, she writes stuff that very few people will ever bother to read. (Talking about my “real job,” not my blog. My blog readers rock!)
That Amy was not doing so well.
That Amy would not want anyone judging her. Because people would think—correctly—that that Amy is lazy, undisciplined, unmotivated, afraid … And they would be right. But I couldn’t help it. When you are depressed, when you have become anhedonic, you can NOT “just cheer up.” You can’t “just smile and get out of the house.” It doesn’t work that way any more than it works to tell someone with ALS to just get up and walk it off.
Wow. I got way off track, didn’t I? (What a surprise!) This post wasn’t supposed to be about me.
It’s supposed to be about all of us, and how quick we are to judge others with regard to diet and fitness, with approximately zero insight into their lives aside from what they’re ordering in a restaurant, putting into their shopping cart, or doing at the gym. I wrote a little rant on Facebook not long ago. I am absolutely done with people bragging about their blood glucose, ketones, duration of fasting, A1c, body fat percentage, and other things that have nothing whatsoever to do with what kind of human being you are. There are fine reasons to share these things with the world via social media. The changes we want to see in healthcare and the food supply are not going to come from the top down. They’re coming from the grassroots; from the bottom up. Facebook might be the first place someone learns they can manage type 1 diabetes beautifully with a low-carb diet. And Twitter might be the first place they encounter a physician who talks about the potential dangers of a vegetarian diet and the fundamental importance of insulin as a primary player in modern chronic illness. So yes, I do see the merit in people sharing what they’re doing with diet, exercise, sleep, stress management, etc., and the numbers that are resulting. Because of people who take the time to post such things, other people have access to data sets and general information they’d never find any other way. (Especially not from their idiot doctors.) BUT: the part I do not like is the aura of “shaming” that seems to come along with everything these days. Your A1c is 5.2? Loser! That guy’s is 4.8! Blood ketones showing 1.4mM? Don’t kid yourself; you suck at life unless you’re above 2.5. You fasted for 24 hours? Amateur. That lady on FB is coming up on 72 hours! I am tired of the “how low can you go,” and “my numbers are better than yours.” Nobody actually GAF.
Bottom line: none of us knows anything about anyone – not the people we come across at the supermarket, or on mass transit, or along the highway … sometimes not even the people who occupy the same home with us. (I was going to say “house,” but then I realized I would have to say “or apartment,” which led into the rabbit hole of: trailer, RV, teepee, yurt… So many different permutations of dwelling spaces these days. [Confession: I so want a yurt someday!])
We are so quick to pass judgment, particularly when it comes to food choices and fitness. We’re so quick to comment on people and situations we know nothing about. So quick to look and see what other people are eating, how they’re exercising (or not), how they’re disciplining their children (or not).
When I’m at a restaurant, as I am escorted to my table, I usually take a gander at what other people are eating. Not to judge, but to see what looks good. And sure, maybe someone has a plate of pancakes and a glass of juice, but what he also has is a big smile on his face and his happy kids across from him in the booth. And maybe there’s a heavy woman enjoying a piece of cheesecake, or a guy whose insulin resistance and inflammation are plainly visible in his inflated beach ball belly and the redness on his face, while he eats a triple-decker club sandwich with deep fried onion rings and soda. So what? It is approximately NONE of my business what anyone else puts in their mouth. (I will acknowledge, however, that when people make terrible choices when it comes to their health, we all do kind of take a hit, at least under the current healthcare and health insurance system in the U.S. Because there are so many unwell people, all of us end up paying more for insurance. Grrr… But I digress. Plus, I’ve already sort of ranted about this before, so I’ll stop now.)
A good friend of mine (a low-carber) recently posted on Facebook that he was having a hard time going to buffets because of what he was seeing all around him there: morbidly obese people piling their plates high, and going back for thirds and fourths. This individual has struggled with weight for most of his life and has shared with me many of his own demons when it comes to food addiction and binge eating. He of all people should be more sympathetic. So what, there are heavy people going to town at buffets? There are skinny people going to town at buffets, too. (Remember: the size of someone’s body says very little about their state of health.) The comment I left on his post, which I hoped would remind him of his own struggles, was: We never know what's going on in other people’s heads and hearts. These people do this in public, while many others do it in secret.
Sometimes I’m squeaky-clean low-carb, and other times I’ll enjoy a couple pieces of warm, fresh bread. Sometimes I cook ground grassfed beef and organic broccoli for dinner, and sometimes I have a late night threesome with Ben & Jerry. If someone were to see me only during the bread and ice cream moments, they would have a very narrow view of my habitual diet, just as when we see someone at a restaurant or grocery store, we are getting a glimpse into their lives at that one particular moment in time, and it may have nothing to do with their typical diet. So we can sneer and silently pass judgment, feeling confident in our holier-than-thou-ness, or we can smile and say to ourselves:
That looks delicious! And she looks like she’s having a great time out with her friends. Good for her!
That guy reaching for the Chips Ahoy on the shelf looks a little sad. I hope he’s all right. Maybe he doesn’t have anyone he can talk to about things. It’s not the end of the world to seek comfort in cookies once in a while. I hope he feels better soon.
The judgment passing isn’t limited to food choices, although that’s where we tend to see it most in our “community.” It’s just as bad at the gym—and I am guilty as charged!
I saw a woman at the gym the other day lifting what I would consider to be a laughably light amount of weight. Something that, in my holier-than-thou opinion, she might as well have not been lifting at all. But you know what? Maybe she had just gotten over a terrible illness and this was her first day back in the gym, and she’s trying to rebuild some of the muscle mass she’s lost. Or maybe she’s never been to a gym at all, and it took all the courage she could muster just to get dressed, come to the gym, and step over the threshold. (I swear, even for someone who’s an old hand at working out, sometimes just putting on your shoes and shorts and getting there is the hardest part.) Maybe she’s been in a deep depression, and today is the first day in months—years, maybe—that she was able to come to the gym and pick up a dumbbell. (Or maybe she did a shit ton of heavy lifting yesterday, or the day before that, and today is more of an “active recovery” day. She didn’t want to just go for a walk or something, so she came to the gym instead, to do just a very light workout.)
The point is, I knew nothing about this woman, except that she belongs to the same gym I do, and she was there, lifting – which should be celebrated, not denigrated.
To sum up, I’ll end with a quote from Albert Camus. It’s one of my favorites:
Don't walk in front of me, I may not follow;
Don't walk behind me, I may not lead;
Walk beside me, and just be my friend.
I would like to make some variations on this:
Don’t think highly of me; I’m having an unusually great day.
Don’t think poorly of me; I’m having an unusually terrible day.
Just think I’m a fellow human, here on my journey, as you are on yours.
Don’t judge me based on what you happen to see me eating for one meal out of my entire life. Don’t judge me based on what I’m putting into my shopping cart when our paths happen to cross this one time at the supermarket. Don’t judge me by how much weight I’m lifting when you have no idea of my life’s health and fitness history that has brought me to the gym or walking trail today. Don’t judge me at all, for any reason. Simply be secure in knowing that no matter who I am or where we meet, I have knowledge and skills you don’t, and you have knowledge and skills I don’t. And the only way to get through this giant, scary, confusing, wonderful, beautiful thing we call life, is to get through it together.
Less judgment, more empathy.
Less sneering and scowling, more smiles.
Less sneering and scowling, more smiles.
Less “shoulding” and more understanding.
Disclaimer: Amy Berger, MS, CNS, NTP, is not a physician and Tuit Nutrition, LLC, is not a medical practice. The information contained on this site is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any medical condition and is not to be used as a substitute for the care and guidance of a physician. Links in this post and all others may direct you to amazon.com, where I will receive a small amount of the purchase price of any items you buy through my affiliate links.