Social media sites are filled with images of indulgent food. But when blogger and cookbook author Elizabeth Nyland posted a shot of an apple fritter doughnut, the guilt-inducing backlash was immediate.
Nyland said she was reminded about all the sugar, fat and refined flour she'd ingested. Others questioned her role as an ambassador of healthy eating.
"[They said,] 'I can't see this picture because then I'll go out and eat all this food. I can't stop myself.'"
For Nyland, this so-called food shaming felt quite personal. In the past she's battled her weight and also an eating disorder — something she traces back to a fundamentally unhealthy relationship with food.
In recent years, as an advocate for a whole foods-based diet, she said her relationship with food has never been better. But as her health-focused fan base grew, she saw more and more instances of food shaming online, with readers who sharply criticized any perceived unhealthy eating.
"Maybe it's because people are on this diet or that diet," she said. "So they just have this 'food police' attitude that they can say whatever they want about what you eat."
And it's not only online. Food shaming can come in the form of passive-aggressive comments at social gatherings or parent groups. It's a form of healthy eating one-up-manship, an attitude that ignores the various reasons we all eat food in the first place.
Most times those reasons are, of course, for sustenance and health. But other times, we eat for fun, to bond with friends or to socialize. Nyland's writing has always reflected that reality.
"I felt like I could post a bunch of healthy recipes … and then a big pie or a big cake. And then we switched to a more paleo diet and then people became really critical."
That indignation, Nyland said, is problematic. Not only is food shaming rude, but it also stems from a failure to acknowledge the many reasons we eat certain things, beyond sustenance and nutrition.
"That's what we do; it's a fun thing that we do on the weekend," she said, laughing. "We have a doughnut, it's part of life."