35

For most of my life, I have had problems keeping up with eating "normal" amounts of food at meals. I feel full way faster than many friends. I still eat enough, as I am not even considered underweight by official definition (it's close, though). I feel fine and healthy, and I have come to terms with the fact that I can't eat much.

The thing is that every now and then, people are very concerned by my eating habits and think that it can't be healthy. They (mostly coworkers, new friends. Not family) seem to take pity on me and I can't convince them that I am fine and there is nothing to worry about.

Once a coworker brought some muffins to work and especially for me he also brought a vegetable dip because he thought I wasn't able to eat a whole muffin (or eat normal lunch afterwards). Now don't get me wrong, I think that was very nice and accommodating of him. But 1) I would have loved a muffin and 2) I don't want anyone to go through extra troubles like this for me. I felt pressured to take some dips. the question is not about this anecdote. this is only an example

How can I be more persuasive when assuring people that I am perfectly fine and healthy, and that they do not need to worry?

goal:
coworkers / friends understand that I am eating enough, am healthy, and do in no way suffer. They do not take pity on me because they think I have some severe eating disorder.

What I've tried so far:

  • Explain the situation when I leave food on the plate, and also stating that all is fine and there is no need to worry. This works for some people, but many do not really believe me when I say that.
  • Make jokes about it. My friends, family and myself sometimes joke about it, and I am totally fine with that. When someone makes a joke about it, it shows that they are not really worried about my eating. In the end, this is what I try to achieve.
  • Repeatedly reassuring them that I am fine. This works after some iterations, but I would prefer to convince them at the first interaction.

further information:
- I am a 26 year old male, living in Switzerland
- I do not know exactly why I can't eat so much. I was tested for several food intolerances, all tests were negative.
- I am not looking for medical advice, leave this to me and my doctor.
- My BMI is 19 (a BMI under 18.5 is considered underweight). I do not know my RMR.

  • In some cultures it would be considered quite rude to openly question someone's eating habits. Is it in the Swiss culture to make sure family members / guests / colleagues are well-fed? Is it only with you they do this? – user8671 Apr 11 '18 at 11:53
  • @Kozaky they don't question my eating habits, they just worry about me too much. I don't know if it's only with me they do this. – Kaspar Scherrer Apr 11 '18 at 12:01
30

I have dealt with almost exactly the same things throughout my life, although in my case it was not limited to "new" people. Family members, significant others, and friends have become worried about my food intake despite me maintaining what would be considered a "healthy" weight, and so I had to take steps to explain to them that I was, in fact, being healthy.

One thing that I found which was very effective in helping people understand that my food intake was actually healthy was discussing Resting metabolic rate (RMR). Basically, this is the rate at which your body passively burns calories throughout the day. There is a simple calculator in the link I sent you to get a rough idea of your RMR, but you can also consult your doctor to get a better idea of what your specific RMR is.

One method of allaying someones concerns might be:

Hey cowowrker, I appreciate your concern for my health! I actually spoke with my doctor and I happen to have a resting metabolic rate of 1400, which means I only need to consume 1400 calories in order to maintain my current weight, so I try to stay near that number. Lucky me, I get to save a lot of money on groceries per month and I still enjoy everything I eat!

In my experience, once people see that you have taken steps to research your health and are actively pursuing medical advice they will leave you alone.

another unasked for non-interpersonal solution:

As indicated in the article I linked you, the number one determining factor of RMR is fat-free mass (i.e. muscle). If you decide you are not happy with your caloric consumption, lifting weights 2-3 days a week will increase your RMR and therefore appetite. This was ultimately the solution I pursued because I got tired of constantly explaining my lack of appetite to every person I met (and a few select people who knew me for a long time, but couldn't let it go.) It sounds like this may not be the case with you, as many of your friends and family seem very supportive and understanding, but I thought I would include this personal experience in case it helps someone else who might read this answer.

Hope this helps!

11

Don't over-explain or discuss.

"I'm fine with a muffin, thanks for bringing them in."

Come up with a simple phrase, maybe:

"My doctor is happy with my weight".

Repeat, repeat, repeat. Make it boring.

"I appreciate your concern, but my doctor is happy with my weight."

Shuts down conversation really quick when they realize they're not going to get any more out of you.

Try not to "JADE" (Justify, Argue, Defend, or Explain). Hard to get out of this habit, but worth practicing.

"Thanks for asking, but my doctor is happy with my weight."

Note that this doesn't have to be strictly true, maybe the (longer) truth that you keep to yourself is that you are actively working with your doctor on this, and still investigating options A, B, and C, but other people don't need to know that.

If you don't like that exact phrasing, maybe something even more vague, like:

"My eating habits are between my doctor and I."

or perhaps a little less aggressive,

"I'm following my doctor's instructions."

7

Well, it's very nice of them to be worried about your health. They seem to be very nice people. In my opinion, all your approaches are fine and I'd say that you should try your second approach more. They won't worry about it anymore after sometime.

I have an impression of eating a lot, but ever since I started to control my diet, people think that I have some problem, while I don't. So, my situation is kinda similar to yours.

So, whenever asks me for more food to take, I usually reply with,

Thanks, but this is all I can take. I am already full.

Then, when they ask me if I got some health relatd problem, I reply with

Thanks, but you got nothing to worry about. I am all fine and healthy (point toward my upper arm (flexed) as a joke).

You will have to continue to do so. After a while, they form an opinion that you are fit and can eat only that amount of food. The thing is many people are convinced at first (as they did in my case like my sister-in-laws and colleagues), but you have to repeat it for some (like my mother, aunts and a few friends). Therefore, keep patience and iterate the approach.

I'd also like to mention a non-IPS idea that you should take food in quantity you can consume and eat a little slowly. So, you can finish it at the same (approximately) time your friends do.

4

Aside from my own special eating habits, I know one colleague who is just like you: eating normally but always staying on the very light side. He is active (trekking/skiing, including week-long trips on 6000m mountains...), but even when he does not do sports, he does not gain weight.

At first, I thought he had problems, but then I noticed that a) he eats just normal during lunch, and b) he eats "unhealthy" stuff just fine, i.e., cakes and such. I know him well in the meantime, we talk about this (I'm pretty envious of him ;) ), and he usually tells it just matter-of-factly

I don't need more calories, and could not gain weight even if I eat much more. I'm having an active eye on not becoming too light, don't worry.

It's a joy seeing him enjoy cakes and such, because of the fact that he never has to worry about gaining too much weight! (Which obviously is a fallacy because he indeed has to worry about getting too lean to do his sport meaningfully - he would need more fat reserves for long treks, which he has a very hard time building up.)

In your example with the muffin, I would have made it a point to grab ... one of the muffins, and enjoy it muchly, especially in the face of overweight colleagues who can only eat them with much remorse.

4

I'd like to suggest a writers aphorism

Show, don't tell.

The nightmare scenario is that you continually declare that things are okay, unintentionally signalling that they're not.

Are you okay, Bob?

I'm fine, Alice, just fine.

Are you sure? It's just that...

Yeah, no problems, all good here. I'm okay, all right?

Of course, you'd get more agitated and any concerns for your welfare will only increase. It's a vicious circle.

I'd suggest you consciously try to relax when you're asked the question, give it a kind of non-committal "yeah, okay", and go about your business.

Don't let on that the question has bothered you, and it won't look like you're trying to cover an issue. This may also lead to you feeling more relaxed about the question, when you see folks are less concerned about it, because you've demonstrated that you're okay.

2

My first thought while reading this question (before I read your location) was that the expression "I'm fine" is often thought to mean just the opposite. It is seen as a dismissive expression, rather than an assuring one. Of course you don't specifically say that this exact phrase is your response (although you used the word "fine" in your question's title) but similar expressions may have the same effect. When people are worried and ask if you are okay they have a specific concern. Unless you address that specific concern they often continue to worry. Even phrases that literally mean you are well may be perceived as neutral or dismissive.

But then I saw that you live in German speaking Switzerland, so this English language idiom probably doesn't apply!

I admit I don't know much about Swiss culture, but in German German expressions like Ich bin OK or mir geht's gut don't carry the same ambiguity. Although this is a generalisation for which I apologise, German seems to be more to the point - whether that is due to language or culture I am not qualified to say! But politeness often leads to ambiguity. It is out of politeness that we soften our words, or omit saying things that we are actually feeling.

So to your question of how can I be more persuasive....

You have tried:

  • Repeatedly saying you are fine. As I have explained above, sometimes these short reassuring phrases are received as dismissal. They do not specifically address what the other person is really thinking, so it doesn't satisfy them. You know what they are thinking, so you need to address it.
  • Explanation. Perhaps this hasn't worked because you may be saying too much! In English many people believe that if someone "protests too much" it means they are trying to hide something. We have Shakespeare to blame for this ("The lady doth protest too much, methinks." - Hamlet)
  • Jokes. Again, these can be seen as dismissive. Humour, especially about oneself, is often a defense mechanism.

I believe the way to be more persuasive in this situation is to be more direct, but also to be brief.

If someone asks if you are okay, look at them and confidently say:

Yes I feel great, thank you.

... or similar suitable phrase in your language. The important bit is to include how you feel. Now you might feel that this is a little jarring or out of place, but by using a phrase that shows you have really thought about how you feel, rather than using a platitude ought to satisfy any concern.

And if someone brings you vegetables again instead of a muffin, you could smile to show some humour and say:

Hey, where's my muffin?

This hopefully shows that you actually do like food, and highlights their misconceptions.

Hope this helps. I hope I haven't made any unfair assumptions about the differences in language and culture.

-3

It is quite funny how I came across this one. I got a friend who literally never eats in front of me. Sort of worried and frustrated about this one, because I'd like us to enjoy meals together, especially since I am a bit of a foodie myself (in a healthy way). While I'm still going to be sad that she prefers to pack that delicious sushi rather than eat it as I eat mine, at least she is healthy.

Maybe a more sly way to get rid of the problem, but how about posting your tasty meals and breakfast on social media just so everyone knows you're very much into food? Or bringing in those lovely muffins with you to work to show them you're indeed all about those muffins?

Lastly, get them crisp out when you are hanging about with them and crunch on them very loudly. Kindly let them that since no one believed you eat like anyone else, you are now going to eat those crisp right next to their ear.

Drastic times call for drastic measures. I hope I am not being too childish here, and that the Swiss can appreciate the humor in this.

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