Fatsronauts 101 is a series in which I address assumptions and stereotypes about fat people that treat us as a monolith and are used to dehumanize and marginalize us. If there is a stereotype you'd like me to address, email me.
[Content Note: Fat hatred, food policing, disordered eating, reference to fridge-locking.]
#2: I can tell how someone eats all the time, because of how they eat around me.
Nope! You can't.
This myth is a big part of maintaining the "Everyone who is fat is fat for the same reason" myth, because we feel entitled to extrapolate from what we see at one meal, or in public, or on a special occasion, or lunch in the office every day, or whatever, in order to make conclusions about what and how people, especially fat people, eat all the time.
There are a few problems with that calculation.
Problem One: Not everyone eats the same in front of other people as they do when they're alone. This is true of people of all sizes, and, while it is certainly a feature of disordered eating (associated with either fatness or thinness), it is also just a feature of eating, full-stop, particularly in a culture which strongly associates eating habits with morality.
Because food is judged (Bad cupcake! Good salad!), and thus are the people who consume that food similarly judged (Bad cupcake-eater! Good salad-eater!), there is strong incentive to view eating as a performance—specifically, a demonstration of one's ethics.
Both the quantity and quality of the food one eats in front of others is frequently altered, based on presumed judgments (or the lack thereof), consideration for others' dietary needs/preferences, and avoidance of or desire for particular character assessments.
An omnivore might modify meat intake when dining out with vegan friends. A fat man might eat less in front of a critical parent with a history of fat-shaming. A person with a raging sweet tooth might skip dessert only after dinner with a diabetic friend. A thin woman might eat less than she usually does on a first date at a restaurant, but more than she usually does on the third date when her date cooks for her. Etc.
Those of us with enough privilege to pick and choose how much and what type of food we eat tend to make adjustments based on a variety of factors, including what we want to communicate about ourselves, what we don't want to communicate about ourselves, avoidance of playing into stereotypes, preempting criticism, self-shaming, and/or other considerations.
And then there's this: Someone with the healthiest (for hir) regular diet on the planet might use "going out" as an opportunity to treat hirself from an otherwise rigidly kept eating plan. Someone with the shittiest (for hir) regular diet on the planet might use "going out" as an opportunity to eat better (for hir) than normal, because zie finds anything more than microwaving pre-prepared meals demands time or talent or ability zie does not have.
Extrapolating from a single meal, or even a series of public meals, is flatly not a good metric for determining what someone's regular eating habits are.
Problem Two: And, even if you see someone for a lot of meals, or live with another person, you still can't presume to wholly know hir diet—unless you're some sort of criminal who's padlocked the fridge and taken control of hir income, in which case, please turn yourself in to the nearest police station immediately, because you have derailed.
I do the grocery list, Iain and I grocery shop together (seriously, it's so much fun!), and I do virtually all the cooking, but he still eats two meals a day away from home. I can't claim to know precisely what he's eating every day by extrapolating based on what I see him eat at dinner each night.
I could, however, ask him, and trust that he's telling me the truth, because he's a grown-ass adult with agency and the capacity to audit and regulate his own sustenance, which is why I wouldn't even ask him in the first place.
Note: Iain would tell me the truth, and I him, because we have done a lot of discussion around safe communication regarding food talk and body image, where both of us have individual sensitivities. (Again, not that either of us ever asks or score-keeps each other's eating.) That I would be honest with him doesn't mean I would be honest with anyone who asked me what I've been eating. I wouldn't lie; I would just refuse to answer, because fuck off.
The point is, even asking someone with whom you don't have clear boundaries around such discussions might not get you an honest answer.
Someone who's dishonest about what they eat when not around you may have disordered eating, or a reflexive defensiveness born of an acute awareness that any amount of food is "too much" when you're fat—or they may just feel like not being food and body policed by someone who clearly has a different idea of what the best eating plan for their body is.
Problem Three: Fat people who are noticed eating anything are frequently assumed to be eating a lot.
I can't stress enough how common this is—any fat person eating in public is routinely regarded as gluttonous, irrespective of what we're actually eating.
And it truly doesn't matter what we're eating: A regular entrée; shoulda been the "diet plate." The diet plate; shoulda been a salad. A salad—omg look at that hippo putting dressing on her salad; doesn't she know what she looks like?!
Whatever it is, it's too much, or it's wrong. Never mind that thin people at the same restaurant might be eating the same things, in bigger quantities: If a fat person is eating it, it's axiomatically perceived to be grossly oversized—the hatred for us projected onto our food.
(Thin people, especially thin women, similarly get portion-policed: If I'm full after half a sandwich and ask for a doggy bag, that's the least I can fucking do and good for Fatty Boom Balatty, but if a very thin woman is full after half a sandwich and asks for a doggy bag, she's "starving herself." Can't fucking win.)
And, you know, sometimes a fat person is eating a lot in public, because they're fucking hungry! Or because something is very tasty! That doesn't mean that fat person eats that way all the time.
Maybe they do—but you can't know that.
Problem Four: Extrapolation usually has an agenda.
People who don't food and body police don't give a fuck what or how much other people are eating. There's no reason to assess someone's meal and then try to figure out what that says about them, unless you've already decided that there's a problem.
For shits and grins, let's say that a fat person in your general vicinity does actually have a legitimate health or diet problem. (NB: "Being fat" is not a problem.) That doesn't mean it's your problem. It's theirs. And unless they invite you to be part of it, unless they solicit your advice or input or help, it's only theirs.
Because—and if you ever take on board one thing I say from this entire series, let it be this—no fat person needs to be told that zie's fat. We are aware. Oh my god, we are soooo aware.