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After weeks of allowing takeout food and Mad Men to creep into the slots on my calendar marked "gym," I dragged myself, heavy with guilt and cheese, off the couch and into a nearby yoga studio. Somehow the svelte receptionist convinced me to buy a package of sessions with an expiration date, and minutes later I found myself twisted into an awkward side bend, wondering how I'd ever make it to 10 classes in just two weeks.
It could be good for me, I reasoned. Plus, maybe in two weeks, this would hurt less. As if reading my mind, the teacher spoke up. "The pain we feel is a manifestation of the pain we have caused others," she said all-knowingly. "The most important part of your yoga practice is eating a vegetarian diet, free of any cruelty, harm, or injustice." The turkey burger I'd wolfed down earlier felt like a sinful stone in my stomach.
"Actually, a raw-food diet is best," a neighboring yogi chimed in. Why? I thought. Because no veggies were killed?
Still, I felt chastised enough to meet one of my girlfriends for dinner at a vegetarian joint in our town. She had recently gone both gluten- and sugar-free, and was always sipping this sludge-like herbal drink. She ordered a chopped salad. I got the mac and cheese—no meat or wounded vegetables in that dish, I justified.
"Doesn't gluten just weigh you down?" she asked, eyeing my plate critically. "You would feel so much lighter if you cut it out of your diet."
Well, at least I work out, I reassured myself.
But a few days later, when I proudly conveyed my renewed commitment to yoga to one of my coworkers, her response was, "You can't just do yoga, Jessica. You need cardio too."
And apparently, according to another pal, that cardio session has to consist of jogging barefoot! Though in hindsight, I think I got off pretty easy. When a male friend of mine dared to order white toast at a morning-after breakfast, his date sniffed, "Fashion icon Diana Vreeland said, 'People who eat white bread have no dreams.' "
Health snobs don't just (over)share their views on the right way to live, they proselytize in a way that can leave you feeling a lot like a stripped car. So the real question is, are they driven by pure concern or something less altruistic?
"People often project onto others how they feel about themselves," says clinical psychotherapist Leslie Seppinni, Psy.D. "If they've struggled with something, they can be more likely to judge, or even become outraged, by the choices of others. A formerly obese patient came into counseling to talk about how overweight people make her sick. It was out of fear that she might go backward."
Other preachy health elitists are simply rigid, says Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., a psychiatrist at New York University School of Medicine. "They see the world in absolutes: Either you follow the program or you don't."
Pregnant women provide especially ripe targets for people like this, who feel obliged to counsel about all things "best for the baby." To wit, despite studies showing that moderate caffeine consumption is safe, knocked-up gals who order a small cup of java are practically guaranteed a sidelong glance, if not a full-on lecture. And delivery doesn't offer that much reprieve: "I can't breast-feed because of a medical condition," one new mother told me. "And I've had strangers come up to me in the supermarket to ask why I would ever buy formula." Another mom remembers a colleague's comment: "Oh, you're going to stop breast-feeding? That's too bad. I nursed Ellie until she was 5, and she's never had a cold. I hope your baby isn't going to get sick all the time."
If you're irked by this type of "friendly" interference, you might want to ask yourself: Have you ever judged someone for ordering full-fat milk in a latte or requesting blue cheese dressing on her salad instead of the vinaigrette? If the answer is yes, don't worry—you can reverse your clean-living classism. Just vow to keep your well-intentioned opinions to yourself unless you're genuinely concerned about the health of someone close to you. Because my yoga instructor was probably right about one thing: Karma has a way of always putting you back in your place.
Ever been criticized?
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