Other People’s Choices Are Not A Personal Attack

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Yesterday, I spent a good amount of time defending myself on various platforms against the (not-infrequent) accusation that my detailing my Intermittent Fasting routine is somehow enabling or encouraging people with eating disorders. The angle is always sort of vague, and the solutions never really actionable, but the general idea seems to be that, because there are undoubtedly people with eating disorders who read this platform, we should either refrain from sharing or heavily censor/disclaim content that could in some way impact them. I was accused of “making a guide for how to not eat all day” — absolutely not what I described or do — as well as told that I needed to put more heavy disclaimers/warnings at the beginning of the content for those who might be triggered, when the word “fasting” is already in the title. There is no winning here, and I know this — no matter how careful I am to stay within the confines of “what works for me,” without ever veering into prescriptiveness, the complaints are the same. The real idea is that because my personal life choices might be wrong or harmful for someone else, I just shouldn’t share them.

I find this line of thinking incredibly offensive, particularly when it comes to something as personal and vital as one’s own body and health. What I put into my body every day, and how I maintain and take care of myself, defines literally every waking moment of my life, and having found something that has allowed me health and happiness for 1.5 years without sacrifice is absolutely something I want to share. (And something people want to read: I casually asked Twitter if I should write an article about the topic, and the response was overwhelmingly positive.)

We live in a culture where it is very difficult, if not impossible, to be consistently healthy when it comes to food and eating. We are bombarded with social norms that make eating heavy food the only way we can bond or socialize, constantly confronted with advertisements for the least-healthy options, and served portion sizes that would be more appropriate for several individual meals. Many people are looking for sustainable solutions that allow us to eat things we love without eating far too much of them, and IF is something that works for many people (a cursory Google search reveals not just its popularity, but its scientific and nutritional backing). Beyond that, various forms of fasting are very much the norm in many, many cultures, across continents and millennia. My article was nothing new or out of the ordinary, but because it could possibly come into conflict with someone else’s life, I shouldn’t talk about it.

This is a very common phenomenon on the internet, beyond just the (objectively sensitive) issues of food and weight. We have all seen an article about a personal life choice followed by an incensed comments section full of people arguing that because this does not apply to me, it should not be said, or should be said in a different way. It’s a feeling that a statement of fact for one person is in any way an indictment of, or attack on, someone else. And everything from how we parent, to our use of substances (including alcohol), to how we dress and style ourselves, to how we are getting married, feels like an opening to interpret someone’s choice as an act of aggression.

And yes, there are many things that other people do that would be dangerous or harmful for us. I strategically avoid email blasts and articles about online shopping sales, because I used to have a huge problem with impulsive, credit-destroying spending — but I fully understand that to other people, who are better at managing these things, it’s a perfectly useful and cost-effective way to shop. And as I get better and more comfortable with my own impulses and habits, I have started to loosen up a bit on these things. That is just me: there are people who are addicted to shopping and can’t even open a site that might show them certain ads or products, and that is totally understandable. But those things existing is not an attack.

I am used to defending myself on all manner of personal choices, because I’ve been writing professionally on the internet for five years, which means my life (and social media accounts, and comments sections) have pretty much just served as town squares for people to insist I cater my views and choices to their requirements. I understand that it’s much more satisfying to click on something you know you are going to vehemently disagree with or dislike so that you can comment disparagingly, but the oldest truth of the internet is still extremely relevant: if you don’t want to read it, don’t click on it. Part of learning to navigate the internet, particularly around topics that are sensitive to us, means not engaging with the stuff we know is going to upset us — even if we have the urge to jump in and correct.

There is a big difference between someone saying “this works for me,” and someone saying “this will work for you,” or even “this should work for you.” The latter is, of course, completely rational to take issue with and, frankly, a style of writing the internet would do better to have much less of. But this phenomenon of “it appears on my screen, therefore is pointing its finger directly at me” is ultimately an extremely self-centered way to view the internet. It’s the phenomenon that leads mommy blogging to be such an often-fraught community, where every choice and priority and statement is perceived as an accusation, where the most minor decision one makes in the raising of one’s child is subject to a thousand critical responses and counter-attacks. The same is often true in the communities of diet, beauty, fitness, and relationships/marriage — anywhere there are often-complicated relationships with one’s own body and mind, there are going to be incredibly ungenerous readings of another person’s choices.

But at the end of the day, no one’s choice is a personal attack on you. Truthfully, not everything is about you, and there is nothing stopping you from choosing not to read something you know is just going to upset you. I accept responsibility that, as someone with a decently-sized platform, I have to be conscious of what I write and be accountable to my readers. But the only sane and productive way of doing that is to make sure I write about myself and what has worked for me, particularly when it comes to things I am not an expert in, such as health and weight. I am careful to write in a way that is true to my experience and as helpful as possible for those who seek it, without assuming that my solutions will work for everyone. It’s all we can ask of one another, really, because there is no point at which one person’s lived experience trumps another’s, and that second person should not be able to write about something that is true and meaningful for them.

We all get to talk, but we don’t all have to listen.

Image via Pexels

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  • laura

    I read and enjoyed your article on IF, but I’m disappointed in this response to criticism – you seem to be painting the straw man argument that people are offended that the article doesn’t apply to them or think you were saying everyone else should follow your diet, and these people therefore think you shouldn’t have written the article. It’s a little bit “LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU.”

    I subscribe to TFD via an RSS reader. The first lines of your article were about your height and weight [which is great and brave to share! One of the things I like about TFD is how honest and open you are about subjects people generally don’t discuss with others]. If I were a recovering anorexic, there would have been no way for me to avoid seeing that line. Therefore, adding a warning at the beginning so people could skip the content if necessary would have been a kindness.

    I see it the same way I see trigger warnings for other things – it’s easy for me to do and might spare someone else from being reminded of unpleasant (or worse-than-unpleasant) things, so why not do it?

    I’m sorry you got so much blowback, and I’m sure much of it was disproportionate, but there’s a kernel of truth in the criticisms that you’re currently not seeing.

    • Adila

      Adults shouldn’t need a warning before reading an article and correct me if im wrong but this site is geared towards adults.

      • Mj D’Arco

        I totally agree with you! Where did people’s backbone go?

      • Violaine

        I agree. I think now everything comes with warning and with fears of offending everyone.

    • chelseafagan

      No one brought up any comment about an RSS feed, so that seems unfair to conflate with what I was responding to. And the idea is not just that people might not agree, it’s why I brought up the point with my problems with spending and people who have shopping addictions — there are things we must avoid not because we don’t “agree,” but because they could or can be harmful to us. That’s something we all have to navigate, based on our own needs, and it’s not the world’s responsibility to adapt to us beyond a reasonable extent (such as making the article a personal, non-prescriptive testimony, and making sure to clearly title it so people can avoid at their discretion).

      • laura

        I mentioned the RSS feed to illustrate that it’s not as simple as “if it might bother you, don’t click it” — people are receiving and consuming your content in a variety of ways. In my opinion, if something as small as adding a warning before a post makes a difference to even a single person, it’s worth it. But like I said, I enjoy TFD and particularly your articles a lot, so I’m def not trying to attack you or pile on!

        • chelseafagan

          Thank you! 🙂

        • See, people, *this* is how you respectfully comment. 🙂

          • Diana

            Who promised you respect? Huh? And who made you the judge of what is respectful? So typically millennial.

            This is the internet. There are billions of people on it. You can’t control it/them.

            Welcome to “adulthood”.

          • Haha, it’s Diana again! Does receiving a reply from an aggressive internet-troll mean I’ve just leveled up in my internet-ing? *giggle*

          • Diana

            Haha, it’s Miranda again! Miranda who’s entire Disqus posting history is on TFD and TFD alone. Clearly a Chelsea troll.

          • (◔_◔)

      • Mary Harman

        “it’s not the world’s responsibility to adapt to us.”

        THIS. It’s not like she’s Rick Rolling people into clicking or reading the article. I think that’s the thing about this whole debacle that is the most interesting—That people are so offended that there is no explicit trigger warning on a clearly labeled article that is completely voluntary reading. Nobody makes you click on the link. So if you struggle with ED, and you see fasting in the title…don’t click on it.

  • Adila

    I have to say your IF article was incredibly inspiring and helpful and completely baffles me that people would take it to such a negative extreme as a Muslim woman fasting is extremely common in our religion and practiced by millions of people around the world every Ramadan. We literally go without food or water for 16+ hours for 30 days and trust me our healthy bodies can handle it and even better yet do extremely well without food or water ..but i can understand why people who have never done a fast would be skeptical but let me tell you the science and health benefits of fasting regularly are as easy to find as doing a google search. Ive never tried IF before and decided to try it today after reading your article …dude IF fasting is a breeeze compared to Ramadan fasting the only people who would find negative in your IF article …is people who are negative themselves.

  • Mj D’Arco

    I totally agree with you on the people being responsible for what they read and the fact that not everything is about the read. However…. Didn’t you post an article showing the behavior of a grown woman who thought she’d lose her job because she couldn’t stop reading news after trump won? It was her choice to be responsible with what she read knowing she’d get anxieety when she could have also stopped reading articles that would offend her sensitive self. You published that article but yet you criticize people who felt the way some of your readers felt when they expressed the same concerns as delicate girl did. a little hypocritical no?

    • SN

      That post was a part of the Financial Confessions series – where people, you know, CONFESS their monetary issues. Nearly all of the Financial Confessions are somewhere on the scale of not-okay behavior.

      Not to state the blindingly obvious, but just because the creator/CEO of a media website posts something written by someone else, it doesn’t mean they agree with that particular view. Do you hold the head of New York Times accountable for whether they agree with, I don’t know, every little recipe posted in the Cooking section?

      • Mj D’Arco

        this is a financial blog, not a news source big difference number 1… the new york times has a duty by being a news source to provide posts they disagree with: hillary lost the election…the NYT also provides in their opinion section different, disagreeing perspectives on the same subject..
        the financial diet is a blog that has retained discretion to post views they only agree with the exception of the more controversial topics that go in the unpopular opinion section. Yet, even those are not the same as publishing views they disagree with since they are topics where at time the editors can agree or disagree with depending on topics (crowd sourcing to get rid of your debt, who pays on the first date etc).. This blog does not have views the editors disagree with…as in i’ve never seen a right leaning response to the multiple left leaning articles they have chosen thereforw showing that the editors do retain that discretion to post views they agree with, making this article an hypocritical-things are ok only when they apply to me- article.

        • SN

          Yikes.

          Again…not to point out the painfully obvious, but something doesn’t have to be a news source to legitimately post different view points? In fact, TFD has made it clear that they want diverse voices and transparency. For instance, they’ve posted a Financial Confession about a woman who only dates men with six-figure salaries. Then they also posted a “response” to that confession, saying why said woman should NOT do that.

          Seems like you’re projecting your judgment/dislike of their generally liberal points of view and then taking them to task for each piece not being completely consistent with every other piece on here. You have to pick – which do you want? For them to have diverse views? Or for them to only post viewpoints totally consistent with their own?

        • Violaine

          I don’t get how you can believe this blog has no views that Chelsea would disagree with. There are articles about women who want their boyfriend to be rich and pay for everything; and women who want to split everything and be completely financially independent. Surely Chelsea agrees with ONE, not the two points of view?
          I think there is enough points of views represented here, I really don’t understand where this is coming from.

  • SN

    PEOPLE ARE SO WEIRD ABOUT FOOD. I know it’s a tough topic for good reason but damn, you would think we were talking about something heavy like religion or politics with the way people feel the need to defend their choices.

    I just wanted to chime in to say that I thought your original article was totally fine, just clearly explaining WHAT WORKS FOR YOU. I was curious as hell about IF and while I’m not certain that your particular strategy would 100% work for me, I feel like I could pick and choose what does work. For instance, I think eating a lighter lunch could be extremely beneficial for those of us who work in an office and are susceptible to the post-lunch coma.

    Anyway. I can see a world in which someone posts about IF in an offensive and potentially harmful or tone-deaf way, but I really don’t think you did.

  • Jessica

    In general I do agree with this. I think it’s crazy when someone says they pride themselves on cooking everything at home and someone takes it as an attack on them splurging on a restaurant meal and gets defensive. Outrage culture is just ridiculous, and I hope to frame my objections in a calm and explanatory manner, because food and body issues are different.

    I think you do a good job in general of making these types of articles very personal things and not being prescriptive, but I think doing more to emphasize “this is my experience, I’m not suggesting that you try any of this, and you need to do what makes you happy and healthy” in very plain language would make a difference. I think there are very actionable small things you could do to help the reasonable people who struggle with food pull themselves back from getting lured in from these types of articles. Not to solve for those who bristle at any hint of offense, but for those who have to wade through the food and body obsessed media every day and are fighting against it for their own mental health.

    I was never diagnosed with an eating disorder, but I had serious eating issues (restriction and then a Paleo obsession) that messed with my life, made me hate myself, and made me constantly on the lookout for the new “thing” to try, because I was seeking validation and meaning through food. It’s been about a year and a half since I was finally able to say “fuck it” and really push myself into the terrifying territory of eating what I wanted and not hating my body. I’m as neutral as I have ever been towards food and my body, but articles like this definitely pull me back in. For those of us who have used food as a coping mechanism, it’s really easy to get lured back into the thought process that this time the new thing will work and will solve our problems so we can be happy and love ourselves. Of course it’s all BS, but it is HARD to get past that mindset, especially when it’s promoted widely in our society. Every day is still somewhat of a struggle as I push past the messages I get about food and bodies in the media to know that I don’t need to listen to any of it.

    I’m totally aware that it was my choice to open the article and read it and let if affect me. I also have the coping skills to push back on my brain telling me that I should figure out how I can do IF to lose weight, because I’ve spent the last year and a half building them.

    Even though I agree we control what types of media we consume and how we react to them, I think you need more compassion towards people who have struggled with eating disorders. Food and body issues are not objective, they’re really messy, and they’re really painful to deal with. Writing a couple of additional sentences to make it clear that you’re just sharing your story, not prescribing anything, and encouraging others to figure out what makes them happy and healthy would go a long way for people like me. Overall I thought your article was very objective and helpful for people who are interested in IF, but it still hit a bit of a painful spot for someone who considers herself completely recovered. I don’t think you need to take responsibility for anybody’s emotions, but when writing about something that could be very emotional and painful for many readers, I do think that a few additional sentences to make your intentions painfully clear could have a positive impact for those who are struggling.

    • Ermisenda Alvarez

      I agree!

    • victoria g

      oh man thank you for saying everything that was in my head as i read these articles!! i 1000% agree and am in the exact same boat as you with regards to having serious eating issues. and while i completely get Chelsea’s point that “not everything on the internet is a personal attack”, i don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask for more of a warning on a article that deals with weight loss on a site that’s primary focus is personal finance.

  • LynnP2

    I have seen a few of this type of article on TFD, and I find it a little disappointing. When you write about eating/health, people are always going to have strong feelings and strong responses. I don’t there was anything wrong with defending yourself in the comments, but writing another article about it seems rather petty and overly defensive. This site has so many amazing things to say, and rehashing the comments section of another article makes it harder for me to take it seriously. I love TFD, and check it every day. Not every article applies to me, and that’s fine, but this article doesn’t help anyone.

    • Diana

      Chelsea has done this before. Months ago, she first went to all her other platforms to complain about a poster here, and then she wrote an entire piece here about how that poster could fuck off because the poster dared to disagree with her/Chelsea/things on TFD.

      It’s hypocritical of all the commenters here to say that this site is for adults, etc;, because if it is, then Cheslea, as someone who reminds up repeatedly that she’s written professionally for 5 years should know, being a professional writer with her own website/platform and being an adult means, not being so overly sensitive that they can’t take any feedback without launching into a major campaign to take down/prove the other wrong whatever person had the slightest criticism.

      There is something so overtly “just like me because I was a poor child with bad skin” about Chelsea that just rubs me the wrong way and normally I would have loads of compassion and support for that person. She even went so far as to claim it was her “community” and whoever didn’t like it could get out. I am more than aware of what community means, but living in community means finding healthy ways to process dissent, and more often than not, dissent here is not tolerated.

      • chelseafagan

        Diana, your commenting history on your Disqus profile is pretty jarring — nearly every comment is very negative in nature, and over half talk negatively about me personally, often on articles I did not write, edit, or select. (Our Managing Editor, Holly, is actually the one who interacts with nearly all submissions/contributors — she’s a busy bee!)

        For this comment, I don’t know what to say other than I *get* that you don’t like me, that you take a lot of issues with my personality and writing style and the way I’ve chosen to manage TFD as it grows. (Also with me being a “poor kid with bad skin” — yikes!) You also disagree with a lot of other TFD contributors, and have some strong opinions about other team members. That’s fine! Not everyone has to like everyone, but your commenting history really indicates that you might be better off not reading this site, and particularly not any post of mine. I think you’ve given it more than enough of a try, and it seems like it may just not be for you.

        I wish you well in your internetting, and hope you find a money site that fits you a little better, run by someone you like! 🙂

        • Diana

          You’re hilarious. You way over-estimate yourself.

    • Ellie Rockhill

      Hey Lynn– I appreciate your comment. I can see how this could seem petty. Another perspective I’d like to offer, not to be argumentative but because I hadn’t thought of how this could be petty until I read your post so I just wanted to engage in dialogue, is I think this post was interesting as it touched on the common internet-y thing right now of “should” and personal choice. At least that was my take-away. 🙂

      • Duskpunk

        I see why she’d do it this way. Comment section defenses are exhausting and it’s difficult to track all the different conversations, not to mention repeating yourself to 50 different people. This is a consolidated, open-letter style response to the common criticisms.

        She’s got a point: you are totally in control of the content you consume, and if it’s that big a deal for you, then stop consuming the content you find offensive. Frequenting ad-funded websites that make you angry just gives them more money. That’s why click baiting is such a problem. Once you’ve clicked the link, they’ve been paid. Your reaction from then on out doesn’t matter.

  • lkmo

    I liked your article and found it interesting to hear another person’s perspective on IF. I’ve tried it on a lesser scale, so I enjoy reading about other’s experiences. I in no way found it offensive. I realized I was reading about your life and did not take it in any way as you telling me how to live my life. I’m surprised others did. I read all of the articles on that site this way – if I can take something useful away from it great. If not, I move on.

  • Heather Murrell

    Attempting to get my finances and weight in check, so read the original IF article. It’s weird how finances/weight work together. I tried a smaller scale version of IF today and a side effect is I didn’t spend any money and my thoughts were more clear today. I was bummed to see you had to write a follow up article today about addressing the negative comments from the original article. I Enjoy your articles, keep em coming!

  • Megan Stacey

    Such a bizarre phenomenon! I’ll admit, while reading your IF piece I sort of expected there to be a line to the tune of “if you’ve struggled with an ED in the past, talk to your doctor” and was surprised when it didn’t come up. But on the flip side, TFD published a piece last week where I wrote about smoking an illegal drug instead of drinking alcohol and not a single person had a negative comment.

    Food and the discussions surrounding it are so, so bizarre.

  • Heidi B. Hodges

    I appreciate your honesty and how well thought-out this article is. I think this is a great article to exist on the internet. (I also enjoyed reading your IF article, even though I don’t think IF will work for me.)

  • Bri

    I think you especially get a lot of shit you don’t deserve, and reading the comments sometimes on “controversial” articles is like… yikes. I feel bad that you’ve gotten such negative feedback, but not about critical responses for the article, but from the downright personal attacks. I think there’s a much more civilized (?) way to go about criticizing a piece. But I don’t think it was wrong for people to have an emotional response to something that is very personal – our health/bodies (like you said). Especially because eating disorders are serious. They’re the most fatal of other mental illnesses. Readers here are probably often consumers of a lot of other media, and there are many pieces that have been written about diets that are extremely triggering and deserve to be called out. I don’t think yours is one of them, but I don’t have an eating disorder, so I can’t say for sure. I don’t agree that if you think an article is going to be difficult for you to read that you should just ignore it, and I don’t think that’s fair to ask from readers. We shouldn’t neglect problematic pieces or writers. Just like I don’t think it’d be fair for me to say “just don’t read the comments” in response. The amount of personal attacks on you was completely uncalled for, but writing about dieting is going to illicit emotion, and if someone thinks that what you’ve written could be triggering/problematic for someone with an eating disorder, that’s not something to ignore or be angry about. You can totally be angry about how shitty some of these people are to you in the comments, but there were some constructive criticisms and genuine concern that your article could be hurtful (emotionally AND physically) to someone else, and I think that should be taken into account when writing a response to the comment section, as well as when you’re defending yourself in the comments. I don’t think that writers should cater to or coddle people, but when you say that, I also don’t think the writer should be catered to/coddled in response.

  • emma

    I’m so into this.👌🏾👏🏾

  • Ellie Rockhill

    Thissssss. You’re amazing. I’m really happy about this post, and I’m glad you shared it!! I actually have been struggling with feeling personally attacked because my new boyfriend and I have different views on some hot button topics in the media. Reading this helped remind me that just because he and I don’t see eye to eye doesn’t mean his beliefs are a personal attack I have to constantly shield myself from. It’s possibly to disagree and do and believe and feel our own things without expecting everybody else to think the same way. Thanks girl!

  • BTampa

    Gotta admit, it’s sorta fun to see some of you arguing about being adults. Reminds me of some group I heard about that was trying to define and explain what it meant to be a man. The first thought in my mind was, “If you have to work that hard to figure it out, you’ll probably never make it.”

    Suggestion to Chelsea: Stop qualifying, disclaiming, and being so careful. If you do something and like it, just write about it. If people want to get all upset for stupid reasons, so what? They don’t deserve any explanations, apologies, or disclaimers.

    It’s sort of like sending someone a Christmas card and getting back an angry note saying, “I’m Jewish!” Big deal. It’s not my job to know everything about you. Either accept the spirit in which the card was sent or f-off.

    When you let people think they have a right not to be offended, you effectively cede control of everything to chronic malcontents. There will never be an end to things they’re unhappy about because that’s their mechanism for getting attention and feeling important.

  • Rebecca

    I completely agree with this, and think it needs to be said more often online. We *all* have the right to free speech, and we all have the right to ignore what we don’t want to hear. People have problems with money, food, substances, abuse and more. If we are not allowed to say anything that will set off someone’s trigger, then we simply cannot speak of anything at all. Yet, there are as many ways of dealing with serious problems as there are people having them. We *have* to speak about them in order to fight them.

    It’s true that what works for one may not work for another, but the solutions have to be discussed because you never know what one thing will just click for somebody.

    And it is really pathetic for people to get all up in arms because you have to keep pointing this out. They don’t realize what it’s like for someone who has any kind of a real platform to have to deal with so much shit oozing out of the inboxes. They are probably too busy wasting time playing “someone is wrong on the Internet”. I usually make the choice not to read comments because of those idiots, but I have real sympathy for those who – like you – have no choice but to deal with it.

    I would just like to say that I probably do not come remotely close to fitting in with the demographics of your readers. I’m much older and at a completely different career point. In fact, even my daughters are. I’m not even sure how I stumbled upon your site. However, I’ve subscribed, regardless. Because the information on here is almost always useful and well-written, as well as very interesting. I admire the way you’ve found to create a business model based on providing good content. You and your team are doing an excellent job, and I wish you the very best.

  • Duskpunk

    I have a bit of a split opinion on this, but I’ll try to be diplomatic:

    1) I totally get why you’d respond this way with another article – addressing every response in the comments section is exhausting, and when you’re addressing repeated instances of the same commentary, one open-letter response is pretty much enough. But it’s also another door for more of the same. So, productive? Not sure.

    2) I do keto with irregular IF (basically, I don’t eat if I’m not hungry, but I’m not going to try to work through the hunger if I’m starving or my blood sugar is wild that day), and I know I’m at-risk for ED because I had a serious flip in how my body handles weight in the last couple of years. Struggling to keep my weight up for so long to suddenly being 10lbs overweight is a massive paradigm shift and I’m… more particular about my weight and body than I used to be. Than is probably rational.

    I can definitely see where IF can sound like the *perfect* excuse for an anorexic restriction. And while saving money on food is a major topic here on TFD, a caveat on “talk to your health care professional before significantly altering your diet” is probably warranted, especially since no one on the TFD team is a nutritionist or dietician.