So I met two friends for happy hour late last week. I hadn’t seen either one of them for more than two years, and it had taken us months to fix on a date, time and place to meet. We ordered beers, then we ordered food. Two of us ordered plates of hummus, baba ganoush, pita, olives, feta and peppers. The third ordered the nachos. She immediately turned to me and said something to the effect of, “I know, this is really bad of me.” I shrugged and said, “If you want nachos, order nachos.” She persisted, and I finally said, “Look, I’m not the diet police.”

[She may be reading this, and if she is, I’ll say it again: “I’m not the diet police, truly!”]

I don’t know how I made it this far into my nutrition education without a similar scenario occurring. I hear all the time from fellow nutrition students and dietitians that eating out with friends and family can often be awkward because of an underlying assumption that we are judging their food choices. Maybe I’ve avoided this scene simply because I’ve been so busy that I don’t get out much, and tend to spend my meager free time with fellow students, my husband, or a few friends and family members who happen to enjoy varied, balanced diets.

I won’t say I’ve never judged anyone, but if I’ve learned anything the past few years, it’s that you cannot know what a person’s diet is like based on one eating observation. If you see a stranger walking down the street eating ice cream, you don’t know if they eat ice cream every day or twice a year.

You can’t make assumptions about someone’s overall pattern of food choices based on their weight, either. Their weight could be stable, it could be increasing, it could be decreasing, they could be trapped in an agonizing cycle of binging and restricting. One snapshot does not make a movie…so don’t judge!