It would be just my luck that around the time that I finally gave up dieting and starting eating like a “normal” person (i.e., not feeling crazy around food, actually eating when I was hungry, not binge-eating), that the rest of the world would peak (let’s hope this is the peak) with disordered eating, including the classic “good food/bad food” dichotomy.
Years ago, when I first “changed my eating habits” (went on a diet), I kept it quiet. It was my secret fat shame that I felt I had to go on a diet (and this was back in the halcyon days where people didn’t feel quite so entitled to concern-troll fat people for their health. Ah, nostalgia!). So I told no one. I just stealthily lost weight and when people started to notice months later, I confessed I’d gone to Weight Watchers. None of this was for my health – I was 22! I was healthy just by virtue of being young! – it was just so I could fit in with the cool kids at last, and I didn’t feel morally superior for eating in a way that changed my body. If anything, I was amazed that I could still eat Nanaimo bars (look ‘em up) and regular cheese and mostly whatever else I wanted, maybe just not as much as I wanted. I kind of felt like I’d gotten one over on the whole damn system.
At least at first. When, as often happens with weight-centered interventions, I became dissatisfied with my smaller weight and body size, and at the same time my weight became harder to maintain, I decided to get even more restrictive. But to eat this way simply for weight loss or maintenance was not nearly enough motivation; I needed to feel virtuous, like an ascetic, to be able to tolerate such an extreme level of restriction. I ate “good” foods and shunned “bad” foods (unless I was off on a binge after caving into immense hunger) in the name of “health.” I would look at other people’s meals in restaurants, or what they were buying in the grocery store and sniff, mentally patting myself on the back for being so “healthy.”
I’m not proud of this behavior now. I was playing moral one-upmanship so I could feel better about going without. It didn’t really work (thus, binges).
Flash-forward to my totally normal eating habits now, in which I don’t overeat with any regularity (overeating accidentally is normal sometimes), and I don’t underfeed myself either (sometimes that happens by accident too). I don’t think about food all day long, I don’t plan my meals with extreme anxiety (rather, I plan my meals with joy in my heart and anticipation for the week to come!), I don’t simultaneously lust for and fear restaurant meals. I’m in eating nirvana, I tells ya! But having always been at least a step or two off from the rest of society, now I’m the normal eater and everyone else is the dieter!
It seems food, nowadays, is only seen in two ways: good (which is “healthy”) or bad (which tastes good). And if you are eating good foods, you are good. Likewise, if you are eating the bad foods, you are very b-a-a-a-a-a-d. Much like the assignment of feminine or masculine to words in the romance languages, in English we assign good or bad to all foods. The woman I overheard talk about forgetting her salad dressing said, “That’s okay, I have my homemade salsa – it’s healthier than my salad dressing. Salad dressing is bad.” When I asked how salad dressing was bad, she said it was because of the cholesterol (unless her salad dressing contained eggs, it likely didn’t contain much cholesterol, and that’s not even that important anymore anyway). Her homemade salsa didn’t have any fat or salt. Midway through her meal I heard her grown, “Ech, needs salt,” but even if she didn’t like her meal, at least she could feel good about her virtuous food choice!
I usually try to include some vegetables I like as a part of my lunch and someone will inevitably say, “Oh, you’re SO good.” (They will say the same thing if I take a walk after lunch, something I enjoy very much. For more about how I hate people “healthing” all over my exercise, take a listen here.)
At an office breakfast in which bagels, cream cheese, angel food cake and fruit were kindly provided, the person carving up the cake said, “It’s very light angel food cake so no one has to feel bad about eating it.” I couldn’t help but ask, “Are there foods that we should be feeling bad about?” I’m sure in everyone’s minds, there are! But what a shame.
Food choices don’t make someone a good or bad person, and assigning morality to foods based on their caloric content or macro- or micronutrient profile has only helped people to become more disordered in their eating, but not thinner or healthier (because those two things are not the same) as far the news reports.
So the next time someone tells me I am “good” for eating something they think is calorically virtuous, I’m going to tell them about my friend who was laid off from her job and then went on vacation…to help people get dental and medical care in Guatemala. Now THAT’S GOOD (and all her friends say so!). Eating quinoa instead of wheat or kale instead of candy does not make us good and it doesn’t help us to be good eaters either. Nope, it just doesn’t.
For a dose of hilarity on this subject, check out how Amy Schumer nails this BS:
Dietitians Unplugged Podcast Episode 7 now available!
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