Food Is Not A Four-Letter Word

I feel like everywhere I go, I hear people talking about food in ways that, frankly, drive me bananas. It seems like everyone is obsessed with talking about how bad they were because they ate this, or how good they were because they ate that. We love to assign morality to food, and, by extension, to ourselves. We reward and punish ourselves, we elevate and disparage our character (and those of other people), based on what we eat. Enough!

This post brought to you by all sorts of food, none of which says anything about who you are as a person. Except delicious!
This post brought to you by all sorts of food, none of which says anything about who you are as a person. Except delicious!

No longer participating in that kind of talk is honestly the easiest step you can take toward learning to love your body. I’m not kidding. The freedom that I experience by not thinking of – or talking about – food as a moral issue is almost indescribable. But since this is a blog wherein I write things, I guess I’ll give it a go.

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Sadly, we use food morality to bond. Go to your office kitchen, or to a party, and stand by the food. I guarantee you someone will talk about how they “can’t” eat something, because it’s so “bad.” Or they will eat something “bad,” and now consider themselves “bad.” Most people will rush to agree, to commiserate! Get people talking about the good and bad of food (and themselves), and it’s hard to get them to stop.

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Like pretty much everybody, I used to judge my worth by what and how much and when I ate. After all, that’s the whole point of a diet! Stick to it and you’re a good person. Fail at it and you’re a bad person. I believed this! Back in the day, if I ate under my Weight Watchers points (which was pretty much all the time), no matter how starved and wiped out I felt, I knew I was a success. Now, the thought of that just makes me sad. And kinda hungry.

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Now, this isn’t a conversation about the nutritional value of food. It’s about the feelings we associate with food. If someone said, “This piece of chocolate is less nutritionally dense than that carrot, and I feel bad about myself for choosing the chocolate,” I could agree to the fact, but I won’t encourage the feeling. I believe that everything in moderation (including moderation) is a good way to approach nutrition. But the nutritional value of food is a different discussion, and not one we are having today.

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Okay. Try this: For a meal, a day, a week, don’t think about the morality of your food. Eat what you want. Eat when you want. Don’t judge the food, and don’t judge yourself. Don’t post about it, or talk to your friends about it. Eat, and enjoy it, and then move on. You won’t believe how good it feels to not stress about it.

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No food is off limits in this approach. Whoa! you say. How can no food be off limits? What about Wegmans Ultimate Chocolate Cake, or double cheeseburgers with bacon, or all of the things on those Top 10 Foods You Should Never Eat Again Because They Will Cause You to Immediately Perish lists? Yeah, even those. Drink a pop if you want! (Food allergies, of course, are a whole ‘nother story. Don’t eat the things you’re allergic to, people.) The magic trick here is that, for most of us – and your mileage, of course, may vary – giving ourselves the liberty to eat what we want actually results in a healthier relationship with food. You may very well find that you end up making more nutritionally dense choices more often.

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Personally, I don’t participate in food morality discussions any more. If someone wants to me to agree that they can have a piece of chocolate because they were “good” and exercised that morning, I choose whether or not to try to talk to them about food morality, or just let it be and not reply. It’s unhealthy for me to engage in those conversations in any other way. I don’t believe that by knowing what or when or how much you eat, I can tell if you are a good person or not, if you are worthy of my respect. Food doesn’t make you a good or bad person. It doesn’t make you worthy or worthless. It fuels your body, and it can be a source of communion and joy, if you let it. Let it!

Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the Titanic who waved off the dessert cart. ―Erma Bombeck