“OH MY GOSH, SHAREBA!” my co-worker scolded me, as I sprinkled salt onto the baked potato that I was eating for lunch. She stared at me in horror, as I proceeded to top my potato with the tablespoon of sour cream that came with my meal. I ate my lunch as quickly as possible, and then announced that I was going out for a walk. Because, you know, I had to justify eating that potato by promising to exercise…
I’ve been receiving comments like this ALL THE TIME lately, and it’s making me feel really irritated. Food shaming is bad enough when you’re a kid who brings anything for lunch that isn’t a sandwich, but it’s worse when it’s coming from an adult who should know better.
Why do we feel so inclined to comment on what other people are eating? And I say we because I’ve done it – I KNOW I’ve done it – especially when I’m talking to my friends. Food shaming is now a part of our daily dialogue, along with always talking about how busy and tired we are. It’s like everyone must be busy, tired and feel guilty about food in order to be cool these days.
And that is so wrong.
Food and guilt (or shame) should never be connected. Eating is a basic human need. It is also, as a friend of mine once pointed out, one of the few simple pleasures that we have in life (like sleeping!). Of course, some foods are better for our bodies than others, but do we really need to make people feel bad about what they’re eating?
I feel like no one is going to say “yes, yes we do need to make people feel guilty about their food choices!“, yet we do that frequently through our comments, actions and reactions.
Watch your mouth
It is SO easy to make someone feel bad with just a simple comment like “oh, you’re eating THAT?” or “I thought you were on a diet?”. I’m willing to bet that most people don’t say these things to be mean, but phrases like that can be really hurtful.
Here’s why: you don’t know why that person is eating what they are eating.
Maybe they are eating a peanut butter sandwich, made with white bread (the horror!), because they had a crappy week and wanted something familiar. Maybe they are avoiding gluten because they’re been recently diagnosed with Celiac Disease.
Maybe I was eating Swiss Chalet take-out because I didn’t pack anything for lunch, and chose a baked potato for my side because I knew it would give me energy for the rest of my 9-hour work day.
I know that my co-worker scolded me because she herself is on a diet, and probably wouldn’t touch a baked potato with sour cream with a ten foot pole. I also know that she meant well – trying to save me from a horrible fate of being chubby. But just because she’s on a diet, does not suddenly make her an authority on eating who can dole out advice. Because what might be bad for her body may not be bad for mine.
Cleanliness is next to godliness?
Clean eating is such B.S. concept, in my opinion. Food is neither clean nor dirty, it’s just food. Some foods are nutritionally dense, and others are not, but none of them are evil, sinful or dirty. We do not need to refer to cheese as a “guilty pleasure” or say that we are “indulging” when we eat ice cream.
Broccoli is not closer to God than a cupcake.
Yet so much of the media that we consume says that we must “eat clean”, eliminate toxins, reduce our consumption of dairy/gluten/meat in order to reach some kind of screwed up idea of perfection.
This article about a juice bar owner’s daily food diary is a great example of promoting a negative relationship with food. Let me be clear, (ha, I can’t say that without thinking of President Obama), I do not care about what she’s eating. If she enjoys a zucchini ribbon salad, and wants to drink shots of Quinton (a marine supplement, apparently), good for her. It’s her attitude towards food that concerns me.
For example, at one point, towards the end of the article, the interviewee says “I love chocolate—and on some evenings, I don’t want to deny the indulgence—so I’ve devised a million low glycemic recipes.” Again, the issue isn’t that she’s eating low G.I., raw chocolate that she makes herself with sprouted brown rice protein. It’s the language. The written words “I don’t want to deny the indulgence”, and the unwritten (but implied) statement of “but I do”.
When we are constantly bombarded with the message that eating treats, or dessert, or carbs, or whatever is bad, we start to believe that we are bad people for wanting to eat them. It’s like those stupid Special K commercials that try to tell women that they can indulge in their desire for chocolate, by eating their diet cereal that has chocolate bits in it. Or, you know, you could just eat chocolate…
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against healthy eating. Not by a long shot. I took a nutrition class in university, and so has my brother (who is finishing his degree in Kinesiology), and we try to make sure we eat balanced diet at home. My issue is with people who feel the need to restrict their diets or abstain from certain foods because they have been told by friends/family/coworkers/magazines that they shouldn’t eat them.
Unless you have been told by your doctor that you need to restrict your diet for medical reasons, or you have an allergy or something like that, I do not see the value in harbouring negative feelings towards food. Restrictive diets can lead to eating disorders, like Orthorexia (an unhealthy obsession with eating foods that one considers healthy). If you think that sounds like not such a bad eating disorder, think again. My friend Abbey Sharp, who is a registered dietician, has written a great article about her experience with Orthorexia which explains why the disorder is dangerous.
Your dress size does not negate your value
I was at a salon the other day, and one of the hairdressers was talking about her daughters recent weight-loss. Apparently, the girl dropped 30 lbs over the span of a few months by following a restrictive diet and becoming a gym fanatic.
What struck me in her conversation was how she kept referring to how great her daughter looked. She was so proud that her daughter was now skinny, and raved about how easy it is to buy clothes for her now. There was no mention of her being happy that her daughter was trying to be healthy. Instead, her focus was on how she was so impressed that her daughter had cut out foods from her diet and lost a ton of weight, and now she’s finally pretty.
How sad is that?
Too many people, especially parents, put pressure on others to lose weight in order to become prettier or have a better shape. It’s like you have no value as a woman if you have jiggly thighs, or less-than-flat abs. I know, because people (including family members) get on my case about my weight and shape all of the time. By the way, I’m 5 feet tall and weight 125 lbs, so I’m not what you would call obese… but still, people feel the need to make comments like “you shouldn’t have stopped dancing, you’re putting on weight” or ask if I’m pregnant.
I get the pregnant question from strangers a couple of times a year, actually. It’s great.
I know for myself that I need to start moving more, not because I want to lose weight but because I feel out of shape. I know that my body is very healthy right now, and that’s something I need to work on. But I don’t think that I’m overweight, and I don’t like it when people tell me that I need to lose weight. No one likes that!
So, this got super long and ranty… can you tell that this is something I feel strongly about?
People, it’s 2016. If you are bigger than a size 2, there is no shame in that. Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, and so long as you are healthy, that’s what matters.
If you want to cut out Kraft Dinner from your diet, do it (Chef Michael Smith would be proud of you). If you want to eat a slice of cake at your friend’s baby shower, do that too (I’ll be proud of you!). Drink chocolate milk, eat salad, stuff handfuls of buttered popcorn in your mouth at the movies and enjoy a baked potato. Do whatever it is you need to do to keep your mind and body healthy.
Just don’t do things because someone made you feel bad, k?
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All opinions expressed here are my own. I am not a medical professional, or a dietician, or a nutritionist.
If I call anything “healthy”, it’s healthy according to my personal definition.
You should never substitute information from this blog for information obtained from a licensed professional.
All images are from Death to the Stock Photo.