There is a weird thing that we do as people who eat stuff, and that is assign moral value to food. I have no doubt that everyone reading this has used language like ‘bad’, ‘naughty’, ‘guilty pleasure’, or ‘cheat meal’ when referring to something they’ve eaten. We’ve probably also all said something like ‘Oh man, I was really bad yesterday and had fish and chips for dinner’, or ‘You are so good, having a salad for lunch’. That’s because it’s a short leap between labelling food in a negative way, and labelling ourselves in the same way because we eat that food. I’m aware that they’re only words, but words have power, and the way we talk about what goes into our bodies affects the way we think about them. The more we imbue food with shameful and negative connotations, the easier it is to feel the same way about ourselves when we eat it.
Most adults understand what healthy and unhealthy mean – and somewhere, we transmuted those into meaning ‘good/bad’, and ‘clean/dirty’. And the more we’ve done that, the more we’ve accepted that we are good or bad, clean or dirty, depending on the food we eat. Somewhere along the line, we have also convinced ourselves that the ‘bad’ foods make us bigger, and the ‘good’ foods make us smaller. If the bad foods make us big then being big must be bad, and if the good foods make us small, then being small must be good. It’s a false equivalency, and it’s an insidious and persistent lie that diet culture sells us: that our bodies are a reflection of our morality. And it’s fucking bullshit. Just to be clear here, I have no interest in what anyone eats, or what size anyone is – eat salad every day of your life, or consider donuts a food group, whatever works for you – but remember that what you eat doesn’t determine your worth. Your moral value depends on many things, but the ratio of Snickers bars to kale smoothies you’ve ingested in your lifetime is not one of them. Eat the fucking cake. Drink the fucking coconut water. Enjoy the chips or the chickpeas, but know that your food choices don’t make you better or worse than anyone else.
There is a similar narrative which tells us that ‘food is fuel’ – existing to help us get those gains, lose that tummy, grow that ass, and that’s fine. But food is more than just fuel. And we have to let ourselves be OK with that. Food is fuel, but it’s also celebration, comfort, enjoyment, togetherness, nostalgia, and sometimes, the only thing that’ll get you through a fucking rough hangover.
(I know that most people who read this know me personally. And those who know me personally know that I am not a slim woman. I am not now, and I never have been. Chances are I never will be. I know that some of those people who know me personally will read this and have thoughts like “LOL she’s just talking shit because she’s fat, maybe she should try eating less bad food every week trololololol”. I won’t label food, but I will label those people ‘bags of shit’)