No, You're Not "Bad" For Having Dessert
“Do you really need the carbs?”
“You know I heard dairy is so bad for you, there’s lots of bacteria and fat in it.”
“Well if you pick that one you’re going to for the healthier version.”
It’s the thing we face every day, at least 3 times a day. It’s the thing that networks have been centred around, the topic of magazines, and 30 second flash videos on facebook. It’s essentially carved itself it’s own unique photographic genre. People have fantasies about it, it’s used to punish; to reward. Its consumption (or lack thereof) is a central symptom of certain mental illnesses.
For many of us, food is not merely energy, but identity. Especially with our increasingly materialistic world eating a twelve dollar “raw, organic, vegan, local” salad is basically like popping on a new pair of nikes and posting the pic on instagram. And for a world that’s obsessed with presenting the “right” kind of identity, we better make sure everything we’re eating matches up with the persona we’re presenting.
For me, that persona was the healthy one. I ate a strict diet that rarely saw sugar, carbs, or any kind of “fatty” foods. I didn’t want to be labelled as the slob that sat at McDonald's wiping ketchup from their mouth. I didn’t want to be that “fool” that actually "let herself go" enough to enjoy ice cream. For my twisted and clearly diseased mind, my limitations on the variety of food I consumed was directly correlated to the type of person I wanted to be. The type of image I wanted to show. For me, if I showed a certain type of image, be it the pretty blonde thin girl isolated in corner eating a salad, or the rail thin shell of a human that took hours to eat an apple it meant I attained and embodied that certain type of persona as well (thinking that your body type defines the type of character you possess).
By using the types of foods I was eating to define my personality I only got further and further away from actually defining my personality on my own terms. I wasn’t deciding who I wanted to be, but suddenly this other voice telling me I wouldn’t be good enough unless I consumed x amount of calories was. Determining the rules for my life, my activities, and my emotions slipped out of my hands and into the hands of my juxtaposing happy appearance .It is a toxic relationship that I’m still fighting to get out of.
When I finally started to realise that no one type of person ate one type of food, that everyone ate differently according to their own needs (shocking that stereotypes could be wrong right!), that’s when I could start enjoying food again. I made the decision to decide the way I wanted to live regardless of the food I was eating, not depending on it.
Once I stepped away from the point of view that I was doing everything right, I started to really notice the toxic effects that commenting on other people’s meal choices has. I was definitely guilty of this, I used to always think that if everyone ate a certain way we’d all be happy! So I charitably spread my knowledge of low fat, high protein diets around because that’s what I’d heard “makes you fit” (and obviously fit people are the epitome of happiness with no problems at all). I’d comment on people’s meals, debate happily for hours whether or not gluten free was actually healthy because I was so lost that healthy was a tangible thing I could really hold onto at the time.
But there’s no one way to be healthy, just as there’s no one way to be happy. It may sound corny but tired as the phrase may be, everyone lives differently. Who are we to say what people should and should not be eating? Just today I was in a cafe with my friend for lunch, having already paid for my order my friend asked me what she should get- the cashier (innocently) replied that the second options healthier. As if healthy was as easy to define as A or B. More importantly, as if enjoyment and health couldn’t be synonymous. And now there’s was the social issue of do I jeopardise my “powerful, self-control” persona and get the “un-healthy” option? Any time you tell someone that something is healthier than it’s simply adding an extra external opinion about the way they should live their life. The “right” way to live it.
I’m not saying that we should cut out all external advice on nutrition, obviously we should listen to medical experts so we don’t all get scurvy (duh, modern medicine people). But when you have diet trends flying at you, each claiming to be better than the last, the last thing we need is another opinion telling us what we should and should not eat. If you’re vegan, awesome. If you eat dairy, cool. If you hate meat, unreal. Just please don’t tell me how much I’m harming my body by eating what I want, because for the longest time I would have given up everything together just to impress people. Because when you advise people on the “best” thing to eat, you don’t know their needs or past history with that kind of food. Maybe it’s traumatic to eat anything but that. Maybe they need red meat because their iron is super low. Or maybe they just like it. Either way, it’s not only an opinion on the food they consume, but the way they feel about themselves as a person after they eat it.
Food is a personal journey for everyone. It’s something that’s so intimate that it had the ability to control your own mood and outlook. Yet it’s ever so public because, thanks to the negative side effects of social media, your choices are now on trial for everyone else to judge. And the judges are quick to say we’re bad for enjoying that extra piece of cake, or that grilled cheese: because those are “bad” foods so we obviously turn into bad people, right? Instead of labelling ourselves as bad or good based off the food we eat, why don’t we simply eat? Do you, and let others live their life. Let’s bring the moral debate outside the kitchen.