Today’s pervasive diet culture uses a lot of moralistic language when describing food – everything from desserts to butter to carbs might fall under the “Bad” category, while the ever-pompous kale holds the trophy for “Good”-est food. This kind of language gets generalized to the people doing the eating, creating categories couched in Shame – this is where we end up with descriptors like “lazy” and “undisciplined”, or “neurotic” and “obsessive”, to describe the personal choices that are made around food without knowledge of the person making them.
Objectively and outside of diet culture, food is really just food. A donut and a carrot and a piece of chicken all carry the same moral value, which is to say that they carry no moral value whatsoever. Within this mysterious Otherworld of judgment-free eating, a lot of extra space opens up. There is space for dispassionate carb-loading to “fuel up”. There is space for emotional eating (which has enough juice for about 4,000 other blog posts) after a breakup or a bad haircut. There is space for an extra glass of wine or a rich dessert when out to dinner with friends. And all that space sure creates some breathing room.
I get it when I hear my clients say that they feel shame and guilt when they let themselves eat something that’s been categorized as Bad by some diet standard (ten extra Shame points if it was eaten in front of other people). Or when they receive a clear judgment statement from someone they care about, even if it’s disguised in diet-centric concern (Confusing health and thin-ness is the major offender here). I dare you to find a woman that DOESN’T get this to some degree. But here’s the rub on this one: all that shame and guilt and worry about eating or not eating and Good and Bad-ness is exhausting. It adds to our stress and lowers our self-worth. It makes us compare ourselves to one another, stay in relationships that don’t deserve us, and make ourselves nuts trying to reach a standard that’s unreachable.
All of these things are more unhealthy than an ice cream sandwich. By miles.
I encourage clients (and myself) to watch their language about food. Remove any moralizing. Begin to sit with the Part of them that Judges food as Good and Bad. What is it afraid will happen if food is just food? What is it protecting?
That is where the real work begins.