[Notes for talk of food policing, disordered eating.]
Openly and without apology.
In the context of my personal life, this is a fairly big deal. I have a pretty strong history of policing my own food intake, both in terms of amounts — calories, carbs, fat grams, sodium, sugar, fiber — and in terms of types. That is, not allowing myself certain foods that hold stigma as being “bad,” regardless of what my nutritional needs were at the moment.
Especially, though, this self-food-policing manifested in me refusing to allow myself to cultivate emotional attachment to food. For a long time, I didn’t let myself take any joy in eating, with rare exceptions, like the best spinach artichoke dip in the world. Generally, I tried to limit myself to “good” foods in prescribed quantities; “bad” foods were met with disdain. There was no room for liking a food — regardless of the nutritional content or societal coding of said food — for reasons of comfort, stability, tradition, satiety, sociability, or taste.
In practice, this meant allowing myself a second helping of something, but only if I rationalized it — to someone else or to myself — by saying that I was running a calorie deficit for the day. Or eating fast food or pre-packaged food out of necessity, if time or other circumstances rendered it such, but only if I both expressed and felt disgust for eating such food. Or, on rare occasions, allowing myself a portion of a food coded as “bad” — for instance, a dessert or the aforementioned spinach and artichoke dip — if I engaged in enough fat talk before and during and felt enough guilt for days thereafter.
And yeah, that’s my mom’s influence on me talking. Mom has been concerned about “good” foods, “bad” foods, and body size for as long as I’ve known her, and certainly since before I was old enough to step back and analyze how her concerns affected me.
But there’s also my dad. And I feel conflicted about saying this, because there were definitely societal food and body image pressures that didn’t impact my dad in the same way they did my mom. The result of this allowed Dad to have a different set of priorities when it came to food.
Not that my dad paid zero attention to caloric and other nutrient contents of food, but that attention was decidedly more balanced with attention to food that was filling, food that was relatively accessible in terms of cost and prep time, and food that tasted good. Still, foods that met these criteria weren’t morally “good” any more than foods that failed to meet the criteria were morally “bad.” People had preferences, but food was just food — except for mustard, which Dad did categorize as wholly and objectively evil. (What can I say? No one is perfect in their tastes. Mustard is freaking delicious.)
See there? There’s a part of me that wants to take joy in a food that I find freaking delicious simply because I find it freaking delicious.
There is a part of me that wants to take joy in food.
(Seriously, a hot horseradish mustard? Makes my mouth happy.)
Beyond that, I believe that actively liking food is a radical act — particularly for people who refuse to justify or rationalize the types of food they like, particularly for people whose bodies society marks as public property, who are then deemed not entitled to just like anything of their own accord, anything beyond what is socially prescribed for them to like.
(Or a nice dijon for a more delicate flavor? Pretty fabulous.)
But it’s still kind of a big deal to decide that I will feel free to find joy in eating foods like kale or broccoli, nuts or beans, fruit in place of more “decadent” desserts — without trying to rationalize that it’s okay to like these foods because they are “good.”
It’s maybe even more of a big deal to decide that I will feel free to find joy in eating French fries, cold pizza for breakfast, chocolate covered pretzels, or sea salt caramel — without feeling guilt that I didn’t somehow “earn” them by saving puppies, curing cancer, or eating other “good” foods — or better yet, not eating! — earlier in the day.
(My grocery store carries this one type of mustard that has Tabasco in it. Can we talk about this?)
Because there is a lot of emotional satisfaction to be had from food — joy, comfort, sociability, tradition. A lot of this is emotional satisfaction I want to have, at various moments in my life, without experiencing the irrelevant and undue anxiety that is equating any given food choice with total moral worth.
I’ve spent a number of years viewing food as an enemy. I’ve more recently spent a few years viewing food as an acquaintance that was useful but still not completely trustworthy. I am at the beginning of my fourth decade of life, and it would be nice to finally make friends with food.