The gods know I’ve got my own complicated relationship with food (always vegetarian and picky) and I’m not judging anyone else; but I find both the good/bad dichotomy and the cycle of guilt-caused-by-eating equally disturbing. Mostly because eating and self-image are so intertwined that the combination makes a lot of people feel bad about themselves when the only heinous crime they’ve committed is to eat food.
Think about that for a second. Eating = guilt. How spoilt are we that we can even think that way?
The phrases are so faded with overuse as to be almost unnoticeable, but I think that if you regard the food you are eating as ‘bad’ or a ‘guilty pleasure’ then you are simultaneously making an implicit self-judgment. If the pizza is bad, then I am bad for eating it; if the packet of Jaffa Cakes is a guilty pleasure then it is a wrong thing to be eating it. Then follows punishment of whatever type, be it exercise or self-denial, and then the whole loop starts again. The flip side is the food as reward tactic, when after a self-imposed milestone of whatever sort is reached, you allow yourself a food treat. It’s rarely a handful of raisins and an apple, is it? I’ve exhibited all these behaviours, and I’m thinking it’s not just me.
Some time last year, I decided to be done with it. Yes, some foodstuffs are healthier than others, although given the endless scientific and media debates, it’s impossible to keep up with whether eggs are ok or not and what’s the latest super(expensive)fruit. So I ignore all that, too. I’ve come to several conclusions over the last year:
1. That I don’t really care and I’ll just get on with eating what I like. No guilt.
2. That exercise and food consumption can be separated out, so that there’s no vicious circle of constantly trying to burn off the calories from the last thing I ate. At the end of each day, the slate is wiped clean.
3. That all of it is about feeling better, by which I mean healthier.
Now, a confession here: I am, seemingly by default, reasonably slim and I’ve never had to worry about my weight. But please note that that is entirely different from saying that I have never worried about it, because I have. I am a woman in the Western world in the 21st century, and it would take a stronger person than me not to be affected by the constant media portrayal of a particular body type. So that’ll be another decision: that the women in films and on TV are entirely fictive and not a benchmark for comparison. Screw that, too.
I am also someone who eats low-fat and wholewheat most of the time, either because I prefer it or I just can’t tell the difference. I like pizza and chips (in the US and UK senses) and wine and biscuits, and I supply the protein deficiency in a vegetarian diet by eating cheese. A lot of cheese. Mmm… cheese. I also eat out pretty regularly and if anyone knows a restaurant whose vegetarian options aren’t built around goat’s cheese, do let me know. I walk occasionally and get to a yoga class about once every 3 weeks, and I’ve cycled to work and back twice within the last 6 months. That’s it.
Taking all this into account, the net result of my revised attitude to food is that I feel happier and healthier. I spend very little time thinking negatively about food and none at all thinking about calories. I don’t own scales, so I don’t know what I weigh, but as all my clothes still fit that’s good enough. I seem to have maintained a level of fitness that enables me to head out the door on a 15-20 mile walk whenever I want to. It’s a 30+ mile return bike ride to work, and I’m not saying it’s fun, but it’s doable.
So, food. It’s necessary and neutral and I don’t think anyone should feel guilty about whatever they eat. And now if you’ll excuse me, I have a date with a box of Maltesers.