Every woman I’ve ever pitched this concept to has known what I’m talking about without effort. Some struggle to have good food days, cutting up celery and carrot sticks, sharing tips to avoid the ice cream section in the freezer or chewing gum instead of eating candy at night. These same women will lament to their friends about what a “bad” food day they’ve had, out having fun with friends or family or partner, at a restaurant or at home, eating dessert and “paying for it today.”
There is something fundamentally wrong with putting a moral value on the food that we eat. There is also an inherent problem when we attach global labels to ourselves based on our ability to resist food we enjoy.
I will make this clear at the outset – I am not advocating eating potato chips and chocolate for every meal. I have no issue with healthy eating. The problem emerges when we judge ourselves or other people for choosing to eat potato chips and chocolate for every meal. Those are food choices which have possible consequences. They say nothing about that person’s character. Eating food with high fat and sugar content does not make someone bad.
In my humble opinion, the reason this concept makes almost inherent sense to us is because we are bombarded constantly with these messages, in our advertisements, our media, our schools, our society. Chocolate is billed as guilty pleasures, an indulgence, but also an escape. It’s equated with female sensual pleasure almost on the level of sexual arousal; is it any coincidence both are forbidden? In both instances we are “supposed” to be good (either eating only vegetables or not wanting sex) and in both instances that is clearly an unrealistic and ridiculous expectation. Food tastes good, and we are built to eat what tastes good to us.
Animism is a concept I first encountered in anthropology, discussing traditional African practices. It attaches human qualities to inanimate objects. We see this often in young children who have difficulty separating fantasy from reality; when a child cries because his stuffed animal is sad he’s leaving, this is animism in action.
We’re supposed to grow out of this phase. A food is inanimate, it is not inherently bad or good. The most revolutionary thing I’ve ever read or thought was actually small, but it changed my whole concept of eating. Instead of calories, energy. Just take a moment to soak that in. Scientifically the amount of calories is in something is energy so it makes sense to view it this way. How much energy do you need? Are you planning on running after work? Might need extra energy (read: snack) before you go. Sitting in an office for 8 hours today? Might need less energy to make that job happen, although around 3pm our energy level may get low and you might need to refuel. This can even change the way we view fat. It’s not a shameful thing, and we are built to be fat. Evolution LOVES us to be fat! It means we can survive if we have to. It means we’ve been able to feed ourselves with food! And it’s extra energy for us to use in times of crisis.
At the end of the day we are obsessed with judgment. We judge ourselves and others, usually with our own ideas about which yardsticks matter and should be used. And it makes us feel better to judge.