We’re on day 4 of NEDA Week! (National Eating Disorder Awareness Week). If you’re just joining us – welcome! Yesterday’s post talked about the power of language and of “I am” statements. We’re going to continue our discussion of language today as we talk about removing judgement from our food choices.
When I meet with a client for the first time, it doesn’t matter what they’re coming in for help with, I almost always hear the phrase “junk food” or some derivative of that sentiment such as “I eat crap” or “garbage food”. Those are some pretty negative words, no? Less graphic, but still judgmental descriptors for food include “unhealthy” and “bad”. It’s not uncommon for people to describe a day of eating as either “good” or “bad”. And side note, I used to use these same terms because I grew up in this very environment, and furthermore, this sort of thinking was promoted during my time at school when I was studying nutrition and becoming a dietitian. So please don’t think I’m passing any judgment on anyone who thinks this way or uses these terms – I was right there with you a few years ago. It wasn’t until I got into the field and got a few years under my belt and was exposed to the concepts and research behind Intuitive Eating and Health at Every Size that I (metaphorically speaking) saw the light.
Our culture weaves so much judgment and moral implication into our food. Think about commercials that you see on TV – the low-sugar ice cream that claims it’s “guilt free” (implying that we should feel guilty if we eat regular ice cream) or the chocolate morsel that describes itself as “decadent”, “indulgent”, or even “sinful”. It’s no wonder that we’ve become accustomed to thinking of our days, and more importantly, ourselves, as either good or bad, healthy or unhealthy, disciplined or indulgent, etc, solely because of what foods we eat. But is this right?? No! Of course it’s not right! We’re not good or bad people because of what we choose to eat. I frequently hear from clients that they feel ‘guilty’ after eating certain foods, and I always ask them in response – “Why? Did you steal it? Did you hurt someone to get that cookie?” And they laugh (and often times roll their eyes) and tell me that of course they didn’t steal it or murder someone to eat that food. I think this helps them put things into perspective a bit, but even so, getting that guilty feeling to fade is hard because of how ingrained these judgements are from our culture.
The term “junk food” is so commonplace that even little children use this phrase. I always ask my clients to rephrase, and instead saying “junk” which implies something worthless and negative, I ask them to use the phrase “play food” or “fun food”. Think of a kid – they can’t go to school for 12 hours a day and have no breaks for fun, right? They need recess, nap time, down time, etc. Adults too, need breaks for fun and self care. But we don’t call this “junk time” because it has value – even if that value is just that it keeps us balanced and happy. Play food is the same – it does bring value to us and our lives. And it also does have nutritional value. Sure, it may not have as many vitamins and minerals or fiber or protein as some other foods, but that doesn’t make it “bad” or “unhealthy”. If nothing else, play food provides a source of energy, and we need energy from food in order to survive and fuel our daily activities. It also brings balance to our eating choices. We can choose foods for so many reasons: for their nutritional value, their wonderful flavor, their ability to keep us full, for the way they make us feel – both body and soul. There is nothing “bad” or “wrong” about choosing a food just because you love the way it tastes. Indeed, I would argue that ideally you would enjoy the taste of all of the foods you choose to eat. Since we need to eat multiple times a day in order to stay alive, it would really suck if food didn’t taste good, right? As I tell all of my clients, there is both nutritional value, and pleasure, in all foods.
So I implore all of you reading this, start paying attention to the language used to market food in the media. Start noticing when you (or someone else) is thinking or speaking of food or their day of eating in these moralistic terms. Speak up, and change your language to reflect positivity or at least neutrality when speaking about food. Instead of calling foods “junk”, “unhealthy”, or “bad”, try using the terms “play food” and “fun food”. It’s time we took the judgement and guilt out of eating, so that we can make our food choices based off of our taste preferences and how foods make us feel – mind, body, and soul.