Monday, March 08, 2010

Good Vs. Bad

I'm becoming increasing annoyed by descriptions of food as "good" or "bad."  When someone says, "I was good," I often ask what that means, because my definition of good is not necessarily yours.  For some women who struggle with eating disorders, restriction is good.  Not for me. 

Healthy.  Unhealthy.  What do they mean?  As soon as there's a good, there's a bad, and that sets us up for the moralization of food.  While I'm not suggesting everyone eat fried food at every meal, food choices should reflect the variety of our cravings. 

There is no good or bad, just food.  Dichotomizing nutrition can lead to disordered eating.  In fact, one food choice has no value over another.  All foods are equal.  How about that?  Let's end our food discrimination, because as everyone knows, choosing one group over another (with the exception of skinny over fat) is so 20th century. 


chucklesmcgee said...

"In fact, one food choice has no value over another. All foods are equal." Hmm, I think that completely disregards about 100 years of nutrition science and epidemiology. If all foods are equal, it doesn't matter what food one eats at all so long as one eats food. Let's see how many days you last on Jolly Ranchers and Pepsi before being hospitalized. Specific foods in certain proportions can positively contribute to health, while others provide no benefit that cannot be obtained in better ways. Diets rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, monounsaturated and omega-3 fatty acids reduce the risk of diabetes, heart attack, stroke, cancer and probably a host of other diseases. A moralization of food exists because of the intrinsic differences between food and things which advertisers have labeled as food.

azusmom said...

Yes, there are certainly foods that are better for your health than others, while some are just bad for you, but I agree that when we start putting MORAL values on food we can run into trouble. "I'm better than you because I ordered a salad and you have a sandwich on white bread." Or "I was good today; I didn't eat ANY carbs, and that makes me a better person than I was yesterday." It also lets us judge ourselves and one another on how "healthy" we appear to be, and contributes to the denigration of people based on weight. Because we don't just see fat people; we see lazy, stupid, unhygienic, unproductive people. And we assume thin people are good people. And stereotypes don't help anyone.

I was recently put on a new way of eating with the help of my physician. My weight was never mentioned; this is about curbing my anxiety and depression through nutrition. Yes, there are foods I need to either cut down on or avoid altogether. But it's not about being "good" or "bad," it's about getting well.

Leigh said...

It's not the food being good or bad but we consumers judging *ourselves* as good or bad based on our food choices. When I say I was good because I ate a salad instead of a bowl of chips, I'm judging myself not the food.

As chucklesmcgee notes, all foods are not equal. :) But eating something we consider "bad" (i.e. not enriching our health or well-being) does not make a person "bad."

The problem lies in our moralizing about individuals based on what they eat (judging people based on *how much* they eat is another issue altogether).

I Hate to Weight said...

i agree with everyone. i do think it is about good foods keeping you thin and bad foods making us fat. with the clear belief that it is morally good to be thin. and we all know what fat means, right?

dr. s., i've been wondering how it's going with your book, does every woman have an eating disorder? i'm so ready for it!

Veg Atalanta said...

I found your blog through another one--I'm sure this happens quite frequently--and it seems to me that your premise is incredibly unfounded. The idea that EVERY SINGLE WOMAN has an eating disorder, an issue with food...I find that really really offensive as a woman.

It's possible that a large majority women in western culture have developed issues because of the media, chemically enhanced foods, etc., but all women? ALL WOMEN? You're wrong. You're completely wrong. There are plenty of studies done in other cultures completely negating that statement, and AS a clinical psychologist, I would have thought you had encountered them--most likely you have and simply thought this was a good idea for a book, but it's not and it's incredibly offensive and not scientifically sound whatsoever.

If all you're trying to prove is that all women THINK about food...that's another story. Of course we do. Food is a huge part of culture, etc. However, there's NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT and that doesn't make it an issue!

I want to make it clear that the caps usage isn't me yelling, just emphasizing. At the same time, I am very frustrated.

azusmom said...

Which is why she calls it "DOES Every Woman Have an Eating Disorder?"
You have every right to your opinion, and to be offended, but THAT is exactly why we need to ask the question! To start and continue the conversation.

Ms. Finch said...

Uh, look at the URL and Stacey's "About Me" on the right side of the screen--she thinks every woamn has an eating disorder which is totally offensive and hyperbolic.

And no, not all food is equal. It's irresponsible and inaccurate to say so. Some foods are good for your body and your health and others are not. I think this blog sometimes promotes unhealthy ideas about food and eating.

Kristin said...

I think that anyone who has such a strong reaction to 'Does Every Woman Have an Eating Disorder?' needs to think carefully about that reaction. What is it about you that gets so angry and frustrated when this question is asked? Also, I can't help but question you, VegAtlanta, when your profile is all about food and exercise. There is so much more to you than those things!

Emily said...

Though the numbers are staggering and eating disorders are pervasive in our society, I do not think "every woman has an eating disorder". Some strong, admirable women are actually able to develop and maintain a healthy relationship with food throughout their lives. They may seem few and far between, however, when so many do struggle with eating and body image issues.
I commend your efforts to help change the way people think about food as "good" or "bad" because it is about moderation and balance!! There is a time and place for all different things. And denying our bodies what they need to grow and function properly (FOOD-- real food! not shakes, powders, fasts, etc.), is never going to get us where we want to be.
If you or someone you love are struggling with an eating disorder and would like accurate info, compassionate support, or simply to know you are not alone, please feel free to check out my blog and let me know what you think! Thanks!
(recovered from Anorexia)

azusmom said...

Wow, Ms. Finch! You can disagree with me without being rude and condescending! My having a different opinion doesn't invalidate yours.

Ms. Finch said...

It's not a difference of opinion--the URL is in fact "every woman has an eating disorder" and Stacey DOES say that it is her contention that "every woman has an eating disorder." SHe may have changed the name of the blog, but those two things remain the same.

There isn't anything wrong with asking the question. The problem is Stacey's bold assertion that every woman has an eating disorder. That is what I find offensive.

Marsha said...

As the mother of a (recovering) anorexic, I have become very sensitive to food talk, especially that which labels either food or choices about food as "bad" or "good". All around me women talk almost constantly about whether they were "good" or "bad", how they need to lose weight (even when their appearance would suggest otherwise), and ALWAYS complimenting anyone who has succeeded in this endeavor.

Though there certainly is a percentage of women (I think the blog is about American society today) who have a healthy relationship with their bodies and how they eat/exercise/etc., I would venture to say that far more worry about their weight (and therefore what they eat), whether they are overweight or not.

I can't find the actual numbers right now, but I've recently read studies that girls as young as 3rd grade are dieting, at any given time more than half of the adult female population is on a diet, when a huge percentage of women report they would rather be run over by a truck or maimed than be fat, it's clear that "fat" vs. "thin" has been made into a moral battle.

However, again, as the mother of an anorexic, there is a huge difference between having an eating disorder (a mental illness that compels certain behaviors) and practicing disordered eating. It is the latter that I see rampant, especially among women of all ages. An important distinction.

Interesting word verification:
cularies... My def: the amount of calories in haute cuisine! LOL!

drstaceyny said...

I'm sticking to my original point that foods shouldn't be categorized as good or bad. That doesn't mean that certain foods aren't more nutritious for you than others. Clearly, foods have different nutritional value. But, that's where I believe the value comparisons should end. When we get into categorizing as good vs. bad, we're only a few steps away from categorizing ourselves that way AND from eating-disordered behavior (restricting "bad" foods and/or overeating them, as a way of rebelling).

Re: the second concern you have articulated, I've written extensively here on why I've chosen that title, what its limitations are, etc. No, I do not think that every single woman has an eating disorder, but I believe that most women in America (and I have many international readers as well) are disordered in the way that they approach food and their bodies. The statistics for body dislike/dieting in our culture are staggering. The title is an exaggeration to make a point(though it has generally been supported in the e.d. community). For many, it resonates, for others, it inspires interesting dialogue about our thoughts/feelings about food/bodies. When I told one of my colleagues (who doesn't specialize in e.d.'s) abt the book, she looked at me curiously and said, "I don't," and from what I've observed in my professional and personal interactions with her (while not monitoring her 24/7!), she doesn't. That was the end of our conversation and we never discussed it again. She does, however, stand out, particularly in our culture at this time.

So, I appreciate the dialogue and the feedback. But, I do have one request: Please feel free to share your thoughts and feelings toward me and one another in a constructive way. Attacking each other gets us nowhere.

azusmom said...

I apologize if my tone came off as an attack. When I feel I am being spoken to disrespectfully, I tend to get defensive. I tried to make my point without that tone. If I failed, I heartily apologize!

Anonymous said...

This is the most frustrating thing - especially when I'm trying to recover from an e.d. Co-workers, people in line at Starbucks, friends, family, the smokers outside my office. . everyone just seems to believe in this idea. That good and bad exists. And if you try to say it's just not true - it's you who looks like the crazy one!

zubeldia said...

Um, I'm not sure where I sit with this because there are SO many meanings around food that extend beyond the good/bad binary in relation to 'health' and weight loss. Foods have religious and ethical dimensions, and indeed foods become imbued with meanings that are tied to our individual biographies. I don't think that we can simply delete the meanings around 'health' that certain foods have been attached to. And I don't think we can get away from the binary of good/bad. Our language system operates through an axis of difference, after all.

I don't know, Dr. S. I honestly do think that food and eating are moral issues. I think eating animals is wrong, I think that eating foods that have contributed negatively to the environment should be done rarely, I think that it is a moral imperative to provide nutritious foods to all, regardless of social class... Obesity DOES not have a direct effect on our health, but what we eat does. Can we really eat in a way that is less harmful without a sense that some foods are good and some are not so good? And what about people with medical conditions whose symptoms might be alleviated by dietary changes? What kind of conceptual framework should we aim for, do you think?

I have no real answers, so I am really curious about your thoughts.

drstaceyny said...

am--you didn't seem attacking to me. I always enjoy your voice.


z--great questions. I actually don't think we're so far apart on this one, and as I'm abt to discuss wrt food, I think that these beliefs aren't categorical, but occur on a spectrum. Yes, there is an axis of difference, but my take is, it doesn't have to be binary. Binary distinctions in my mind are reductive (think race, gender/sexuality, etc.) and get us into trouble.

I've mentioned before that I don't eat meat, either. It's a choice I've made for myself. While I'd have to think abt whether or not I'd prefer everyone to be vegetarian (the conclusion is easier for different types of meat/ways of raising/slaughtering animals), the bottom line is that I don't believe I have the right to impose my value system on others. I made a choice and I might hope that you make the same choice (or try to educate you abt why I made the choice), but labeling your choice as bad and mine is good is dangerous (at least to me). Of course, if you're a big part of my life, I might make a bigger fuss about veal.

I agree with you abt providing nutritious foods to all classes--big issue for me, especially when the gov't tries to control food choices in a way that makes it impossible for low SES groups to comply (I can't seem to find the Whole Foods outpost in Harlem). However, I don't think making access to more nutritious foods has to mean banning those that are less nutritious. Nutritional value is non-categorical and suggesting that there are foods to eat and foods not to eat can trigger rebellion in many.

I think w/religious/moral distinctions around food, people are opting to eat a certain way. With eating disorders, at some point, we lose the "choice" aspect of food decisions, as the disorder takes over. It becomes "I can't have x food," not "I won't have x food." True, at some point, for those who ban certain foods for moral/religious reasons, it might become "can't" and some people can and will rebel, but the "can't" doesn't seem to result in disordered eating. For many other situations, where we assign good/bad, particularly as it relates to weight/"health", it does.

Kate said...

I'm really enjoying the lively debate here! This is important, thought-provoking stuff, regardless of what side you come down on in terms of every woman having or not having an eating disorder. Maybe that's just semantics.

It's true, though, that food is given moral value beyond what any cupcake or sprig of broccoli deserves. And I always feel like a success when I choose the green one over the cake one (green icing doesn't count!).

daze said...

Labelling foods "good" and "bad" drives me crazy too.

I love her but my mother does it. It's frustrating, and irritating. I'm a bit over-sensitive about it though because it bugs me so much.

These days I point it out and have conversations about how unhealthy it is to label food like that. But she's semi-stuck in a life-long habit, although she's made an effort to stop referring to food like that over the past several years. Progress!

She also says the "been good today" and "bad today", referring to whatever she's eaten.

I've had an eating disorder for about 15 years. Now, I don't blame this on my mother, not at all. But her "good" and "bad" designations along with constant dieting, and competition with my aunt on this dieting (they tried every diet under the sun) that I was exposed to from a very young age didn't help.

The good and bad issue is a destructive, inaccurate, and I think old fashioned way of thinking about food. I agree with almost all of your entry!

Bee said...

I was at bagel shop the other day and I was feeling hungry so I asked to the person working "would it be bad if I got two bagels hahaha" I said it sort of jokingly. Then this woman laughed, "Bad? How is it bad? I just think thats ridiculous."

Nina said...

I completely agree that "Dichotomizing nutrition can lead to disordered eating."
I believe that it was the whole good vs bad food issue that perpetuated my eating disorder.
I now eat everything - there is nothing that is off limits and I have been free from the eating disorder as well as obsession with food and weight for several years

Loral said...

I think "good food" is food that makes me feel good.... long-term. Eating cookies for lunch every day might make me feel good the moment I eat them, but later on I would be grumpy, not have as much energy, and so on. If I eat a balanced meal, and perhaps a cookie with it, I will feel much better for the rest of the day.

The key thing here is the difference between what people say and what they mean. People frequently say judgemental things about food when they are really imposing a moral judgement on themselves. Our culture places a lot of value on restraint and self-control, particularly around food.... gluttony is a traditional sin in christian culture. Self-deprivation is regarded as a sign of riteousness. With a background like that, it's not a surprise that people feel like worse human beings when they "give in" to temptations of delicious food they feel morally compromised.