Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Stop Demonizing Food

I have to tell you, I'm a little sick of the sugar thing. And the carb thing, the wheat thing, the soda thing, the salt thing, and whatever thing we might be hearing about tomorrow.

Now, I'm not recommending mass amounts of any of these foods, as they're often consumed in the American diet. A daily Super Big Gulp likely won't do any body good. But to demonize any food item unnecessarily polarizes foods into healthy vs. unhealthy or good vs. bad, which sets the stage for all kinds of disordered eating.

And here's the thing: no food makes you fat. Not a baguette, a bowl of noodles, a cupcake or macaron. Overeating these foods may predict weight gain over time - eating more than our bodies need can do this - but part of the reason we're overeating is that we're so consumed by diet culture that we're hybridizing feast and famine. 

"I can't have bread. I can't have bread. I can't have bread." And then, because bread is actually available, "Oops, I had too much bread."

The more we learn about weight, the more we understand the genetic influences on this variable. What you weigh is largely a function of your genes and their products, particularly hormones that control appetite and satiation.

When we cut out certain foods to lose weight, there is often a backfiring effect, in which we end up overeating these foods due to the experience of physical and psychological deprivation. Developing a healthy relationship with food involves being able to interact with all kinds of food in a healthy way. It means moving past feared foods and and food rules.

I recently came across an eating disorder treatment program that advertises that it's food plan requires patients to "abstain from 'junk food,'" "eliminate highly processed foods," and "weigh and measure portions" while in treatment.

In my opinion, barring certain foods and requiring the weighing/measuring of foods is contraindicated with eating disorder recovery. In treatment, patients should be exposed to a variety of foods and should not be allowed to engage in food calculations and calibrations - these behaviors are symptomatic of the disorder itself and the goal of treatment is to extinguish them.

Referring to less nutritious food as "junk food" reinforces the eating-disorder mentality and eliminating certain foods in treatment doesn't teach patients how to interact with these foods, a required skill in the real world.

Food isn't the problem. It's our relationship to it that becomes distorted and dysfunctional. The more we demonize food, the more we prevent ourselves from cultivating a healthy relationship.

You can find Does Every Woman Have an Eating Disorder? Challenging Our Nation's Fixation with Food and Weight on Amazon (as a paperback and Kindle) and at

1 comment:

Meliss said...

I agree! food isn't the problem - it's just a symptom.

the most normal people I know eat what they like in moderation. they try their best to make healthy choices as often as possible, but sometimes they don't make healthy choices.

And then they got on with their lives.

I've tried every diet and weighed most numbers on the scale and the only thing that works for me, foodwise, is eating small amounts of what I want when i'm hungry. and if i'm still hungry, eating some more.

And then living life.