A *Healthy* Relationship – Sustenance, Not Shame

Sunday mornings have many things tied to them – depending on the family it might be sports games, church, brunch, a trip somewhere, or lazing around. In my family, Sunday mornings were variable, but often included good food together, with Meet the Press playing in the background. And in honor of those substantive and serious Sunday mornings, I want to take a minute to be serious about substance abuse. Specifically, food.

I realized over the past month that the one thing that I was most relieved about my new job was not being employed in a field that actually utilizes my skill set, but that I joined a small, close-knit office of women who were friendly, helpful, nice – and love food. The women in my office eat, unabashedly, unashamedly, apologetically, and with gusto. And in that environment, it is amazing to realize how much stress and anxiety we, and I think especially women, associate with food consumption culture. I realized it simply because it was no longer there.

Think about it. How many times do we reflexively justify or apologize choosing to order something resembling a full meal, or qualify why we might want that giant burger from the greasy skillet down the road in the context of stress or emotional anxieties, or even hormones? How many times do we feel conscious of how, when or what we choose to eat? Is it a good choice? What will someone else think of how much bread I eat? Should I mention how much I exercise? Should I mention how much I don’t exercise? Should I comment about how I really shouldn’t be eating this? If I am choosing between avocado toast and an omelet do I need to justify how hungry or not hungry I am for either choice? At no point does any of this address the fact that at the end of the day, food has nothing to do with anyone else.

Food is something that everyone needs. No one can survive without it, and too many people in the world face down years without enough of it. Yet we have developed a culture around food and eating so shallow that we have actually forgotten that a meal is not a choice or a social statement, it is a necessity. And while feeling so innately conscious about what we are eating, we create a culture where we feel entitled to make others feel conscious about their lifestyles, whether in terms of food, or exercise, or any combination of the two. And with things like anonymous blogs featuring random women eating on trains or other public places, or blogs that essentially ridicule people who are not in peak shape yet making an honest effort to get healthy, how can we not feel constantly conscious, constantly highlighted, and constantly uncomfortable?

But the answer is not calling out the behavior and trying to “shame” it either. This culture of -shaming (fat-shaming, skinny-shaming, carb-shaming, slut-shaming, privilege-shaming, mommy-shaming, etc) has grown disproportionately to the point where we will end up with the ever ridiculous shame-shaming before long. Creating a safe space for acceptance is not about controlling discourse to the point where no one cannot say anything if it does not support or oppose one side of a dichotomy. Nor is it about going off on tangents about rights and liberation and the idea of “reclaiming” things (think about it, if I were to write this post attempting to “reclaim” the 14 oz. porterhouse steak for the skinny-ish women who can eat like a 600 lb man, does it open the floor for discourse, or does it marginalize more people while adding nothing of worth to the conversation?).

Ultimately, we need to address why we associate so much anxiety, judgment and discomfort with meals, with eating in public, and why we also feel a social entitlement to pass that anxiety onto others. We have created a culture of internalized social cues regarding food that is more about social acceptance than about what meals are for, bringing people together to reinforce social bonds and also, simply, nutrition. Food is a part of life, but needs to be re-conceptualized within our society so we can all have a healthier relationship with what and how we eat. Because making “healthy” choices without enjoying them, or feeling ashamed about “unhealthy” choices, or more importantly, having to justify to ourselves what we can and cannot eat really only underscores how unhealthy our overall societal relationship with food really is.

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