I made a new years resolution to write about the most challenging thing that happens to me each week, and then I quickly broke it, choosing to write some guff about social media instead because writing about things that you struggle with is fucking difficult. But let’s at least try to get to the end of January with this.
My challenge this week is that I’ve encountered a lot of diet talk, mostly at work. I get it, it’s January, a lot of people want to loose weight and they want to talk about it. But I struggle with diet talk a lot.
Mainly, I struggle because I don’t know what to say. When a perfectly well-meaning lovely person asks you if something is fattening, or tries to engage you in a conversation about how “good” they’re being by eating yoghurt for breakfast, you want to say something friendly. You don’t want to explain how anxious this conversation is making you because of your previous eating disorders, and how much of a battle it’s been to have a semi-normal relationship with food. So you make some flippant remark about how when something is low in fat it is usually high in sugar. You don’t explain how you know this much about sugar, fat and calorie content, and how much of your valuable time has been spent thinking about this kind of crap when really, you had so much more you could have been doing. Like studying for a degree.
Because actually, I don’t want to think any of these thoughts any more. I don’t want to think about why a food might be fattening, because then I feel guilty for eating it. Then that guilt makes me feel bad about how I look. Maybe it’ll make me feel bad enough about myself to not eat anything for dinner, or to eat a lot but then make myself vomit it up afterwards. Or maybe it won’t, but feeling guilty about food is a bad thing in itself – and something I want to leave behind.
But people talking about diets make me think about this crap. And people talk about diets all the sodding time. I don’t think they realise this, and how triggering it can be for anyone who’s ever had an eating disorder. Earlier this week, a friend of mine tweeted: “And we’re back to talking about the 5:2 diet in work and what a 500 calories a day looks like. I’m hiding in the toilets.” I knew exactly how she felt.
If you are on a diet, fine. Do what you need to do. Just please don’t talk about it. Don’t talk about what you are eating and why. And please don’t place any value judgements on different types of food. It’s not good for any of us. It normalises unhealthy attitudes to food, the pressure to be on a diet, and the notion that everyone should be striving to be thinner.
I hate talking about food in this way, as though the only merit of a particular type of food is the calorie, fat or sugar content. I really really hate it.
So here’s how you should talk about food:
- Talk about what it tastes like. You’ve chosen your lunch because it tastes awesome.
- Talk about how to make food taste awesome- swap tips and recipes.
- Talk about something incredible that you’ve eaten lately – at a new restaurant, or while travelling.
- Talk about when we’re going to go get some awesome food.
And here’s how you shouldn’t talk about food:
- Don’t talk about food in a way that’s going to take all the pleasure out of it, in a way that suggests you’re only eating it to be thin. Food is so much more than this. It is there to be enjoyed.
- Don’t talk about food in a way that’s going to make someone else feel guilty or feel as though they should only be eating 500 calories today as well.
- Do not talk about ‘good’ or ‘bad’ food. No food is “good” or “bad”. Nutrition is a complex thing – something might be high in fat but also high in vitamins. Something might be low in fat but high in sugar. Sugar might be less nutritionally valuable but it tastes great, and that’s a good thing.
- Especially, do not talk about how eating a particular type of food makes you a “good” or “bad” person. For example, “Oh, I shouldn’t but…”
- Do not talk about food as though eating is something to be ashamed of. For example “We need to hide these sweets.”
As a kind of footnote, I should mention that I’m already having second thoughts about publishing this. I’m worrying: will people think I’m criticizing them? (I’m not) Am I being a killjoy? Do I have any right to ask people not to talk about this? Shouldn’t I be better at managing my own issues with food so that this isn’t a problem? Actually, think talking about food in this way is helpful to everyone, not just people with “food issues”. Let’s reclaim food from the diet industry. Yeah.