We need to talk about our attitude towards food. The body positivity movement has made impressive changes to the way we think about our bodies – we now know that cellulite is normal, everyone has a different body shape, and fat isn’t bad. Those uplifting messages are beginning to change years of indoctrination that tell us that our bodies are not good enough. But we’re not talking about food.
As Nigella Lawson said: “Each generation has found a way of telling women which foods they must resist, what dietary path they must follow to take up less space in the world.” The problem is, while we’re responding critically to negative body image messaging like photo shopped images and ‘bikini body’ campaigns, we haven’t yet applied the same criticism to our thoughts about food. And there is a lot of negativity about the fuel that we put in our body.
New diets become popular every year. We support our friends through diets, because they want to lose weight, and it’s their choice what to do with their body. Right? Yes, but sometimes those diets are unhealthy. I don’t mean only in a physical sense, but also mentally. If our friends are becoming mentally exhausted, losing out on sleep, and struggling to concentrate at work because of a diet, should we continue to support their diets?
No matter how accepting we are of women’s bodies, calorie counting and policing each other’s eating behaviours (to ‘help’) can undo that good work. Anything that validates restriction, holding back, and eating less food can be harmful. Why? Because we’re teaching each other that it’s okay to starve ourselves. That starving ourselves is the goal.
Plus, there’s the scientific side to diets. For all the stress, diets don’t actually work for most people. Short term weight loss can be achieved, but gaining back the weight is almost inevitable. When that post-diet weight gain happens, it traps women in a cycle of self-loathing and perpetual dieting.
You only have to look at the – now infamous – Vogue diet from the 1970s to see how absurd fad diets can be. What we assume is a healthy recommendation from the latest diet might one day seem just as outrageous and unhealthy as consuming one bottle of white wine, one steak, and three boiled eggs each day.
We’re still trapped in a box of dieting and restriction, thinking that those behaviours are normal or good. Women still calorie count, as though one large meal at the end of the day somehow cancels out their lack of food during the rest of the day. We still buy into fasting diets, as if they’re not teaching us unhealthy and restrictive eating behaviours. The idea that restriction is a goal complicates our relationship with food.
Food is not an enemy. Thinking about food in a negative way is a distortion; it’s a mind game, derived from the messaging we see around us. When another woman looks at our plate of food and says “Oh, I don’t think I could eat that much!” it reinforces that negative attitude. Food is fuel for your body. It’s objectively a good thing. But because food makes you gain weight, and certain foods are unhealthy, we’ve been taught otherwise.
To think critically about diet culture, we need to accept the reality that the relationship of women to food has been complicated through media throughout our lives. We’re the cooks, but we can’t eat too much. We need to eat less, but it’s rude not to finish a plate of food. There are so many contradictions waiting to confuse us.
If someone around you is trying to lose weight, for health reasons or simply as a personal choice, gently encourage them to do it in a healthy way. Just because it’s a popular diet doesn’t mean that it’s healthy. It’s absolutely okay to support your friends, but if you see them doing something that could be mentally or physically harmful, have a quiet word with them to make sure they’re okay. We owe that to each other.Support Villainesse