Food Rules & Stigmas

In high school, my best friend and I had a silly list of “rules” that we joked about while hoping to portray ourselves as “classy” girls (whatever that means). Rule number one? Classy girls DO NOT eat doughnuts…and they definitely do not eat them in front of other people. Eating doughnuts represented indulging in high sugar, high calorie foods…and what popular diet culture tells us is that, those types of foods lead to weight gain, binge behaviors, disease, and addiction. Not classy behaviors,, right? While we joked about this being our #1 rule, it did not stop us from sharing two chocolate chip cafeteria cookies that had somehow been abandoned on the floor one afternoon before math class. I wish I was joking, but then again, those cafeteria cookies were easily some of the best I have ever tasted. We were closeted disordered eaters and while we had food rules that kept up appearances for the masses of adolescent teens, we restricted ourselves from foods we enjoyed or foods we considered “off limits,” only to find ourselves out-of-control around those foods when faced with them during what we would of considered moments of “weakness.” We were the girls with bagged lunches full of chopped up green peppers, carrots, tuna, and a diet soda. People praised our “diets” and touted “you guys would probably never eat this” as they ate crispy chicken on bun, pizza, potato chips, etc. next to us. Yes, I am sure people thought it was weird, but we lived in socially desirable bodies so our eating habits were dubbed acceptable.

Once I became a dietitian, my knowledge base of foods and our bodies metabolism of them grew. I no longer view doughnuts as a “no-no” food, as though doughnuts have any more sugar/calories/fat than the coveted high school cafeteria cookies. I no longer view a cup of tuna and a few chopped up carrots and green pepper strips as a well-rounded lunch. I no longer operate under a set of “food rules” that dictates whether I will allow myself to satisfy a craving with x, y, z or honor a hunger pang. I do not associate my ability to consume certain foods with whether or not I have moved my body that day or how strenuous of an activity I completed.

Unfortunately, food rules and food stigmas are ever-present in our world today. Every dietitian knows what it is like to sit at a restaurant, potluck, lunch table and have someone proclaim, “Oh do not listen to what I am ordering, you wont approve!,” or “I ran 5 miles today so I am ordering the ____,” or “I promise there are veggies under this mound of mac and cheese.” They think that because they are dining with a dietitian, that the dietitian is analyzing every morsel of creamy mac and cheese or peanut butter pie that crosses their lips, and that they are making subsequent health judgments. Every dietitian also knows what it is like to sit at a restaurant, potluck, lunch table and have someone proclaim, “Oh I cannot believe you are eating THAT, you are a dietitian!,” or “You’re probably ordering the salad, right?” As hard as we try to remove food rules and stigmas, they continue to perpetuate. Only now, they have moved from simply comparing food X to food Z. Now we are obsessed with whether or not food X is organic/pesticide and hormone free/minimally processed/gluten free/low sodium/low carb/low sugar, etc. Yes, those things are good things in and of themselves and should be considered, but if they require you to follow a set of rules or sacrifice your social/mental/emotional/psychological/financial health, then they have compromised your overall health. I talk more about this in my previous blog post, Finding a healthy YOU.

Food is food. It is meant to fuel, nourish, and be enjoyed. Demonizing or restricting certain foods only perpetuates food stigmas and binge relationships with those foods. Once we freely nourish ourselves apart from food restrictions/rules and stigmas, those foods lose their allure and then so does the binge-restrict cycle. The old dietitian mantra “everything in moderation” still rings true today – we take advancements in science and research and take them into consideration as we make our individual food choices, however no food needs to be ‘off limits’. We do not need to live in food fears or “all or nothing” diet mindsets. We can enjoy all foods, in moderation (or not! listen to your body) as desired. Our bodies desire for food is what keeps us alive! It seems baffling to me now that I ever spent any amount of time manipulating that desire with a set of food rules, restrictions, and stigmas.

Have any food rules/stigmas/restrictions you have a history of or are currently falling prey to? Comment what they are and you have/would like to freely nourish yourselves from them!


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