In our hypercritical society, not even food is spared judgment. Although it makes sense to describe healthy food as ‘good’ because it’s good for our bodies and, conversely, unhealthy foods as ‘junk’ or ‘bad’, the terms are often used to judge the eater. People say things like “I’m going to be naughty tonight” before ordering a large entrée; “I’m terrible” when they reach for a second helping; or “I’m going to be good and have a salad, I’ve been really bad this week.” Suddenly, eating becomes a reflection of character.
I am guilty of frequently using the ‘good vs. bad’ terminology, as most of the American population has been since the 1920s. In her book Modern Food, Moral Food: Self-Control, Science, and the Rise of Modern American Eating in the Twentieth Century (here’s my review), Helen Zoe Veit traces the origins of this perception to the Progressive Era. The Progressive emphasis on rationality, building on the emerging field of nutrition science, generated an attitude that judged dietary decisions as moral ones. In other words, eating ‘bad’ foods or overindulging meant you were unintelligent, lazy, weak and/or greedy – a bad person. Although most people nowadays do not make such drastic associations when they describe their eating choices, this article by Rachel Ankley points out how the continued moralizing of food still plagues society today. We are entrenched in the idea of glorifying or condemning ourselves based on what we eat.
My response to all of this: STAY POSITIVE. Food is a wonderful thing! Eating is good! Yes, it is important to recognize what unhealthy foods are and moderate your consumption of them; however, there is no need to drag yourself through the dirt for eating an extra slice of cake. In fact, a report from the Institute of Psychology for Eating explains that negative thoughts while eating actually impede your ability to metabolize food. That means that your guilt over ‘eating badly’ prevents your body from working properly, whereas positive thoughts stimulate efficient metabolic activity.
If the prospect of what you are about to eat makes you think negatively about yourself, that is a pretty clear sign that you shouldn’t eat it. A bowl of ice cream, an extra slice of pizza, a spoonful of Nutella straight from the jar – these are only treats if they make you happy. Eating food should bring you nothing but pleasure.