It is not unusual in our society to talk about food as if it has inherent “good” and “bad” qualities. For example, potato chips are considered “bad,” and kale is considered “good.”
The natural extension of foods being labeled “good” and “bad” is that we then label the people who eat certain foods as “good” or “bad.”
These images are everywhere. We frequently see primarily white, thin, attractive people eating fruits, vegetables and other foods that are considered virtuous. Conversely, the people who are shown eating high-fat, fast-food are typically of color and size.
We are told that if we restrict our food choices to only “good” foods we will be happier and enjoy a better life. Furthermore, we are told that there are specific, black-and-white, individual choices that we must make in order to be healthy and good.
We are clearly told that “healthy” people are “good” and we are told that “unhealthy” (which actually means overweight and obese) people are “bad.” We internalize these beliefs and turn them into our moral compass.
Strangely, for all of the morality surrounding individual choices about food, most of the imagery and messaging around socialization includes eating foods that have been previously labeled “bad.
Most human interactions naturally pair with calorie-based activities. For example, people meet for coffee, breakfast, lunch, brunch, a drink, dinner, pizza, tacos, takeout, etc. But if we have decided that we must be “good” by making “good” choices with our food, how do we socialize?
This presents a conundrum: when we are alone, we must be virtuous in our food choices, but when we are in a group, we should somehow enjoy the very high-calorie foods that we believe we must restrict.
To deal with this complication, we typically discuss our diets during these social gatherings. We’ll talk about how we’re “being bad,” or will “make up for it” later with exercise or not eating. Thus, we build on the morality of food by accepting that we are being “bad” together but that when we are alone we are “good.”
The morality of food
We are living in a time of dangerous morality surrounding food. We are surrounded by images and headlines defining what is good and what is bad, and those of us who have eating disorders internalize these messages as the pathway to being “good.” We determine that in order to be a “good person,” we must eat the right food, not the wrong food. By focusing our energy on improving our diets, we believe we are improving our selves.
Many of us who have eating disorders find constant statements regarding the moral integrity of foods very triggering. Most of us have some degree of perfectionism, and we began our eating disorder with a well-researched diet or “eating plan” to help us stay on the “good” side of morality. Unfortunately, for some of us, dieting moves all too easily into an eating disorder, and then we get stuck in a disorder that takes a lot of work to get out of.
When we have an eating disorder, we devote our growth, our passion, and our moral compass to ensuring we meet the dietary morality. This comes at the expense of devoting ourselves to emotional growth and development. As a result, as long as we focus on food, those of us who have eating disorders often stall our emotional maturation and development. We sacrifice the development of our selves for the morality of the food we put in our bodies.
Life without food morality
Let’s stop talking about the food people put in their bodies and focus instead on what they do with their souls. Instead of food morality, let’s focus on the truly important moral issues, including:
- How we treat ourselves – how do we soothe ourselves and develop ourselves?
- How we treat the people we love – how do we show them we love them every day?
- How we learn – do we have processes in place for learning new skills in personal and professional development? Are we focusing on our emotional growth and development?
- How we treat the people we like – do we accept them for who they are and support them in their own personal development outside of food and body goals?
- How we treat people whom we don’t know or about whom know very little:
- How we treat people of all skin colors
- How we treat people who are in different social classes
- How we treat people who are in different body sizes
- How we treat people who are a different gender identity
- How we treat people who are of a different sexual identity
- How we treat people who have different political ideologies