By Stephanie Morillo
If you’ve ever followed a diet at some point in your life, you know what it feels like to be vigilant about what you eat: “I can’t eat this.” “I can only eat that.” “I can eat those in moderation.”
Even without a diet, using explicit labels like “good” or “bad” to group these foods, your mind lumps foods into labeled categories anyway.
I’ve been hyper-aware of food and eating for the past two years. I gained a lot of weight over the course of nine months due to a number of factors, and have struggled to make a dent in my weight loss. I’ve always had weight issues, but I was always able to get things on track before. This time, things are different. It’s been much harder.
I’ve tried many diets, including those I’ve used for weight loss successfully in the past. I’ve spent most of my days doing mental calculations about portions and calories. Sometimes, I’ll have stuck to my diet for most of a day or most of a week, only to find myself obsessing about the foods I’ve denied myself, binging later, followed by a period of mental unraveling. Or, I’ll have stuck to my diet and worked out without issue, only to weigh myself and find the scale stubbornly displaying the same number from the week before.
Last month, I started an exercise program that I truly enjoy, and for the first time in a long time, I don’t despise working out. But in the back of my mind, the secret looms large: food is a bigger factor in sustained weight loss. I’ve always loved food—and that’s not to say I always eat my body weight at every meal. But food for me has always been something to celebrate. So there’s nothing worse than making one thing that I love into an enemy.
Finally, I was ready to do something different. I’ve been following food activists like Ruby Tandoh—her saying “Eat What You Want” is a motto—and through her feed, discovered registered dietitians like Michelle Allison (aka Fat Nutritionist) and Glenys Oysten, both advocates of intuitive eating. They focus on helping people improve their relationships with food, and on deprogramming our understanding of food and weight. To start, I signed up for a 3-day email course on Glenys’ site, which focuses on demystifying Western ideas of dieting, and helping you listen to your body’s natural signals. The introspective—and decidedly non-judgmental—approach is exactly what I need. I wanted to heal my relationship with food.
I’ve made some significant changes over the last month. I’ve stopped weighing myself, instead judging my exercise progress, tasking myself to working out six days a week and hit a target number of calories burned (I love my Fitbit). I’ve stopped buying snacks that I tend to binge on and have focused on stocking the fridge up with fruits and vegetables that I actually enjoy. (And I still allow myself some chocolate covered pretzels because fuck a life without something sweet.)
One of the main takeaways I’ve had from this new experience is how we use food against each other in ways that aren’t even necessarily about weight.
We all eat certain ways for very different reasons—be they religious, medical, or ethical—and we’ve all known people to evangelize their food choices to others. But when people display hubris and shame people for eating differently, I wonder how we can expect to develop healthy relationships with food—and each other—in such an environment.
Additionally, a lot of assumptions are made about people and their circumstances when we pass sweeping judgments (especially when we do so from a Western-centric point of view). If we care so much about diet, we should care about body image, food justice, hunger and malnutrition, and yes, about the environment. No matter our way of eating, we should all be conscious consumers and better understand where our food comes from.
But adopting a morally superior position does nothing more than contribute to the many, complicated, and negative ways we think of food. There are better ways to do this than shaming people. We can, and should, instead promote inclusivity for people’s diverse food choices, and give everyone the space they need to draw their own conclusions.
Stephanie Morillo (pronounced moh-ree-yoh) is a Dominican-American writer and editor from the Bronx. She enjoys writing for tech-minded audiences, and has spoken at various conferences on topics ranging from diversity in tech to copywriting. In 2015, she co-founded #WOCinTech Chat to increase visibility of women of color technologists in the tech industry. She believes exercise is the best form of dance, and is a serious plantain enthusiast. Follow her at @radiomorillo.