Written and presented by Natalie Loschiavo November 14 2015 at West Chester, PA NEDA Walk to support eating disorder research, awareness and recovery.
“What I’d like to talk about today is food labels. And not about the nutrition facts label on food packages.
But rather, I’d like to discuss the way our society has placed labels, or beliefs, on the food we eat; how this labeling affects our relationship with food and with ourselves; And lastly, what do we do about it? In a society where there is popular opinion about nearly everything we put in our body, how do we begin to abandon the labels, reconnect with our bodies and accept all food into our lives without guilt?
If any of you are wondering which labels I’m referring to, the list is really endless.
But some of the most common are :
“good” or “bad,”
“healthy” or “unhealthy,”
“superfoods” or “junk foods.”
“clean” and “garbage’”
I can’t tell you how often I hear people refer to foods in this way and to be honest, I’ve even tripped over my words, at times.
It’s become ingrained in many of us to identify foods in this black and white, all-or-nothing, extremely simplistic way.
And really, if the labeling stopped at the food, I probably wouldn’t have as big of a soapbox to stand on. But the problem is that the labeling spreads past the food and into our personal identities.
As often as we have heard the messages about good food/bad food, we’ve also heard the messages of “you are what you eat.”
After hearing that message and many other similar ones for all of our lives, we begin to make a seemingly obvious but extremely risky connection.
If a food is bad and I am what I eat, then I must be bad for eating that food. If a food is junk—I must be junk. These are very powerful internalizations of these food labels that may seem innocent at the surface or may even go unnoticed but they are quietly creating not just a belief system about food–but also a belief system about our character, based on food. And that’s the problem.
I recently read an article where a nutrition therapist, Dr Karin Katrina was interviewed. She was discussing the topic of orthorexia and for anyone unfamiliar with that term it is defined as an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy foods.
And she, like I, believes there is nothing wrong with eating these foods that we refer to as “healthy.” But as Dr Katrina put it, “The problem is that we have moralized eating, weight, food and exercise. Food has become presented-more and more- as the answer.” It has somehow become the problem and the solution and everything in between giving entirely too much power to food.
And while diets and food labels don’t cause eating disorders, they are certainly contributing to them by creating an environment that breads guilt, confusion and shame that now spreads beyond even eating disorders.
Many individuals who don’t have a diagnosable eating disorder but have been constantly exposed to these messages about food have broken relationships with food, their body and themselves, and as a result suffer from the same symptoms and feelings observed in eating disorders.
So what do we do to combat this?
I think it’s our responsibility as informed and aware individuals to spread positive messages about food.
We have to talk about food–all food– in a positive way, stripping away the labels.
And I get it, to some this is a crazy notion — to think we can praise candy and ice cream in the same way we do spinach and avocado. But the reality is that all food does serve some purpose.
So whether it’s antioxidants and essential fatty acids or simply pleasure, it’s potentially doing something to increase our quality of life. And therefore, if we absolutely MUST label it, then it is only good.
We can also begin to educate people that our bodies are incredibly complex, resilient machines that can process imperfection and maintain great health even if our diet isn’t “perfect.”
And lastly, but most importantly we must begin to accept and spread the message that we are absolutely NOT what we eat. Our character, our willpower, our determination, our “goodness” is completely independently of our diet. As humans, we are what we think, what we believe, and what we love—but we are NOT we eat.”