You Are Not What You Eat
By Rebecca Clegg, LPC, CEDS-S
How many times have you heard a friend say, “Oh gosh, I’ve been so bad,” only to turn around and have them tell you about what they have been eating?
How immune many of us are to this type of comment is a sign of how entrenched our culture is in dieting and diet mentality. It’s commonplace for people to talk about themselves in terms of good or bad, only to be referencing their diet. Diet culture would have you believe the idea that what we are eating has some level of morality, and defines how valuable we are as humans.
Far too many people are affected by this fallacy. As a culture, we fall prey to thinking that what we eat defines our personal worth. Blindly, we have played into the idea that somehow, we can control our worthiness quota by controlling what we do or do not put into our body. If we eat “healthy” (which usually was more about calories and weight than it was about health at all), we are “good.” We then feel good. We feel a sense of being empowered and in control of things.
You know what happens next.
Because we operate around food with a “good” list, there is the inevitable duality of a “bad list”. And because we are humans, beings who are designed to have a wide, diverse range of cravings and appetites, we are drawn to eating foods off of both lists. This is normal and balanced, but diet culture feeds you the lie that this dichotomous swing makes you “bad”.
It was a set up from the start. If you have ever dieted, you know this feeling. It’s an awful cycle, and the truth is, it is all part of the design of diet culture. Diet culture is part of a larger systemic paradigm that is designed to keep power and authority in the hands of certain individuals, and not others. While you are busy obsessing about what you did or did not eat, you are not accessing your own authority, autonomy, or taking actions that might challenge the system at large.
For simplicities sake, I offer you 3-mindset shifts from which to view food so you can create a new paradigm for you or your clients.
Here is the truth about food:
1. Food Has No Intrinsic Value – Food is neither good nor bad. It is neutral. “Good” and “Bad” are subjective values placed on things by humans. We control how we see this. The food that diet culture would label “bad” would be a most precious thing to you if you found yourself in a famine. Good and Bad are yours to define. Otherwise, an apple is only an apple.
2. Your Worth Can Never Be Changed – No matter what you eat, your worth will not change. No matter how “clean” someone labels your diet… yep, you guessed it, your value, as a human won’t shift. The two things are as unrelated as your shoe size and your credit score. You focusing on this is merely a distraction.
3. It Is a Wild Goose Chase – The majority of our culture is obsessed with food and weight. It is one of the most common forms of mass cultural hypnosis that I see in our world. For reasons that are many, we have shifted our focus from who we are as people, to how we present ourselves as people. It’s as though the world is more concerned with the cars we are driving, than the drivers who are driving them (one of my favorite metaphors for being obsessed with our body and forgetting our soul).
These mindset shifts will help you to recognize when you or your client is being affected by diet culture. Be compassionate, as we all live in this culture. Unpacking how it affects us on an individual level is complex. It takes bravery and compassion to look inside and acknowledge how diet culture has been internalized.
While you do this, do your best to try to see food as neutral, and ask yourself simply how that particular food would make your body feel if you ate it. See what your response is. It might surprise you.
If you find yourself using the “good” and “bad” language with food, gently try to create awareness around changing that. Eradicating good/bad talk helps us see things with more objectivity, but it might take time, and that is ok. Non-judgmental, mindful awareness is the environment that we all need to learn, grow and change. Do your best to offer yourself this open-minded approach as you change.
And lastly, just try to always remember that your worth as a human can’t be changed by your food choices. You are so much more than a daily intake of calories or a number on a scale. Believing this is your first step towards freedom from the Diet Mindset, and you deserve to break free from the limitations dieting creates.
Rebecca Clegg, LPC, CEDS-S, is the founder of Authentic Living, a private practice specializing in the treatment of women in recovery from eating disorders & body image issues. Becca is also the Co-Clinical Director of Creative Health Initiatives (CHI), a group therapy program that provides outpatient groups, programs and workshops for women in recovery and business development consultation for therapists.
Becca is also a speaker, writer & teacher, educating families, clients and clinicians on the treatment of eating disorders and body image issues. She has been a contributing writer for The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), The International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals, NBC, Euro News, Recovery Warriors, and her own personal blog found at Rebeccaclegg.com. In 2017, she published Ending The Diet Mindset: Reclaim a Healthy and Balanced Relationship with Food and Body Image; and speaks nationally on the subject of dieting and diet culture, with the goal of empowering people to develop a balanced mindset with regards to the ways they view dieting, their bodies, and the culture we live in.
*The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders and not intended as endorsement by iaedp Foundation, Inc. or its Board of Directors.*