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March 14, 2011 | by  | in News |
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Relationships With Food: Why the Best Boyfriend of All Might Actually Be a Cheeseburger

How’s your relationship with food? Does food hold your hand in public? Has food met your parents? Are you and food moving in together any time soon?

Chances are a lot of people reading this have a relationship with food that bears an uncanny resemblance to Carrie and Mr. Big (so uncomfortable you can’t take your bra off during sex) or Bella and Edward (actually a creepy allegory for Mormonism). I ate an entire Mee Goreng for dinner so I think that right now my relationship with food is actually a little bit Brokeback Mountain (I just can’t quit you).

When we talk about relationships with food it’s easy to think about the extreme-case scenario. The first thing I think about when somebody uses the phrase ‘disordered eating’ is about Karen Carpenter turning orange from eating too many carrots when in the throes of anorexia, or the documentaries I watched as a child featuring vomiting ballerinas. These kinds of eating disorders are serious. Of all psychiatric disorders, anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate. It’s also important, though, to separate the issue of eating disorders from disordered eating, which can include emotional eating and having an unhealthy relationship with food or your body. This disordered eating bizzo is a lot more common than you might think, with three out of four women experiencing some kind of disordered eating in their lifetime.* It doesn’t make sense for me to try to tackle the subject of eating disorders here because I have neither the lived experience nor the medical expertise to do the topic justice. What I can do though is write about food relationships for those of us who have both the able-bodied and the economic privilege to be able to eat ‘normally’ and talk about ways to encourage a relationship with food that’s more Elton and David and less Brad and Jennifer.

It’s easy to see why disordered eating is so common. On the whole, Western culture seems to have a pretty toxic relationship with food. This can be seen through the performative eating of young starlets during interviews and the dignity-robbing pictures of ‘headless fatties’ that are published alongside articles about the obesity epidemic. Nestlé make Kit Kats, of course, but they also own Jenny Craig. Tim Tam adverts encourage viewers to eat supposedly ‘sinful’ chocolate biscuits and women who are deemed too thin are harangued to ‘eat a sandwich’. Poet Laureate Britney Spears sung it best with the words “She’s too big, now she’s too thin” and it’s all a little bit Sid and Nancy.

A big part of this destructive heroin-addled murder-suicide relationship is our obsession with labelling foods as ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Not ‘nutritious’ or ‘protein-packed’ but good and bad. Actually, food is just food. It does not have ill intentions or moral attributes. Foods have different nutritional components, yes, and eating everything in moderation is really great but labelling a food as ‘bad’ only contributes to a weird, fucked-up belief system around eating. A belief system where businesswomen can’t buy chocolate off my friend Izzy without commenting on how ‘naughty’ they are being. Where a human being can’t go to the gym without being told they are ‘being good’ even though they might just like going to the gym to punch things. These words, the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ and the ‘virtuous’ and the ‘naughty’ are insidious. They are body shame and blame, tied up in little adjective parcels. They are body surveillance culture, hidden as offside remarks. They are the words that say it is okay to be fat, as long as you are dieting and running up a hill every five minutes, because God forbid you love your body the way it is.

This shame and blame is tied, of course, to the relationship that food has with body size. Every year squillions of dollars are spent on the ‘war on obesity’ and thousands of articles are released about the ‘obesity epidemic’. It only takes a quick scroll through Facebook to know that fat prejudice is alive and well amongst students of this very university. I continue to be baffled as to why people think that shaming and blaming fat people for their appearance is helpful. The ‘War on Obesity’ actually translates as a ‘War on Obese People’ resulting in many fat people hating their bodies. Why on earth would you want to you look after something you hate? The US Surgeon General is advocating an approach that is ‘pro-health’ rather than ‘anti-obesity’ and this seems far more effective, because anti-obesity campaigns too often forget that ‘obesity’ isn’t the same as eating rubbish and never exercising. Regina Benjamin states:

“As America’s family doctor, I want to change the conversation from a negative one about obesity and illness to a positive conversation about being healthy and being fit… Eat nutritious foods, exercise regularly, and have fun doing it.”
She’s right. The best kinds of relationships are the fun ones. Think Tim and Helena. Food should be the boyfriend that lets you leave the house with mismatched shoes on.
Advocates for this more positive approach often tout the Health At Every Size (HAES) Manifesto, championed by academic Linda Bacon who basically has the best name ever for a health expert. HAES encourages followers to eat intuitively and engage in physical activity that is pleasurable for them, in the pursuit of health, as opposed to weight loss. HAES is a beautiful thing. Every body is a good body and every body deserves to be nourished and moved around and made to feel good. Food is a pleasure, a joy, a survival tool. Food is memories of birthday cakes or eating eggs before exams to make your brain work better or getting hungry after you go swimming. Food is the cheese and crackers you eat with your friends when you talk about sex. Food is eating garlic when you’re sick and watermelon when you’re hot. If you’re Logan, then food can be Mary-Anne.
As someone old and beardy once said, the course of true love ne’er did run smooth. Your relationship with food is forever. It’s more civil union than one-night-stand-you-picked-up-at-the-Kumara.  Your wedding vows are signed, because with food it really will be “until death do us part”. In the world we live in, food and bodies are often associated with judgement and shame; they’re value-laden and the way we eat is so often linked to our mental health. Self-care is a radical act. Trust your body. Enjoy your relationship with food. Let food borrow your toothbrush. Tell food when he has spinach in his teeth. Buy food flowers on her birthday. Renew your vows on Waiheke Island. For now, you’ll have to excuse me. Food and I are going out for dinner.

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Comments (4)

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  1. kate says:

    I am so chuffed that this article exists. Keep up the good work!

  2. Carly McCall says:

    I <3 this article. You've perfectly encapsulated the joy and liberation of the HAES movement. I wish I could find words so poetic. Thank you.

  3. Anon says:

    Love the Baby-Sitters Club reference .

  4. Finch says:

    If you’re lkooing to buy these articles make it way easier.

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