One of the many reasons I struggle to eat is because of the guilt I feel about it. When I am eating I feel like I am committing a crime, my mind is telling me that I am doing something “wrong”, something “bad”, and the only way to feel that I am being “good” again is to stop eating. Considering I have anorexia, none of this is particularly surprising and it is common to a lot of people with eating disorders. Recently though, I have noticed that this feeling is actually one that is generally accepted in society. I am always told that my thoughts are “disordered” and that the way I think is not normal, but it makes it incredibly hard to believe professionals trying to help me when my very thoughts are voiced in day to day life.
When I say I “can’t eat” because “eating is bad”, people call me crazy, yet then when somebody goes to a coffee shop and asks for their drink to be made with skinny milk because they are “being good” nobody bats an eye lid. BUT THEY SHOULD BE BATTING THOSE EYE LIDS. Seriously people should be batting their eyelids until their eyelashes fall off every time somebody associates human goodness with what a person is eating, because the two are not connected and the whole thing is a dangerous, disordered thought that is slipping into normal life.
I used to work in a cafe as a barista, and one of my favourite bits of the job was on the days we had a new cake in and I could wander around offering people a free sample (swear to God if you have low self esteem it is a wonderful experience to be among the masses with free cake, they will love you and you will feel like a Bakewell wielding Beyonce.) My least favourite part of the experience however, was bumping into all the people on diets, and about a million times every day I would hear the words “Oooh I would love to try but I am being good” or “Oh don’t tempt me I have already been so bad today”. On one occasion someone even said “oh no I cant, I am far too big, it is alright for you, you are skinny so you are allowed cake”. EXCUSE ME? Is there some law I am not aware of that states that people who are a healthy weight or overweight are not allowed to consume sweet baked goods and that they will be arrested and jailed for life if they so much as nibble on the edge of a cookie? Is there a clause in this law that people who are underweight are free to eat all the cakes without fear of being reprimanded for some reason? If so, who is making these laws and where can I go to demand they sort their priorities out immediately? (I myself suspect it could be a greengrocer with a deep hatred of and passion to destroy Mr Kipling and his family, but so far my research has not confirmed this).
Associating goodness with not eating isn’t even something you just hear from people on diets, it is used in adverts to promote various foods in the media. There is an advert for a “light” cream cheese that shows angels eating the product with halos above their heads, as if their choice of low fat dairy has elevated them to the heavens, and hell is actually a place filled with people who like a full fat cheddar. As someone who did a theology degree and read The Christian Bible in detail several times, I can assure you that decisions around the location in which people will spend the afterlife are not made in such a manner, nor is there a secret eleventh commandment advising on acceptable kinds of cheese to sprinkle over your pasta bake (although from a personal point of view I would always advise on Mozzarella).
Similarly there is an advert for some milk chocolate balls, and in it a woman is reprimanded in her choice of snack by a “friend” (aka rude judgemental lady who should keep her unhealthy opinions to herself) saying “ooh naughty”, to which she replies that she isn’t actually that naughty at all because the balls she is consuming are under 10 calories each. REALLY? Better let whoever decides whether people go to heaven or hell know! Appearance wise her actions make her look worryingly like those of someone who should be shoved down in the burning pits of those who can’t resist a full fat cheddar, but since they are only ten calories I guess she deserves to sit on a cloud with the cream cheese angels for all eternity.
The whole association between moral character and what someone is eating isn’t even simply annoying, it is dangerous. Not only does it condone thoughts people with eating disorders may have (thoughts they are told are abnormal, which is fine yet hard to believe when your Aunt Judith is receiving a free plastic halo every time she buys low fat cheese spread at the supermarket), but it puts the idea into the heads of people who may not have eating disorders or those that then go on to develop them. I understand the need for healthy eating and the need to promote a healthy lifestyle to people, yet I cannot see how it is healthy in terms of mental or physical stability to raise children in a society where someone in an advert doesn’t eat dessert at a restaurant because she is “being good”, unlike her friend who has decided to give in and “be a bit naughty” by digging into a knickerbocker glory. Would it then be a surprise if the child then grew up refusing to ever touch desserts because to do so is something everyone is told they must feel guilty about? Obviously eating disorders are far more complex than all of that, they aren’t about refusing dessert and are caused by a million things that are nothing to do with food. Ok, nobody gets anorexia because they fear that food will send them to the fiery pits of eternal damnation in hell. Nevertheless, thinking that food choices reflect your value as a person is not a good message to be spreading. People with eating disorders need to develop a healthy relationship with food, that is a given, but it seems that everyone needs a bit of a revamp on thoughts around food too.
Now, I will admit that if your idea of a “going food shopping” is breaking into orphanages, tossing the children into the fire and then stealing their muffins, then maybe your food choices are saying something about your moral character and you might be sent to jail for them. Aside from situations like that though, (and if anyone really is food shopping in that way please stop as there are these places called supermarkets that have a wide selection of nice muffins and orphans really don’t need that kind of treatment), eating or not eating cake says nothing about you as a person. To people with eating disorders, without eating disorders, people developing eating disorders, everyone please know that eating any food is not a crime. Food is not a situation to negotiate, it is fundamental to life, it is necessary, and in addition to keeping you alive physically, being free and able to eat a chocolate ball when you fancy one without fear of being reprimanded for bad behaviour, is fundamental to mental health. It is OK to allow yourself to eat and eating is nothing to feel guilty about no matter who you are or what your weight. You do not need written permission from Jesus to allow yourself a a doughnut.
Death row is not lined with convicts who couldn’t resist a piece of a colleague’s birthday cake or daredevils who had the nerve to have full fat milk in their latte, and saints are not simply people who drank a few litres of kale for breakfast. If you want to do something “good” today and are that obsessed with moral purity, then buy a cup of tea for someone who cannot afford to buy one themselves or help someone carry their shopping to the car. Just whatever you do, don’t judge your goodness or self worth on the weight of butter you put on your toast this morning. People who eat cake are good and people who eat cake are bad, just as people who eat kale can be good or bad, but their food choices really have nothing to do with any of it.