Please Stop Using These Words To Describe Food and Eating
There’s a lot of ways to describe food, eating, diets, and our relationships to all of those things. Sometimes though, I think we inadvertently use words in those contexts that actually make the experience of eating into something negative.
You all know that I adore food, and I feel as though too many people associate eating with shame and guilt and ‘badness’. It’s sad to see, because food is the best, and hey – it actually keeps us alive! How about that!
I want you all to make friends with food. Be excited about eating. Feel good about it all.
It’s tough to do that, though, if you use negative words to describe what’s really our most basic instinct: to nourish ourselves.
You might not agree with all of these, but here are some words I’d love to see everyone stop using in relation to food and eating.
Stop Using These Words!
Sinful, bad, cheat.
These words and moralistic ones like them make it seem as though you’ve done something horrible by eating certain foods.
The truth is that no foods are ‘bad’ and no foods are ‘good’; by equalizing and normalizing everything we eat – from Oreos to apples – we take away the judgement that we so often apply to ourselves as well as to our diets. You’ve done nothing wrong by eating a chocolate bar or a piece of bread…that’s just diet culture whispering in your ear. Ignore it.
I’ve seen it thousands of times – the automatic and often subconscious assertion that because a person has eaten a piece of cake or a burger, they’re ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’.
If you’re constantly telling yourself that your diet is ‘so bad’ or that you’ve ‘cheated’ on your plan, how can you feel good about yourself? When your self-esteem is low because you’ve berated yourself about what you’ve eaten, it feels like total shit.
Is it really worth putting yourself down because you chose a certain food over another?
Stop using those crappy words, and see how much better you feel about yourself and food overall.
Honorable mention: saying that an outfit ‘hides a multitude of sins’. Excuse me? Please no.
By the same token as the words above, ‘eating clean’ implies that anything that doesn’t fit into your ‘diet’ is ‘unclean’, which is never a desirable state. Cleanliness, purity, goodness…these are all words that are religious in nature and are designed to make us feel virtuous. But nobody eats ‘clean’ food (whatever that even is, since the definition is debatable) every single day, and a nourishing diet has a variety of foods. Even ones that you might not consider to be ‘clean’.
The ‘clean eating’ wellness culture thing is also a highly privileged way of life. So by using the word ‘clean’, what are you saying about those who can’t afford to eat that way?
And hey – you’re not virtuous as a person because you never eat sugar or because your diet is full of salad. You are not your diet.
Why the fuck are you feeling guilty about food?
Words like ‘guilt-free’ are double-edged swords: first, they create a health halo that may cause overeating. ‘Guilt-free’ products or recipes aren’t necessarily nourishing, and they might actually be less satisfying than their regular counterparts. Regardless, we tend to overeat foods that we think are ‘healthier’ – in particular snack foods and desserts.
Also, guilt and food never play nice with each other. Labelling a food as ‘guilt-free’ creates an association with food that’s negative – like, you should be feeling guilty if you eat the non-guilt-free variety.
The truth is that diet culture makes us feel weak and guilty if we ‘cave’ to our desires. This is shitty and wrong, and it gets us absolutely nowhere except deeper into a bad relationship with food.
Okay, this one is tough, and some of you might not agree with me here.
I write for a major publication, and a while back, anytime I’d submit a story draft with the word ‘healthy’ in it (describing food), they’d cross it out and replace it with ‘nourishing’.
Finally I asked my editor what was up, and she told me that the word ‘healthy’ is too subjective. It’s also been co-opted by diet culture, so it’s sort of a loaded term. On any given minute, you can find ‘healthy’ versions of any recipe under the sun, and it’s anybody’s guess what makes them ‘healthier’ than their regular counterparts. The ingredients? The satisfaction they give the person eating them? Who knows. Why, if I want an Oreo, is kale a ‘healthier’ choice? Wouldn’t it be more emotionally nourishing for me to eat the Oreo, get the fuck over it, and move on?
While a ‘nourishing meal’ is a term that can mean physically and emotionally giving nourishment, which is a more holistic and organic term, the definition of a ‘healthy meal’ can change depending on the year and the person.
It’s a struggle for me to not use the word ‘healthy’ in any of my writing, but I try not to, for these reasons.
Even though some of my colleagues who I absolutely love and respect use this term to describe food, I refuse to use it myself.
‘Skinny’ where it relates to food, infers a superiority over the ‘not-skinny’ version. I believe this carries over to how in our culture, skinny as a body type is valued more than ‘fat’. Being thin also doesn’t mean that someone is happy or healthy.
I know some of you will say I’m overreacting, which is fine by me. I still cringe when I hear somebody order a ‘skinny’ latte or ‘skinny’ margarita.
No food is toxic in normal quantities, and your body deals with its ‘toxins’ quite well, thank you very much.
These words are used by fear-mongers who want to sell you a cleanse, a diet, or some sort fix for the idea that there’s something wrong with you and food you eat.
In fact, our food supply is the safest it has ever been.
Honestly, as soon as a person uses either of these words in relation to food, I tune out.
I’m including this one in here because it’s often used to describe the results of diet programs. As in, ‘transform your life with this diet!’
I just want to say that no diet transforms your life in every way. Sure, you might look different if you lose weight, but all the weight loss in the world won’t cure your problems. Far too many people believe that losing weight will immediately improve their lives, relationships, issues, finances, and everything else that bothers them.
Weight loss isn’t the prince on a white horse in a Disney movie, coming to sweep you away to a magical life. You’ll still have to deal with shit like your asshole boss, your prying mother in law, and your broken down car. And if you have emotional issues behind everything, they’ll still be there, too.
The concept of willpower where it relates to diets was invented to make you feel like shit about yourself when really, it’s your diet that’s the problem. I wrote about this topic here, but let it be known that:
Blaming yourself for ‘failing’ on a diet that sets you up to fail, has nothing to do with willpower.
Craving food and eating when you’re underfeeding yourself has nothing to do with willpower.
Breaking down and eating cake when you’re telling yourself that you can’t have cake, has nothing to do with willpower.
Grabbing tons of carbs when you’re stressing yourself out with diets and starvation and #thinspo has nothing to do with willpower.
It has to do with hormones, emotions, and your body giving you overwhelming signals that you’re not treating it properly. Willpower doesn’t even enter into the equation.
Let’s stop talking about willpower and diets, okay?
Use these words instead:
Like we talked about earlier, there’s a difference between healthy and nourishing.
If you’re trying to lose weight, try using the word ‘journey’ instead of ‘diet’. Journeys imply a longer-term trip that can have bumps and stops as well as progression. Diets are usually just punitive sadness.
As in, I’m hungry, and that’s a good thing. Listening to your body’s cues and honouring them is healthy and normal. You wouldn’t ignore your need to pee, so don’t ignore your need to eat.
Instead of complaining about how ‘fat’ you feel after a huge meal, just say you’re full. Period.