Fruit and veggie rainbow

Changing the Conversation: Part 2, Food

Food is not evil. Food is not poison.

Food is fuel, and food should taste good and make you feel good.

What we eat and the way we eat has gotten tangled up in a lot of things: stress eating, emotional eating, “clean” eating – whatever the fuck that is. We have a person out there calling herself the Food Babe advising you not to eat chemicals.

She is not a scientist. Chemicals are everything. (She may or may not be a babe; I’m not one to judge such things.)

How and what you choose to eat will not make you a virtuous person. Food will not save you.

Yes, if you have food sensitivities and allergies, you do well to avoid certain types of food, and I will not begrudge you that – gluten, dairy, meat, soy, and so on. That’s just common sense.

If you choose to eat a certain way, I also will not begrudge you that. I am a practicing vegetarian for the most part, have been for more than 20 years. Go carbs-free, gluten-free, organic, vegan, what have you. But the minute you start telling me that I should eat that way because it’s so superior, I am going to tune you right the hell out.

If you feel better when you avoid gluten doesn’t mean that I need to give up gluten. If you enjoy your Paleo style of eating, go for it. Doesn’t mean it’s for me. Please don’t insist it is.

The way that you choose to eat doesn’t make you a sinner or a saint. Eschewing a food group by choice doesn’t make you a good person.

And speaking of food being sinful, can we stop talking about “being bad” by choosing rich, delicious food? Can we stop declaring that a piece of cake means so many more minutes in the gym? Can we stop “cheating” on our diets?

Can we stop going diets?

Look, I’m not going to deny that some food choices are far better than others. I’m with Michael Pollan on this: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” (And no cereal that turns your milk a different color.) I get the fear of chemicals that has crept into our mindset, I truly do.

But we’ve got to change our language about food and eating. Instead of talking about diets, let’s make lifestyle changes that are sustainable, delicious, and make us feel good, not guilty. We’ve got to stop lecturing people who choose differently than us. Especially when it comes to raising our children, we can’t install fear of certain foods, or make certain foods absolute taboos, or act like eating some types of food is “bad” and needs to be paid off by abusing ourselves in the gym.

All things in moderation. Make sure the children are going outside to play. Get them involved in an organized sport (just one, don’t make yourself crazy). Give them access to a lot of different foods to try. Model good eating and exercise yourself. Your child is not going to eat salad at dinner if you don’t. Nope.

And, although children are not picky eaters by default (can we please get rid of the “recipes even your picky eater will try!” meme?) there are some truly picky eaters out there, children who will not try a new food, children who WILL go hungry rather than eat something they don’t want. They are rare, but they do exist, and let’s not shame their parents for it, okay?

I’m an advocate for the one-bite rule, and then my children are free to cook an egg or make a sandwich for dinner. And they aren’t even picky eaters! But there are certain meals (lentil soup and grilled cheese comes to mind) that even Kate, my omnivore, simply won’t have.

Eat when you’re hungry. Do something else when you are stressed or bored or upset. Feelings aren’t for eating. Go for a walk. Read a book. Play a board game. Talk to a friend. Hell, go to bed!

Food is good. Less processed food is probably better in the long run, but that doesn’t mean you can never eat a potato chip again for the rest of your life. I love my farmers markets and CSAs and cooking from scratch; I also appreciate the occasional fast food meal from Burger King (not because it’s good, mostly because it’s fast).

We do have real problems with food in this country, and I don’t mean the latest Facebook science screed about tumeric lemonade curing depression (although that is problematic as well). Food deserts in poor urban areas; produce that is more expensive than processed; parents who don’t know how to prepare healthy foods for themselves or their children. These are the things we should be talking about.

Not Gwyneth Paltrow’s air diet.

Copyright on header image: seralexvi / 123RF Stock Photo

What’s the best meal you ate recently? What made it so good?

Black bean omelet and toast.

Part one of this conversation was about changing how we talk about size.

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