Saturday, May 12, 2007

Good food, bad food

Sound familiar? I've often wondered where the good food/bad food dichtomy originates. Why is it that carrot sticks carry with them an aura of smug virtue, while chocolate cake bears the stigma of sin?

Of course I know the answer: It's all about the calories, stupid. But there's got to be attitude behind those calories. And there is. Turns out reseachers from Yale and elsewhere did a study several years ago (which I just came across) looking at the stigma associated with obesity. Get this: They quizzed obesity specialists--doctors, researchers, psychologists--and discovered that even people who have devoted their lives to the subject associate "blameworthy behvioral characteristics" with obesity.

These are folks who understand the genetic and environmental factors implicated in obesity. Who know that fat people aren't fat because they watch TV and eat bon-bons all day.

Geez, if you can't trust these people to understand, who can you trust?

This sense of judgment extends beyond food to any part of our lives that our related to fat and overweight. We fatties are told that we bring all kinds of bad things on ourselves, from diabetes to lower pay to heart disease.

If your heart were, I don't know, a sewage pump (which in some ways isn't such a bad comparison), and it got clogged, would you feel a sense of moral failure? Or would you just call the plumber to have the pipes cleaned out? So why the strong sense of self-blame and guilt over being fat?

Stigma equals shame. Shame equals a sense of moral dichotomy, good and bad. People with anorexia take this good/bad food thing to obsessive extremes. But I bet most of us do it on some level.

Pay attention to your feelings about the next plate of food you sit down to. See if it's true for you. Then practice moral blindness when it comes to food. Repeat after me: There is no such thing as bad food, only badly cooked, badly prepared, or bad-tasting food.

Bon appetit.


Anonymous said...

Good post, Harriet. I would also say the same thing about so-called healthy foods. I'm trying hard to get my daughters to not describe (or think of) certain foods as healthy and others as unhealthy. I tell them that except for certain information about the benefits of fruits and vegetables, scientists really don't know what is healthy or what isn't, at least as far as food is concerned.

Harriet said...

The emphasis on healthy foods is the bane of the school curriculum, at least where my daughter goes to school. The term itself implies that there are unhealthy foods. So even when schools and doctors and nurses think they're being positive and talking about healthy foods, they're giving a strong negative and judgmental message. And you're absolutely right that we really don't know what's healthy or not. Anti-oxidants, fiber, whole wheat--these are all things we think should be "healthier" for us but we really have no evidence proving it.

Carrie Arnold said...

My dietician in treatment said the only foods you shouldn't eat are those you don't like. My list includes the three following: cauliflower, olives (I think I started hating them when I first ate one, thought it was a grape and got a nasty surprise), and white chocolate. Everything else is negotiable. ;)

I think the best way to go about teaching kids (and adults!) about a healthy diet is this: variety. A little of this, a little of that. Eat foods you enjoy.

One of my friends who has suffered from binge eating said that the main foods she binged on were those she found 'shameful' in some manner or another. She consumed them quickly, in secret, lest people find out she liked cakes, brownies, etc.

mary said...

Hi Harriet,
I don't think I'd feel a sense of moral failure Harriet, should my pipes get clogged but I'd be mightily disappointed. I go for balance. Even though I like that oatmeal clears the clogs I make sure it's also topped with whatever makes it appealing to me. Plain oatmeal wouldn't do the trick. I need cinnamon, I 'need' the sunflower seeds or almonds. I 'need' the brown sugar. I don't 'need' a crouton or even chips on my salad but I enjoy the crunch and the contrast. I don't do bland. I get what you are saying but on the other hand I understand the different chemicals foods represent. If I eat broccoli or cabbage my [hypo]thyroid is affected almost immediately by slowing down and depressing me. It's very real. It's always a risk with me due to hypothyroidism, the same way sugar levels affect a diabetic. Another person's healthy food is my bodies enemy. Even coleslaw has to be eaten with caution.[yes, I eat them all anyway but keep it as a treat]I've learned what helps counterbalance the affects.
Our schools are going through the same snack food upheaval that most states here are. I am not against it because I never afforded a snack size anything for my 4 kids, junk food or otherwise. We did have a wonderful snack program years ago for Kindergarten. Everyone contributed a few dollars a month and everyone got the SAME could be anything from blueberry muffins made after a field trip to an orchard, to stone soup in which everyone contributed an ingredient.That one was the best as it taught many kids to love foods that they'd never eat at home. It was balanced but it leaned towards nutrition. Also the idea that too much sugar in a wee one would have some kids spinning in circles and their teachers ready to climb walls.
I've learned to recognize what my body needs and not just what I'm addicted to. I don't allow myself to binge,I allow myself to eat in moderation. If I am going to have strawberry shortcake though I make it a meal. The next meal needs protein or again my brain makes me pay the price. I don't know if everyone has such a sensitive system but it works for me to be aware. Chocolate will always be essential no matter what any scientist ever says one way or the other!
Balance is the key and awareness of what affects our body, IMO.

Anonymous said...

Mary, I agree that on an individual level, there may be foods that aren't healthy. I have a "sensitive" stomach (maybe IBS?) and so there are things that taste good to me that I know will make me feel terrible later (although I don't think they would have long-term negative effects on my health).

mary said...

I know that what Harriet was getting at was that we needn't be afraid of foods. Point taken.

Hope I didn't offend you Harriet. I like discussion.;-)
My truth is that I am afraid of diet drinks. LOL Really!It's probably my only fear, diet sugars. Please don't try to encourage me to overcome this fear cause water and juice suit me fine. I had a g/f whom I nagged every time I saw her with a pitcher of her diet coke! It was a standing joke but I was serious because she already had kidney problems and was on dialysis. Aren't you glad you don't have to deal with me in person?
I'm a fairly tough person with a strong stomach but if I eat certain foods I also noticed an arthritic reaction that numb my fingers. [onions and any half and half WITH preservatives] I wonder how many people get treated for things that could be prevented by noticing what foods were eaten which may clash with an individuals body chemistry. I think the key is to be comfortable enough to explore what works for what body types. Know our own body and be comfortable in it.

Yet, being familiar with ED's I also know that it can panic us to think that we can choose wisely and still have recovery. I am sick of fear of fat when olive oils and others are known to heal the body. I never said a word about one young woman not eating cake for almost a year even though I knew it wouldn't harm her.I also knew that it was good for the soul to indulge on occasion. Fortunately ice cream was safe during that year. Good old regular ice cream.Mmmmmmmm I knew when she faced that fear, the birthday cake, she was on her way to full health. Even as a vegetarian she's now eating well and is even content with her changing body. It's about allowing ourselves to be free to be who we are and I get that!
thanks for the space to ramble Harriet.

Harriet said...

You can't offend me, Mary. I like discussion too. And this one's good and juicy.

I'm kind of afraid of diet sugars too. I grew up drinking diet soda, as my mother was always on a diet, and I often wonder if I glow in the dark. :-)

mary said...

Yes, you glow in the dark Harriet. :)
While I'm not a health food nut I do prefer to choose foods that I believe keep me running smoothly first, which begins with this cup of coffee in the morning. : )
I'd prefer whole wheat or rye breads but I know I won't die if I have to eat white bread. I grew up on it and I know it's enriched.It's delicious when one is hungry from shopping and can pick up a loaf of fresh un-cut french bread to rip open and devour in the car like poor starving souls who haven't eaten in a week.
It's not so much a fear but a strong desire to have freedom to say that lima beans are a bad food [and smile] if I don't like them. I want to be able to take some of this lightly. I want to be able to help those with ED's not fear fat but in order to do that I think that we need to allow ourselves to play with what's safe to say as well as what's safe to eat. I like to cross the lines and force a food fight if it will knock down the barriers.
I think we have the same idea but I want to say that some foods are awful and should be made illegal based on bad taste alone. I do realize that someone out there may love the foods I'd pickled pigs feet.

Anonymous said...

Found this site ( and I have been disturbed ever since. As an ED sufferer I feel it is just WRONG.

"For 23 years The Center, Inc. has specialized in the treating of Eating Disorders-Anorexia, Bulimia, Compulsive Overeating, and Bingeing. Because of our extensive work with individuals suffering with Eating Disorders, we have much understanding in regards to the issue of dieting and weight loss.

Dr. Jantz, as a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist knows what works and what does not work in regards to dieting and weight loss. "

..How can this man call himself an ED specialist?!

Harriet said...

Love the coffee, and hate the pickled pigs' feet! I'm right there with you, Mary.

Anonymous, that's outrageous! I guess anyone can call themselves an eating disorders specialist. Maybe that's another frontier to tackle--setting up some standards when it comes to treating this disease. Thanks for calling it to my attention.

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts. It is always great pleasure to read your posts.

Harriet said...

Aw, thanks. It's a pleasure to read the intelligent comments I get on this blog.