"French fries make you fat."
“French fries make you fat.” 7:15pm Sunday, January 29th, 2020.
My daughter is almost 5 years old, and today at the dinner table was the day I have been dreading for longer than I care to think of. This sounds so innocuous I know. In fact I imagine many of you are thinking, “what’s wrong with that?” But for me it was a deeply sad moment. This is the exact moment when food judgment entered my child’s mind. She is not even 5 years old. I understand that in parenting these are little hurdles you go through with your kids, swear words, drugs, etc. But this one hits particularly hard. She no longer gets to see food as just fun and enjoyable, now it will be accompanied with the persistent and endless judgment of is this “good or bad for me.” And inevitable guilt.
Well? Isn’t food either good or bad? I mean that’s what we’ve been taught right? “Eat this not that” “Guilty pleasures” “cheat days” “clean eating” the list goes on.
Here’s the plain truth of the matter. This is the exact construct of diet culture. Proliferated and passed down to each generation as a judgment of how “good” or “moral” we are. French fries are “bad”, vegetables are “good.” There’s no space for in between. And this is a big problem.
This is the space where disordered eating breeds. This is the conversation that I’ve had with my teenage and adult patients. Many of their stories start with food judgment and disordered eating behaviors as early as ages 6 or 7. Casual comments like “French fries make you fat” are stuck on repeat in their heads. They are so stricken with fear at the thought of consuming these foods that they will literally do just about anything to avoid the experience of eating them. I have had patients scream, cry, have full blown panic attacks, throw up, and threaten suicide in my office at the thought of eating FRENCH FRIES.
It’s not innocuous. It’s also irresponsible, and it’s inaccurate. It’s a sinister and pernicious falsehood that has been spread over the decades to fuel an industry that feeds on people’s fears of being treated badly for being in a larger body. These assumptions we make are careless and ignorant and in my professional opinion, downright dangerous. So instead of attacking this problem head on we buy into the paranoia. Doing all sorts of restrictive diets to control something that we have very little control over to begin with, feeling self-righteous about spreading this information that everyone should know and continue to live by. Meanwhile people are literally dying and in despair, their lives falling apart in large part due to what seemed so “innocuous” or “healthy” in the beginning. So many of my patients have told me, “it just started with me trying to get healthy.”
If you have small ears listening to you, please be so mindful of what you say. They hear everything. You can break this cycle and change the rhetoric. Start with neutral language, talk about what different foods do for our bodies. Remember that food isn’t just about nutrition, finding joy and satisfaction in eating is a key component to good nutrition, and sometimes we eat food just because it tastes good. And that is OK. Our bodies are resilient. We’ve been genetically programmed to survive in some of the harshest environments possible, in part because our bodies have had the drive and desire to eat good food, not just nutritious food, but good tasting food. We can trust our bodies to tell us what and how much, we don’t need diet culture to do that for us.