The Semantics of Food: Good/Bad, Clean/Unclean

The first semester of my freshman year at Syracuse I took Nutrition 101 (at the time I was majoring in Nutritional Science with intentions of becoming and RD). The professor was this fiery old lady. She must have been in her seventies and she was all spunk and sass and had been teaching the course forever. I don't remember her name...or much of the details of college for that matter. Not because I was in a drunken stupor the whole time--far from it, I can count the number of college parties I went to on one hand, but I could tell you the quietest spot in the library. Often my husband, who I met in college after transferring from Syracuse to the University of New Hampshire, will ask me if I remember such-and-such and I have absolutely no recollection. I've come to the conclusion that my inability to remember is probably directly related to the fact that at the time I was eating NO fat. I've since learned how essential fat is for brain function  (maybe that's why they call them the "essential" fatty acids...duh). Though my memory of my freshman year of college is not particularly strong I do remember her saying in a lecture, "There is no such thing as BAD food." I remember bristling against her words. Of course there are bad foods! I thought. At the time I had constructed extremely strict guidelines for myself (as most anorexics do). I was a vegetarian and had been since the year before after a gross experience with an undercooked hamburger (I am not easily grossed out nor am I dramatic, but that occasion became reason enough for me to eliminate an entire food group from my diet. There are many people who are vegetarians and I honor their decision, but at the time as a 17 year-old girl with serious body image issues I was in no place to declare myself a vegetarian.) So I eliminated all meats, fish and eggs. Other food groups soon followed. I can remember walking into the dining hall freshman year of college feeling overwhelmed by all the options and so paranoid of gaining weight. I started to create rules for myself until the only section I was "allowed" to select food from was the salad bar, the vegetarian option and the fat free yogurts. I shied away from foods that were cooked in a way I couldn't see. I obsessed over the fat content of everything. If it had traces of fat I would not eat it. Fat=bad food. High calories=bad food.

These self-imposed guidelines were oppressive and consuming. I spent each day hungry, tired, lost and obsessed about what I could or could not eat the next day. My hair fell out. My skin turned gray. It was not good. And all the while I was taking courses on nutritional science. Ironic.

So after thinking about my post on Friday about being "irked" by the idea that we earn food through exercises I realized that it is not the idea of earning food or celebrating accomplishments with food that bothers me, it is the idea that there are "bad" foods and "good" foods, "clean" foods and "unclean" foods and that we are only allowed to have the bad foods if we have done something to counteract their "badness" (ie exercise) and that good foods we can eat freely as we wish regardless of whether we have exercised or not. THAT is what irks me. This whole labeling and eliminating and restricting. It bothers me because I have been to the EXTREME end of it, where so much was off limits and so little was allowed and I've fought my way back to a place where I can enjoy ALL foods. When I was entrenched in my restrictive ways I was a prisoner and now after nine years of battling I am finally free. It has been a long hard road and part of that freedom has come through a radical change in the way that I view food: I have to see it ALL as good. I have to see it all as AVAILABLE to me. And doing that FIRST has allowed me to be selective in a way that is healthy: making choices based on appeal, taste, or the way it makes me feel.

More often than not I choose whole, minimally processed foods with ingredients I know are beneficial (chocked full of those essential fatty acids I used to avoid). But I like a healthy sprinkling of donuts, McDonald's, soda, Stove Top stuffing, and refined white flour by the spoonful (no, not really on the flour) along with my coconut oil, chia seeds and home-grown swiss chard. It's not good. It's not bad. It's

What is your relationship with food like? Do you categorize food? Who do you admire who has the most healthy relationship with food? Why do you think they are that way?


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