We are what we eat

Here's the thing I find so interesting about American culture and food: we love it. And we hate it. At the same time.

I have yet to go to a restaurant and not hear someone talking about how they shouldn't have eaten that, or how much weight they want to lose, or asking how many calories or fat grams are in the salad dressing.

(I'd probably get myself fired by saying, "The more fat grams, the tastier!")

That's what drove me nuts about work: all the talk was about food, but not the enjoyment of it. Because you can't enjoy food. It's sinful. It will make you fat. You're lazy. It's not wholesome. You shouldn't indulge so damn often.*

Bad girl. Bad bad girl.

In a sense, we are what we eat because we judge ourselves based on what we eat. My dietitian pointed out that if convenience foods were really that bad, why are they a multi-billion dollar business? Why is it so popular?

Because they're convenient. And many of us eat them. And like them. So how can they be so bad? I'm sure some researcher out there will like Big Macs to crime sprees, but that doesn't mean there's proof. Food isn't fun anymore. Cooking from scratch every night is kind of a hassle. Even considering leftovers, it's still a hassle. Rachael Ray does 30 Minute Meals, but I've never completed one of her recipes in 30 minutes. Nope. I'd like the tips of my fingers to remain right where they are, thank you very much. A steady diet of Easy Mac and corn dogs every day isn't healthy; but neither is broiled skinless, sauceless, tasteless chicken breast with steamed broccoli. It takes any sense of enjoyment out of eating.

But dude- if eating weren't fun, our species would have died out a long time ago. That's why sex is fun. If you're not eating and not having sex: no kids, no point, no species. The end.

So when you do enjoy eating, you feel guilty. Because enjoying food is going to make you fat. F. A. T. Fat. Which is a sin. So repent. Sooner better than later.

Corporations are being reviled for promoting characters on food boxes. Tony the Tiger was from waaaaaay back. It's not a new concept. If the underlying message was glue your ass to the couch and don't get up until you have eaten so many Cheetos you're the color of the freaking tiger, then yes, that would be bad. I'm not saying that Dora the Explorer on a bag of carrots is bad, either. It is what it is. And I have to admit it- Spongebob Square Pants Mac and Cheese is fun to eat. So is the regular stuff. Though the white cheddar is the best. Seriously.

What I see on TV more and more is kids being told to be active to maintain a healthy weight. "Tag, you're it, but run around the long way so we burn more calories." I played any number of childhood games for the fun factor, and never needed that much prompting. My mom had to call me in on long summer's nights where I'd be out roaming around with a friend or two. That's fun. Associating fun with burning calories makes fun not very attractive, which makes activity not very attractive.

These aren't moral issues. You can eat too much, or too little. Move too much or to little. For one day, for many days, for you, compared to others. It's all relative. If I'm going to burn in hell for eating too much chocolate, I'll be in damn good company.

S'mores, anyone?

*The candy bars I ate sometimes twice a day while I was doing weight restoration earlier this year had a dumb little note on the inside saying "Candy is a treat. Enjoy in moderation." I rolled my eyes. I guess moderation for someone not gaining weight on 3200 calories per day is a little different, but still!

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Sarah said...

One thing I wonder about all the fat gram/sugar level/carb counting talk we Americans do is because we think we're supposed to do it. "Everyone else cares/counts etc so I have to so I'll be a good and virtuous person".

It's been suggested to me that I need to cut back on classifying everything as "good" or "bad". Fair enough . . . But I know I'm not the only one. What makes the behavior "healthy" or "unhealthy". I'd love to know where the line is.

carrie said...


You're absolutely right. I have an article (somewhere...) that says that "fat talk" among women has become a necessary bonding thing. Kind of like guys, beer, sports and the scratching of the balls.

I still struggle a LOT with the good food/bad food thing- I spent an hour this afternoon talking about it with my dietitian. When it's so culturally sanctioned, it's hard to let go of. I guess if it doesn't get in the way of you leading a healthy, productive, happy life, then I don't think it would be that unhealthy.

I have some little habits (nail biting being the main one) that drive me bonkers, I don't like, but it really doesn't interfere with my everyday life. So I'm leaving that on my "for later" list. Kind of like that.

Oh dear. I need more sleep. Or at least more coffee.

Did you get your package/CD?

Faith said...

That "fat talk" study was amazing. I actually have the study and if anyone wants a copy I'd be happy to email it.

I can't stand talking about food and weight all the time. I'm one of those ED people who would never have thought to say, "I'm so fat." or discuss how much I had or had not eaten in public. I just couldn't/can't bear bringing that kind of attention to myself. Esp. about my body.

I've never had food be anything other than bad. I've never had real enjoyment around food. It's something (else) I'm working on.

Thank you for bringing this up. I love your posts Carrie. Thank you.


Laura Collins said...

How boring we've all become. Banging back and forth between pristine good and wicked evil without grazing between is DULL, DULL, DULL.

You, on the other hand, are NOT!

Jeanne said...

If the chocolate is dark and the mallows are toasty, pass some this way! Move over Beezelbub! lol

I am really working on eliminating the guilt from my life - especially around enjoying yummy foods. I'm tired of it - I've spent most of my life feeling so much GUILT. I'm done. Well, at least for eating things that taste good.

Great post, carrie!

Sarah said...

oh yes yes I did! and I adore both items!!! thank you.

mary said...

I am a chocolate ice cream cone! At least for the moment.

Kirsten said...

Concern with morality and the inevitable guilt feelings that result when you can't live up to such an impossibly high standard have been part of US culture since the beginning. Our Puritan heritage gave us a pioneering spirit and a strong work ethic but an uncomfortable relationship with the body. In previous times, morality was conflated with sexuality. Now the obsession with being "good" has migrated to food. So I wonder if we haven't just traded one obsession for another.

carrie said...


You know, I never really talked about how fat I was/felt, either. I think I was kind of afraid that someone would say "No kidding" or then that I'd have to endure other food/weight talk.


I have been accused of many things but "boring" isn't one of them. Neither is "normal." "Nutjob" on the other hand... ;)


Hell yes, girl!

I know. I knew things had gotten bad for me when I began to feel guilty for not feeling so guilty. Like, "I had a piece of chocolate...why do I not want to go throw myself in front of a bus...I must be bad." Good grief.


Glad to hear it.


Chocolate ice cream cone...in this weather, lick fast so you don't wear to much of it as it drips!


Indeed I wrote my college thesis on the subject, comparing Victorian views of women's bodies (which tended to be in terms of sexuality and reproduction) to modern advertisements. Very interesting. I think you're right on.

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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nour·ish: (v); to sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to cherish, foster, keep alive; to strengthen, build up, or promote


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