What is one of the most memorable meals you have ever experienced in your life? What made it so memorable? What was it about the food? The people who were with you? The ambiance? The event?
One of the most memorable meals for me wasn’t anything fancy. But it was very special. I remember my husband bringing a Café Rio sweet pork salad and mint limeade to me in the hospital, after I had given birth to our first child. I remember feeling famished (they don’t let you eat before or during labor-not that you want to eat during labor). But wow, my body had just done something incredible! I was exhausted, happy, and maybe a little overwhelmed with the new prospect of being a parent. That sweet pork salad felt like a celebration. A celebration of becoming a parent, and an act of gratitude for my body for what it had just accomplished. I loved that meal so much that Café Rio became a tradition after I gave birth to each of my children.
To quote Evlyn Tribole, “Eating can be one of the most emotionally laden experiences that we have in our lives” FOOD IS MORE THAN FUEL. Food is love; food is comfort. Food is reward. Food is celebration. Food is connection. Food is solace. Food can feel like a friend. A way to care for ourselves. I am not in the business of divorcing food from an emotional experience. Food enhances our lived emotional experience! It is part of valued memories. Eating can genuinely bring happiness to our lives and be a vital part of connection with ourselves and others.
Diet culture seeks to take away, or at best, minimize, our positive emotional experience with food. Diet culture creates strict rules and attitudes about how and when we can experience food. It labels food that is inherently delicious (aka enjoyable) as an indulgence that must be earned through deprivation and “good behavior.” If you haven’t earned said “treat” then you are doing something naughty, or bad. Many diets don’t even allow for enjoyment at all. If the food you desire doesn’t fit in the diet prescription, it is off limits, period.
As a result, diet culture creates morality in an experience that is amoral. NEWS FLASH: EATING IS NOT A MORAL BEHAVIOR PEOPLE! But diet culture makes us believe negative stories about ourselves if we “indulge” or even want to indulge in food rich in taste and pleasure. We feel like we are “undisciplined” or “failures” or “weak” or “bad.”
This morality around food then creates fear. Fear of forbidden foods. Fear of ourselves and whether we believe we can control ourselves around food. Fear of when we might “slip.” Fear of social situations where we can’t control what food is available.
Diet culture then robs our lives of the richness of experience with food. It creates a belief system that food is only for fuel, when as I described before, food is so much more than that.
Diet culture doesn’t deserve our time, energy, money, or emotions. It only serves to destroy trust in our bodies, ourselves, and food. It further deprives us from the beauty found in including food as a source of joy, pleasure, celebration, connection, and comfort in our lives.
I want you think about positive memories you have with food. Like staying up late at night, laughing, and eating homemade brownies with spoons, straight out the pan with my college roommates. Visiting Mexico on an exchange program and learning the right way to eat a mango. My mom teaching me how to make her famous orange rolls. Drinking my first Lava Flow (a Pina Colada with added strawberry sauce), the first time I visited Hawaii. My first introduction to Fry Sauce from Burger Supreme, in Provo, Utah and realizing that Utah might not be such a bad place to call home, after all. Let’s remember that food is a vital part of our lived experience as humans. Let’s actively invite it to accentuate our joy, connection, and memories.