We love food at Spoon. It’s photographed, rated, shared, and described in such a seductive way that it becomes an actual obsession for many of us.
And in the life of a typical university student, we are constantly exposed to the idea that food is more than just fuel: it’s a way to share our lives with our friends over dinner parties, to socialize through posting delicious pics on our Instagrams, and even a way to make new friends (aka by joining Spoon and hanging out with your fellow foodies), it’s easy to forget that relationships to food are very personal experiences despite the massively social aspect it has for many millennials. How we eat isn’t just impacted by taste or nutritional value but also psychologically by our familial values, our cultures, and our pasts.
In a world where there is definitely no one-size-fits-all relationship to food, and everyone is extremely keen to share those food experiences, whether they be through posting favorite recipes, or advertising new restaurants, or Instagramming their new fad diets, why are people so hesitant to share their struggles, experiences, and truly honest opinions about how they do or wish they did eat?
It’s because there’s little that people judge more about others than food consumption and eating habits. We’re all guilty of doing this, consciously or unconsciously. It’s too easy to look at that woman you call “too skinny” next to you and assume she starves herself. It’s too easy to assume that guys with six packs eat whatever they want and don’t work for it, just because you saw him indulge in a quarter pounder once. It’s tempting to believe that anyone who is overweight eats tons of junk food and doesn’t have a gym membership. We’re educated well enough to know these things are untrue, yet, we’re still quick with our assumptions about peoples’ diets upon first glance.
But everyone has their story.
Most people who know me well are aware that as a waterpolo player and triathlete (and overall fitness nut) I love to exercise intensely and eat extremely healthy. For me, nutritious eating habits have been an important value my parents have raised me with and for this I am forever grateful. I don’t just eat healthy food because it’s good for me, but I truly adore the taste of veggies. Sometimes I think of myself as a human rabbit (or dog, maybe?).
But that’s only one part of my story.
Thankfully, I’ve never had a “typical” eating disorder, but disordered eating is a very vast spectrum. After learning of my allergy to gluten a few years ago in high school, food quickly became a control mechanism for me as I continued to lose a lot of the weight I had gained during my junior year. I traded bread for rice cakes, chips for apples, and popcorn for carrots. Slowly, I changed my diet and kept cutting out more and more types of food I deemed “unhealthy.”
By the time I arrived at university, this strict habit of eating healthy and losing weight became a truly unhealthy obsession to the point that where if I ate any junk food and didn’t exercise, I became increasingly anxious and self-deprecative, entering a cycle that influenced my mental health and self-esteem daily.
While I have improved in terms of my rigidity with my eating habits, I still fluctuate everyday between obsessively thinking about each food I am going to eat and trying to also enjoy, appreciate, and adapt my eating choices without binge eating.
This is the part of the story I usually choose not too share. Instead, I jealously look on at everyone around me who is able to indulge in Cadbury eggs, ice cream sundaes, Domino’s pizza, double cheeseburgers with large fries, pints upon pints of beer… All seemingly without a worry in the world.
But then I look just a little bit closer, listen just a little bit more, and hear beneath the surface that other people around me are really coping with their own food troubles, the ones they don’t feel comfortable sharing. It doesn’t matter if there’s no medical label of anorexia or bulimia or a typical food disorder, all our emotions and struggles that surround food–both the good and the bad–are so important and deserve to be listened to.
Of course we cannot remove judgement completely, as it is a unconscious human mechanism. But we can watch what we say and be more open to accepting the differing relationships to food people have around us. Because everyone has their story and you never truly know what someone’s real eating habits and relationships to food are like until you talk to them.
Hopefully, our open-mindedness can lead to creating a greater community dialogue about mental health and food in our Spoon community and beyond. One in which people are comfortable sharing these stories.
While I may still struggle everyday with my relationship to food, Spoon has helped me so much. It has helped me realize the importance of indulging in food, and loving it: of recognizing food and cuisine as a cultural and social mechanism. Most importantly, Spoon has reminded me how lucky we are here at University not only have enough to eat–but also to be able to indulge, discuss, and cook food together, and use it as way to bring people together and create a wonderful community around that.