Have you ever heard someone say that they’ve been "good today" in relation to the foods they have been eating? What does it mean to be “good” with food and where did this idea come from? It is the diet culture that pervades us everyday that has taught us to assign morality to food and thus, assign morality to our relationship with food. At the end of the day, foods are not "good," foods are not "bad," food is just food.

What Is Diet Culture?

wine, alcohol
Wendy Sun

Diet culture originates from a money-making industry that uses a system of beliefs which worship thinness and equates it to health and moral virtue. Diet culture forwards the idea that we can only be happy by attaining a thin body—one that is overrepresented in the media. We have been taught that we are only "worthy" if we have this type of body. 

The belief that we should be trying to fit our body to the media's standards rather than allowing ourselves to be comfortable in the body we were born into has driven people to ignore their hunger cues. We neglect acting upon our hunger cues because it has been drilled in our heads that we should resist our instincts for the sake of thinness. However, health cannot be defined by a singular look or lifestyle.

Hunger Cues

Remember when you were little and you would just eat food when you were hungry? You would know exactly what you were craving and that's what you would eat—simple and easy. We were born with hunger instincts that are in place to benefit our body's efficiency. However, when we do not listen to our hunger cues in order to mold our lifestyle and our bodies to adhere to the media standards, we start a miserable, self-sabotaging cycle. This cycle is miserable, I promise.

The cycle goes like this: while you ignore your hunger, you grow hungrier and more frustrated. Your body enters starvation mode and eventually, you are so hungry that you eat way more than you normally would have if you just listened to your original instincts. You feel guilty about this and you might label this kind of eating as "bad." By shaming yourself for the way that you eat, you become your own worst enemy, and thus, this same cycle begins all over again. 

"Good" Eating vs. "Bad" Eating

candy, chocolate, chips, milk, sweet, goody
Jennifer Cao

As the diet culture slowly takes away all of our innate hunger instincts, our relationship with food gets worse and worse. We start saying things like, "I've been so good today," or, "I've eaten so badly today, I can't eat tomorrow." To a lot of people, "good eating" looks like a calorie deficit, or a day of only eating clean foods. "Bad eating" could be described as one letting themselves go, or eating "forbidden foods."

In high school, 60% of the foods I currently eat regularly used to be forbidden to me. I spent way too much time figuring out how to avoid these foods, so that I could feel good about my eating. However, the problem was that when I did allow myself to indulge in these forbidden foods, it was like I couldn't control myself. In my head I was telling myself, "eat as much as you can now; you're never eating these foods again." I had assigned morality to foods which inherently made me think differently about myself based on what I ate that day. At this point in my life, I was so unhappy with myself, and all for the "reward" of being one size smaller. No thank you. 

There is no such thing as good and bad food. Food is nourishment and it is our source of energy. The more we assign morality to food, the more we give in to diet culture. The more we give in to diet culture, the less we listen to our hunger cues. Finally, the less we listen to our hunger cues, the harder time we will have forming a positive relationship with food. Food is something that used to be so simple to us as kids, and it still can be if we can remember how to channel our hunger and our cravings. At the end of the day, food is just food.