There is nothing in the world that I despise more than bananas.
Okay, maybe bigotry. And the way my headphones never fail to tangle into excruciating knots no matter how carefully I place them into my backpack. But bananas are a close third.
Let me explain: I grew up in a family that believed that bananas were the solution to everything.
Constipated? Eat a banana.
Got the flu? Banana.
Spent the entire day at school with your shirt accidentally tucked into your underwear instead of into your pants, which you now realize is why kids were sniggering at you behind your back wherever you went? Here, have a banana, and everything will be okay (false).
My parents force-fed me a banana every day from the moment I was weaned off the bottle (though they probably put banana purée in there), and I hated every second of it. I’d wake up every morning, and there it was, placed innocently on the kitchen table beside a full mug of milk. I’d carefully slice off the mushy brown patches and take a hesitant nibble, sobbing internally (and sometimes even externally).
Once I was old enough to make my own decisions about my food choices—which in my family, meant the latter part of high school—the first thing I bid adieu to was the banana. I haven’t eaten one since, and I’m happier for it.
I can’t blame my family for being the way they are with bananas, though. It’s all part of their heritage: the way I see it, the Indian version of the Holy Trinity is the cow, the banana, and curd rice. Don’t eat the first, do eat the latter two, and you’re set for life. It doesn’t matter that Indian cuisine often contains unhealthy amounts of oil and butter; as long as you top it all off with a banana, you’re good.
Recently, I’ve come to realize that it’s not just Indian families that display this kind of hypocritical extremism. When it comes to food and general health, this problem arises in a variety of cultures around the world, and especially in the middle and upper classes of the United States.
The past decade has seen the rise of “superfoods” with hard-to-pronounce names like quinoa, kale, açaí, goji berries and chia seeds. These foods are all part of that idealized version of healthy living that has emerged in this culture: working out every day, doing yoga, going to spin class, avoiding carbs like the plague, and just generally maintaining a year-round “beach bod.”
The idea is that eating superfoods and doing a few sun salutations (or, in my family, eating a banana) cancels out anything unhealthy you may have done—like, say, playing six games of beer pong and then ordering a large cheese pizza all for yourself.
You may have woken up this morning with a killer headache and an empty pizza box balanced on your bikini-ready abs, but it’s okay, because you’re having a “green juice” for breakfast, and it’s loaded with antioxidants. Plus, you’re going to spin class later, so that means you can go out again tonight. And the cycle continues (spin pun intended).
The rise of social media has also had a hand in propagating this hypocrisy. As I scroll through my Instagram feed each day, I’ll inevitably see at least one colorful bowl of fruit and veggies, captioned, “Fueling up for the gym today! #healthyliving #glutenfree #vegan #paleo #plantbased #organic.”
Essentially, “hashtag I’m better than you because I’m taking care of my body and you’re currently stuffing a doughnut down your face hole.”
But then, scroll a little further, and I’ll find a picture of a monstrous stack of chocolate chip peanut butter Nutella pancakes covered in whipped cream and captioned “Treat yo’self.” And more often than not, it belongs to the same person who was boasting about her salad-consuming abilities only minutes before.
Later, she’ll post a picture of cheese fries along with a mirror picture of herself in her sports bra and Lululemon leggings, showing off her flat stomach and toned glutes. And it’s all thanks to her $200 pilates class and that one bowl of kale she ate last week.
If this is “treating your body like a temple,” I’m sure as hell glad I’m not religious.
With all of this extremism, it’s no wonder that the prevalence of diet-related diseases is on the rise. Our bodies are constantly on edge, trying frantically to figure out whether it should be bracing itself for an artery-clogging burger and a frozen Margarita or preparing for an intense workout while running solely on a handful of spinach leaves.
In my case, my body had to adjust to an abrupt banana restraining order after a steady sixteen-year relationship with the fruit. For a while, it went through a pretty intense breakup period.
The solution, in my opinion, isn’t signing up for more expensive exercise classes or cutting carbs. The solution isn’t going to come in a single package—eating a banana or a throwing some chia seeds in your oatmeal isn’t going to fix all your problems. Even superfoods have their limits.
As my great-grandmother always told me, “Live life in moderation.” Up until her death, she went for daily strolls with her family; she ate what she wanted, when she wanted; and she stopped when she was full. And she lived to be 102, so she must have been doing something right.
So let’s take prefixes like “super” and “extreme” out of our foods and our workouts, and let’s refocus on the fundamental goal underlying it all: happiness.