America as a whole has developed a twisted "normal" view on food that couldn't be farther from the truth. I'm obviously not the first person to write about the obesity problem in this country, but the aspect of this "epidemic" that I rarely see anyone talk about is the belief that it's a problem to NOT want junk food.
If I had a nickel for every time I had to answer the question, "Are you dieting?" I could quit my job and still be able to afford my NYC rent. "I'm not on a diet, it's just how I eat..." Call me crazy, (which many people have), but I just simply enjoy fueling my body with healthy, clean foods. No junk, no preservatives, no chemicals, just FOOD.
I didn't always eat -- or think -- this way, but it's the current, and long-term, philosophy that I live by. And -- not trying to sound like a commercial or anything -- but I've really never felt better than I do now.
Growing up in suburban New Jersey to a single busy mother, dinner typically consisted of a large cheese pizza -- split with my brother -- followed by a slice (or three) of Entenmann's chocolate fudge cake. And then that same pre-packaged cake was polished off come breakfast time... I mean, how could my mom say no? Especially when I downed a large glass of healthy milk alongside my sugar-laden frosted chocolate square.
In addition to my less-than-stellar eating habits, I was blessed with a metabolism that could fuel a sports car. My girlfriends would occasionally talk about going to the gym with their moms, and my first response was always "WTF, we're 16... why are you going to the gym? You're not fat!" At that time however, I didn't understand the value of exercise. My nonchalant attitude seemed healthy on the surface, but in reality was extremely distorted. To me, exercise was solely for those wanting to lose weight and had nothing to do with a healthy lifestyle, but I guess that mentality was in part thanks to my naturally small frame.
Fast forward to my freshman year of college when I moved to Manhattan and started interning in the fashion industry. Gorgeous models were everywhere, running offices and the streets of the city. One thing led to another and I stopped eating. Suddenly, my distorted view on food and body image twisted in the complete opposite direction. I started to hate my body and everything that I put in it. At the same time, I didn't understand how to properly fuel my body with nutritious foods and instead ate 200 calories of frozen yogurt for breakfast and 50-calorie chicken broth for dinner. I rarely ate more than 300 calories a day and quickly dropped from 120 pounds to 90.
Once I recovered from my anorexia and discovered a healthy balance with food and exercise, everyone around me couldn't hold back their judgment. I was eating, yes. But not the foods that people thought I should be eating as a recovered anorexic. The fact that I chose to eat a piece of grilled chicken with spinach and sweet potato instead of a greasy cheeseburger with a side of fries was suddenly cause for concern. It was as if the healthier the food on my plate was, the sicker my mind must have been. People around me began to think I was choosing foods because I wanted to be skinny, not because it was the healthy option.
We are so intensely obsessed with what others are doing, down to the simplest detail that we've created stigmas against the most basic human physiological need: the act of eating. We judge others for eating healthy food just as much as for eating junk food. Food is no longer just food, but a lifestyle.
I've fallen prey to both sides of the spectrum. Back in middle school for example, when the same friends who expressed interest in the gym would refuse a French fry from my plate, I had to comment. And, in the same vain that I commented on their gym-going habits at 16. But after going on the roller coaster ride of an eating disorder, I realize how wrong it was to express my opinions aloud to my friends. Eating and exercising is a personal choice that should be treated as such: personal.
Yet these issues aren't personal in our society. I feel uncomfortable, even guilty, when my friend orders the truffle mac 'n' cheese while I decide on the salad. Where is this guilt coming from? Why is there a stereotype to each food? Why is it a problem to want something healthy?
I certainly know that my choice is my own, but the act of eating is social and thus the choices we make have become social topics. What upsets me the most however, is the fact that most people believe eating healthy translates to being uptight and/or mentally sick is preposterous. Of course I'll get a slice of pizza, eat a cupcake or order the side of fries every so often -- it's called moderation -- but my eating habits 80 percent of the time are healthy, and I'm not about to apologize for that.
If only everyone else could realize that healthy meals aren't a choice of someone who has a bad relationship with food, then maybe more people will also decide on the salad from time to time. But until then I'll take your judgement and raise a glass to "dieting."
If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.
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