By Tove K. Danovich
Is anyone's relationship to food "normal"? Some people are obsessed with eating healthy food, others can't find enough or are relegated to a life of McDonald's. Too many of us are so busy that we forget to eat. We have eating disorders that stop us from eating at all or make us eat too much. We diet in every combination of food and calories. We weigh too much or too little. We even eat a food replacer called Soylent.
Then there are the weird habits -- late-night snacking or an extreme dislike of certain foods. What if we hate vegetables or bread? What about allergies? When you get right down to it, even the healthiest eaters among us are probably doing something that another person would think of as strange. Yet unless we're overweight or eating disordered, we rarely talk about our personal relationships to food. If you look good on the outside, what's the point of worrying what you put into your stomach?
Apparently a lot. When I was in high school, a little blog called PostSecret gained popularity. People would put a secret on a postcard and send it to the owner of the blog who would post them for the world to see. Of course, they were anonymous. You never really knew how many of them were true and which ones might simply be made up. But there was something about getting to see the thoughts we usually keep private that was an endless fascination. Many of the secrets were about affairs, some about childhood traumas, others about small pranks or proud moments. A lot of them fell into that category of "self-image." Whether it was about the size of someone's nose, waist, or whether someone they liked liked them, these secrets filled the site.
Though technology has advanced, our secrets are pretty much same. Now we have sites like Leak which allows you to send an anonymous message to anyone's email. More in the PostSecret-vein are Secret, a social-networking site for hidden thoughts, and Whisper, an open-community of publicly anonymous confessions. The Huffington Post recently rounded up body-image confessions women posted to Whisper. (Let's ignore the fact that, being anonymous, there's no way to actually know if these secrets came from women or men.)
The secrets are sad and lonely. Many talk about not wanting to eat too much in front of dates or boyfriends. Others talk about how they "hate eating" though they "love food". Though I spend most of my time thinking about what we feed ourselves, I often forget that it's important to note how we eat too. And it's not that eating disorders or dieting aren't things people talk about, but by always focusing our attention on how women feel about food or obese children or anorexic teens, we miss the fact that none of us has a totally normal relationship with food. There is no normal when it comes to what we eat.
And secret sharing is a great tool for keeping that in mind. Because it's anonymous, we can't look at the people behind the thought and lump them into a category:
"You're a woman, of course you would say that."
"Don't eat so much junk food."
"You wouldn't so feel bad if you just ate something."
"But men don't have eating disorders."
"You probably just need more exercise."
Somehow, humans have turned the biological process of feeding ourselves into a frenzy of second-guesses. And it's time we started looking at the weird ways that all of us humans approach the average meal. Because eating nothing but ramen is just as weird as not eating before a date. Not being able to cook for yourself is not "better than" indulging too often in ice cream. Why can't we just find things we like and eat them?
Of course, this doesn't negate the fact that some weird eating habits are better for our bodies than others. Or that what we eat can have negative effects -- inside and out. But that's not something to feel guilty about. It shouldn't be a secret. We shouldn't feel like only people who look like us would understand. Thin people are not always healthier than overweight ones. Men do not have better relationships with food than women. Unfortunately, these food secrets come from people of all genders, shapes, and incomes. The sooner we accept this, the sooner we can be true to ourselves and our appetites.
If we stopped shaming ourselves, treating the way we eat as a dirty secret, it's possible that a piece of cake could just be dessert in our stomachs. Everything else is in our heads.
This article was published first on Food Politic.