Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Opinion: Food Is Not The Enemy

Food is a funny thing. I grew up surrounded by it because my family are from hospitality and I am still surrounded by it because my dad is a Master Chef of Great Britain and our businesses supply catering and hospitality. I'm lucky to have never been an especially picky eater in terms of what I do and don't like, but I don't always get on with food as well as I'd like. Food is like the toxic best friend I had when I was 14, and it's all to easy to think that food was the problem, when actually it's all down to how we view it.

 photo fOOD IS NOT YOUR ENEMY_zpstle9cqvo.jpg

As an adult, I'd like to think I have a bit more control over both my friends (needless to say that particularly toxic friend is no longer a part of my life) and my relationship with food. And I suppose I do. Eating in a way that benefits my body has been necessitated by becoming more active, not least marathon training last year. Even at the present level of training (4-6 sessions of running & weights per week), if I don't eat the right things or I don't eat enough, the pretty instant result is that I spend several days feeling rough as hell- far worse than any hangover I've ever endured (given that I'm partial to drink or 3, I've had my share of those too), and it's endlessly frustrating to feel like I'm making progress with whatever training I happen to be throwing myself into, only to face setbacks that are entirely my own fault.

BREAD! The horror. Yes, I ate it.

But getting to grips with something that can have such drastic effects on us- our mood, shape, size, confidence, religion, performance, medical conditions, energy levels (the list goes on...) is tough, especially in a society that almost stigmatises eating- social media accounts ridiculing women eating on public transport, a constant focus on what we should or shouldn't be eating and endless diatribe as to what constitutes healthy, lean, clean, fit or anything else. And these labels are the thing that really set me thinking on how we view food as the enemy, in particular one turn of phrase that has the ability to make or break our relationship with what we put in our mouths, and how we view ourselves and others.

Clean eating

There is psychology behind the 'contamination' of things because we associate them with impurity or something 'dirty'. It feeds into our feelings of disgust, which is a survival instinct- it helps us to avoid decaying foods or things that might be dangerous if we eat them like toxins. But what happens when we associate certain foods as clean, and others as dirty? We start to reject those dirty foods and the idea of clean and dirty also becomes a problem of morality and how we feel about the food, and in turn, other people too. If food isn't 'clean' then it's not pure or good, therefore we make the leap to it being bad, or dirty (how many times have you heard 'a dirty great big *insert food*), but worse still, what about the people eating it? Their food, their unclean food, their impure food, them and us. And so we start to associate the people who eat these nasty things with the same feelings. Us humans, really delightful beings!

Epic post 10mile run brunch- bacon, egg & avocado sandwich on my dad's awesome bread.
You can call this dirty if you want, I call it a recovery sandwich!

Food is not clean or dirty. Some foods have greater nutrition than others (damn you haribo and your tasty, tasty but oh so empty sugar calories) and some foods have different properties or are higher or lower in certain groups of nutrients, but a kale leaf is no cleaner than the baked potato I intend to eat for dinner- one has more carbs- which I will need after completing my 4th fitness session in 3 days (2 of which were sprint training) and one is good for fibre content and vitamins. Kale (I actually prefer spinach, but whatever) will go very nicely with my potato, dressed in lemon juice and maybe with some added black pepper. But it's not better or worse, cleaner or dirtier, more or less pure than the potato. It's just different. And by labelling something as clean, or something as not clean, you are instantly making it something to dear or be ashamed of, something to bad, or wrong. You might even be deciding there's a whole group of potato eating people  out there that you already don't like, despite not knowing them, because of their nasty potatoes. And heaven help us, those who put *gasp* butter AND cheese on our baked potato!

Tonight, we mostly ate a LOT of cheese.

Food is not your enemy, don't make it that way by giving it unnecessary labels. Go do some research on which nutrient groups are best eaten when- and by research, I don't mean pinning a few unqualified recipe book authors to a new board, Challenge yourself to understand what goes into your food. Take a second to remember that healthy bodies (which, in case you missed the memo, come in all shapes, sizes, genders, sexualities, races, religions, nationalities and cultures) are fuelled by food, not fresh air and Instagram.

Apparently lizards like apples.

And if you're interested in a bit more serious reading on the psychology of food and 'clean eating, check out this article Why 'clean eating' is bad for you' it's by far the best I've read on this subject since stumbling across a TV news item last year that made me step back and think about how we talk about food. In particular the author discusses the emotional attachment people give food when influencing our decisions on it, which is fascinating.

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