[Possible Trigger Warning– I’ll be discussing relationships with food, very cursorily and probably superficially.]
It was Staff Appreciation Week at my office last week, and I can’t lie: I generally feel super-appreciated each year. Last year they hosted a cupcake-decorating class (still the best frosting job I’ve ever managed); this year they kicked things off with an in-office visit from Coldstone Creamery. Sugar and Circuses, that’s the Firm’s motto.
Did I deliberately eat a small but healthy lunch, the better to save room for afternoon deliciousness? Did I zoom downstairs to the conference room as soon as I got an email with “ice cream” in the subject line? Did I ask for a cup with pretty much everything in it, even though the flavors did not, how should we say, “go together”? Did I savor every over-the-top, sweet, delicious, ridiculous bite? DUH.
DID PRACTICALLY EVERY SINGLE OTHER STAFF MEMBER TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE FREE ICE CREAM TO BITCH ABOUT CALORIES, SUGAR, FAT, AND DAIRY? Of course they effing did.
Ohhh, I got mad. In two minutes I decided that all of my co-workers were Food Police Minions of Awful. Did they not realize that situations like this, of fun treats laden with guilt and judgment, led to terrible, horrible, no-good very bad messed up feelings about food and our bodies? I was so angry, standing there, eating my ice cream, not saying anything in response to the “I’m trying to be good” and “Sugar is really just poison” and “I’m so fat, I’ll have to go the gym for longer” and “If only they’d had sorbet” flying around me. I was all set to yell and scream about people who were so self-centered they decided to show up to something very clearly called an Ice Cream Social in order to sing their own praises while simultaneously making themselves and everyone else around them feel bad about their life choices. Man, I was gonna show it to them. I was gonna BLOG THEM A NEW ONE.
And then, while I was merrily criticizing the Most Annoying Co-Worker (the most martyred martyr of them all, she who told us how bad the ice cream we were enjoying was and how she was trying to be “a good girl” and who plaintively whined “is there sorbet?”), I realized A) I was being an insensitive asshole, and B) judgment goes both ways. I wanted to scream “Will y’all just shut up and eat the freaking ice cream and chill out already?” It’s just not that simple.
Look, I understand food preferences and aversions very, very well. I am deeply sympathetic to people who have food allergies. If I was allergic to chocolate or dairy I would be the saddest, mopiest person ever, yet somehow there are people who carry on bravely, without Friend Ice Cream by their side. I also absolutely salute the Most Annoying Co-Worker for making her own choices and for wanting to take care of her body. I totally think, despite my username and raison d’être, that I could do with a little less sugar in my diet. I make a point of trying to include leafy vegetables, fruit, and protein in my meals. Healthy choices get a huge seal of approval from me. I CANNOT sign off, however, on her 1) phrasing food choices in terms of “I’m good” or “I’m bad” and 2) attending an event called an “Ice Cream Social,” only to shame anyone (read: everyone) else who indulged. I may not have liked it, but I needed to step back and acknowledge whence cometh the Crazy.
It’s not really news that our relationship with food is messed up. I get that we’re bombarded with confounding, conflicting messages every day about industrial farming, healthy fat, cholesterol, wheat bellies, poisonous sugar, 10 quick tips to a flatter belly, juice cleanses, eating everything in moderation, cutting out processed foods, dark chocolate’s being good for us, eating seasonally, paleo/gluten-free/dairy-free diets, ice cream will help you over that breakup, wine is good, wine is bad, our blood type can determine our diet! etc., etc. etc. Is it really any wonder if we feel overwhelmed, or discouraged, or frustrated, and that sometimes we don’t react well to, you know, food? Of course it isn’t. It can be hard to sort out the sound advice from the silly advice, and ultimately, much like bras and bra fitting, the best solution is going to vary wildly from individual to individual. So when faced with a big empty cup and two strapping gentlemen waiting to fill it with ice cream and cookies, our first reactions are often panic, instead of delight.
Sure, Coldstone Creamery’s offerings aren’t healthy. We all know this. But do we eat ginormous helpings of ice cream crammed full of cookies and candy every day of the week? We do not. I think the last time I had Coldstone was . . . last year, during Staff Appreciation Week. So yeah, I knew exactly what I was eating. And I just ate it. It was delicious, it was a once-in-a-blue-moon treat, and I refuse to feel badly about it. You guys, don’t apologize for showing up to an event you were invited to. Don’t feel the need to tell us how many extra crunches you’re going to do tonight. It’s really okay. You weren’t invited here as some sort of sting operation to catch you in the Act of Eating Sugar. You were invited here as a thank you. It’s just a treat You can eat it. You can abstain. It’s your choice, it’s really not a big deal, and if someone makes it a big deal, that’s literally their problem, not yours.
I’m not sure when and why other people’s food choices became acceptable social conversation. It’s like how it’s acceptable to discuss, in terms of virtue, the size of pregnant women’s bellies (ugh, come on, it’s NEVER acceptable). Just as I know that other people have dangerous food allergies, or choose for a variety of reasons to abstain from consuming animal products, so too do I know that other people choose to abstain from certain foods for a variety of health or other personal reasons. While my gut reaction last week was to scream “just eat the freaking ice cream!”, this week I’m feeling a little calmer and, I hope, a little more understanding. So I’ll say this:
Eat what you want. If someone questions you, either for indulging or for abstaining, just say “it’s delicious!” OR “eh, I don’t really want any.” If someone says “ooooh, you’re so good,” “tsk, tsk, you’ll have to work hard to burn that off,” “aw, come on, you don’t need to lose weight,” “oh stop it, just eat it!”, “don’t you WANT some,” etc., just demur. Say “okay” if they praise you and “no thank you” if they press you. If they continue to comment, just say “if you don’t mind, I’d rather change the subject.” Then change the subject. Having conflicting feelings about certain foods is natural in this day and age, but someone who continues to comment on and analyze your choices is straight up rude and insensitive. You do you.
But seriously, if you tell me how many calories there are in anything I’m eating, our friendship is dead.
WideCurvesApril 30, 2013 at 2:02 pm (10 years ago)
As someone with Celiac Disease I’m quite accustomed to opting out of eating at social events…you do learn what to say “no thanks” and not to say “I’m sorry, but I could have had that ice cream if the server wouldn’t have dipped that cross contaminated scoop from the cookie dough into the vanilla.”
With a dx like Celiac, you do learn that social events are for being social – enjoying each others’ company. Yes, people bitch and whine about calories, fat, etc. – I join in from time to time. I just smile and try to keep the comments like “if that’s all I have to worry about in my food choices, I’m thrilled” to myself – because you’re quite right – no one wants to hear it and I don’t want to talk about it.
As a society, yes, our relationship with food is a bit messed up. I won’t get into my personal philosophy – but I could summarize by saying every person’s health challenges are different. I think there’s an incredible amount of guilting/shaming wrapped up in food, which is completely unnecessary. Food is GOOD, food is FUN.
PS – I shove fatty, calorie ridden ice cream down my throat daily and I LOVE it. Was thinking I need to make salt and pepper ice cream since this week it is in the high 90’s!
SweetsApril 30, 2013 at 2:06 pm (10 years ago)
OH MY. Um, can I have that recipe please? Because I’ve never heard of such a thing, and now I can’t live without knowing about it. I’m really sorry that you have dietary struggles of your own, but it sounds like you have a totally amazing attitude towards it– I aspire to handle tricky food situations with your grace, rather than, you know, internal glowering. 🙂
WideCurvesApril 30, 2013 at 2:13 pm (10 years ago)
I will definitely send it/post it after I play with it. I had some at a local restaurant and literally squealed. It’s like a spicy caramel…go figure.
Glower away. I used to. My perspective is a little skewed…
SweetsApril 30, 2013 at 2:13 pm (10 years ago)
Yay! It sounds AMAZING. Can’t wait to try it!
thelingerielesbianApril 30, 2013 at 2:11 pm (10 years ago)
I HATE THAT. Arrgh, food is food. Eating is not a virtue or a vice and it’s none of anyone’s damn business. The weight that food (eaten by women) has upon it makes it almost impossible to enjoy anything! And eating food as a ‘screw you’ to the world isn’t healthy either. I am not coherent because it makes me have so many feelings.
SweetsApril 30, 2013 at 2:13 pm (10 years ago)
I hate it too. There is no reason women should fear value judgments every time they have a meal or a snack. Raginess doesn’t really bode well for coherence, hence why it took me a week to hammer out this post.
Holly JacksonApril 30, 2013 at 2:54 pm (10 years ago)
I have nothing much to say except that last week I had sesame seed ice cream for the first time and a) thought of you and b) now must try to recreate it because it was amazing.
SweetsApril 30, 2013 at 3:21 pm (10 years ago)
I support you in this endeavor. That sounds amazing.
WindieApril 30, 2013 at 3:42 pm (10 years ago)
I agree with everything! Though this lead my brain off on a tangent so I’m gonna’ talk about that. I’m a vegetarian, and kinda transitioning to vegan (I grocery shop animal product free, still eat dairy/eggs sometimes when I order food or go out). My fiancee is a vegetarian, and many of my friends are vegetarian/vegan/just conscious of animal rights and stuff. I’m pretty sheltered by people who both understand my choices, and know it’s inappropriate to badger people about their life choices (I never, ever badger meat eaters. Not my place). So when I’m at an informal social gathering and I decline eating some food because it’s one of the many things I choose not to eat, I just get these looks like “um… just eat it.” This then forces me to explain that I CHOOSE not to eat it, that I’m a vegetarian, etc, then having to explain WHY and what the hell I eat for protein and stuff because clearly there’s nothing beyond animal product. And of course I’m skinny, so some of the more audacious people even get the impression that I’m starving myself with my diet. It is honestly the most tiring thing. I have one family member who makes me explain my vegetarianism to him every time I see him, and then he tries to convince me that it’s pointless to be a vegetarian. People are so concerned with our eating habits, it’s ridiculous.
That… was a nice rant. That felt good haha.
SweetsApril 30, 2013 at 3:49 pm (10 years ago)
Yay! Rant away! It baffles me that someone would question/judge someone else’s food choices. I have a cousin who’s vegan (and an AMAZING cook, so I love going to her house), and every time we have a family gathering at my dad’s he cannot figure it out. Bless him, he offers her whatever meat we’re having, suggests she just try it, and then offers her mashed potatoes smothered in cheese. In his case I think it’s more that he just doesn’t understand what “vegan” means, but for people who really ask you to give a dissertation defending your dietary choices . . . yeeesh. Inappropriate, anti-social, and straight-up rude.
WideCurvesApril 30, 2013 at 4:07 pm (10 years ago)
In the past I have been one of those “eyebrows up, are you sure you don’t want some, shake my head” kind of people. I’ve never told someone they’re “wrong”…but I have exhibited a state of surprise when a person is confronted with a piece of excellent meat and passes.
Obviously, I’m an omnivore.
I think the questions and urging to “just try” comes from two places: 1) No one but you fully understands your choices and try as you may, you’ll never be able to explain them in a way that fully conveys your conviction. 2) Most hosts/hostesses want you to have an enjoyable time – and our society has taught us that eating food is what makes you happy.
I would still be clueless about how to feed a Vegan in my house…and I’ve been around the block on special diets! I admit this because I probably know, to the most minute detail, what is in each and every item in my kitchen (thanks Celiac Disease!).
I do understand how you feel to have to explain yourself. Believe me, it gets old. I’ve learned to just change the subject. Ask the questioner about him/herself. It works.
Erica of A Sophisticated PairApril 30, 2013 at 5:48 pm (10 years ago)
I firmly believe in the “Eat what makes you happy” mantra and never try to shame or encourage people to eat/not eat certain things. However, I think when people get together and start talking about calories/meals in that way, it’s almost passive aggressive to me. Seeing as how my lactose problem has not resolved itself, I could not partake in an ice cream social, but that wouldn’t stop me from going down to talk with my coworkers. When I could partake, I look at occasions like that as special, so I don’t stress over the extra calories. Life’s too short not to enjoy the things you love!
SweetsApril 30, 2013 at 7:28 pm (10 years ago)
It’s hard for me to ignore the passive aggression, too. I know it probably has more to do with how the commenter feels about herself than about me, but it’s no less unpleasant. It’s also a social crutch, but fortunately if we were coworkers we’d have other subjects to talk about 🙂
Fussy BustyMay 2, 2013 at 11:04 am (10 years ago)
Erica; I don’t know how serious your lactose issues are…..but I still eat gobs of ice cream despite it. And it’s awesome.
Erica of A Sophisticated PairMay 2, 2013 at 11:17 am (10 years ago)
Nicole, my lactose problem started off on the mild side, but it seemed to escalate. In order to have a low amount of cheese on food, I need to take three pills. A moderate amount? Four! I’ve given up pizza altogether because unless I only want to eat one slice (who does that???), it’s too painful later. I haven’t tried ice cream, so maybe I shouldn’t rule it out entirely yet. Even if it is bad, there’s a local dairy about eight miles from my house that makes homemade ice cream, and I have all intentions of going there. Pain schmain, we’re talking about apple pie ice cream!
Fussy BustyMay 2, 2013 at 11:19 am (10 years ago)
Have you gone to the doctor about it? If you’ve never had a serious problem with lactose before and it suddenly came up and is this severe, there might be something else going on.
I trust your sensibilities, though. Just worried!
And yum. Apple pie ice cream. I’m there 🙂
(p.s. no one ever eats one slice).
sophisticatedpairMay 2, 2013 at 11:39 am (10 years ago)
After WebMDing myself (and then regretting it!), I consulted a real doctor, and he told me it’s quite common for people to stop producing the lactase enzyme as they get older although the degree varies. It is rare to have it happen suddenly, but given my past history (I actually became lactose intolerant a few months after being born, another rarity), he said it wasn’t enough to worry over, especially since I’m in top shape otherwise. He also commented that more than likely it had happened in degrees, but the problem wasn’t severe enough to put the pieces together. This makes sense because I had been suffering from stomach problems off an on since Thanksgiving. Cheese seems to be the worst offender for me.
And yes, apple pie ice cream is friggin’ amazing. Real milk from a dairy farm is unlike anything you can ever imagine, and ice cream made from it? *swoon*
SweetsMay 2, 2013 at 11:21 am (10 years ago)
APPLE PIE ICE CREAM? Challenge accepted!
sophieMay 1, 2013 at 6:43 am (10 years ago)
If anyone tells me ANYTHING about the calories I’m eating I go “I had anorexia. I eat every freakin bite of ice cream and chocolate I want to.” They usually shut their mouths after that 😀
SweetsMay 1, 2013 at 8:25 am (10 years ago)
As well they should!
WideCurvesMay 1, 2013 at 2:54 pm (10 years ago)
I thought of your post when I saw this.
SweetsMay 1, 2013 at 3:44 pm (10 years ago)
Fussy BustyMay 2, 2013 at 11:07 am (10 years ago)
Let me share that I had a nerd moment when I saw that link because
A) The lady is in my city
B) I will hopefully have the same credentials as her in 3 years with my new MS program 😀
Done. Let me write a relevant comment now.
DawnMay 2, 2013 at 12:15 pm (10 years ago)
Fussy, hit me up if you ever want to talk credentials and stuff or whine about school and we could do it over ice cream. I love your post and was so happy to find this link in my stats so I could come read it. 🙂
Fussy BustyMay 2, 2013 at 11:14 am (10 years ago)
As someone who is clearly classified as medically obese, I’ve really struggled with my relationship with food.
My husband is a great supporter, but he is one of those people that has to do everything in black and white. So, if he’s going to work to lose weight, it has to be all or nothing. Meaning that there will be NO SNACK FOOD IN THE HOUSE EVER!!!! ONLY HEALTHY FOODS!!!! AHHHH!!!!!
And then I get frustrated because sometimes I just want some tacos. Or nachos. Or ice cream. Or chips. Delicious chips. And I feel like a villain if I stop and buy some because WE ARE EATING HEALTHY!!!! And then it’s like…..if we have one “bad” thing, we’re completely “off the wagon” and he goes into this spiral of “Well, I’ve already messed up, I’m just going to eat a bunch of terrible food forever.”
Yeah. Our relationship with food is really fucked up.
I’ve worked hard the last three years to really understand food and my emotional and physical connection to it. There are foods that really make me feel good, and there are foods that don’t. I try to keep a balance of both. And I try to make sure that I’m not denying myself of the things that I want, just eating them in moderation. Which is really important to me. I don’t ever want to be on a “diet” I just want to be mindful of what I am shoving into my mouth. Because, for the longest time, I wasn’t paying attention at all…..and I got up to about 315 pounds with high blood pressure. Which is not somewhere that I want to be again.
People that condemn your food choices are irritating and aggravating. I have a co-worker that gives me crap EVERY SINGLE DAY when I pull out my little 8 oz carton of DELICIOUS DARK CHOCOLATE ALMOND MILK THAT IS SO SINFUL. She says “Ewwww….how can you drink that? What the hell is that?”…….and every day I have to explain to her that I am lactose intolerant and I don’t absorb calcium well because of my thyroid, so the almond milk is a great way for me to get the same nutrition….And oh….did I mention it tastes like MELTED CHOCOLATE ICE CREAM?! She also nitpicks at me about my hummus and crackers addiction.
After about a month of her badgering me, I’ve literally told her to shut the hell up a few times. There’s also usually the “Well, I’m glad it’s my lunch then because *I* like it.”
SweetsMay 2, 2013 at 11:20 am (10 years ago)
UM. WHUT. She’s giving you grief over HUMMUS?! I mean, thankfully we can all step back and recognize that she’s got some wicked-bad problems in her own relationship with food, but I’ll just say that it sounds like you’re being far, far more polite than I’d be in your situation. Also, OMG, none of her busines!!
I sympathize with your (and your husband’s) food journeys. Sometimes I think it’s weird how deeply entwined food, thoughts, and emotions can be, but nonetheless it’s true. I know you’ve been working really hard to find a good balance recently, and I hope things just keep getting better. I also really want some dark chocolate almond milk. Immediately.
WideCurvesMay 2, 2013 at 1:03 pm (10 years ago)
So far my husband hasn’t tossed anything out (he does want to live…) but he does give me the stink eye if I go on a sugar binge (because we know how that ends…).
I get the weird looks about my GF food. I don’t eat much processed GF food except when I have to (traveling, running around where I need a shelf stable snack)…but sometimes it elicits some strange remarks. Quite frankly, I don’t blame people. GF bread “substitute” stuff is generally nasty, IMO, and I only eat it when I have to. Funnier than that is when I slap hands to keep them from contaminating my food (I used to be a free sharer but not anymore!).
And I would probably turn three shades of green at the sight of milk substitutes – let’s just say I went 9 months soy free and dairy free and mostly nut free when my son was nursing, and I haven’t gotten over it yet. Sort of the equivalent of remembering getting sick on tequila and not being able to smell it without gagging – for the rest of your life??? I would have to leave the room if I got a strong whif of any milk substitute (I’m trying to get over this, I promise).
SweetsMay 3, 2013 at 2:06 pm (10 years ago)
Report: Dark Chocolate Almond Milk is incredible. Drinking it at my desk as we speak.
WindieMay 3, 2013 at 3:25 pm (10 years ago)
How could someone possibly nitpick hummus of all things? Some people…
mokeshMay 3, 2013 at 1:20 pm (10 years ago)
I’ve been thinking about this issue a lot since I read the post two days ago, because it’s something that bothers me but I’d never seen someone write about it before.
It’s taken me years to accept that my body is what it is, that I have a big appetite, and that I’m not willing to sacrifice the foods that I love for a chance at a flatter stomach, thinner upper arms, or thighs that don’t stick out. But that acceptance is fragile, and every time someone comments, directly or indirectly, on what I’m eating, they make me doubt myself.
We eat a lot of cake at work: birthdays, holidays, and farewells are all excuses for cake (or, sometimes, ice-cream). Most people will show up even if they don’t intend to eat, in order to congratulate the birthday boy/girl or say goodbye to a coworker who is leaving. There are various reasons for people to abstain (medical issues, keeping kosher, dieting) and most of them don’t make an issue of it. “No thanks, I’m on a diet” is a perfectly acceptable response to an offer of cake, and usually no one will try to push any further.
However, sometimes someone will start up the kind of discourse you mentioned in your post. “I don’t eat that kind of thing” in a tone of moral superiority is popular, as well as speculations on just how much butter/ sugar / insert fatty ingredient here the cake contains. The one that really drives me crazy is “I wish I could afford to eat that”, or even worse “you’re so lucky you can afford to eat that”, usually from someone who is much thinner than me (and never, ever from someone who is fatter). This not only interferes with my enjoyment, it also causes me to feel bad about myself, and it makes me feel the need to justify myself to them with the likes of “oh, it’s only because I’m going running this evening” or other lame excuses.
Of course this kind of thing happens outside work, as well. One very thin cousin is always going on about how she “can’t eat this” or “definitely shouldn’t eat that”. My mother constantly refers to eating in terms of “being good” and “being bad”.
I think many of the people who make these comments are just voicing their own insecurities. But I’m certain that at least some of them are doing it to make themselves feel better, superior to those who choose to indulge.
This topic makes me think of something that happened a few weeks ago, when I met two of my best friends for breakfast, one of whom shares my appetite. In the midst of sharing a breakfast that included eggs and salads, as well as sweet and savoury pastries, I told her: “I love eating with you, because of all my friends you’re the only one who, like me, will go straight for the pastries, so I know I won’t feel guilty”. I’m sharing that story because, as a candid, on the fly remark, I think it reflects how deeply the attitudes of those around me to their food can affect my own attitude to my food and my body. I believe this is true of many of us.
You had the selflessness to realize that your coworker’s comments could be coming from a place of insecurity, that all of us have body issues that we deal with in different ways. I only wish she had been capable of returning the favour.
SweetsMay 3, 2013 at 2:13 pm (10 years ago)
Thank you so much for sharing your story. It’s one that resonates with so many people, and it’s so trying. I’m reminded reading it about something I read in a now-forgotten book that discussed how applying judgment and value to food, severely restricting (barring medical diagnoses and ehtical concerns, of course), and finding virtue in abstaining were all aspects of gluttony. It’s a moral superiority that takes over and forces us to lose perspective, both on the basic, simple pleasures that food can give us, as well as on the people around us who want to, you know, live in love and harmony. The passive-aggressive comments are at best unthinking and at worst deeply, brutally unkind. I’m so glad you have your breakfast friend! I take so much joy and pleasure in sharing good food with good people, and it really makes up for all the bad comments 🙂