America, as a nation, and females, as a species, are, quite frankly, obsessed with calories, and the idea of “weight loss” or “healthy” foods. Eating disorders are becoming all the more common in both genders, at all ages, with one of the youngest reported cases being a SIX-year-old girl.
In no way am I saying that this trend is the fault of the eating disorder sufferers—the condition has enough stigma associated with it—but rather the crazed society they were born into. In this society, instead of enjoying delicious, natural whole foods like nuts and organic butter and whole grains, our society chokes down artificially flavored and colored sugary chocolate “slimming shakes” with the promise that we are doing what is right for our health. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, it is estimated that 42% of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner. Not healthier, not better at sports, not able to do more pull-ups than their classmates—thinner. In spite of all the posters for the new MyPlate campaign going up in public schools, kids of all ages are scarfing Special K bars for lunch and sometimes forgoing foods altogether.
As both an ardent foodie and someone who has struggled with an unhealthy relationship with food in the past, this national distancing of people from natural, life-sustaining foods is simply heartbreaking. Instead of seeing healthy, nourishing whole foods—AND the calories and fats and carbs they contain!—for all they can do for us (um, they provide energy to go about your day and laugh and talk and smile and participate in sports, they’re muscle building, brain building, tasty, and life-sustaining), we flip our processed foods over to the Nutrition Facts label and treat it as a number. Fifty milligrams of sodium here, ten grams of fat there. Two hundred calories. Ugh.
I get SO PISSED OFF—actually, more like a piece of my heart shrivels up and dies—when I see someone, especially a young girl, squinting at the calorie content of a particular food that she likes and choosing to forgo it just because of that number. Throughout my struggles with disordered eating, I’ve realized that the calorie count is the least important number on a food product, especially one that is natural or healthy—if you are a label-reader, you want to look for an ingredient list free of things you can’t pronounce (monosodium glutamate and hydrogenated oil free), some fiber to keep you feeling fuller, and NUTRIENTS. Iron, Vitamin C, Vitamin A, calcium, oh my! Why can’t we focus on the things our food can do for our body and all the wonderful things it provides us with, rather than seeing it as a means of “putting on weight”?
Sorry for my little nutrition rant here. But I’ve seen enough of the black pit that is disordered eating, and recently someone I’m close to has, in my opinion, become too preoccupied with the calorie content of the foods she eats. I think that these caloric obsessions represent something deeper than a fear of gaining weight, but instead a deep mistrust of the self—-it took me an awful year to learn this, but your body WILL LET YOU KNOW when it needs more calories, and it WILL TELL YOU when to stop eating. If you eat mainly whole foods as well, there’s a pretty good chance you can determine whether your body needs more fat, carbohydrates, or protein on a particular day based on your cravings. Sometimes I want to scarf down eggs like a beast, sometimes I wanna thrust my head full-force into a peanut butter jar, and sometimes I JUST WANT A BAGEL, LIKE, NOW. Can we please allow our bodies to continue to guide us in the amazing way that they were meant to do? And stop treating the amazingness that is FOOD like a number that determines our self-worth?