A Relationship with Food

build her a cake

Eating: A Manifesto on RookieMag.com got me thinking. (Yes, I know that site is aimed at teenage girls, but it is feminist, and I love that there is something feminist out there for young women.)

What is it with women and food? Why do so many women have such complex feelings about food – guilt, shame, reward, indulgence.

Last night at dinner, I asked my husband if he would say that he has a “relationship” with food. He looked at me like I was crazy.

I previously worked in an office with a lot of women. I would hear things like “oh you’re so skinny!” “you’ve lost so much weight!” “ohhh look at what you’re eating, you’re being so good!”

Now, my usual lunch companions for the past few months have been men. And guess what? They never passive-aggressively comment on what I eat. I’ll down an entire burrito bowl in front of them and they don’t notice because they are doing the same thing … and frankly, they don’t care about what I’m eating, just what they are eating. And you know what? It is so damn refreshing. 

And I love burrito bowls

The idea that women have a relationship with food is not a new one (if you read any feminist blogs/magazines, or have seen any food ad aimed at women done in the past … 20 years?) How many times do you see commercials, print ads, scenes from movies or TV shows in which a woman feels guilty about what she eats or wants to eat? How often do we make jokes about women eating their feelings? Had a bad day? Have some chocolate. Or treat food like it is a reward? Have you been “good” all week? Did you have a good workout? Reward yourself with a brownie. 

How often does my husband feel guilty about something he’s eaten? Other than possible food poisoning years ago, my guess is never.

This isn’t a feminist blog (although it should be obvious that I identify as feminist), but it is a running blog, so I’ll share my thoughts on something that does bother me a little bit.

“I run so I can eat!” or “I run so I can eat [cupcakes, cookies, beer, wine, insert your “bad” food of choice here].”

I’m not going to pretend that I eat some totally clean and healthy diet. Because I don’t. And I don’t want to.

But this isn’t about healthy eating. This is about healthy attitudes when it comes to eating.

Outside of my mindset of “I eat to run,” I try to keep my food choices and my exercise separate. Or, I try not to use my exercise as an excuse to eat.

I eat a lot because I run a lot. You can’t survive running miles and miles for hours and hours without fueling up. And yes, if I’m going to be fueling, I’m going to pick things that taste good. For example, currently my pre-race/long run meal of choice is chicken fajitas, because I love Mexican food.

But I try to think of it as “I eat to run” – I eat to fuel myself – instead of “I run to eat” – I run a lot so I can eat whatever I want, or I run to reward myself with food.

I run so I can be healthy. I have two healthy legs, two healthy lungs, and a healthy heart, and I don’t ever want to take them for granted. But more than that, I run because I like the challenge of physically pushing myself as hard as I can. I want to find my limits, and discover how far I can push them.

And I have to eat a lot to do that. Which I’ll admit is a nice perk. Food tastes good.

But if I want a cupcake? Or a beer? I’m going to have it. Not because I “earned” it. Or because I work [out] hard, and therefore “deserve” it. But because it tastes good. And it’s food. I need food to survive. You shouldn’t have to “earn” something that your body needs. (And yes, I know that your body doesn’t “need” cupcakes, but your body does need calories, which cupcakes provide.)

So, ladies, I beg of you … can we stop with the guilt over food? If you want something, eat it, and don’t beat yourself up over it. Don’t feel like you have to “earn” it first. Or “work it off” tomorrow.

I’m not saying we should throw all conventional health advice out the window. I try to eat healthy because I honestly feel like crap when I eat crap, and carrying around excessive weight makes it harder to run and puts more strain on my body.

I love myself enough to take care of my body. Running, and eating relatively healthy, is one way to do that. And honestly, I think changing my attitude toward food is a big reason I was able to lose 30 pounds. Food = fuel; not comfort, or reward, or something to keep me busy.

But I also love myself enough not to beat myself up over a cupcake. Or feel like I have to do something difficult to “earn” it.

What do you think? Am I full of crap? I debated posting this at all because I feel like I’m on a soapbox, and also because I know that some people have very complicated relationships with food for a variety of reasons, and I don’t want to seem insensitive. And I don’t want to ignore my “privilege” that I’m able to eat the occasional cupcake and not have it show up on my hips, or that I have the time (sort of) to run 20-30 miles/week and therefore eat a lot. So if I’m full of crap, please, let me know in the comments.

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17 Comments on “A Relationship with Food”

  1. Love you. For reals.

    I have a relationship with food. At one point, it was probably unhealthy, but now, I enjoy it as a part of my day. I like to bake because it’s almost therapy to me. It’s a relaxing process and I like to share it with friends. I like the taste of real butter in cookies. I like real sour cream on my nachos. It makes me happy to be able to sit and enjoy meals.

    It does not, however, make me happy when people make passive aggressive comments on what I eat. Or “oh I could never eat that”. Yes you can. Just freakin’ eat it. I think food should never be labeled “bad” the way quite a few women (and some men) do. It’s fuel. Just, like every other aspect of our lives, don’t over do it.

    1. I think that’s another thing – taking the time to enjoy food. I definitely try to avoid “fake” food and instead go for full calories and full fat, but mindless eating is something I had to break myself of. Instead, if I’m going to eat something, I try to focus on what I’m eating and enjoy it. Also I’m trying to get my husband and I in the habit of eating dinner together, even if it’s just a frozen TJ’s pizza (which was last night’s dinner).

  2. Love it. I never thought about what I ate before I starting losing weight. And it’s funny that women are the only ones who comment about what I eat, when I eat it and what I choose not to eat. Why do we do this to each other?

    1. I think it’s a competition thing, and part of the whole catty idea of tearing other women down to feel better about ourselves (which is another whole topic in and of itself). The other day, my (younger, male) co-workers and I were ordering lunch, and one of them commented on how many calories were in his lunch (it was written on the menu boards) and asked me how many were in mine. If he had been a woman, it would have been a totally different experience.

  3. You are not full of crap. But a lot of us are not where you are right now. I do have an abusive relationship with food that I have tried to figure out through therapy many times and am just not there yet. I am not guilty about food. I eat what I want, when I want, and that IS the problem. I don’t care what other people eat. I don’t comment on it, unless it’s “Oh, that looks good, what is that?” I HATE it when people critiize what others eat, pay so much attention to it.

    I run because I love to run. And yes, becuase it does allow me to eat more. I hope that it makes me a bit healthier. I started running to lose weight, it hasn’t stayed off, but I fell in love with running so I keep doing it. I hope someday I look at food more of keeping me healthy and having some fun with it too, but I have not been able to figure it out in 10 years. I’m still working on it 😉

    But yeah. The guilt thing. I definitely don’t have that. Ha ha.

    1. Thank you for your honest comment 🙂 I’ve seen friends struggle with food in a variety of different ways, so I know how difficult it can be. And I definitely have fallen into traps with food – “hey, I earned this!” or “I ran X number of miles, I can eat whatever I want!” or “this cupcake isn’t going to eat itself and it would be a shame to go to waste … ” I think the worst was when I worked in my last office, there were constantly treats there and I would go through a whole spectrum of emotions some days. What I hate the most is when I would start eating something just because it was there, and it wasn’t even that good, but I would feel guilty about wasting it and finish it anyway. Even though we constantly wasted food in that office.

      But I think being aware of it, and having the desire to change it is huge. So many people either ignore it, or don’t care enough to change it. And then they pass it on to their kids.

      1. And it was totally passed on to me from my mom. Sometime I will have to tell you all the weird food things I picked up from her. It’s bizarre.

        1. I have definitely seen that in some of my friends. Luckily my mom doesn’t have food issues, the only thing I picked up specifically from her was always making sure there is a colorful vegetable in every meal! Which is why our dinners almost always started with a salad.

  4. sing on, sister! I think running inspires a healthier relationship to food because for me, it’s the first time i ever really understood “fuel.” It’s sad to thing i spent the first 27 years of my life thinking that food wasn’t important.

  5. This is a really interesting topic to me because I don’t experience the same food guilt that a lost of my girlfriends do as an adult that I did in my teen days, and that was just based out of insecurity. As I’ve aged and become more confident and secure in myself I’ve realized I’m not less of a person based off of what I eat and instead food is just a means for survival, and is meant to be enjoyed.

    It’s hard to get to that state though, and there are a lot of stereo types out there that annoy the crap out of me. For instance when people say to me “I didn’t know that you actually eat” because I have a naturally thinner frame. Of course I eat, how would I run or exist for that matter if I didn’t? Sheesh.

    1. That’s the thing I love about runners (and other athletes) vs. people who just work out the bare minimum. We HAVE to eat. And eat a lot, frankly. Otherwise we honestly can’t do what we do! So we don’t apologize for it. A couple years ago, when I was carrying around extra weight, I would feel like a pig when I would go out to dinner with my parents and finish my dinner, and they would bring half of their food home. Now, if I go out the night before a race or long run, I get nervous if I DON’T eat a lot. Although with some of these portion sizes, I still sometimes eat enough and have leftovers.

  6. Awesome post. I completely agree with you. I’ve lived much of my life seeing food as just fuel for my body. I enjoyed the food while eating, but once hunger was satiated, my thoughts moved elsewhere. That’s how humans were meant to treat food – that’s the only “relationship” humans were supposed to have with food. Of course, I developed a shitty relationship with food for a brief time in college and it totally changed the way I understood eating. I am now much more conscious of how people treat food all around me, and women are harsh! On themselves, on food, on others. Anyway, I’m glad you posted this…I love your honesty and it’s something we all need to hear.

    1. Thanks for your comment 🙂 Women are harsh in general. My husband is always commenting on the way women treat each other, and I wish I could disagree with him, but in general, I can’t.

  7. Hey, Maggie! So I read through a bunch of your posts today. It’s cool to see this runner side of you. I follow a few fashion and mommy blogs, so this was a fun change. I especially liked this post. I read the RookieMag article too. I felt like the author was yelling at the reader, so thanks for toning down for your discussion. 😉 (Another commenter said the same thing on that article.)

    I’ve had food/weight issues since I was 9 years old, and I hope that I have a better “relationship” with food sooner than later. For me, in the past *fingers crossed*, I’ve used food as an escape (ever had a food coma?–I’d do that to myself on purpose!) and as my own personal dysfunctional therapist (“food will take away my problems”–uh, no it won’t!).

    So eating the whole brownie as the the author of the other article requests women do would be disastrous for me because I’ve used food as a drug for so long. That one brownie would be a gateway drug to a binge later on. Where am I going saying all of this? I’m not sure exactly. I guess just that I feel like I NEED rules for food so that I don’t harm myself with it. For the past two months, I’ve been successful using Weight Watchers–which has the rules I need but has enough flexibility that I don’t feel deprived. I hope I can get to the point where I can just eat whatever because I just want to and there is no underlying reason why I want to eat it besides just, “Hmm, that looks good, and I’m hungry” like a normal person. Right now, I’m still working through, “Are you really hungry or are you just feeling stressed?” and “Are you still hungry or are you just still eating because it is there on your plate?” I get how the other author was annoyed by the brownie woman’s dialogue, but I don’t think it is so wrong for a woman (or a man) to just want the taste/bite instead of the whole thing.

    1. Hi Julie! Thanks for reading 🙂 Congratulations on your Weight Watchers success. My runner friend Amanda has had success with WW – you can read her blog at http://gettogoal-amanda.blogspot.com/. I get what you mean about food as a gateway drug … I’ve had days where if I’m “good” and eat heathy/avoid junk, it’s easy to continue that, but as soon as I give in and have something “bad,” then I just keep going with the bad stuff. It’s like you get a taste and you want it all. And I’m terrible about eating food just because it’s there. I definitely have to clean my plate, or keep eating until the food is gone, or keep eating something even if it’s not that good because I don’t want to waste it. Sometimes I really have to be conscious about stopping when I’m full or when something just isn’t that tasty.

      I agree, having a taste/bite is probably better than eating the whole thing, but I just hate the idea of women feeling guilty about what they eat because of societal pressures. If you regularly have a bad/unhealthy diet, that’s one thing, but to feel guilty over the occasional brownie just makes me sad.

      Anyway, thank you for your comment! I appreciate you sharing your thoughts 🙂

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