build her a cake

Eating: A Manifesto on 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.