Guest Blog: Fabienne Marier, CPTN–CPT, MPI 1 examines the dangers of ascribing moral values to the food you eat
I’m ever fascinated by the qualifiers we tend to use around food.
It’s all about extremes, isn’t it? From sinful desserts to guilt-free treats, it seems that food has crossed from the universe of nourishment into the world of moral judgement.
Using descriptives such as decadent, or guilty pleasure has become so ingrained in today’s vernacular that we’re no longer aware that we use them. At best, they make some foods sound pretty enticing—there’s something exciting about breaking the rules, after all—despite having very little to do with a dish’s palatability.
The same issue pops up with the idea of cheating—be it cheating on one’s diet, or the prevailing concept of established cheat days. Using transgression-related adjectives to speak about sustenance imprisons us in a logic of good vs. bad.
I would argue that the relatively newly popular adjective “clean” used in regards to food, so prevalent in fitness circles, is just as problematic.
While I certainly appreciate the messages around the importance of focusing on whole foods, I don’t think using a label such as “clean” is the way to go (except, obviously, in a sentence like “I’ve just washed the dirt from those freshly picked zucchini and now they are clean”).
And how does that reflect on your character? Let’s face it: this has very little to do with the food in question, but very much with how we feel about ourselves.
When our choices are motivated, if only just a little bit, by the need to quell feelings of inferiority—or even (and we won’t admit it willingly) by the need to feel superior, we are on the wrong track. If our self-worth is influenced by what goes into our mouth, then we err.
Furthermore, what troubles me tremendously is that, in most cases, the foods we’ll associate with the “bad” adjectives are foods we actually do enjoy. Foods which bring us pleasure. So in the end, we’re associating elements of pleasure and enjoyment with a vocabulary of shame.
Can you see how damaging this gets in the long run?
Whether we’re speaking as a fitness professional, as a long-standing fitness enthusiast or as someone who’s just recently ventured into this world, we all have a role to play in changing this paradigm.
Are some foods better suited to our purpose than others? Of course! And we should all promote making nutritional choices that help us feel better, perform better and yes, look better. But speaking about what constitutes good nutrition can absolutely be done without moral labels.
The more we use catch-all labels, the more they are susceptible to be picked up in marketing ploys which—let’s be perfectly honest here—don’t have our health as their real bottom line. Marketers have, for over half a century, tirelessly tapped into our collective food guilt. Why should we keep giving them ammunition?
Let’s not play that game.
The more we speak of food in a narrow and dogmatic dichotomy, the more we’ll alienate people who feel like they are being shamed for their nutritional choices.
At a moment in time where levels of sedentariness and chronic disease aren’t lowering, do we really want to cultivate this divide?
Food is a means to sustain life, to share meaningful connections with others, and to experience the world. It holds significant influence over our quality of life. But food doesn’t hold the power to make us good or bad.
Fabienne is a Certified Personal Trainer and Mindset Specialist in Montreal, Canada. An avid kettlebell enthusiast, yoga adventurer and food explorer, she draws from her background in communications to help others bring strength, energy and ease in their life, by working both in and out.
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