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Try this at your next party: Hang near the snack table and listen to how your guests narrate the experience as they eat the chips, cheese plate or whatever else you've put out.
Chances are, most people will keep up a running commentary about how much they're eating, why they're eating so much (it's so delicious/they're so stressed/they're going to work out later), how gross they feel eating like this and the fact that they are clearly eating more than anyone else at the party. Admit it, you've done it too.
Our culture puts such a premium on perfect eating (note that I didn't call it healthy eating), that we think we need to apologize every single time food enters our mouths -- even at say, breakfast, lunch and dinner. No wonder a new survey found that women think about food more than sex -- and 1 in 10 women think it would be worse to cheat on their diet than their husband. This is how our diet culture manifests everyday, as we tell ourselves over and over, you don't deserve to eat that. This, of course, despite basic facts of biology, which dictate we not only deserve to eat, we need to eat every few hours or we cease to function properly.
All of this makes me sad (and makes parties less fun), so I was delighted to read this post by Michelle Allison, who blogs at The Fat Nutritionist. Allison's approach to nutrition is rooted in Health at Every Size, which I've discussed before. When you remember that eating is normal, not some sinful behavior that requires constant atonement, you hit on what Allison calls "the golden rule of normal eating: no one decides what or how much goes in your mouth but you." She writes:
"You are an adult. You are an autonomous human being. You make your own choices with food. [...] Eating is a human right, no matter how fat you are, no matter how screwed up around food you think you are, no matter how much you know or don’t know about nutrition, no matter what your concerned family or friends say, no matter who harasses you on the street."
So there you have it. Unconditional permission to eat anything in any amount. Which means that you can also not eat something. Food doesn't have to be consumed just because it's there. Or because your mom only feels loved when everyone cleans their plates. If you don't like something, or you aren't hungry, or you know it will make your stomach hurt later, don't eat it. That's your business.
What permission really means is freeing yourself from all of those rules and instead, learning to listen to your own body so you can give it what it needs food-wise -- whether it looks like what you're "supposed" to be eating or not. See, letting yourself eat a few pieces of chocolate and being okay with it will probably do you more good than gorging on an entire bar because you think you'll actually make it to the gym and burn it all off later. For more, check out Allison's explanation of her approach to "normal eating."
So here's my new goal: Every time I start down the "I shouldn't eat this..." apology path, I'm going to replace that sentence with Allison's mantra: "I’m allowed to eat this, and I can have as much or as little as I want.” And, I'll let my body decide. My beloved party guests, you should do it too. It would make for a far more interesting conversation.