I threw a fit when the word “therapy” was first suggested to my preteen ears. And while the stigma surrounding mental health has diminished significantly in the last ten years, our society still views illness of the brain as much less valid than illness of the body.
Recently, I did a poll on Instagram regarding potential content ideas for my blog. An overwhelming number of you said you would love to read a series about things I’ve learned in therapy. So, with the blessing of some catchy alliteration and my faithful readers, I’m diving into this series.
“Lessons Learned in Therapy” aims to unpack brief mental health insights that I’ve gleaned from counseling and therapy. Not all are biblical, but they are in alignment with my Christian worldview.
The Morality of Food
Imagine growing up in the early 1800s. Perhaps we’d spend the day making bread for dinner–a hearty accompaniment to venison stew and corn. I’ve no doubt that the work of nourishing oneself was arduous at that time. Our current approach to food, however, has surpassed mere convenience. The majority of us are very (if not completely) disconnected from the source of our food and our body’s cues.
That, in short, is why our society has developed such judgments around food. And that is why we need phrases like, “food has no moral value.”
When Did Food Become a Moral Issue?
While I have read scholarly articles and literature on this topic, I am far from an expert. Please remember that as you read; we are learning together here, friends!
Now, where to start…. well, the easiest place for me to start is with the Judeo-Christian history of food. As Christians may know, food began to be seen as “good” or “bad” during the Old Testament. Unable to atone for their sins, the Israelites were instructed to set themselves apart (Lev. 11:4-8). This was mainly done through (1) limiting which animals they did and did not eat and (2) sacrificing animals. That all ended when Christ came, however. His birth, life, death, and resurrection removed the need for sacrifices (Mark 7:15-19). But many Christians didn’t get the memo. They continued abstaining from certain foods–a choice often rooted in legalism and a prideful desire to appear more “holy.” This continuing narrative combined well with the growing monastic practices of fasting (Ex. no meat on certain days, Lent).
This was in great contrast to the opulent feasts of the Rennaisance era. Yet, as time progressed, the growth of industry gave way to the Industrial Revolution (much more to say there, but I’m attempting to keep this brief), and Americans in particular became more and more accustomed to convenience over connection.
Why am I giving you this history lesson? Well, I think it’s important to know why we are where we are. That helps us to begin deconstructing the lies about food that have been ingrained for so many years. But, as you might realize, I haven’t quite connected these concepts. Yes, food (or refraining from it) became a status symbol. Then, the presence of abundant food became a key indicator of luxury. In my unprofessional opinion, what followed was a convergence of these two domineering points of view: The ability to indulge in anything without having any physical ramifications of gluttony was the Holy Grail of lifestyles. It would allow someone to appear respectable, self-controlled, and wealthy. That’s when diet food entered the scene–mass-produced in factories and geared toward people who wanted to seem “good” but wanted to eat “bad.”
See, it never started with the food being “good” or “bad.” Rather, this whole idea began when humans (that’s us) wanted to have all we could and prioritize other things (convenience, cost, productivity, enjoyment) over tuning in to our bodies. I fully believe that processed food is not bad; neither is a banana good. They’re food, and all food provides valuable nourishment–yes, that means there is value in a marshmallow and there is value in an avocado.
You are not a bad person for eating chips–nor are you a good person for eating salad. That’s rediculous logic and we must put an end to it. The truth is that you are wonderfully made and any choice you make to nourish the body you have is a good choice. End of story.
Listening to the Body
The intersection of gentle nutrition and desire to eat for health is one I was stuck at for a long time. While I logically understood that I didn’t like having rules around everything I ate, my mind was very stuck in anorexic and orthorexic thinking for years. Plus, the oversaturated aisles of choices at the grocery were unbearable if I didn’t have rules on the nutrients and calories in the food I ate. That’s what I thought.
As I continue learning that food has no moral value, I see how distorted my thinking was. So disconnected from my body…
Imagine meeting your friend at the park and suddenly witnessing a child fall out of an oak tree. Both of you run toward the tree and help the mother check the child's vitals. The girl is conscious, but screaming in pain. She says there was a hornet's nest in the tree and she was stung multiple times before she fell to the ground below. Her arms are covered in swelling wounds and growing bruises.
Immediately, you pull up WebMd and enter the girl's symptoms–swelling and bruising in arms; severe distress; arms painful to the touch. "Okay," you announce as you stand over the crying child. "It looks like she either has Lyme Disease or Chronic Kidney Disease. First, we should get her on some inhibitors to address any blood pressure problems. You will also want to ask her doctor for a blood test to rule out Lyme Disease. But, I'm fairly certain she has kidney disease. Does she have lupus? Is there a family history of kidney failure? Have you noticed high cholesterol?
Any sane mother would get her child away from you. Why? Because you were ignoring the evidence right there in front of you, You’re favoring algorithms and data from a website over the girl herself, saying she was stung by bees,
That’s what my life was like before recovery. I was trusting numerical calculations and data more than my own body–so much so that I didn’t even know how to listen anymore.
Where to Go from Here
Listening to our body’s needs is no quick fix. We live in a world with a multi-billion dollar diet industry that thrives off our insecurities. That being said, intuitive eating is a concept that I find both helpful and possible. When I feel food guilt–”I should not eat crackers when I can eat unprocessed rice and beans instead”–I remind myself, “food has no moral value. I can eat what sounds good.
Maybe I eat crackers and add cheese for protein. Possibly, I choose the rice because it sounds more filling and I’m facing a long day of work. Perhaps I choose a bit of both or I eat crackers for a snack later. There are times when I might eat the crackers–knowing they probably won’t provide as much lasting energy, but they sound the yummiest.
DIET CULTURE = How many calories does this food have? What are the grams of fat it contains? Are those saturated or unsaturated? Is there enough sodium to meet electrolyte needs? Is there too much sodium? Does it contain as much protein as that fitness guru recommends? Does it exceed the amount of protein my body can metabolize for energy at one time? Is it trendy? Low carb? High carb? Does my favorite celebrity endorse it? Would my elite runner friend eat this? Is it fat burning? Whole wheat? GMO-free?
I am fairly new to the world of non-judgment around food choices. It is still hard to eat certain foods, and I still experience guilt when I make certain food choices. But I am here to tell you that we are not lesser human beings when we eat foods that our culture deems as “junk food” or “unhealthy food.” We’re humans being humans! After all, we have many things to consider when we choose foods:
WHOLISTIC, INTUITIVE EATING APPROACH = Does this food sound good? Does it sound good to my authentic self or is there any diet culture belief infiltrating my opinion? Will this food help satisfy me needs right now? Is this food a fun part of my experience right now? Am I feeling pressure to eat “perfectly” right now? What choice will make me smile–now and later.
Eating certain types of food does not make you good or bad. Your worth is fixed and nothing you do or don’t do can impact your worth. The main goal with food is not to find perfection; it is to fuel yourself in the way that feels and fills you best.
It comes down to merely three central focus points:
- Eat a variety of foods
- Eat often
- Eat enough
There ya go. That’s it. And nowhere on this list is there any mention of you being morally superior or inferior because of how you learn and grow in your process of nourishing your body.
Repeat it again with me: Food has no moral value!