Struggling with body image isn’t unilateral. It isn’t only overweight females who fight this battle. Men, women, tall, short, skinny, fat—all people are susceptible to feeling bad about the way they look. We all fight some inner war to look the best we can. One subset of trying to fit into some societal precept of beauty is food guilt. While it sounds very strange and many don’t even know what it means, feeling bad for consuming food is all too real.
From birth, we are exposed to a society which dictates what we must look like to be accepted. All we need do is turn on a television or open a magazine to find pictures of perfect human forms glaring at us, telling us we’re not quite good enough. Never mind the fact almost all of these images are touched up, Photo-shopped or in some other way altered. These people aren’t perfect, either, but our minds tell us they are. Rejection by others because of our body type only fuels the desire to look more like Ms. or Mr. Perfect. Therefore, when many of us sit down to a meal, we feel horrible for having consumed calories Perfect Body supposedly would never touch.
Sometimes food guilt is good. It’s sort of the way the Universe saves us from eating too many doughnuts or slices of pizza. Other times, the guilt of eating goes beyond the junk food aisle and spreads out into fresh fruit and veggies, lean meats, and even little things like toast. That probably sounds extreme, but it happens.
I was about 14 when I became hyper-conscious of food. My mom has always been tiny, barely weighing 90-100 pounds for her 5’4” frame. Unfortunately, it wasn’t just great genes that kept her small. She also harbored an eating disorder while she was in her mid-thirties. Probably even before then, but I just wasn’t aware. Like most kids, I wanted to be just like mom. I monitored every morsel I’d put in my mouth. There was no safe zone like salad or fruit. Every single bite I took made me “bad.”
Throughout my teens and early twenties, I was very involved in fitness. Physical exercise was part of my daily routine. I would try to fit in at least 2 hours of aerobics and core training each day. Coupled with eating as little as possible, I maintained a weight of about 92 pounds. Still I believed I was too fat. Even at my skinniest, I was always more athletically built than truly thin. This troubled me a great deal, so I decided not to eat unless it was necessary. If I could go two or three days only eating toast or crackers, I was unhealthily proud of myself. Luckily for me, I didn’t suffer any major health issues from this dangerous habit. Later, though, a little something snuck up on me.
When I became pregnant with my third child I found that I was bordering on having gestational diabetes. My diet had to be strictly regimented, but I was also not allowed much physical activity for the last two months of my pregnancy due to blood pressure. It was then that I packed on the pounds. I had also gained a good amount of weight a few years later during my short experience being on Prozac. Regardless of my efforts, which to be honest, haven’t been terribly wholehearted, I never dropped to my former weight.
Even though I wanted to be itsy-bitsy again, I just couldn’t stick with my former unhealthy diet plan. It wasn’t a good idea, but I really wanted to. The problem was that if I didn’t eat regularly, I’d become sick. Nausea, headache, weakness, dizziness, and lethargy crept up on me if I skipped a meal. I simply had no choice but to eat. Yet, every time I ate, I felt guilty for putting any calories in my mouth. I chewed with disdain wishing I could just not eat. On the rare occasions I was too sick to eat, I felt that old familiar joy of having skipped meals. It’s truly a sickness in and of itself.
Now, rather than wanting to lose weight even though I was skinny, I want to lose weight because I should. I need to, really. However, the strange looks I get from people who knew me when I was smaller do not serve as motivation. Harsh words from some I’ve encountered don’t either. Trust me when I say that telling someone they shouldn’t eat this or that is not motivational. Any and all unsolicited weight loss advice is akin to throwing rocks at someone’s forehead. It only hurts more than it helps.
I’ve been able to accept my body type for the most part. I realize that if someone can only accept me because I look a specific way, then I don’t really need that person in my life. I’m so much more than a number on a scale. I’ve also come to accept that I will probably always have food guilt. It’s so embedded in my mind it’s almost indelible. I’m still self-conscious of eating around people I don’t really know, but I’ve also learned that eating is something I have to do—guilt or not. I am a human being who requires nutrition, as we all are. All I can do is try to make healthy choices and get back into a good exercise routine.
Food guilt shouldn’t even be a thing. No one should feel ashamed for eating even healthy food. Unfortunately, it is. How do we change that? I think the first line of defense is to change the images in the media. One body type is not more perfect than another. All people are beautiful in their own ways. Beauty isn’t being perfect. Rather, beauty is being perfectly you. Push the food guilt aside and celebrate a healthy, happy you. If you are beautiful inside, you are already beautiful outside, you know?
Tammie Niewedde shares her life with 24, 21, and 16 year old sons. She also has a 2 year old grandson whose energy level reminds her exactly how old she is (40, and she owns that proudly!). In her home, you will find a 120 pound fur factory named Dexter and a few cats whom have decided that she is merely their staff. The root of her love for books, writing, and animals comes from being a child whose only siblings were books and her animals. She is a full-time student, mother, coordinator of all that is chaos, and a hopeless list maker. Most of her writing is creative non-fiction that describes her real life adventures. Her acerbic, biting sense of humor may capture your heart, or it may induce rage. Nonetheless what she writes is true to life. You can often find her hanging out with the kiddos, studying, reading, writing, and making lists…of everything! You can find her on Facebook!