Well Being

“You Are What You Eat” Is Just A Subtle Form Of Thinspiration

By  | 

girl thinking about her dietThe first time I heard the expression “you are what you eat“, I was a little kid. The phrase made no sense to me and brought to mind a stalk of broccoli in running shorts with arms and legs.

As I got older, I started to understand the finer points of what it meant to embody one's breakfast. But I think my childhood self was right: It's a ridiculous phrase and ridiculous image. You are not what you eat, and anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is just plain wrong.

Full disclosure: I don't have the best relationship with food. I don't really like eating it, cooking it, thinking about it, or talking about it, even. For as long as I can remember, I've used food to torture myself in one way or another.

So I added “you are what you eat” to the extensive arsenal of weapons of body-image destruction that exists in my brain. It became a common refrain for me, and a fantastic way for me to punish myself: Want that piece of cake? Remember, you are what you eat! Another cookie? Alright, dough girl! More chips? Junk begets junk, my dear!

I didn't only use it to make myself feel bad, though; I also kept it in mind when making “healthy” decisions. A smaller meal means you're in control!, and even dainty and delicate. A salad means that you're eating your vegetables and making all the right choices, even if you're really just eating it so that you don't have to eat something else that you think will make you fat.

“You are what you eat” was all-purpose thinspiration and easily adapted to whatever situation I was in. It was a mode of thinking that encouraged me in obsessing about my food choices and justifying restrictive, unhealthy behavior.

I'm sure it comes as no surprise to hear that this relentless fixation on what I ate eventually turned into a full-blown eating disorder. That's another story for another time. Obviously, I'm an extreme case when it comes to food message sensitivity.

But that doesn't change the fact that “you are what you eat”—a seemingly glib and harmless phrase—reinforces the concept of “good” and “bad” foods, and a morality to choosing between them. It says you're committing to some bizarre body destiny when you thought you were just trying to decide what to have for lunch.

The phrase can be used, by some, as a form of positive motivation. It can encourage healthy decisions—we're all different in our diet psychology.

But more often than not, it's an expression that assigns us a lasting label and gives us little leeway when it comes for adjusting the way we see ourselves and our eating habits. It encourages dwelling on past food choices instead of moving on and focusing on the future. There's something so static and immobilizing about it, a ring of condemnation. It's a capital-d Declaration: You are what you eat. This is who you are. There is no escaping it.

When it comes to working toward being kind to myself and maintaining a body positive attitude, one thing I find myself constantly repeating is that there are no good foods or bad foods. The food-related choices I make aren't indications of what kind of person I am, what sort of treatment I deserve from myself or others, and especially whether or not I'm worthy of feeling good about myself generally.

And you know what else? I am not what I eat. I'm much more complicated and nuanced than a five-word sentence could ever convey. Whether I'm eating an entire vegan pizza by myself (by the way it was delicious) or having a kale salad (also always delicious), I'm the same person, and I deserve to enjoy both those experiences without feeling like there's been some qualitative change in me. What I put into my body shouldn't dictate what I am–only I get to make that decision. I'm not what I eat, and neither is anyone else. We're so much more.

comments