Here’s a question: do you have any idea how “normal” people eat?
I don’t mean the idea you’re given based on “before” pictures of meals that people post on instagram. I’m talking about literally how people eat.
I had a conversation with Dr. Judith Brisman, the founder of the Eating Disorder Resource Center in NYC, where she brought up a fact that I had never paused to consider:
In all of our calls for media to accurately portray and represent everything from “real” bodies to “real” sex, we never stop to ask for accurate portrays of “real” eating.
I’m not talking about #realfood. Instagram is already full of perfectly lit and arranged organic, non-GMO, gluten-free, blah blah blah food.
I’m talking about #realeating.
Like…right now, I’m sitting at my computer typing a blog post at lunch, eating salad out of a Whole Foods hot bar container and fermented pickles out of a plastic bag, alternating between typing and munching.
It’s kind of gross. My keyboard is going to smell like pickles.
But this is how I really am eating.
It’s amazing to me how little we actually see people eat in a non-staged way. I mean, we see it all day long if we leave our houses for long enough, but I don’t know if we really see it.
One of the things that’s been wonderful about living with a roommate who never diets and doesn’t obsess about nutrition is that I get to see her eat. Yes, I’m weird and hyper-aware and probably creepy, but I’ve told her that I’m using her as a case study in not-obsessing, so it’s less creepy if she knows about it and consents to it.
But when I “see” her eat, I observe someone who hasn’t been tainted by anxiety about food and nutrition and perfection. And that’s provides me at least an example of what it looks like when someone makes decisions about what to eat without freaking out about it, puts it on a plate without photographing it, eats without having to be mindful or perfect, and leaves food on the plate or doesn’t. It’s actually kind of awesome.
Those of us who have been caught in the weird cycle of disordered eating and dieting have lost the ability to see other people eat. We’ve depended on written “ideals”—meal plans, calorie counts, macros. We’ve observed food blog images of perfect-looking food, and maybe we’ll get a glimpse into a half-eaten protein-concoction in a tupperware with a cheeky caption like “This was so yummy that I just couldn’t wait to start eating before I snapped a photo!” We’ve even tried following non-rule “rules” like mindful eating and intuitive eating, imagining that it’s possible to always be sitting in perfect, meditative, undistracted silence while contemplating the color of a single sprinkle on the top of a cupcake.
And because social media is all about finding the perfect angle for our selfies, even if we see people eating, we only see what they want us to see. Even if we eat around others, many of our role models are just as disordered as we are, relying on Shakeology tupperware or leaving half the food on the plate only to binge in secret later.
And when have you ever seen someone on television eat the way real people eat? With the exception of comedic plot snafus (“Oh no, you spilled your wine on my dress!”), there’s nary a crumb spilled.
We don’t see what real eating looks like.
We don’t see that it’s usually ugly, fast, and messy. We don’t see that it’s done in the car, standing up, in between our or our children’s extracurricular activities, on the fly, in exhaustion, and definitely unstaged.
It’s done un-mindfully. It’s done emotionally. It’s done for convenience or taste or pleasure.
And that’s okay.
My boyfriend laughs at me because I cannot eat anything without getting covered in crumbs. I laugh at me too. I tried eating matzoh at a working lunch the other day, and I covered myself and the executive board room with cracker crumbs.
There’s no perfect way to eat. We need to see this, know this, internalize this. We need to stop feeling pressured to eat perfectly, whether “perfectly” applies to the quality of our food or the quality of the way we eat it.
Discovery is about learning how life is messy and getting okay with that. That applies to your food. That applies to your eating habits. You don’t have to be a slob or eat so fast you never taste anything, but stop freaking out if it happens.
We need to see #realeating and learn how to become okay with it. When it comes to food, the less pressure we put upon ourselves, the easier it becomes to finally make peace with food.
It’s a weird concept, I know, but I think it’s time to start showing each other some #realeating. What do you say?
And go listen to this week’s podcast with Dr. Brisman. Recording this interview was nothing short of invigorating—I absolutely love, love, love everything about this conversation.