Unfortunately, food shaming is real, and if you haven’t experienced it or are not familiar with what it is, you may not really understand it. Healthified chats with Becca Moorhead (she/they), M.S, founder of the body-positive platform Fit, Fueled and Feisty, to unpack what food shaming is, where it stems from, and why it can be so harmful to our health.
Healthified: What is food shame?
Becca Moohead (BM): Just like other types of shame, food shame often stems from a feeling that we are violating societal norms or expectations and that it makes us a bad person. It goes deeper than guilt– shame makes us feel we are inherently flawed for our choices. When that is related to our food, we can begin to overthink those choices, feel paralyzed eating in front of others, or even stop eating altogether.
Healthified: What do you think is the root cause of food shaming?
BM: Many things can bring up feelings of shame around food, but for many of us raised in diet culture, it stems from covert messages that equate food and morality. For example, we may have been taught that we are ‘good’ for choosing an apple as a snack and ‘bad’ for even wanting chips or cake instead.
In addition to the messages about foods themselves, many of us have been taught to be aware how our food choices may impact our appearance and body. It’s hard to tackle food shame without addressing body image and “fatphobia” since they are so connected in our society.
Healthified: How can someone heal from it?
BM: Healing from food shame is absolutely possible, but takes some conscious un-learning.
Start with noticing which foods bring up anxiety for you, and the narrative you tell yourself about that food and about yourself. These anxieties are often tied to some sort of value discrepancy. Start to ask yourself: What value are you placing on these foods? Where do those values come from? Do they align with your values and how you truly view yourself outside of this context?
Next, begin reframing the way you see the foods that are clouded by negativity. Instead of binary ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ trying thinking of a positive for everything you crave. Apples may give you vitamins and fiber, but chips give you joy and cake allows you to celebrate with loved ones. There truly is no such thing as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods, and nothing wrong with eating something simply because you enjoy it.
It’s normal to feel overwhelmed, but the journey to freedom is so worth it. I encourage folks to try and have some form of support in this process. Whether it’s a friend, family member, partner, or professional, having a team to lean on is a great way to reduce some of the isolation many feel during this journey.
It’s important to remember that obsession, shame, or other distorted views surrounding food can be a symptom of a deeper issue. These types of thoughts can be signs of an eating disorder, which requires the assistance of medical and nutrition professionals.
The best way to stop food shaming yourself and others is by letting go! Keep in mind this doesn’t happen overnight, recognizing how harmful this is to you and others is the first step. As Moorhead said, un-learning this ideal is a journey worth traveling.