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I’ll never forget an evening years ago when I joined a friend and her family for pizza and her ten-year-old daughter clucked her tongue and muttered the phrase, “Calories, calories, calories.” She was clearly mimicking something she’d heard her mom say and it was horrifying to me — though less horrifying than the time another friend whispered to her daughter, “You’re going to get fat” when the daughter wanted to go in for seconds on a snack. These little comments transported me back to my own childhood, when we were waiting in line at an ice cream parlor and my friend’s mom leaned down and whispered in my ear, “Why is it the people with the worst bodies are always the ones wearing Spandex?”
To me, these are all striking examples of things you should NEVER SAY TO CHILDREN (or adults, for that matter). There’s no reason for a child to ever be assessing the amount of calories in a slice of pizza. There’s no reason for a kid to ever think it’s wrong to feed her hunger. And there’s no reason why anyone, child or adult, should be assessing the body type of someone else to deem whether they’re worthy of wearing a certain type of clothes.
Worthiness. What is worthiness, exactly? What makes one person more worthy than another? Just this past weekend at a friend’s birthday party, we were discussing the weather and I mentioned how cold it had been on the long training run I finished before coming to the party. We were digging into slices of red velvet cake at the time and a friend of mine said, “Oh, you earned that cake. I sure didn’t.” I tried to explain that cake – or any food – is not something to be “earned” like a medal or trophy. It’s just food. We can either choose to eat it or not. Choosing to have cake at a friend’s birthday party doesn’t make anyone less worthy. As Brene Brown says, “Worthiness does not have prerequisites.” Eating is a part of life and we all get to do it, whether we ran ten miles earlier today or not. And guess what? We all get to enjoy it, too. None of us needs to hustle for our right to enjoy a slice of cake. We can simply enjoy a slice of cake.
“Am I allowed to eat that much granola?” This is a question posed to me recently, and it’s a question I receive constantly in various forms: Is it okay for me to eat bread? Am I allowed to have dessert? Is it okay? Am I allowed? Is it okay? Am I allowed?
Here’s something I want to clear up right now: You are a human, you are alive, and you are ALLOWED TO EAT WHATEVER YOU WANT. You’re allowed to eat cookie dough from morning to sunset. You’re allowed to eat chips if that’s what speaks to your soul and if you’re having a crappy day and eating from a place that has nothing to do with being good to your soul, you’re allowed to eat chips that day too. We love to create restrictions for ourselves. It’s kind of our thing as humans. Oh, I couldn’t possibly eat that pastry — I’m not “allowed.” I “can’t” have that brownie. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’d really, really, really like to have that brownie, but have I worked out enough for it? Did I repent enough for it?
Guess what? You don’t need to repent to eat food. You just need to choose what’s best for you. Some days – many days – it serves you to skip the brownie. Maybe it’s not what you really want. Maybe you already had similar treats recently. Maybe you’d rather skip the brownie altogether and go for something that’s decadent in a different way, like a cup of broccoli cheddar soup. Or maybe you should just eat the brownie and move on with your life. The point is: you get to decide. You get to decide based on what’s best for you, your body, your well-being, and your mental happiness. You don’t need to ask yourself if you should or could. You simply need to ask yourself if you will.
This is where I sometimes get frustrated with the clean eating community. As someone who comes from an intuitive eating background, I don’t believe in All or Nothing. I don’t believe in severe restrictions. I don’t believe that putting something entirely off-limits will prevent someone from ever consuming it again. I believe in balance. I believe in moderation. I believe in controlled portion sizes. I believe in treats. I believe in not going crazy for the sake of a set of rules.
“Processed food is not allowed.” If you ever look into clean eating, you’re likely to find these words. As much as I advocate clean eating, I don’t advocate this particular aspect of clean eating. In a perfect world, processed food wouldn’t even be a thing. Everyone would eat organic, local, natural fare. All restaurants would offer baked sweet potatoes instead of fried white potatoes. Bread baskets filled with white breads wouldn’t exist. For every child’s birthday, we’d make homemade cakes with zucchini and applesauce.
But this is the real world. The real world includes red velvet cake made with sugar and butter. The real world includes bowls of chips and salsa. It includes celebratory drinks and holiday cookies and cheesy soup made in bread bowls. And yes, it’s probably for the best to keep your intake of these items minimal for the sake of your health. But are you restricted from them? No. Are you “allowed” to have them? Yes.
And on the day you do decide to indulge, you should do so guiltlessly. You should do so without hearing the voice in your head say “Calories, calories, calories.” You should do so without hearing the voice saying “You’re going to get fat” or “You can’t have that” or “That’s not allowed” or "You're so bad" or “Did you earn that?”
Those voices and those phrases are dangerous. It can seem confusing when you hear the words coming from the mouths of people you love, but do not mistake coming from a loving place with coming from a valid place. These words have no validity. These words do not belong in our language when we’re talking about our bodies and our food. These words are sloppy.
If I ever have a child and I hear someone say "Calories, calories, calories" or any similarly ridiculous phrase in her presence, I'm not going to be happy. And while I don't necessarily think it's intentional language, I do think it's avoidable language. So avoid it. Choose better words. Be a source of food and body positivity for the children in your life and do it for yourself, as well.
We don't need to live in cages. We don't need to place restrictions on ourselves and hustle to prove our worthiness. You're already worthy. You're here. You're breathing. You're allowed to have a cupcake. You can choose not to have a cupcake and that's absolutely fine. But if you choose to eat it, eat it without guilt or shame. Tell all the sloppy voices to go screw themselves while you enjoy your damn cake. Afterward, know that you're neither a better or worse person. You're a person who ate cake. Other times you're a person who eats Brussels sprouts. In both cases, you're the same person. You're a person who ate food, which is something we're meant to do for survival and we're allowed to do for enjoyment. Choose better words and eat your food.