January 26, 2008

Sin and Atonement

Filed under: food — embonpoint @ 5:05 am

Fat is not disgusting. Rape is disgusting.
–Dianne Sylvan, The Body Sacred

One thing I’ve been trying to do, with limited success, is to stop talking about food in terms of good and evil.

Naomi Wolf talks about this some in The Beauty Myth, how in the past if a woman said “I was bad last night,” people would think she cheated on her husband, but nowadays she probably means she cheated on her diet. And while I have no desire to go back to a more sexually puritanical world, I don’t think we’ve done anyone any favors by transferring our puritanical streak to food instead.

Need to remember: Chocolate cake is not sinful; it’s just rich. Ice cream is not decadent. Celery is not virtuous. The cake isn’t robbing people at gunpoint or engaging in insider trading. The celery doesn’t spend its weekends volunteering at the soup kitchen. It’s all…just food.

On a related note, there was a comment somewhere in the fatosphere the other day about how we’ve been conditioned to see exercise as a punishment for food. I don’t remember who said it or where; it was one of those things where I followed a link to a link to a link, and then by the time I started having thinky thoughts about the comment, I’d forgotten where I’d seen it. So, by all means, if you said this, let me know and I’ll credit you. 🙂

My grandmother, who was fat until just before her death, used to have all sorts of diet paraphernalia around her house. She went on every diet in existence. And one of the books she had lying around was called Walking Off Weight. I still remember being about 12 and reading this exercise the author wanted the readers to do. The gist was that you took a bag of M&Ms to a football field. You ate one M&M (or is that one M?) and then you were supposed to walk the whole length of the football field, and then that M was worked off. Then you were supposed to decide whether you wanted another piece of candy, considering that you’d have to walk the football field again to work that one off.

And that got me thinking about a comment I made at work the other day. The women in my office, you see, are very concerned with their weight. I’m the fattest woman there by about fifty pounds, and also one of the only non-dieters. For the last couple of weeks we’ve had a dish of Jelly Belly beans in a high-traffic area, which happens to be right by my desk, and everyone has been eating them. And everyone has been loudly castigating themselves for eating them, too.

One of these ladies made a comment the other day about how “bad” she was to have eaten a jelly bean, and I confess, what fell out of my mouth was not the most fat-acceptancey thing I could have said.

See, the office is at the top of a flight of stairs. So I said, “You know, you probably burn the equivalent of a jelly bean every time you climb up here.”

It’s only in retrospect, thinking about my grandmother’s book and about the concept of exercise as punishment for food, that I realize the nasty, shadowy little place in my head that comment came from. Because while my basic point was that it was silly to obsess over one jelly bean, and my basic intent was to reassure her, what I actually said was entirely different.

Yeah, I’ve got a ways to go.



  1. I don’t think that response was totally horrible–you may have helped remind her that she gets plenty of exercise in the course of her daily activities that she doesn’t give herself credit for, and that not only exercise done while punishing oneself at the gym “counts”. On the other hand, a flat-out “You have no reason to feel shame for eating a jelly bean” message might have just bounced right off her assumptions or provoked a defensive response.

    Comment by Sycorax — January 30, 2008 @ 10:00 am

  2. Kelly! Being a fat acceptance activist doesn’t mean you have to get it right, all the time. I admit as well, every now and then I have one a thought like that when I go work out…If I eat this I have to work out for x amount of time. But you realize how detrimental the idea is now and that’s what matters. Happy blogging!

    Comment by Michelle — January 30, 2008 @ 1:29 pm

  3. Isn’t working out to “work off” what one eats called exerise bulimia? It’s scary to think how much of the diet advice out there (all of it?) is actually just shades of eating disordered thinking. (I’m referring to the book you mentioned, not your comment to coworker).

    Comment by worthyourweight — January 30, 2008 @ 11:23 pm

  4. A quote from a nutrition prof:

    There are no good or bad foods. There are only better or worse times to eat certain foods.

    Comment by Ambar — January 31, 2008 @ 12:03 am

  5. Hey, if you have the time can you email me about why you deleted my two comments? I’m perplexed. Thanks.

    Comment by worthyourweight — January 31, 2008 @ 3:56 am

  6. OK … sorry. Now they are magically undeleted as soon as I ask just to make me look like a loon! LOL

    Comment by worthyourweight — January 31, 2008 @ 3:57 am

  7. Isn’t working out to “work off” what one eats called exerise bulimia? It’s scary to think how much of the diet advice out there (all of it?) is actually just shades of eating disordered thinking. (I’m referring to the book you mentioned, not your comment to coworker).

    *nods* The book gave me quite a complex for a while. And nobody talked about exercise bulimia at the time, but in retrospect, that’s exactly what it is.

    About the comments–I have the blog set to moderate comments by anyone who hasn’t had a comment approved by me before–and unfortunately, as the blog is brand spankin’ new, that’s pretty much everybody. Sorry about that. *sheepish*

    Comment by embonpoint — January 31, 2008 @ 6:09 am

  8. That was my mistake. I thought maybe I’d offended you. I’ll stop spamming your blog now 😉

    Comment by worthyourweight — January 31, 2008 @ 9:01 am

  9. Awww, you’re not spamming. 🙂 It’s all good. I’m tempted to take the moderation off anyway, just because sometimes I’m not online to approve comments when they come in. <333

    Comment by embonpoint — January 31, 2008 @ 1:08 pm

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