I knew there was a problem when I couldn’t remember the last time I had eaten a cookie without feeling guilty.
At some point in my life, probably around the beginning of high school, I found that I no longer regarded food as something that was meant to fill me up when I was hungry. Instead, I started to feel self-conscious about my meal choices, noticing how my classmates threw away the brownies that came with their lunches and chose plain salads over pasta dishes, if they ate at all.
At first I dismissed this behavior as a nutrition-conscious trend, thinking that these girls were just trying to make healthy choices and take care of themselves. But once the conversations about food and diets began to infiltrate my mind, I found that my own self-confidence and meal portions were starting to shrink. For years, most of us couldn’t get through one day without hearing someone ask, “How many calories are in an apple?” or, “If I eat carrots for lunch, does that mean I can have a burger for dinner?” This of course ultimately evolved into, “I can’t believe I ate that cookie! Now I’ll have to run two more miles.”
We’ve all witnessed it, and many of us are guilty of participating in this commentary as well. The scariest part is that it only takes one person — one person’s opinion of what is or isn’t acceptable to eat, or even one person’s disapproving look at the carbohydrates on your plate — to chip away years of logic that you have developed about healthy eating.
It doesn’t help that we are continuously bombarded with advertisements and emails that target Americans who want to lose weight. If Jillian Michaels asks me for my weight loss goal one more time, or if I drive by one more billboard promoting the lap band, I will throw a fit. I didn’t start out as an obesophobe, but I definitely became one after hearing my classmates ramble on and on about the necessity of a juice cleanse after an ice cream run, or my friends voice that bread makes you fat and should therefore be stricken from all diets.
We don’t realize how much our words affect others, but most eating disorders start in social settings because someone else’s negative body image rubbed off on the rest of the group. One little comment usually evolves into the stigmatization of certain foods, or even eating itself. That’s where we go wrong, because here is the real truth: Food is not bad for you. We should be able to eat when we’re hungry and stop when we’re full without feeling self-conscious. We should indulge in a cupcake without thinking that we should be running on a treadmill with every bite.
While there is absolutely nothing wrong with making healthy choices and trying to stay in shape, nothing good ever comes from imposing personal lifestyle changes onto others. We owe it to ourselves to spend less time judging each other for the food we eat and to put more energy into drowning out the voices in the media and on our campuses that constantly tell us we are not good enough. So put the “food baby” talk aside and consider the influence your words can have on those around you. They are more powerful than you think.
Daria Etezadi is a rising sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. Made From Scratch appears every other Monday at thehoya.com.