They say comparison is the thief of joy, and this is particularly applicable to food. As someone who’s coming from a background of anorexia, I admit I still struggle with comparing my food intake to other people’s. Difference is, now that I am recovered, I don’t let my perception of their portion sizes influence my own as I would have in the past. However, I know plenty of people who have no experience with eating disorders, but are still wary of what they eat and experience negative emotions whenever they perceive their choice of food to be in some way inferior: they will stick to salads when eating out, refrain from going for seconds at buffets and avoid ordering desert if the people they’re with don’t do the same.
I don’t blame anyone for this, as a pressure to eat in a certain way (ie a 1200 calorie, no carbs, some spinach for breakfast sort of diet which is actually counterproductive and doesn’t deliver the weight loss it promises) is very prevalent in our society. Hence, it’s easy to feel guilty when others seem to be eating ‘healthier’, or less, than you are. YouTube is riddled with that I eat in a day videos. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy watching and making them as I’m quite curious and always on the lookout for recipe ideas, but certain ones just call for comparison (e.g. The videos conveniently named ‘what I eat in a day as a model/actress/any sort of role which insinuates success’). Some of these do a great job at reassuring me that I’m not the only girl out there with a hefty appetite, but others, even if we logically know the person is starving themselves and their behaviour is unhealthy, can make anyone feel ‘insatiable’.
I suppose the purpose of this post is to remind everyone of the fundamental differences between humans: we have different appetites, different metabolic rates, make different choices. If my friend is satisfied with having a salad for lunch but my stomach is still rumbling after three courses, this does not imply a lack of ‘self control’ on my part. If your family members skip desert after dinner, you can still have your cake and eat it. Any ‘full day of eating’ video or food diary you see online should be taken with a pinch of salt and seen as entertainment rather than a guide to weight loss/ healthy eating/ ‘balance’ because they’re typically created by people who have found a way of eating that works for them and most likely will not work for you. Everyone has a different metabolism. Everyone has different activity levels. If someone eats less than you, this is most likely a product of their calorific requirements rather than purposeful starvation (fun fact: to me, eating just cereal for breakfast seems like a form of starvation while the rest of the human race see it as a perfectly decent meal). Regardless of whether you are trying to lose weight, gain muscle, or are just trying to live life and feel like you’re constantly surrounded by people on diets, the vast majority of the time these fears are false. But if your friends genuinely are trying out the infamous cabbage soup diet, nothing is preventing you from staying as far away as possible from that bandwagon. I like to think along the lines of ‘okay, so, let’s say this person is restricting with the aim of trying to lose weight quicker than scientifically possible. That’s their loss and they will have to suffer the consequences. I am perfectly happy eating the way I eat, I enjoy my food and do not need to lose weight, hence there is no reason for me to feel ashamed for eating a larger intake.’
That reasoning also applies in reverse. As someone who is vegan and often makes stereotypically ‘healthy’ choices, I face this problem on a regular basis. For me, it’s a bit of a double sided dilemma: I like my big portions and consume a large number of calories, which I am inclined to compare to other people’s smaller intakes, yet most of these portions are constructed from whole foods, plants, etc. Noting that this is not synonymous with the starvation mentioned above is very important: three thousand calories are three thousand calories, regardless of whether they come from burgers and milkshakes or rice, tofu and vegetables, yet I am often given grief by family members in particular for being on a ‘diet’ and ‘restricting myself’. In the past, I’ve been compelled into eating foods which I didn’t particularly want to eat in order to avoid social scrutiny. I know people who pursue a healthy weight loss strategy, whether for medical or aesthetic reasons, and feel alienated during social occasions not necessarily because they ‘can’t’ eat all the food available for consumption but due to others’ reaction to their lifestyle choices. Stigmatising healthy eating and equating it to either restriction or even an eating disorder is as bad as shaming someone for eating ‘too much’.
I guess the central point is that comparing your food – how much you choose or need to eat – wastes time and doesn’t eliminate people’s ingrained perception of what is right and wrong when it comes to something as controversial as diet. And significantly, we are all different. We are constantly changing and adapting. Watching a YouTube video doesn’t magically discredit the way of eating which has accompanied your entire life. And of course, let’s all acknowledge that food is amazing, and prevent the relative sizes of our appetites from becoming a borderline political issue (I say after writing the entirety of this blog post, but ya girl had to make her point!). Tell me in the comments – do you ever find yourself making these comparisons? Do you believe popular media outlets should place more emphasis on the fact that there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ approach when it comes to eating?