Eat food. Stuff you like. As much as you want.

French version of this post here, courtesy Stéphanie Potin-Grevrend.


So…telling people what to eat seems to be quite the thing to do, no?

And telling people to eat whatever they want is…well, it’s incredibly controversial.

It’s just not done.

You know why I think it’s controversial? Not just because we live in a culture that’s messed-up, food-wise, but because we, as a culture, seem to take the worst possible view of human nature.

Let me explain.

It should come as no surprise to anyone reading here that our culture views food as a moral issue. A potentially dangerous moral issue. And, setting aside the very-interesting-but-not-to-be-had-right-now discussion of ethical and religious foodways, food just…isn’t.

Food isn’t moral. It’s not immoral, either. It’s morally neutral.

But, sadly, we live in a time and a place where it seems Twinkies = Eternal Damnation. (Notice, here, how the supposed moral value of food pretty snugly overlaps its supposed nutritional value. This is not a coincidence.) And we tend to take the most pessimistic view of human nature.

So, when I say “Adult human beings are allowed to eat whatever, and however much they want,” what people actually hear is: “GO OUT AND CRAM YOUR FACE WITH BAD, BAD TWINKIES!!!!!!”

I’m here to plead with you on this: first of all, people aren’t stupid. Please stop thinking that — it’s unkind and incorrect. Also, Twinkies aren’t bad. Even if they were, they couldn’t make you bad by association.

You know what else? This may come as a huge surprise, but if you’re willing to let go of those negative assumptions about human nature for one second, you might realize that pretty much no one wants to eat that way, anyhow.* Or not for long.

We’re animals, which means we’re pretty highly motivated to stay alive. We want to stay alive, okay? Which means means:

We want to be healthy.

We want to eat food that’s good for us.

Those desires, being tied to the ultimate desire — to survive — are pretty damn strong.

But you know what we want more than either of these? To be free. To not be told what to do. To not be bossed around as though we are perennially six years old. To not be manipulated, coerced, or condescended to.

Being un-free is a fate worse than death to an animal. It means either you will be killed, or you will be tortured and then killed, or your entire life and all of your efforts will be used exclusively in the service of someone else’s desires. And that service is probably going to be pretty unpleasant and continue indefinitely, until you die (see: tortured and then killed.)

Ever wonder why animals are willing to gnaw their legs off to get out of a trap? Why prisoners are willing to risk death in order to escape?

We’re all sensitive to threats to our freedom, even if, practically speaking, those threats don’t seem as bad as being trapped or imprisoned. We’re able to detect the merest whiff of a threat to our freedom, and we respond appropriately. To a strong and imminent threat, we’ll fight to the death. To a threat that’s just a whisper of a shadow of a threat, we’ll dig in our heels a little bit. Stop listening. Roll our eyes and take a step backward. Procrastinate.

In the case of rewards and punishments used to induce certain behaviours, there’s a distinct manipulation at work. Freedom is taken by force or given up willingly in exchange for some savoury reward. But, either way, it is lost, whether you gave it, or it was taken from you.

We don’t like this. Even if we think we do at the time. Even if we go along with it.

I won’t go off on my whole long tangent about intrinsic motivation again, except to say: there is a body of research showing that humans acting under the threat of punishment or the promise of reward do sub-par work.

Whether that work is solving puzzles or learning information or exercising and eating well, the fact that an external, overriding consequence is actually the driving force behind the behaviour — rather than one’s own intrinsic desire — means that that behaviour is not actually free. It is coerced and manipulated and induced.

And going through the motions in order to reach the carrot or escape the stick actually takes something away from the benefit of those motions.

Exercising to lose weight makes fitness not as fun or useful.

Eating to lose weight makes nutrition not as fun or useful.

And, when things are not fun (meaning, intrinsically rewarding), it’s pretty much guaranteed that you will stop doing them, rendering your time “on the wagon” pretty much a loss. Because you’ll lose whatever long-term, intrinsic benefits might have come from doing those things voluntarily.

Besides which, who wants to ride a crap wagon that keeps throwing you off? You’re better off on foot. (Maybe rollerskates.)

So, when I say “Eat food. Stuff you like. As much as you want,” I don’t believe you’ll dive into a vat of Twinkies. Or, if you do, it’s only going to be to see what it would be like to dive into a vat of Twinkies.

I trust that you’ll climb your way out again.**

The bottom line is — freedom is important. In fact, it’s necessary. Without it, you can’t sustain anything that’s supposed to be good for you. Therefore, freedom is good for you.

And because I believe humans are reasonable beings who care about their own health and survival, I trust you to decide what you eat.

What if you’re not reasonable, and don’t care about your own well-being? Well then, my friends, not only is it still not my place to tell you what to do — telling you what to do wouldn’t work in the first place.

Readers have been clamouring a bit for me to just tell them how to eat already. And while, yes, I have a very specific training and a very specific set of beliefs about how to approach food, my first job is to clear the slate, set aside all the rules we’ve been handed about food, and establish a foundation of trust — trust that I am not going to take away your freedom, or your food, even when I have suggestions about what might be a good thing to try.

Trust that, ultimately, you’re the one who must decide what to do.

So, in the service of that, I offer you this:

Eat food. Stuff you like. As much as you want.

Far from being irresponsible, this is, in fact, the only unsolicited advice anyone has any business to offer another person.

And until you’ve accepted it as your irrevocable right as a human being, my opinions on nutrition don’t really matter much.

*Barring some kind of underlying medical condition or eating disorder, in which case a weight-loss diet is the last thing you need, anyhow.

**Perhaps with some assistance — which wouldn’t come in the form of a diet.

Afterparty in comments. Drunkenness possible, but not guaranteed.





249 responses to “Eat food. Stuff you like. As much as you want.”

  1. Medley Avatar

    Serious question, and apologies if the answer is in the archives somewhere, have you read Pollan’s work on food? Because I pretty much agree with everything you wrote here. But I also pretty much agree with everything he’s writing about food too. Either I contain Whitmanian multitudes (possible!) or there isn’t as much contradiction as you’re implying. I think the latter, actually, as I read Pollan as against system corruption of the modern food supply and deceptive marketing, not as against individual choices.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I am familiar with Pollan’s work, yes. I’ve read more of his articles than his books, however. And I actually agree with a lot of what he says, too, with regard to the food system. But it seems he has moved beyond that, and more into individual rules territory, when I think the focus on systems is actually more important.

      Also, whether he intended to or not, people (in this culture) have taken his words as Rules to Live By and Shame Others By rather than as a summation of current nutritional knowledge. Perfect example here:

      The problem is not necessarily what we think is the best way to eat, nutritionally or scientifically, but in how those interpretations are then passed on to the public. Usually with a lot of finger-wagging. And not much consideration for people who have financial difficulties or other obstacles.

      Oh, and I definitely contain multitudes. I’m not as extreme as people tend to assume when they hear me say “eat what you want.” Like I said in the article, “eat what you want” /= “cram your face with Twinkies.” I don’t think Twinkies are super nutritiously wonderful, for example. But I also don’t think they are morally bankrupt, and if people want to eat them, that’s their choice, and none of my damn business. (And they also might play a role for people with certain health and eating issues — a role they wouldn’t play for me, or for the “average, healthy” person…see my other comment.)

      Anyway, this post is meant less to be a refutation of Pollan in particular, and more about telling people what to do and arguing from authority, in general. Pollan’s food rules are only one example in a long cultural history of this kind of thing.

      1. Carolyn Avatar

        64 fucking rules. Seriously?!! Sixy-Four? Even Weight Watchers doesn’t have 64 damn rules.

        I wonder what the math works out as. How much did he get paid exactly for each of those rules?

        Polan is a fantastic example of the way in which people are hoodwinked into paying for our own flagellation. “I’m only telling you this for you’re own good as I am simply a caring and altruistic by standard who wishes to guide you on the righteous path of health.”

        If Polan really gave a frack about general health and well being, he’d stop wagging his 64 classist-rules about and actually do something useful, like donate the proceeds of his book to a food bank or something. Who gives a frack about rules when you can’t even afford food in the first place?

        1. Kelly Avatar

          Yes, 64 food rules. Of which, he suggests people read through each section (as there are three), and then select one from each that they are not already incorporating in their lives.

          Which actually makes three rules. One about eating food, one about moderation, and one about type.

          Comments like these do nothing more than highlight the ignorance of the person, not the “system” or “advice” being offered.

          1. Michelle Avatar

            Could you possibly have phrased that in a more diplomatic way?

            I’d also like to point out that, no matter the number of rules, it is the fact of them being rules that I am objecting to here.

          2. Carolyn Avatar

            3 rules or 64 rules – they are both ridiculous to me.

            I appreciate Michelle’s one rule

            Eat or Die.

    2. Meems Avatar

      Michael Pollan calls obesity an “eating disorder.” True fact. It’s in an article he wrote back in 2003 (which I could probably find if I wasn’t in the middle of writing two papers…). I agree with Michelle; it’s not that I specifically take issue with his ideas about food and how to eat in order to nourish our bodies, but rather that he has conflated several distinct issues: food, weight, and health. The three are somewhat connected, but not linearly, and I don’t think he understands this.

      1. Michelle Avatar

        I also, somewhat pettily, find it annoying that he gets the amount of attention he does for his food advice (and similar with Jamie Oliver) when people who’ve actually been working in clinical nutrition for decades, and who’ve proven their theories with, you know, actual studies, don’t get the same amount of public celebrity. Which is why I so staunchly promote Ellyn Satter’s work whenever I can. She is well-known within the field of nutrition, but not so much to the general public. And her stuff is truly first-rate, and has been linked to actual health improvements as well as body image improvements.

        1. Lisa Avatar

          OMG, I totally join you in your annoyance – and I don’t think it’s petty. It’s no coincidence that these middle-aged white males (both on the taller/thinner side) are getting attention for “discovering” what what legions of nutritionists (mostly women) have been saying For. EV. er.

          1. Michelle Avatar

            Yes, yes, yes. Dietetics, and nutrition, while being pretty much ALWAYS a hot topic in the media, somehow gets ignored in the professional world. Dietitians are treated like they are unimportant, and seem largely ignored in the media in favour of (largely male) physicians, chefs, food writers, etc…and is it a coincidence that about 95% of RDs are women, and that dietetics grew out of home economics (women’s work) as a field? No, I don’t think it is.

          2. Carolyn Avatar

            I guess that is a more articulate way of saying what I was trying to say up above. Polan presents himself as benevolent food guru for a fat paycheck.

          3. Christina Avatar

            What dietitian hasn’t felt annoyed by this inequity of media coverage? Gary Taubes for example is a science writer who hand picked a specific selection of studies and wrote his own opinion of them and he gets tons of coverage. People want to believe the holy grail of healthy eating and weight loss is still out there. If you look at comments for Leslie Beck’s regular posts there is definitely an anti-dietitian bias among some folks.

            The few dietitians who get more media time are the corporate dietitians because they are sponsored (Health Check, Dairy Board) and they often get raked over the coals about being biased. Canadian Living magazine’s recent issue dropped their only page dedicated to nutrition by dietitian Fran Berkoff and cut their coverage of nutrition month this year to one tiny blurb which didn’t even mention the topic (a good one this year – “Celebrate food … from field to table!”).

            There seems to be a sense in the messages posted that dietitians don’t customize their messages for people and just preach the food guide. A key part of dietitian training is to consider client’s personal priorities/goals/interests, their budget, their taste preferences and culture, their finances, and their health status before providing suggestions.

          4. Michelle Avatar

            Yes, good points. And I actually have that nutrition month poster right now! And I do like the message — especially the “enjoy” part :)

          5. Bookwyrm Avatar

            “There seems to be a sense in the messages posted that dietitians don’t customize their messages for people and just preach the food guide.”

            That’s certainly the impression I got when I was referred to a nutritionist at St Margaret’s . . . and also from the new provincial ask-a-nutritionist service. It was disappointing, really.

            Maybe nutritonists for rich folks customise their approach, but all I ever got was referred back to the food guide, whether or not I had the resources (financial or psychological) to implement its suggestions.

          6. Michelle Avatar

            Yeah, I’ve seen this too.

            I mean, don’t get me wrong — I have a great respect for dietetics as a field, and most dietitians in practice. A lot of them are brilliant people with finely-honed counseling skills, and are willing to meet clients where they’re at. But I have also seen an AWFUL lot of one-size-fits-all kind of advice given. And that doesn’t sit right with me.

            The food guide and FRUITS AND VEGGIES!!! is an especially sore spot with me. Being in school, I see this coming from other dietetics students a LOT.

        2. La di Da Avatar
          La di Da

          The one dietician in Australia who gets nearly all the press is, unfortunately, very, very mainstream. Rosemary Stanton. She’s anti-diet/calorie counting but convinced obesity can be eliminated through “lifestyle changes”, and that there is a terrible obesity epidemic causing widespread ill-health which has been caused by too much television and too many treats. Convinced that children should never ever have “junk” food except at parties, and pretty much for adults too. She’s on a self-declared crusade to have junk food removed from Australia “even if it takes her the next 30 years”. She also seems convinced that fat people are ignorant because “they all want to lose the weight by this Thursday” instead of doing Sensible Lifestyle Changes, and thus it is ignorant, selfish fatties who allow the diet industry to keep on laughing all the way to the bank. I guess she’s never been mean about fat people, just has that annoying patronising “I’m only concerned about their health” attitude.

          For example, she had a public rant about young Bindi Irwin doing some commercials for chocolate cake mix, taking the line that Oh No, Now Children Will Whine Even More To Their Parents About Junk Food, How Could You Be So Irresponsible, Cake Is UNHEALTHY! When instead she could have taken the Sane Satter option of it being an opportunity for young kids to learn a bit about baking, do an activitywith their parent(s), and then share the cake with family and friends without there being a big hoo-ha about how terribly unhealthy the cake must be. And as far as “junk food” goes, cake is pretty wholesome. Even cake mix has flour, eggs, milk, and butter or vegetable oil along with the sugar. Which kids do need.


          1. Michelle Avatar

            Er, yeah. And that’s why I’m still so conflicted about whether or not to eventually become an RD. *sigh*

          2. birdie Avatar

            The RD’s/nutritionists I know, work with hospitals – making food suggestions to obese patients, or making food mixes to be pumped through a feeding tube. I feel like it’s so un-glamorous compared to what people think they’d be doing as a dietitian/nutritionist.

          3. Michelle Avatar

            Yeah, my main job (as diet tech, who is like an assistant to the dietitians, doing a lot of their running around and dirty-work) was counting calories, reading medical histories, and trying to convince people to eat more hospital food. And photocopying. Lots and lots of photocopying. GOOD TIMES.

            If I hadn’t fallen madly in love with every single patient I met, and most of the dietitians I worked for, it would have seemed like a terrible job.

          4. hsofia Avatar

            Your post reminds me that the only dietician I’ve ever met was the staff member at the hospital who helped me figure out my infant’s caloric needs and how to best get her the milk and formula she needed through her feeding tube. She was really nice.

        3. Daniel M. Avatar
          Daniel M.

          Funnily she lacks a wikipedia page, too.
          Searching for her name results in Ellie Sattner a character from one of the jurassic parks

  2. Carolyn Avatar

    Besides which, who wants to ride a shitty wagon that keeps throwing you off? You’re better off on foot. (Maybe rollerskates.)

    Exactly! This reminds me of a Simpsons episode where Bart rigs up a cupcake that electrocutes Homer every time he touches it. Homer just stands there, repeatedly trying to get the cupcake despite being shocked. It’s amazing the way corporations have co-opted us in our own oppression by ingraining that WE are the problem, not the system itself.

    Second, I would also like to say, that half way through this post, I got up, marched into the bathroom (seriously! I MARCHED!) and tossed my scale in the trash. Screw the corporation-ant-overlords. My weight is not the end all be all of my health.

    1. Bedoubleca Avatar


      You are my inspiration for the morning. I thank you and salute you!

      1. Carolyn Avatar

        That totally makes my day!! :D

    2. meerkat Avatar

      Actually, that was Lisa shocking Bart with a cupcake in her science experiment “Is My Brother Dumber Than a Hamster”? The hamster learned not to touch the electrified hamster chow the first time, but Bart kept trying and doing 3 Stooges impressions, as I recall.

      Thank you for this opportunity to geek out.

      1. Carolyn Avatar

        @Meerkat – you are so right. LOL I humbly defer to your geeky superiority :D

  3. Diandra Avatar

    Although you may be right in many points and I should wholeheartedly agree with you (and I experienced many points myself, losing more weight having fun with my food and exercise than most of my friends did with diet and exercise plans), I still see some things concerning food that have not much to do with being free.

    For most people, food is not just something you eat so you stay alive. Nor is it something you do just to enjoy yourself. Food is reward, consolation, protest – remember when you were sad as a kid and your grandmother made you chocolate pudding? Or the times when after a day of mowing the lawn you got icecream as a reward? Or maybe everytime you ate the pack of crisps after your family told you “No, don’t eat that, you’re already fat enough”?

    From my experience, almost everyone knows these scenes. We’ve all been there. Done that. And yes, this means that we won’t be free. At least for a long time filled with much hard work on ourselves. (It doesn’t matter whether we reprogram ourselves or try to break old habits.)

    Besides, I’d always thought our instincts – which haven’T quite gotten used to the abundance and laziness most of us are living in today – would still scream “Eat as many calories as you can get, who knows when you’ll get any more!” There’s reasons why so many people like French fries, chocolate, hamburgers, … Of course you can still learn to really listen to your body telling you “Today I want much fresh fruit and water”, but most of the time it’s more likely you’ll simply hear it shout, “Food! I’m starving!”

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Using food in emotional ways (as rewards and celebrations) is not wrong. It is, in fact, pretty well ingrained in our history as human beings. It doesn’t mean we are not free, it just means that food has more to it than basic nutrition — or, as Pollan would put it himself, more than “nutritionism.” Food is greater than the sum of its parts.

      Also, the example of “rebellion eating” is a perfect illustration of my point — when you take freedom away from someone, they react. Most of the time, they react to their own detriment. So don’t do that — don’t tell people what to do when it’s none of your business. No one in the world would ever “rebellion eat” if no one ever tried to order them around in the first place.

      And, no, despite what people think, people who are competent, unrestrained eaters, do not try to cram as many calories into their faces as possible. Doing that is a sign of disinhibition, which is not normal eating. (In fact, as my mentor teaches, disinhibition is a sign of lack of permission around food.) It is disordered. Luckily, for many people, it is only a temporary state that they go through when they finish dieting. Some people get out of it on their own, and some others need some help.

      Our ideas of what is normal and natural are severely out-of-whack, and the assumption that this kind of thing would happen if people were left to make their own choices about food is just one illustration of that.

      People can be trusted to make good choices about their food and health, provided they aren’t being abused by someone getting all up in their business about it.

      People are largely convinced that we are uncontrolled, reprehensible wild animals when it comes to food, and that, left to our own devices, we’d go swimming through a lake of Crisco. That betrays a severely distorted and cynical view about human nature. It is not compassionate or kind. Neither is it correct.

      I do agree that some food industries have purposely manipulated people’s natural drives through marketing and maybe through additives, but on the whole, food is still food, and most foods play a role for someone, somewhere. I was just writing a comment earlier, in fact, about how junk food can be absolutely critical to sick, malnourished people in hospital. I know that must sound BANANAS to the average person, but that is the reality of working in dietetics with critically ill patients. I’ve been there. I’ve seen it. No amount of hand-wringing is going to convince me otherwise.

      The best idea is to teach people to be critical of advertising, to pay attention to how they feel when eating (no matter what anyone says, if you’re aware enough of your body signals, eating McDonald’s every day of your life probably doesn’t feel all that great for the vast majority of people), and to be wise when buying food. And people are absolutely smart enough to navigate this. To assume they aren’t is just kind of shitty.

      1. linda Avatar

        “People are largely convinced that we are uncontrolled, reprehensible wild animals when it comes to food, and that, left to our own devices, we’d go swimming through a lake of Crisco. That betrays a severely distorted and cynical view about human nature. It is not compassionate or kind. Neither is it correct.”

        This! It makes me crazy. I know a lot of smart friends who when the subject turns to food talk about themselves as if they’re these irrational wild beasts. They would never talk about themselves that way in any other area of their life. It’s not just body vs. mind, it’s nature vs. culture. I think that is one of the major reasons why when it comes to disordered eating restricting is seen as more acceptable than overeating.

        1. linda Avatar

          oops, sorry about the bad html, wanted to quote a part of your reply and ended up making my own reply in blockquote. I’m not good at these things….

          1. Michelle Avatar

            I fixed it :)

          2. linda Avatar

            thank you :)

    2. Arwen Avatar

      I’d really bought the line of thinking for a LOOOOONG time that without steel willpower I’d be eating nothing but McDonalds and Ice Cream. At the end of a long diet, when I was dreaming nightly of food and crying from hunger, I would plow into junk food like a wild thing. I thought, bizarrely, that that was my natural state.

      As someone who eats without obsession now, I very rarely want fast food. Mainly if I’ve gone too long without food – if I skip breakfast after a light dinner I’ll want a burger: it makes sense, and I’ll have one. Also my hormones suggest grease and salt and sugar about a week before my cycle, and sometimes that’s in fast food form.

      One of the things I think has been helpful for balance and range is to play with recipes. I grew up on a vegetarian diet, but even still, learning how much I prefer almost all of the traditional ‘comfort’ foods with the addition of veggies, or the different veggie recipes my parents didn’t have, means I want a greater variety of foods than I used to. So I encourage experimentation: otherwise, I wouldn’t know that gomae (the sweet and salty japanese spinach dish) is something that kicks all other foods to the curb for me in that hormonal week!

      1. Michelle Avatar

        I think you describe an experience that holds true for many, many people — but it’s hard for people to hear (and truly believe) it until they’ve reached that point themselves.

        When I stopped dieting, I started eating chocolates. By the box. Because I’d been hungry for so long. I sat and cried and ate boxes of chocolate. I felt like a freak and thought maybe I would never stop eating chocolate.

        Now, I eat chocolate maybe twice a month — more during the holidays. I don’t even think of it much of the time. I still enjoy it; it’s still one of my very favourite foods. But I don’t feel like I need it, or feel uncontrolled around it. It’s just a thing I like, among lots of other things I like.

        1. Math Musician Avatar
          Math Musician

          I think the hardest thing, for me, is to get over the bone-deep terror that the part where I eat chocolate and chips and cry would NEVER END. How does one get to the place where you have the confidence in yourself to believe the scales will go back to a good place after swinging so far the other way?

  4. RoseRose Avatar

    Ohgodyes! Especially on the not eating like that for long. I headed off to college, with the freedom to eat however I wanted. I gained weight (but that was more because I had spent a couple years in high school with fairly to really disordered eating than anything else). I spent a few YEARS eating ice cream on a regular basis. You want to know something? I haven’t wanted ice cream more than once in a couple months.

    I’ll probably want it again, but my food preferences change. Now I just need to stop thinking of every time I want something sugary as a “guilty pleasure”.

  5. Jane Avatar

    Oh, this is such good stuff. Something I definitely needed today!

  6. Sagan Avatar

    I really like your way of thinking about this. No, stuffing our faces with twinkies WON’T be good for our health, but if we eat what we truly enjoy and if we listen to what our body wants, then we’ll be doing ourselves a whole lotta good. And that includes some room for foods which may not be conventionally considered “healthy”.

    Of course, I DO happen to quite like Pollan’s work. I haven’t seen as much of his newer stuff, and it sounds to me (though I could be wrong) that it’s his newer stuff that focuses more on “rules”. I have mixed feelings about that. I think that in some ways it can be helpful; in other ways, it might just cause problems. It’s dependent on the person who reads it and what they can take away from it.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I really, really like what Pollan had to say about “nutritionism.” But, yeah, I am concerned about how his ideas are becoming just another thing to flagellate ourselves with. But the same could be said for HAES — anyone who still has the basic mind-set of our culture (I MUST CONTROL MY BODY) can take even the most benign, innocuous suggestions as Maxims to Live By, Or Else!

      That’s annoying. And unhealthy.

      1. Globalistgirl Avatar

        Thinking your body is like a machine you can control is pretty misguided. It seems to be this idea causes all kinds of grief for people, including this tendency to act as if there is a manual for proper care that was included with you at birth, only your sloppy parents misplaced it and if someone could only tell you what it said everything would be okay. This seems like an idea to actively resist to me.

  7. Lissydoll Avatar

    Is There any need for the fuck word in there

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Yes. Yes there is.

      1. Alexis Avatar

        Hahahaha, thank you for this!

  8. Lissydoll Avatar

    Well in some sort of way i kind of agree but in some way i really dont… do you have any hobbies besides writing:P

  9. Rosesred Avatar

    I just love, love, love these posts in which you connect food to values, they’re awesome. I’m thinking a bit about the whole Marslow piramide of needs thingie. In theory, you could say people accept restrictions on what theyeat if it means they’re socially accepted, but that link breaks when you follow all the rules, but still aren’t very accepted. If that neat little theory holds, people who are a part of the ‘in-crowd’, or at least do not posses traits that will forever render them an outsider anyway, will follow food rules much stricter. it’s their chance to become part of society.

  10. Amy P Avatar
    Amy P

    “Using food in emotional ways is not wrong.”

    THIS! Thank-you.

  11. April Avatar

    My only complaint here:

    This post is, as you said, setting aside any ethical arguments about how to eat, and focusing only on nutrition and people’s attitude towards food. But for an opening image (which you then turned around for the title and message of the post) you used Michael Pollan’s quote.

    From what I know of reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma, the quote isn’t based on nutritional advice, but on the effect the growing/raising of food has on the environment and people and animals–which to me, would be most definitely an ethical concern.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Yes, that is true. I should be clear: I am not attempting to rebut Pollan’s stance on the food system, or even his summation of current nutritional knowledge. What I am objecting to is the way in which his thesis has become interpreted as a rule to live by, and, in fact, the “rules” he has subsequently promoted after writing his first two books.

      But, as I said above, he is only the latest example of this kind of thing. People take nutritional advice, suggestions, opinions, and even myth and turn them into self-flagellating rules every single day. The problem is with how that info is presented, and how it is interpreted and promoted.

      My stance is that there are no absolute rules in eating or nutrition. Nor should there be. Pollan is just a handy, recent, and visible example of this.

      (And, personally, I actually like a lot of his ideas. But there’s a subtext and a lot of assumptions I definitely don’t agree with.)

      1. April Avatar

        I’ve only read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, I wasn’t even aware (until the comments here) that he’d written anything else! Shows what I know.

        I do wonder how much of him (or anyone else) writing “rules” is because people asked for them. I’ve seen it before: Someone saying “such-and-such related to food is icky, let me show you” to which people respond, “Well, okay then smarty-pants, what do I do about it? How should I eat?”

        I don’t think all the rule-making is one-sided, in other words. I think for any writer etc. who is putting forth some kind of rules, there are people who are asking for them. I think it’s because we’re used to having rules, and that way if we follow them, we are good, and if we don’t, we are bad (or rebellious, which is a kind of good). As a society, we sure do like black and white situations. Because hey, then we don’t have to think!

        I’ve been vegan for about five years, and as much as I think it was a positive change for me (if nothing else–I actually eat a bigger variety of food than before, because I had to change my habits…mmm, kale…), there is just as much black and white thinking among many vegans as anywhere else. Vegan food is good, non-vegan food is bad, without any other considerations. There are plenty of vegans who made the change and then decided they didn’t need to think about food anymore. It really bothers me sometimes, although to be fair, those people seem to be in the minority.

        Just like anyone else, I’m always juggling my ethics vs. my stomach vs. my wallet. Some days I eat lots of veggies and whole grains and stuff, and some days I eat sweetened cereal and soymilk for breakfast and vegan poutine (there’s a cart near my house that sells it) and beer for dinner and I refuse to feel guilty! Mmmm…food. Goddamn, now I’m hungry. I’mma make some popcorn, I think.

        1. Michelle Avatar

          I don’t think all the rule-making is one-sided, in other words. I think for any writer etc. who is putting forth some kind of rules, there are people who are asking for them. I think it’s because we’re used to having rules, and that way if we follow them, we are good, and if we don’t, we are bad

          I totally agree. Because this mindset has poisoned everyone, and it seems to be a cycle that feeds on itself. People expect rules, then they WANT them, and they ask for them, so people deliver, which reinforces the expectation.

          People have certainly asked me for rules, and I pretty much refuse to give them. Because there are no rules except eat or die.

          (And by “rules,” of course, I’m referring to universal prescriptions that suit everyone. For each individual, there will be a set of foods and circumstances which make them feel better and put them at less risk, and a set of foods and circumstances that may increase their risk or actually do them harm. I feel kind of silly having to clarify this, but I want to reassure people that I am NOT advocating people go out there and eat shit they’re allergic to, or, like, eat a bunch of potato chips if they are on dialysis or something. Individual best practices? Yes, those exist. But universal rules? NO.)

  12. Patsy Nevins Avatar
    Patsy Nevins

    I don’t believe in ‘rules’ around eating. If it tastes good, I want it, & have money enough to buy it or the ingredients to make it, I will have it. I am not at all thrilled with what I have read or heard about Michael Pollan. And, just for the record, feeling free to eat what I want has not meant, for me, that I eat nothing but Twinkies. (I personally am not crazy about Twinkies & prefer the cream-filled chocolate & orange cupcakes.) I eat stuff, a variety of stuff, what I like, as much (or as little, since I am able to leave food on my plate) as I like.

    Fun anecdote about how ‘harmful’ Twinkies are, btw. I saw a man profiled on one of those “American Eats” type of shows done occasionally by the various Discovery Channels. It seems that this man, who lives in Indiana, LOVES Twinkies…to the point where they are his favorite food. He eats AT LEAST two boxes (20 Twinkies, or an average of three per day) every week & he has been doing so for close to 70 years. I am sure they are not all he eats, but they do figure prominently in his diet. This man is now 93 years old.

    One last thing…every food contains some kind of nutrients. Chocolate, one of my personal favorites, contains quite a few. They are even saying these days that people who regularly eat chocolate have a lowered risk of stroke & heart attack. I have no idea whether or not this is true, but, hell, I am 60 years old & I can’t afford to take chances, so I make sure to keep stocked up on chocolate & generally eat a little every day! Of course, it is entirely possible that, if I never have a stroke or a heart attack, it will be because I don’t smoke or because none of the women in my family have ever had either of those things, but I don’t mind giving the credit to chocolate.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      One last thing…every food contains some kind of nutrients.

      Yes. This is incredibly important to remember.

  13. Katie Avatar

    Don’t ever read anything by Bethenny Frankel. Your head would pop. Seriously, it’s basically a book on how to become drunkorexic.

  14. Michelle Avatar

    I’m just going to put this out there right now, and a lot of people aren’t going to like it. Nevertheless, this is something I have learned from my training, education and experience:

    You are more likely to eat a nutritious diet when you give yourself permission to eat anything you want.

    It seems paradoxical and counterintuitive, but this is how it actually works.

    1. silentbeep Avatar

      Thank you for writing this! I so agree, and if you agree with me of course it’s good! ;p

      Seriously though I know this “paradoxical” truth within my own life. If I eat what I want, I naturally am just not gonna want to dive into a vat of Crisco or the equivalent of that: I experientially know this to be true.

    2. Ross Kennedy, Dietetic Intern Avatar
      Ross Kennedy, Dietetic Intern

      I think there is some truth to this when one has been properly exposed to a variety of foods. There are many that I have met who don’t like vegetables and really do eat what they want. The problem lies in those foods that they want all the time: high fat, high sodium, low in most antioxidants which we know contribute to diet-related diseases.

      I believe that people who enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables are more likely to fall in line with your statement. This is based on my own experiences with people. Much of our dietary habits are based on what we were shown growing up. My mom didn’t make a big deal about food until after I ballooned. My weight gain came from boredom and eating too much of what was available instead of just eating when I was hungry and stopping when I was satisfied.

      1. Michelle Avatar

        I do think some people need help learning to like new foods. That is part of eating competence actually — to have good “food acceptance” skills, which is a way of ensuring you get an adequate variety of foods in your diet.

        But the first step toward developing eating competence? Is giving yourself permission to eat what you want :)

        1. Ross Kennedy, Dietetic Intern Avatar
          Ross Kennedy, Dietetic Intern

          I would agree with that. I really don’t like when I hear people talk about “good” or “bad” foods. Unhealthy is also misunderstood by many. Unhealthy foods are only so when consumed frequently.

      2. Linda Avatar

        Ross, that does not fit with my experience, but I guess all I can say for sure is that it isn’t universally true. I grew up, for at least the first two decades of my life, eating the 1950s Betty Crocker diet, the one with the gravies and frostings and canned vegetables (very few) in casseroles. As I became aware of the health food movement and its opinion of the moral lowliness of the foods I had grown up on, I still wanted them and was unsuccessful in making myself be able to tolerate anything other than that Betty Crocker diet. It was only after I gave myself permission to eat whatever I liked that I began to desire and develop a taste for whole foods as well. True story. :)

    3. Anne Avatar

      No. Not paradoxical at all.

      One of the things I learned about myself was if I made certain foods bad and, others good I would invariably set myself up for failure when I ate something “sinful” And, if I denied myself an indulgence I’d crave it, obsess about it and, eventually cave in then eat more of it than I normally would. I was a bad bad person for wanting/having that.

      I’m not sure when (or how) it clicked for me, but somewhere along the line I decided not only was there no such thing as bad food, but I was going to try new foods and, new ways to cook. The weight I had managed to gain (don’t know what it was but I had a 41″ waist) has peeled off. I now have a 29″ waist after a year and a half. I’ve had key lime pie (yum!) Almond Roca (swoons), chocolate, cake from the Chinese bakery that sells them buy the slice (divine) … a very long list of foods I once considered were to road to damnation and, the weight continued to come off.

      Its still a work in progress, but the way I think about food has drastically changed because I stopped moralizing food.

      1. Michelle Avatar

        Very interesting. I think it’s very worthwhile to practice giving yourself permission to eat anything you want, whether you lose weight or not. Interesting that you did — if only it worked that way for everyone :)

        1. Anne Avatar

          Trust me, I don’t know how it all came together* but removing the punitive “you can’t have that” from my approach to food made it easier to say no. There was something you said on the grey in a thread about how you think when you’re in a grocery store about food which resonated with me. Now that its about choices rather than the previous punitive guilt/shame cycle it is faaaar easier to make better choices. I don’t feel bad about having it if I want it for the most part and, I don’t obsess if I deny myself the pleasure.

          There’s a lot more to it than just eat what I want when I want. I spend a lot of time being mindful of what I eat. Am I really hungry or am I bored? What am I craving? Etc And, as I said further down there are certain foods that make me crave more vs ones that don’t and, for health reasons I’ve learned to avoid them as best I can.

          *Initially I wasn’t even aware I was losing weight. When it was pointed out to me by someone else I was legitimately confused because I was eating what I wanted when I wanted. I actually thought I had something medically wrong with me and saw the doctor about it. A year later and, he wanted to know how I did it I replied I don’t know, but if I did I patent the idea, write a book … I’d be rich! he chuckled. I really wish I could drill it down to some sensible plan that works for all. I know what a struggle it can be, is something I’ve been battling with for over half my life.

      2. deeleigh Avatar

        That’s interesting. Such a significant change in size based on such a simple change in perception. My waist has never been as big as 41″ or (as a teenager or adult) as small as 29″. And, I’ve always been ambivalent about moralizing food. On the other hand, the idea that some food is “good,” other food is “bad,” and it’s best to eat as little as possible was a fundamental part of how I was raised. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be completely free of that background noise.

        I tend to be a bit lighter – not heavier – when I’m being more puritanical about my eating, though.

  15. Alexis Avatar

    My goodness you really did ignite a fire in me with this one! I love your writing, but this one is your best by far.

    I have read a lot of Michael Pollan (and I do realize that this post is not a refutation of his work), and I appreciate it for what it’s worth. For me, that is the exposure he gives to the sustainable agriculture m0vement and ethical treatment of livestock. So many great things have come out of that publicity, and it really just seems like there is more cool stuff to promote slow foods every day. HOWEVER, I have long found his rhetoric to be classist in the extreme, and heavily focused on personal choice rather than reform of industrial food production. It’s written with the NPR liberal in mind, not the working-class mom struggling to feed three kids.

    The other thing that you brought up for me is that, while I agree that food choice should always be up to the individual, a lot of us are not free to make the choices we might like to make. I know in my city there has been a strong push to have small farmer’s markets in inner-city neighborhoods to serve poor communities because so often fresh produce is not available. But I think this is the exception, not the norm. I also think a lot of our “choices” are based on convenience and not what we really want to be eating. And I don’t think anyone should be shamed for eating things they would prefer not to eat, but I also think it sucks that they don’t have access to that stuff. I guess I think there can be a two-tiered approach to this issue that says, on the one hand, “Eat food. Stuff you like. As much as you want”, and on the other, “Have access to additive-free foods and fresh fruits and vegetables. Be able to afford to eat the ones you like, as many of them as you want.” Is anyone with me on this?

    1. silentbeep Avatar

      @ Alesis

      IMHO opinion Michelle has addressed this topic of a multi-tiered approach to “food choice” in a past post called “If only poor people understood nutrition! “

    2. Michelle Avatar

      I think you make very good points. Accessibility is a systemic issue, while individual choices are a personal issue.

      I tend to lean toward having MORE choices available to people systemically (meaning, a wider variety of choices, not necessarily removing anything from the marketplace), and fewer rules attempting to control their individual choices.

      I guess this makes me…a food libertarian? Good Lord.

      (Then again, I also believe in using social programs to raise the standard of living for the poorest and most vulnerable members of society so they can HAVE access to foods they otherwise not be able to afford. So I guess I’m a commie after all.)

      1. Alexis Avatar

        Woohoo! Commies rule!
        I agree wholeheartedly with your sentiment. I had a heated discussion about this with a vegan friend, though, and she could not accept that food does not have moral value, good or bad. I see where she is coming from, but I still think it’s a position of privilege to be able to make that choice. If there was no poverty, I don’t doubt there would be more vegans (even though I don’t buy that veganism is a morally superior diet (frankly, even the phrase “morally superior diet” makes me cackle)), but it would be a personal choice.

        I think I might be a food libertarian as well. :)

    3. Carolyn Avatar

      HERE HERE!!!!! Alexis – everything I wanted to say earlier but with less snark :D.

      I agree that Polan has expressed some good ideas with animal welfare and issues with industrialized food, but the classist element is hard to ignore. To me it seems like a very American point of view: “you can change anything with money.” I think Michael Polan specifically says “you vote with your fork 3 times per day”. American’s (like myself) tend to think we can buy our way out of anything. Ill health? Buy Better Food. Human Rights? Buy Fair Trade. etc and so on. Which is where I agree with you, what about those of us who do not have the money that it takes to “vote with our forks”?

      1. Alexis Avatar

        Oh, yay, I was totally arguing with a friend about this elsewhere, so I’m glad to revisit the comments and hear support for my position! :)
        It’s something that is on my mind a lot lately since my personal economic situation does not match the kind of vote I would like to cast with my fork. Sort of a silver-plated fork voter on a aluminum spork budget, am I. ;) I almost went into a rage when I visited my local co-op and saw a pack of 8 flour tortillas (organic, handcrafted, of course!) for $5. Nutrition density wise I am quite certain they are on par with the 2-for-$4 ones I saw at the supermarket, but of course they are the morally superior choice, right? Ugh.

  16. Lori Avatar

    So, when I say “Adult human beings are allowed to eat whatever, and however much they want,” what people actually hear is: “GO OUT AND CRAM YOUR FACE WITH BAD, BAD TWINKIES!!!!!!”…
    This may come as a huge surprise, but if you’re willing to let go of those negative assumptions about human nature for one second, you might realize that pretty much no one wants to eat that way, anyhow.

    Wonderful post, and I especially wanted to comment on this part.

    I try to feed my son using Ellyn Sater’s advice. (And, I’m even more glad she’s out there doing what she’s doing now that I’m having a girl, because the task of raising a girl who has a relatively sane view of food and her body seems even more daunting.) One of the things I’ve incorporated is the occasional snack where my son is allowed to eat as many cookies (or brownies, or ice cream, or candy, or other food considered “bad”) as he wants. He knew from a very young age–probably 4–that if he ate too many cookies, his tummy wouldn’t feel good. So, he doesn’t. If I let me son eat as many cookies as he wants, he might take 2 is he’s not that hungry, maybe 3 or 4 if he’s hungrier. The idea of eating the entire bag in one sitting would not occur to him, because it would make him feel sick (overeating does that) and he knows that he’ll get to eat that food again soon. When he’s allowed to pick his own snack food, he’ll occasionally pick a more dessert-like food, but more often than not my son will ask for fruit and yogurt. “Junk food” loses it’s appeal when you know you’re allowed to eat it whenever you want, because honestly much of the time it doesn’t make you feel as good as an alternative. I could not agree more that, once you let go of the idea that you must never, ever, ever eat a Twinkie, you are very unlikely to go crazy and eat nothing but Twinkies if your food rules suddenly go away. In fact, I’d venture to say many people would not get beyond one bite of a Twinkie, because, at least in my opinion, Twinkies are at lot less appealing in your mouth than in your imagination. (I’m not a fan of Twinkies, though. I put them in the same category as Spaghetti-Os, food I remember thinking was such an amazing treat as a kid, that gross me out now.)

    He has several friends who have parents who are extremely strict about food intake and not having junk food, and they come to my house–a place where cookies and ice cream are allowed–and I have to tell them they can’t go in my kitchen, because they will spend half the time they’re here grabbing snacks. And I’m sure that kind of behavior would make their parents go, “See, that’s why we can’t keep junk in the house!” but it seems so obvious to me that that sort of lack of control around higher-fat, higher-sugar foods develops precisely because it’s forbidden.

    Anyway, I’m rambling now, but I loved your post. And, it was especially timely given that tomorrow is Paczki Day here. Although we’ve been living in Detroit for five years, we’ve never eaten paczkis (not for diet reasons, just because we never got around to it), which are apparently a bit like deep-fried jelly donuts or zeppolis filled with sweet stuff, and my husband has promised to come home with a bakery box full of them tomorrow, which we may have for dinner.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Thank you so, so much for giving us a snapshot of how this works in the real world. I love to hear about people who use Ellyn Satter’s methods with their kids. The stories tend to be very heartening, because kids (with some guidance) can come to a healthy, natural relationship with food that many of us adults cannot seem to get our heads around. It’s inspiring.

    2. unscrambled Avatar

      Laura Bennett, a former contestant on Project Runway, wrote a fairly entertaining (Nazis aside) article about this, which makes a similar point:

      1. Alexis Avatar

        That link is borked, but I was so excited to read something about sane parenting from Lady Bennett that I went and found a working one:

        Thanks for that link!

    3. Lisablue Avatar

      Ah, this is so true. We also always have treats in the house (for example, chocolate, popcorn, some sort of salty snack foods, and always, always ice cream). And although I feel too busy to do this as often as I like, I do make cookies or bars or something like that on occasion.

      My son is only 2 1/2, but he knows that if he asks for something, if it’s in our home, he may have it. Ice cream every day? Sometimes he goes on an ice cream kick for 4 or 5 days, and then doesn’t want it for weeks. That feels really healthy to me. Sometimes he begs for fruit, some times he wants broccoli, and on weekends we have pancakes with maple syrup and that’s aok.

      I remember when I was a kid, going to people’s houses, and noticing that people who had candy dishes very rarely ate the candy. And I always thought – when I am grown up, I want to have a candy dish, because then I won’t feel like I want candy all the time. And it is SO TRUE.

      1. Michelle Avatar

        when I am grown up, I want to have a candy dish, because then I won’t feel like I want candy all the time.

        Haha, that is awesome. I think I also had a fascination (born of jealousy) for candy dishes. I am a candy fiend.

        1. Jex Avatar

          My house has some work to do with this concept. We had one of those Costco jelly belly things after New Year and I think we were all eating it agressively because we felt a duty to finish it. Then last weekend there was an issue with a decision between “being a grownup” and leaving the clearly excessive last of the wine and “not wasting” and finishing it.

          1. blackcherryorchid Avatar

            The “as much as you want” part is important and also goes for trying not to eat more than you want. The morality around food goes both ways. I grew up believing that you have to finish your plate. I remember multiple occasions as a child when I was forced to keep eating until the plate was clean. There are all kinds of axioms that are drilled into your head by parents and the wider society: the starving children in Africa, eating all of your vegetables, and don’t let anything go bad are just a few.

            As an adult, I have felt tremendous guilt about throwing food away. The duty of finishing and not letting anything go to waste is such a moral burden. I have been making a conscious effort to give myself permission to stop eating when I don’t want to eat anymore. Sometimes I even feel giddy about throwing food away! One day I hope I can be “free” and not assign any moral weight to it at all.

          2. Michelle Avatar

            Yes. I used to have this very same problem, worrying about “wasting” food.

            I guess what helped me was looking at the big picture. This food on my plate, right now — while I’m lucky to have it, and while many people in the world don’t — is not going to save anyone by my eating past the point of fullness. It is not going to help anyone directly. And, over time, doing intuitive eating stuff is only going to help me be a much better estimator of how much food to prepare so I get just the right amount, and overall, waste LESS.

            The dietitian I was working with at the time, who counseled me in normal eating, also had a phrase, “In you, or in the garbage.” I’m not a trash compactor. Though I may regret throwing food away or “wasting” it, ultimately, it’s wasted anyway if I don’t actually need or want it in me.

          3. Amy Avatar

            My girlfriend used to say, “It’s a waste either way.” (Whether you eat something you don’t want or throw it away, it’s still wasted.) So true.

      2. Rexybird Avatar

        I had totally forgotten about candy dishes! Growing up my grandmother always had a candy dish in her front room. As kids we used to practice being able to open that dish without the adults hearing the tinkling of the glass. We wanted that candy so badly. If it hadn’t been so forbidden (and also so exciting to try to sneak it) we probably wouldn’t have bothered.

    4. deeleigh Avatar

      I lived in the Detroit area from birth to age 34, and am not a huge fan of paczkis, although I wouldn’t say “no” if offered one. They’re just jelly donuts, and they’re so big and heavy that your family will probably not be able to eat a dozen, unless there are 8 of you or something. As a full meal, they’d actually be kind of vile (at least to me) though a paczki with a nice bowl of squash soup and/or a salad might be nice.

    5. Lampdevil Avatar

      Twinkies are at lot less appealing in your mouth than in your imagination. (I’m not a fan of Twinkies, though. I put them in the same category as Spaghetti-Os, food I remember thinking was such an amazing treat as a kid, that gross me out now.)

      Doritos are my “why do you not taste as good as you did when I was 8?!” food. Back then, a bag of Zesty Doritos (they used to be called Taquitos!) were the BEST FOOD EVER. My young life did not have an infinite Dorito supply. When I got them, it was SO AWESOME. Nowadays, I’ll get the hankerin’, buy a bag, and get grossed out partway through.

      I’ve realized that I’m partially seeking the memory of how great they were when I was a kid, and partially that my adult tastebuds just don’t respond to the exact same things. I can’t be 8 again, with that weekly bag of Taquitos and the “mix pop” from the bowling alley, where my friends and I went on Saturday mornings. Nothing quite lives up to the memory anymore.

      The same thing happens when I watch the cartoons I loved as a kid, but that’s not quite on topic…

  17. Globalistgirl Avatar

    Just to clarify for those who have not read Pollan’s latest book- the 64 ‘rules’ in In Defense of Food are based on how the industrial food system works and on that reductionism just doesn’t work very well for answering the question: “What should I eat?”. The thesis of the book is in the image shown above – three lines that one is hard-pressed to make into Rules To Always Live By Or Else simply because they’re not very MEASURABLE as stated. (Not too much? Define ‘much’?) (Perhaps people’s tendency to try anyway is interesting in and of itself as Michelle has mentioned.) The ’64 rules’ of the book are the point-by-point reasons for why he thinks we should eat whole foods, mostly plant-based, and in moderation.

    Personally I thought that it was implied that you should eat what you want. Someone might say that maybe that’s true for me but not for them. Perhaps. But I eat a traditional diet, more or less, and I like it. It’s what I want to eat. I’ve never had a Twinkie and am not particularly tempted either. Pollan’s points agree with what I see around me in my home countries and in my family. My mother dispensed advice to live by. She got it from her mother. The people who eat our regional diet are healthier than Americans. It consists of mostly whole foods. A lot of plants, much more fish than in the US. More variety in meats of other sorts. And clear cultural norms about portion sizes, and what gets called food (versus just something edible – potato chips are not food. Sorry, but they’re not.). So what I hear from Pollan is, pretty much, “Eat what you want.”

    However, my American friends want different things than I do. They like factory food in a way I don’t. You may not see it that way, but I think it’s a difficulty of seeing the forest for all the trees. Food companies in the US have really warped people’s relationships to food, in many ways. Americans may get tired of swimming in seas of Twinkies, but the sheer overwhelming quantity of artificial food-like products warps your idea of normal food even when you grew up with something else. It’s no joke.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Personally I thought that it was implied that you should eat what you want.

      I think that, if that’s how you interpreted the message, then it’s a sign you’re probably very secure in your eating. The question of whether or not MOST people are as secure, well…I don’t think they are, as evidenced by the prevalence of eating disorders, and plain old neurotic food beliefs, in our culture.

      I appreciate the intent of Pollan’s message (even though I do disagree with his views on obesity), but I think that, living in this cultural context, its important we take care in how our messages are likely to be interpreted, given the cultural climate around food.

      I also have issues with where to draw the line between “artificial” or “processed” and non-processed food. I mean, bread is technically processed. So is pasta. So are canned and frozen vegetables. Then there are the more “value-added” foods — some people literally depend on those foods in order to get anything to eat. At what point can a line be drawn between what is acceptable and what isn’t?

      I also can’t help but hear all this complaining about processed food and immediately think to myself “FIRST WORLD PROBLEMS.” We have an essentially reliable, basically functional food system that provides sustanence for millions of people. Does it need improvements? Yes, definitely. Does that mean we need to label everything that comes out of it as poison, or as morally suspect? NO. That would be throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

      …potato chips are not food. Sorry, but they’re not.

      This is an incredibly problematic statement. Please see my comment above about using “junk food” in the service of treating malnourished and ill people. Different foods have different roles to play for different people. Reality is complex.

      1. Lori Avatar

        In defense of the potato chip, when I was having terrible morning sickness in the summer and fall, potato chips were at times the only food I could find that would both settle my stomach and not require me to spend time cooking (which I couldn’t do because cooking was making me sick). Clear sodas–another “not real” food to many people–were another lifesaver for me; they settled my stomach and got me sugar and calories, which I needed.

        A lunch of potato chips and Sprite might not seem very healthful, but if it’s the only thing you can manage to keep down or even fathom eating, it’s better than not eating (especially when your overall food intake is low enough that you do need to consciously make sure you are getting sufficient calories). We need calories and we need nutrients, and sometimes you have to take them any way you can get them.

        1. unscrambled Avatar

          Someone needs to write the book “In Defense of the Potato Chip”

          1. meerkat Avatar

            They also contain delicious starch! And the seaweed flavor has seaweed, which is full of vitamins.

        2. Anna Avatar

          I see this, but if you were raised without chips as a regular part of the diet, they can seem like not food and not interesting, and kinda curious that others eat them. If you were raised with them, sure, it makes sense to eat them to get more calories when your appetite’s low. But if you weren’t raised with them, it might not seem like food, and you might prefer a can of Ensure or Boost, which isn’t really food either but at least is designed for those sorts of situations.

          I guess my confusion is from the fact that junk food is generally not very nourishing and I find the tastes abrasive and the after-feeling pretty bad. It totally seems engineered and not like “real food”. I DO agree with Michelle–you have to follow your body to get out of disordered eating in a disordered culture. But I don’t know how to reconcile this with my experience of junk food seeming totally fake and inedible. If bodies know what is best, why do bodies raised in a certain environment want things so plastic-y, things that only came to be in the last 60 or so years? At the same time, I agree that restriction will make the desire stronger. Any discussion of this topic would be appreciated.

          1. Anna Avatar

            OK, the junk food conversation below cleared things up for me somewhat, at least for myself. I don’t eat chips because I think they’re gross, not because I “can’t” and that makes all the difference. Other people– I don’t have a clue and it doesn’t matter because they’re not me :)

            But that conversation below would make a nice blog post. It seems similar to the idea of structure–it doesn’t have to be restrictive just because it’s not fulfilling every whim.

          2. Globalistgirl Avatar

            “But I don’t know how to reconcile this with my experience of junk food seeming totally fake and inedible. If bodies know what is best, why do bodies raised in a certain environment want things so plastic-y, things that only came to be in the last 60 or so years?”

            I am wondering the exact same thing. I can see every day that my environment set me on a very different trajectory when it comes to what my body wants compared to most of the people around me. I have also been in the position of the one who is conditioned to want more sugar than any ‘normal’ human being should want. I have directly experienced and seen that what a body wants depends on what it’s used to. I see few, other than Pollan, trying to explain that.

            It’s hard not to wonder why you’re different from people around you though, so I keep thinking about it. I really think food companies have found addictive combinations of ingredients – as a poster below also describes – and that Pollan’s nutritionism feeds the confusion. Together, the effect IMO is a collective loopy and dysfunctional relationship to food as well as people’s bodies. There seems to be no solid ground to stand on and nothing and everything is normal. And that’s where the need for blogs like this comes in, I guess.
            Michelle is clearly helping a lot of people saying what she says.

            If you haven’t read Pollan’s book, I suggest you do. It’s easy and quick to read. He’s not really saying anything new as much as he’s phrasing things well.

          3. Lampdevil Avatar

            I guess my confusion is from the fact that junk food is generally not very nourishing and I find the tastes abrasive and the after-feeling pretty bad. It totally seems engineered and not like “real food”.

            Aah, you’ve said that you were raised on a diet different than the Western standard. That, I’m sure, is where the disconnect lies. In my experience, most people don’t react well to foods that they are not familiar with. If you’re not raised with a flavor or texture or seasoning, your first encounter with it is going to be jarring.

            As a personal example, my first time eating sushi was scary. The nori that it’s wrapped in is… is… SEAWEED. It was a form of vegetable that I had no familiarity with at all. It was a taste and texture that I had never experienced. It kinda grossed me out a bit. But I enjoyed the stuff in the rolls and the stuff on the nigiri, so I ordered it again. And ate soups that my neighbor made with nori in it. And had nori done tempura style! And as I became accustomed to the food, I began to enjoy it more. On a more “junk food” front, I’m not fond of the flavors used in a lot of the snacky foods and candies at my local asian grocery. They don’t taste all that good to me. I don’t eat them, as a result.

            Note that I said that they “don’t taste good”, not that they’re not “real food”. Because really, if it’s edible and not rotten or poisoned? It’s food. Really. It’s actually, honestly food. I have relatives and aquaintances that would look at nori, make a face, and go “that’s not REAL FOOD”. Simply because of a lack of familiarity/comfort/adventurousness. And they can go right ahead and do that, even if it irritates me on some level. If we’re allowed to eat what we want, we’re allowed to not eat what we don’t want. So avoid those chips! They’re not mandatory.

            (Semi-relatedly, I never quite know what to do with an adult picky eater that only seems to subsist off of chicken fingers and ketchup. Or who only wants sandwiches with meat and butter. Is it really ‘disordered’ if folk aren’t eating a variety of foods not because of trumped-up health reasons but because they do not ever, ever want to have their palate challenged? Am I justified in wanting to bonk my personal Mr. ChickenfingerMonger over the head?)

          4. Lampdevil Avatar

            …and having read the rest of the thread from there, I feel like a bit of a dumbass now. Um. Oops. I now comprehend the Great Potato Chip Definition Discussion, and most of what I said above can be disregarded!

            But I still have a grudge against chicken fingers that I really oughta seek some therapy for.

        3. closetpuritan Avatar

          Oh, I came across something people here might find interesting, and kind of related to this discussion:
          The most recent national nutrition survey found that sugar-sweetened sodas are the single largest source of calories in the American diet: 7.1 percent. Yet they supply nothing but water that is of value to the body. And their sugar content actually increases the body’s water needs.

          Another article with a one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition, that pretends that macronutrients aren’t nutrients. The info about sodas increasing one’s water needs is useful, but why couldn’t they write, “they supply only water and sugar (and most Americans get plenty of sugar)” instead? (Oh, and of course the title of that section is “Don’t Get Fat on Drinks”.)

          1. Michelle Avatar

            You know, it’s funny, but “And their sugar content actually increases the body’s water needs.” — is this really true? I mean, it seems true intuitively, and I have to say that sometimes I feel thirstier after I’ve had sugar sweetened pop…but as far as what I’ve learned, and as far as how I’ve seen nutrition practiced in diabetes and renal settings, this isn’t accepted as fact. Do they have a source on that?

            Or does saying “increases the body’s water needs” mean they technically haven’t come out and said “you need to drink more water to make up for these drinks”? Because your colon (yay colon!) changes the amount of water it absorbs based on what you need, meaning that unless you’re drinking massive amounts of cola, or your pancreas is not producing adequate insulin, or unless said cola gives you explosive diarrhea (and apparently it does, for some people), this increased water need is probably subtle enough that it’s balanced out within your GI tract, and doesn’t require the renin-angiotensin system to kick in and make you thirstier. It might be merely a function of osmosis, depending on your blood’s absorption of sugar molecules (though this review suggests otherwise.) Or something. I don’t know. I’m still half asleep.

      2. mh Avatar

        I also feel compelled to comment in defense of the potato chip.

        Potato chips are essentially potatoes, vegetable oil, and salt. They may be “junk” food in the sense that they contain OMG fat! and carbohydrates!, but the fact is that potatoes are an excellent source of the micronutrients Vitamin C and potassium, and are good sources of many other vitamins and minerals. (Folate, niacin, etc.) They are a nutritious food. In the sense that they provide NUTRIENTS. For anyone, not merely those who need extra calories (as Michelle pointed out).

        The fact that Globalistgirl did not eat them as a child is completely irrelevant. This comment is, IMHO, an example of the worst kind of food snobbery. The commenter’s “traditional” diet makes people “healthier” than those who do not adhere to it. And what those “unhealthy” people eat is not only worse, it’s not even FOOD.

        Globalistgirl, I apologize if that was not your intention, but your comment was really irritating on a number of levels.

        1. Michelle Avatar

          Yes, thank you. I’d also like to point out that, for lots of us? Eating potato chips is something “traditional” for us. We’re mostly Americans here, for Pete’s sake. I hate the inherent snobbery that goes along with painting most of the traditional American staples as “junk food.”

          (I really, really love American food, can you tell?)

          1. Globalistgirl Avatar

            I was raised in several countries (one of which is the US) by parents from two different countries. I realize you probably don’t have a lot of experience with this and probably didn’t mean any ill, but being called a snob is something third culture kids like me run into a lot, in all of our home countries.

            Calling me a snob because I had a different set of experiences in childhood than you did makes me feel, well, bad. Nobody wants to be a snob. And you’re (probably inadvertently) casting me as an outsider in a country that I claim as my own. Unfortunately, this is a common response to things I (and other third culture kids) say when experience from another culture are involved. People take it as some sort of “look-how-well-traveled-I-am”, when it is the only frame of reference we have.

            The rub here is that my life experience from being born and raised in a single country without any of this elitist, overclass, snobby moving around is, oh, from birth to 3 years of age. Therefore, my choices are to 1) stay silent about nearly my entire life or 2) deal with being treated as a snob on a regular basis. I choose 2, because I am who I am and because only then might there be change eventually. (Yes, there are third culture kid activists :) )

            I hope that you might reconsider judging those who do not eat like you so quickly. There certainly are those Americans who love bringing up their all-organic, vegan diet, their fabulous taste in French wine and African coffee, and whatever else they think signals sophistication and/or being wise in the ways of the world. (If it’s European, it MUST be fancy, right?) But just because I don’t live off Big Macs and Coke and potato chips doesn’t mean I’m a snob. And my parents being born where they were and moving me around as a kid doesn’t make me a snob either, any more than army brats or immigrants are automatically snobs.

            Also – if those who are not American or do not share a completely American frame of reference are not welcome to contribute their point of view – perhaps you might want to clarify that you are discussing American food from an internal perspective only.

            I commented because the US is one of my home countries, but I also have other home countries to compare food experiences and Pollan’s advice specifically to – something I know not everyone can do. I thought that since I am simultaneously an insider and an outsider in the US, I could contribute something unique. Apologies for not making my point sufficiently clear. Also apologies for the long reply – I am trying to be more clear this time around. I do not know if it was all necessary, but better safe than sorry.

          2. Michelle Avatar

            Oh, honey, I’m sorry if we misunderstood you.

            I think the crucial rule here is don’t yuck my yum.

            That goes for all of us.

            For what it’s worth, I’m also an insider-outsider American, since I grew up in the US, but have lived my entire adult life in Canada. People may not THINK they’re very much different, culturally and politically, but you’d be surprised.

          3. Globalistgirl Avatar

            I may not have expressed myself as well as I should have, but I appreciate the apology anyway.

            Yeah, I have similar observations about culture differences. Just because they’re not spike-in-your-eye glaring when you first move somewhere doesn’t mean they don’t exist and aren’t pretty serious ultimately.

            I read your blog because it offers a fascinating view into Americans’ relationship with food. While I have consciously chosen not to automatically do everything the way people in my current country do things, I do want to understand why they do what they do. I want it to be a true choice.

            Some of my college roommates ate things and in ways that I had seen in commercials but didn’t realize anyone actually did. It showed me that they thought of food and eating differently than I did. Thanks to you and other FA bloggers, as well as Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser, and Greg Critser, I now know more about why that is so. (Two of my other homes are also industrialized, rich countries with food industries. Speaking of differences not being as subtle as you’d think. Along the way I also found out why parents in two of my homes never said anything about eating raw cookie dough or licking batter spoons while baking but parents in the US always did.)

            Thank you for being friendly, and for helping so many people. Like Pollan (I hope you don’t take that as an insult), I think you can see beyond all the details of the 65426534 studies done on nutrition, exercise, and health with some common sense. You obviously also have the personal experiences to reach your clients in a way I for example couldn’t.

          4. Anna Avatar

            I disagree that potato chips are traditional American foods. Traditional American food is whatever the Native American group that was living there ate, not the far more recent inventions. Traditional for an American family might be what their family ate generations back, as well.

            Recent doesn’t mean bad, necessarily, but it does mean it’s not traditional. A lot of recent foods may have some nutrients, but have low nutrient density–a low amount of nutrients for the calories provided. That’s OK but not going to maximize essential nutrients, phytonutrients, etc. I think that’s one reason for bias against more recent foods.

            I was personally raised on rice and beans in large part for $$$ reasons as well as cultural reasons. Fast food, coke, sugar cereal etc were all seen as expensive treats that we couldn’t often afford. I can’t believe preferring the cheaper food would be seen as snobby!

            But, the don’t yuk on my food rule is a good one. Point taken.

          5. Michelle Avatar

            I guess the interesting thing is that “traditional” means different things for different people. Potato chips are actually a pretty traditional Anglo food — so Americans with an English cultural heritage would totally see them as traditional. Because, before potato chips were mass manufactured as they are today, various deep-fried potatoes (referred to as either chips or French fries) were probably around for hundreds of years. Given my positioning in the culture (meaning my family’s cultural heritage as well as the time and place where I and my family grew up), I totally see potato chips as traditional. So does my husband’s family. Lots of other people wouldn’t, though.

            And you have a good point about seeing different foods as “snobby” based on where you’re at on the socioeconomic continuum. For people who really rely on rice and beans as staples, the more manufactured/processed foods may seem high-class and snobby. But for our upper-middle class contemporaries who might aim to return to a more organic diet, and pay a premium to do so, those same foods are going to seem low-class.

            It’s all relative, apparently.

          6. Rose Avatar

            Considering that potatoes are native to the Americas, I think that they count as a “traditional” American food by any standard, even as chips. But, 500 years on, they’re also part of the tradition of many other food cultures, from Ireland to India and back again.

            Same goes for tomatoes, capsicums (peppers), coffee, and tea, to name a few.

          7. Globalistgirl Avatar

            I was using the word in the sense in which Pollan uses the term, and he specifies that how far back you have to go depends on the cultural context. My original comment was entirely in the context of terminology used in “In Defense of Food”, which is not their usual, everyday definitions.

        2. Globalistgirl Avatar

          I am using the terminology of Pollan’s book to point out that my experience is consistent with the ideas put forth in In Defense of Food. Sorry if you haven’t read the book, it was not my intention to annoy anyone.

          It may not be your experience, but I just wanted to throw it out there that people exist who already ate like Pollan suggests before the book was published and to those people, his book is obviously going to make sense. If you’re happy with how you eat and someone publishes a book saying that’s the right thing to do, of course you will like it and feel like there is truth to the book.

          For the record, I do eat potato chips, and I even ate them as a child sometimes. I am not going to start eating something that makes me feel queasy pretty quickly just because I’m insufficiently “folksy” for American tastes. I’ve been down that road of trying to avoid negative reactions by ‘hiding’ my cultural mix many times before. No thanks.

          1. mh Avatar

            Globalistgirl, no one is saying that to prefer one type food or cuisine over another is better or worse. I think that is explicit in Michelle’s writing. I agree that one likes what one has been exposed to, and is used to; eating to fit in can be a difficult and demoralizing experience; and the food choices and eating habits of other cultures can be puzzling.

            I am sorry that you have been judged on the basis of your cultural background and food preferences. But that doesn’t make it OK to say that another culture’s food is not food, and that those who eat such non-foods are less healthy. Suppose a person who was raised as a vegan were to say cheese is not a food, and people who eat it are less heathy than people who are not. Suppose I were to say to my friend, whose immigrant family ate goat for Thanksgiving instead of turkey, “Goat isn’t food, it is a pet (I used to have pet goats) and even if it was, turkey is healthier.”

            I also don’t understand why you would say that potato chips are not a food, and that eating them makes you queasy—yet then go on to say that you do eat them and have done since childhood. Why would you eat a non-food that makes you feel ill? It doesn’t make sense.

            I’m not trying to hurt your feelings nor denigrate your experience. I do agree with several of your comments above, but the ones I don’t agree with really struck a chord with me.

          2. mh Avatar

            Hope everyone bears with me as I beat a dead horse (whack!) and Globalistgirl, truly sorry to pick on you, but it is also my experience that potato chips are available in many countries on several continents. OK I will shut up now, and no I don’t work for the potato chip industry. (But maybe I should.)

          3. Michelle Avatar

            If you see any job postings, let me know.

          4. Rebecca Avatar

            Globalistgirl, I’m a TCK too but I don’t understand your “food/ not-food” division. The places I’ve lived in have either been fully-industrialized junk food heavens, or places where people would eat just about anything they could get because it was hard to get enough (or enough variety, anyway). Is it possible that you picked up your feelings on the subject in a country I haven’t lived in? That is, is it possible that this is a specific culturally-based attitude?

          5. Globalistgirl Avatar

            To me, food is something I eat to satisfy hunger and something nearly anyone could safely eat in large quantities on a regular basis.

            When I eat potato chips, I do it because I think they would taste good, not because I’m hungry. If I eat enough to get fairly full I also feel funny. So I don’t consider them food.

            My idea of food may be colored by how the word ‘food’ is used in Swedish and Finnish. (Attach the usual this-may-just-be-me disclaimer here.) To me edible != automatically food. I have two concepts – one of food, meaning something reasonably natural (i. e. not something you MUST have a factory to make all of) healthy to eat in large quantities on a regular basis for the express purpose of quelling hunger, and the other of.. uh… English word missing… livsmedel or elintarvike. Something edible that may be a whole food, a processed food, healthy, unhealthy, safe to eat a little or a lot of. Unspecified in all value respects except that it’s edible by humans and contains some sort of nutrients.

            I’ve noticed my American husband talks about things even he doesn’t eat as part of a meal, like ice cream, as food. I can’t bring myself to call things a Swede or Finn or Chinese wouldn’t plop down on a meal plate food. I just call them what they are – chips, ice cream, cookies, etc, in lack of a word for them as a group. Perhaps that’s really my culture confusion problem rather than anything profound about what is and isn’t a food.

          6. Globalistgirl Avatar

            I should note for people who haven’t read In Defense of Food that my feeling of what is and isn’t food is pretty much exactly what Pollan defines food as being, so coming back full circle, when I read the book I got “eat whatever you like, you can safely ignore all the food hoopla going on here, you already know how to eat” out of it.

          7. Rebecca Avatar

            That is a linguistic thing, then. “Food” in English really does mean “something you can eat that isn’t medicine.” The distinction I think you’re looking for is “breakfast food,” “lunch food,” “dinner food,” and “snack food.” That distinction certainly exists– although in the US and UK, at least, potato chips are often a side dish on a plate next to a sandwich, at a properly set table at lunch time. In Chinese “snack food” is sometimes called “street food” if you get it at a street vendor. And then there is a difference between “processed food” and “whole food.” But in English, it’s all food.

            And with regard to your comment below, yes, the junky food was regularly eaten in the “junk food heavens” I’m talking about. Not just available but common. At least by the people I knew. YMMV

          8. Globalistgirl Avatar

            Just because something is available doesn’t mean people eat a lot of it, or eat it on a regular basis, or even if they do, see it as a normal part of their diet. I fail to see how availability matters here.

          9. Globalistgirl Avatar

            See below for more details, but saying it another way- I never eat chips to satisfy hunger. Growing up it never occurred to me that one could do that. Chips were presented a like cake or chocolate – something distinctly NOT a meal or something you should eat all the time. A special treat eaten because it tastes good and that’s all.

            After I moved back to the US as an adult, I was served potato chips at some barbecues as if they were potato salad or something, as a side dish for the meat, and boy did I feel weird after finishing that. (To me, that was kind of someone handing me a plate of cake and hamburgers as if it was the most natural pairing in the world.) I thought eating them would be better than nothing at all and I don’t think it was. I should have had another burger instead. So because I grew up considering chips not something you eat because you’re hungry, and because eating so many that I might get up there in hunger-quenching amounts makes me feel bad, I don’t feel (note the emotional as opposed to rational association of the word) that they are food.

      3. Roberta Avatar

        I just came over today, a new reader, but I have to address this:

        I also can’t help but hear all this complaining about processed food and immediately think to myself “FIRST WORLD PROBLEMS.” We have an essentially reliable, basically functional food system that provides sustanence for millions of people.

        I am a huge Pollan fan, because he is getting out the information on how disordered our Western food production systems really are. I understand your point of “First World Problems” – yes, we have abundant food. But what is the long term impact on our environment of this food. He makes excellent points in “The Omnivore’s Dilemna” (which is named after an ecological concept that when you have an abundant food source, like an omnivorous animal, how do you choose what is safe to eat and what is not. After all, a carnivore knows to eat meat, and herbivore knows to avoid it, but what if you can and should eat both – how do you figure out if a novel food is beneficial?) Our production of industrial corn – the crops made into all the corn derivatives put into processed food – is fueled by fossil fuels. The industrial growing of corn can not be sustained by the sun and traditional growing methods. Instead it requires petrochemical fertilizers. Not sustainable. Then add in the energy factors of production, packaging, and shipping, and the environmental impact of processed food on demand is pretty high.

        We have no forbidden foods in our home. We are big believers in moderation, so yes, sometimes, we have processed food. But we are also raising our daughter to realize the environmental impact of her choices (food and beyond), something which is sorely lacking in much of our population. So eat what you want, but don’t fool yourself that your food choices only impact you and your health.

        1. Michelle Avatar

          I am not at all saying our food system does not need changes or revisions. I want those changes. I understand the environmental impact.

          But I am also saying that we are lucky to have food in the first place. We are lucky to be at a place where we can consider those changes rationally. We are, in a sense, as a society, pretty near the top of the Hierarchy of Food Needs, to the point where we can consider making “instrumental” changes to the food system that will impact the health of the species, and the preservation of the ecosystem that sustains us, long-term.

          Reality is complex. So are these discussions.

  18. SC Avatar

    Awesome post, and thank you for this. I wish someone had told me so much sooner that all foods have some nutrients. I grew up in a household where fat was omg bad! I was well into my 20s and years into an eating disorder when I learned I actually needed it for some of my vitamins.

  19. Anna Avatar

    Great post!

  20. Lisablue Avatar

    Michelle, this is absolutely beautiful. How long did it take you to write this? Because it would take me eons to put something this well worded and insightful together.

    You are perfect for this job you have taken on.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Aww, thank you. You are sweet. I think it normally takes about 3-4 hours to write one of these puppies. But that’s not taking into account the amount of time I’ve spent obsessing about this stuff in my head before ever writing any of it down :)

      If I amortized all the years spent thinking about this stuff, for each blog post…gah. I hate to think how long it has actually taken.

  21. Emily H. Avatar
    Emily H.

    This is a wonderful post.

    I’m still trying to figure out how to navigate my skepticism of the food-industrial complex in a way that DOESN’T flip over into blaming myself for not cooking enough, not buying enough organic food, eating a fair amount of processed and sugary foods, etc. It was The Omnivore’s Dilemma that led me to experiment with vegetarianism, and that in turn led me to try new foods. And sometimes I just need to remind myself that I can have lentils on whole wheat toast because I want to have lentils on whole wheat toast, and the next day have half a pint of ice cream because I want to eat half a pint of ice cream.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      And people protest that *gasp* Michael Pollan’s advice could never be taken as a way to blame and/or guilt oneself or others! /sarcasm

      Seriously, though, thank you, and I hope you find your way through. Lentils and whole wheat toast + ice cream sounds like a hell of a fun way to spend an evening, to me.

      1. Globalistgirl Avatar

        To those of us who have never felt like we couldn’t eat a pint of ice cream if we wanted to it’s far from obvious that his advice could be used in such a way. I’d never have thought it could if I hadn’t seen this blog post. Not everyone has the same shared experience with food as you do, and thus will take something different away from the book.

  22. drummergrrrl Avatar

    Thank you thank you thank you for this post.

    I just have to say … when I first started eating intuitively as a part of treatment for my eating disorder, I ate chicken wings and chocolate cake for about 3 weeks. This is because I spent 24 years of my life telling myself that I was too fat to eat chicken wings and chocolate cake.

    However, after that brief period, I started craving — gasp — fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other “healthful” goodness. And I didn’t feel like stuffing my face with cake because I knew I could have cake. WHENEVER. I. WANTED.

    A year after beginning to eat this way, I still am stunned when I look in the freezer and notice that I didn’t eat the entire pint of ice cream, but it’s because I didn’t WANT to. :) What a revolution.

    Bless you and your commitment to spreading the good word about this topic.

    1. living400lbs Avatar

      DH buys ice cream in half-gallons, then doesn’t understand why it goes bad before we finish eating it. Um…unless it’s over 80F I’d rather have something else?

  23. Katja Avatar

    Hi- Haven’t read all the above, but I really like your post.
    Have you read that Pollan’s teen-age son is a “neophobe” when it comes to food? As in, he is extremely picky, but he gets a medical sounding word like “neophobe.” I think it was in Cooking Light at one point. I can imagine what being at his table was like. “You have to eat this because it’s healthy, it’s good for you, you can’t eat that…” Kids who are pressured to eat more fruits and vegetables eat less (there are studies for that one…) Anyway, I just think it’s ironic that he tells us how to eat and his own kid doesn’t follow his “rules.”
    I was also reading a book called Nonviolent Communication (this whole “obesity war” could use some nonviolent communication in my view…) I quote ” Human beings, when hearing any kind of demand, tend to resist because it threatens our autonomy-our strong need for choice. We have this reaction to tyranny even when it’s internal tyranny in the form of SHOULD.”
    Made me think of you!

    1. Michelle Avatar

      That is really interesting. And I’ve been meaning to read Nonviolent Communication for a long time!

      (This coming from the woman who just Twittered that she’d like to “punch someone in the throat.” Whooops. Bad pacifist.)

    2. closetpuritan Avatar

      Actually, I don’t think Michael Pollan fanatically follows his rules, so maybe we shouldn’t blame him for his son’s neophobia/pickiness. I remember reading that he was somewhat uncomfortable about being in an advocacy role instead of a journalistic/documenting role. I also remember reading an anecdote about him buying Trix or some other processed food and a fellow shopper recognizing him and being mad that he wasn’t following the “rules”.

  24. Thalia Avatar

    Again. You are so fucking smart. And reasonable. And deeply compassionate and kind. It is so good to read this; I can feel pieces of my life–not even always related to food!–being smoothed out. Thank you.

  25. mara Avatar

    Michelle, I’m so, so happy you’re getting these ideas out there so clearly and articulately. I read your posts and I have this intuitive feeling that you’re going to end up doing so much good for the world.

    I read “In Defense of Food” with my book club last year. I liked some of his statements, mostly near the beginning, very much, but, you know, he contradicts himself. I liked his idea of buying food that your great-grandmother would have recognized. But, guess what? MY great-grandmother would totally have recognized pasta. And chocolate, and white bread, and a salami sandwich.. maybe not a Twinkie, but then, I’m sure she would have figured it out once the wrapper was off.

    I grew up having my food restricted. My mother had unresolved issues about food and weight and eating. I always feel like I grew up with an eating disorder, but not my OWN eating disorder. Anyway, all of that is to say that I grew up with LOTS of rules about food, from the earliest possible age.

    When I was 11, I was doing swimming lessons, and I was just old enough to take the bus and get myself back and forth on my own, and to me, being on my own in the world for any length of time was an opportunity to hunt around for food. It was just survival instinct kicking in, I think. I really do believe I was underfed. Anyway, at the pool where I was doing swimming lessons, there was a vending machine, and I discovered these… oh, these yum chocolate bars… I have not seen them before or since. They had some sort of sesame nutty stuff inside, I think. Coated in chocolate. They were 35 cents. I dont know quite how I managed to scrape together 35 cents every day – quite possibly I used my bus fare and walked home – but in my memory, I had one of those sesame chocolate bars every single day of swimming lessons, which probably ran for ten days. So, ten chocolate bars in ten days.

    That was almost thirty years ago. In the meantime – somehow, I managed this on my own – I learned to eat normally. I really did.. at some point in the past ten years. I’m very, very happy eating normally. But this chocolate bar thing.. TEN chocolate bars in as many days … to say it weighed heavily on my conscience isn’t quite true, because I didn’t remember it for a long time, but then, one day, I was writing to a friend, and telling her what yum things I’d eaten that day, and I found myself writing “I eat a LOT, actually, don’t I?”, and that was when I remembered those TEN chocolate bars, those weeks of having a chocolate bar every day.

    I still felt guilty and ashamed. STILL. That was amazing to me. At the time, it was the biggest, most flamboyant food indulgence of my whole young life. There was no way, at the time, I could have conceived of it not being somehow “wrong”, to have a sesame chocolate bar every day for ten days. And somehow it was.. absolutely defining… as part of my emerging sense of who I was. I was the girl who bought and ate a 35 cent sesame chocolate bar EVERY DAY. Good god. It seemed like.. there was no way I could get back on the wagon after that.

    And now I think… I think what an amazingly smart smart little girl I was. Just instinctively. I really wasn’t being fed enough. Really not. I mean, my mom had the best intentions. She wasn’t trying to be mean; she saw I loved my food and wanted to spare me the horror of gettng fat. Or something like that. So, I was swimming, and possibly walking home, and I was hungry, and there was really no.. allowance for the need for snacking, in the little reality I had been handed. But I just knew I needed those sesame chocolate bars. They were stuffed full of seeds. Seeds! Some sort of health food chocolate bar, really, I think.

    I thought that was a binge. I thought I was an overeater and obsessed with food. Really, I just needed more than I was being given, more than it was supposed to be okay to have. Rebellion is somehow so smart… I am in awe of how smart it is. And I am very mistrustful of any sort of food rule. Even the ones that I more or less follow. I rarely eat meat, for ethical reasons. But I do not call myself a vegetarian. I’m not one, because, well, its important to be able to respond to a burger craving without feeling that one has compromised one’s very identity. IMHO.

    Sorry for going on and on, possibly off-topicly!

    1. Michelle Avatar

      And now I think… I think what an amazingly smart smart little girl I was. Just instinctively. I really wasn’t being fed enough. Really not.

      This is absolutely correct. I am glad you realized it, because it allows you to get rid of the shame and have compassion for yourself. You were taking care of yourself adequately with food because you weren’t getting enough at home. That’s a survival mechanism, and I’m glad it kicked in for you. I’m even more glad that you now see it for what it was — a way of coping in a difficult situation.

    2. deeleigh Avatar

      I know. Food my great grandma would recognize? Which great grandma? The French Canadian one? The second generation German-American farmer? Or one of two who were living in Calabria? Well, none of them would have recognized tofu, rice noodles, bok chow, or water chestnuts as food, and I don’t think that very many food pundits would tell me that I shouldn’t eat those. And, the great grandmas who were living in North America would certainly have recognized Coke, burgers, and fries as food.

    3. living400lbs Avatar

      I thought that was a binge. I thought I was an overeater and obsessed with food. Really, I just needed more than I was being given, more than it was supposed to be okay to have.

      I know that feeling. I so know that feeling. “You’re fat, therefore you binge” and “You eat more than a 200 calorie Lean Cuisine, therefore you’re binging”.

      1. mara Avatar

        I know! I never made that connection before, but now that I have, I’ve been amusing myself highly by remembering my ‘binges’ of the past.

        One time, when I was in university, I was waiting for an evening class, and probably hadn’t had any dinner, and I went into a natural foods store and bought a bag of yogurt covered almonds.. I don’t know how big a bag… maybe a cup and a half of almonds, I’m guessing? And I ate them ALL.


        And one time, I was recovering from the flu, and craving vegetables and not able to get outside and get any, so I got really enterprising and ordered a Greek pizza with lots of spinach on it, and then I ate every single last bit of spinach (and feta) off that pizza before curling up for a nap on the living room rug.


        It’s just craaaazy to me that I went so long in my life looking at incidents like the above as examples of out of control, disordered eating.

        They were anything but.

        But, really, I know why I thought they were. It relates back to those food rules. I wasn’t following them. I wasn’t following them, AND, there was already something ‘wrong’ with my body – although, actually, I wasn’t fat during either of the above ‘Binge!’ incidents, but I was, maybe, 10 to 20 pounds above the ‘ideal’ – whatever that is – at the time I thought there was one. I know that seems laughable, but that 10 – 20 pounds weighed more heavily on me.. mentally, emotionally, than the ‘extra’ 60 or so pounds I’m carrying now.

        So, there was already something ‘wrong’. And where there’s a ‘wrong’. there has to be a ‘fault’.. a cause of that wrong.

        And the cause was… binge!


        I remember Geneen Roth saying, in one of her books, that for her nowadays “two cookies can be a binge”.

        I think that was where I got the idea.

        *shaking head*

    4. Hope Avatar

      That grandmother stuff always gets to me too. My grandmother who would be about 120 if she were still alive recognized tea with milk and sugar, fried eggs and bacon, white bread, and lots of desserts made from refined flour, lard, and sugar. She lived in a filthy polluted town where the main type of employment for men was mining or work in a smelter. Two of her children died in infancy. Ah, the good old days, when life was so wholesome.

      1. Emily Avatar

        The “great grandmother” comment strikes me as appallingly historically ignorant. My great grandmothers cooked for families during the Great Depression. One was lucky: she ran a grocery store with her husband and never wanted for food, though they were not rich by any means. She fed tramps and hungry families from her back door, though. Lots and lots of potatoes — and chocolate bars for the kids during Christmas.

        The other great grandmother I know about did want for food sometimes, as did her children. Because of this, the older ones, especially my grandmother, were somewhat obsessive about food their whole lives. (And told they were bad people for wanting ice cream.) My great grandmother cooked what she could afford, which was usually not enough. She didn’t worry about its nutritional value — she was too busy trying to keep her family fed. When her family got through the hard times, I know exactly what that great grandmother cooked and ate: things like Swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes, sloppy joes, pickled herring, and (ugh) lutefisk. Oh, and she loved McDonald’s.

        1. mh Avatar

          During the Depression, my great-grandmother served her family lard, spread on white bread, and sprinkled with sugar.

  26. NicNac Avatar

    I am so happy to have someone articulate this. My husband and I argue about this all of the time because he thinks I shouldn’t have ‘sweets’. He is diabetic, and thinks that all sugar is evil. I’ve tried to explain to him that it’s not sugar, it’s simple carbohydrates he should be concerned with. Also his tendency to want to eat 4-5 portions of food at one sitting.
    As for my ‘sweets’, I do have them in the house- but he doesn’t notice that I will nibble on the same chocolate bar for 2-3 weeks. I have normal blood sugar but I DO have an autoimmune disorder that very frequently leaves me queasy, in pain, or with flu-like symptoms. Then I find that ‘junk food’ (mostly things like soft breads, cookies, M&Ms, etc.) is really the only thing I can keep down. I don’t know how to explain this to him. I think he became diabetic because of his compulsion to overeat- he likes to be stuffed to the point of being uncomfortable. I like to eat little bits of what I like, and I DO NOT LIKE FEELING STUFFED. How do I get him to understand that I eat just fine, and that I’m not likely to become diabetic (that’s what he’s afraid of)?

    1. Michelle Avatar

      You may just have to declare your eating habits off-limits for conversation — you can’t change someone else’s mindset. Then you can just continue doing what you need to do to take care of yourself, and over time, maybe he will come to accept it, if not agree with it.

      However, you could provide him with some information to ease his worries about you (and I’m sure he’s coming from a place of concern for your well-being) by showing him the Myths about Diabetes thing from the American Diabetes Association.

  27. WellRoundedType2 Avatar

    Oh Michelle, you rock. Really truly rock. I want to comission a statue of you.

    I just yesterday was typing some notes and wrote “the only food rules worth following are you own.”

    I feel frustrated sometimes because it seems like so many people “get it” — I work with people with masters degrees in nutrition and they totally get the “dieting doesn’t work” thing from their professional experiences — but they act as though there’s nothing to be done about the fat bashing or exploitation of people wanting to lose weight. We need a key moment, where people realize there are more of “us” than there are of “them.” Some days, it seems like we are a bit closer.

    I want to face down the bullies. Michelle Obama’s framing of the problems with school nutrition and societal abandonment of the needs of children as “childhood obesity” doesn’t help. I liked her a great deal, but now, I’m disappointed.

  28. Maureena Avatar

    I think part of the problem is that people don’t trust each other anymore. We have to trust that by giving people the ability to make their own food choices and listen to their instincts, they will be OK. There is so much anxiety and pessimism (but people will eat Twinkies all the time, etc.) and so much self-righteousness (people must FOLLOW THE RULES, etc.) in this society which prevents that trust.

    I think the same principle affects parenting–children are so much more scheduled and monitored than they ever were (parents worry that their kids need to get into a gifted and talented program, need to get into a good college, need to be in as many activities as the neighbors kids are) that children don’t get the creative time and free play that they did in earlier generations. I would argue that it takes that kind of free play for children to develop the self-awareness that will help them make decisions for themselves and trust themselves as adults.

  29. […] love Michelle’s (of The Fat Nutritionist) philosophy on food, which emphasizes the importance of listening to our bodies: “Eat food. Stuff you like. As […]

  30. Ross Kennedy, Dietetic Intern Avatar
    Ross Kennedy, Dietetic Intern

    I am about over this view of Dietitians as the food police. Everyone else worries more about what we eat than they do what they eat. They also think we are constantly judging them on what they eat.

    If someone is bitching and complaining about their size and this size is uncomfortable, they do get on my nerves if they are not willing to make any dietary changes. They complain about their weight as they eat large portions of calorie dense foods.

    I beleive strongly in feeding a craving but some really do go overboard when the portion is large and often. I think that denying a craving completely is detrimental to a healthy diet or healthy view of food.

    1. deeleigh Avatar

      They complain about their weight as they eat large portions of calorie dense foods.

      Who, exactly, are you talking about here? Can you cite a study that confirms that this is a common thing, or is “they eat large portions of calorie dense foods” just an assumption you’re making about people who complain about their weight?

      1. Ross Kennedy, Dietetic Intern Avatar
        Ross Kennedy, Dietetic Intern

        Common or not, I have witnessed and experienced this same thing first hand. I could not give you a number but I have heard people do exactly this.

        I would never make such a broad generalization that you are implying because I have also seen people making effort but still had a knowledge deficit. All too often, people are ostracized for being heavier, myself included. Such behavior is not helpful at all when information is not made available. Many people are clueless about what they need to do. Unfortunately, they are further confused by so much misinformation out there.

    2. Michelle Avatar

      To be fair, a general principle that’s been observed is that when people are disinhibited in their eating (meaning, they are eating far and away more of a food than they, themselves, would normally choose to eat — not “more” than some arbitrary, standardized portion size), it means there is a lack of permission going on (either in their head, or coming from some authority figure or social pressure) and they are resisting by “rebellion eating.” It’s not always as easy as just deciding to eat less, even if you truly want to eat less to lose weight.

      1. Ross Kennedy, Dietetic Intern Avatar
        Ross Kennedy, Dietetic Intern

        I would agree with you Michelle. The “rebellion eating” could be either conscious or unconscious.

    3. Elizabeth Avatar

      I have seen a nutritionist exactly twice, when I was starting to put on a little weight and was getting concerned about it. (For the record, I now weigh about 100 pounds more than I did then.) The first visit, he was very pleasant, and gave me some pointers about food, and asked me to keep a food diary.

      When I came back with my food diary (reflecting about 1500 calories/day), he berated me soundly for putting a small scrape of butter on toast, instead of eating it dry, and for eating mozzarella cheese that I bought at the convenience store. When I asked him what he would buy if he was in Harvard Square and needed to eat, he went on to berate me for not packing a lunch, snack, and dinner to carry around with me every day (I was going to law school full-time and working half-time, and usually was out of the house from 9AM until 9PM or later).

      I came out of the meeting in confused tears of shame, and have never darkened the door of a nutritionist, ever again, even though there’s a reasonable chance that I would benefit.

      So yes, part of my worldview of dieticians is that they are “constantly judging” me on what I eat. It’s probably unfair, since it was just that one guy, but it was the total of my experience until I started reading Michelle’s blog. (Michelle, I don’t think you would judge me, but I’m still working on believing that you might be more representative of the profession.)

      1. unscrambled Avatar

        I gave a talk in (medical + graduate) school yesterday about an article about BMI and physician respect (it was a bad paper, study-wise, with a really important research point which anyone reading along might surmise, which is: fatter patient, less respect), and one of the people in the talk was in dietetics, and went on this whole rant about how she has respect for diabetic patients that ADHERE TO HER TREATMENT and she doesn’t for those that don’t properly conform to her eating plan and lose weight (she didn’t remark about how dieting doesn’t work, of course).

        She didn’t really see that as being judgmental, just “honest.”

        In my experience, this is true with people in training across (allopathic) health care professions, just the dietetics people are directly dealing with food, so the judgment comes off more clearly. So yeah, dietitians: bad rap for a reason.

        I’m thrilled to see Michelle and other readers (myself among them, I am a four headed blue giraffe in medical school when it comes to these issues) offering a counter-narrative, but in my experience, it is counter, indeed.

      2. Ross Kennedy, Dietetic Intern Avatar
        Ross Kennedy, Dietetic Intern

        After your experience I wouldn’t blame you for feeling that way. I assure you, we are not all that way. I have experienced weight issues more than half of my life so I can understand the emotional side. He was a very bad practitioner. Obviously, his method of counseling was not helpful at all. I know many Dietitians who are compassionate. One cannot possibly expect you to succeed with such treatment when you leave feeling shameful.

  31. stlwtr Avatar

    I’m having to read a couple of articles by Michael Pollan right now for an english class and having a hard time with some of what he says. In particular, a statement he makes regarding frozen foods where he says that “freezing food destroys the fiber that would slow sugar absorption”. I don’t eat a lot of frozen foods, but I do use frozen fruit in my oatmeal (also sometimes frozen…yay Trader Joe’s) and in yogurt because it allows me to eat a larger variety at a lower cost. I’ve been searching the internet for any back up for his statement, but I can find nothing… Is there any truth to this?

    1. stlwtr Avatar

      In re-reading my question I realize that I may have come across as “help me do my homework”…. I’m sorry about that. I was just trying to figure out why he said that. I’ve been lurking around here for a couple of months via Shapely Prose (where I mostly lurk as well) and I have really enjoyed your straight forward but kind entries and responses to people. I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that how and what you eat has been turned into such a “moral” issue. I’m finding it rather disturbing at how it crept up on me to the point that all I thought about was what I was going to eat, when I was going to eat it and was I being “good” or “bad”.

      1. Michelle Avatar

        I was thinking about that statement, and I really don’t know, to be honest. I’d have to look it up.

        I know that ice crystals do destroy certain tissues in food — but that normally just results in a textural change, not a nutritional one. This sounds like a really technical thing, perhaps related to glycemic index.

        If it is a GI thing, doing stuff like cooking pasta for a longer time raises GI as well. As does sprinkling lemon juice on starch — basically, because it helps to break down the starch a little bit before it even hits your stomach, therefore making it easier for you to absorb the glucose from it when you do eat it.

        Some people are of the opinion that GI doesn’t really matter, in the long run, for blood glucose control and general health. They don’t even regularly teach it to diabetic patients because it’s too fussy and counterintuitive to use practically.

        So making a statement that discourages people from eating frozen vegetables/fruits because they are supposedly of higher GI is not only snobby in the extreme, but questionable. And if people cut out good, convenient, accessible forms of f&v based on this advice, then it’s negligent and irresponsible as well.

        There was a similar issue with canned vegetables and sodium, to the point where people who found canned vegetables more affordable felt bad for eating them because they were supposedly “bad” for them. Way to go, nutrition police!

        Bottom line: when it comes to nutrition, the BIG PICTURE over the LONG TERM is what matters more for general health. Not some picky detail based on sketchy experimental data. Eating a wider variety of food is GOOD FOR YOU — and if that means eating stuff that’s accessible to you because it is frozen, or canned, or whatever, then fine. Anything in the service of variety.

        1. stlwtr Avatar

          Thank you :) It seemed like such a blanket statement without a single qualifier or back up. Based on the information I could find, it was best to buy commercially frozen fruits and veggies (when fresh is not an option) because they are frozen quickly which helps prevent the forming of ice crystals. So far the only comment I can find regarding fiber quality in frozen foods was from a wellness site run by UC Berkeley which stated that freezing neither destroys nor degrades fiber.

          1. Ross Kennedy, Dietetic Intern Avatar
            Ross Kennedy, Dietetic Intern

            It sounds like you got your answer. You also helped others out as I hadn’t heard this but it sparked my curiosity.

            I agree with Michelle’s response as well. There is a lot of misinformation even from professionals who know better because they don’t share ALL of the information. This is especially true in Diabetes Education. The old way was to list all of the starchy foods and say don’t eat them. Very uneffective. The new way takes into consideration portion size. Also, we must educate on how one can make some not so healthy choices better by a few modifications. I know that as a Dietitian, I’ll have to be very creative with my clients/patients to help them realize that they can make changes. Little things can make a big difference, e.g. “Mindless Eating”.

  32. Cassi Avatar

    This is a fascinating topic to me, because I was raised to be what Satter would probably call a competent eater. I’ve always been basically an unrestrained eater. My family never dieted and never encouraged it. They weren’t adamant, but there was always an underlying sense that people who dieted were a bit… odd, maybe? Not bad, just very different from us. I don’t pretend for a moment that I’m immune to the dieting mindset that permeates the culture I live in, but I love food and always have and that fact has never caused me a moment of guilt. So, I love food and I pretty much eat whatever I want. Good right?

    And yet…

    You knew that was coming didn’t you? There’s always a but. I have a growing sensation that for myself certain types of food seriously mess with my body’s ability to tell me what it needs. I love fast food and so called “junk” food. I often crave it nearly constantly. But what I’ve found is that if I go on an ‘enforced’ junk food hiatus (usually a camping trip, travel to someplace where it’s unavailable or just a long winter storm that keeps me out of the drive thru) then my cravings for it disappear. This seems the opposite of what intuitive eating would say should happen. Restricting should make the heart grow fonder, as it were, but that has never happened. My cravings don’t reappear until circumstances cause me to eat those foods again (usually out of convenience or when someone else chooses the venue). I can go months or even years and never miss it, but once I do eat it again I wake up day after day wanting a lunch of big mac and yodels and nothing else will do. I never seem to “get my fill”. I never grow tired of it. None of those mechanisms that intuitive eating say should kick in ever seem to… at least it’s never happened in the time frame between travel and camping trips (which can be years). This has lead me to conclude there is something about those foods and how they react with my body and my brain chemistry that is, at the least, very very odd. I have no idea if this never ending craving is the result of a nefarious plan by big-ag or a personal quirk, but it has left me very very leery of the idea that my body “knows best”. I suppose it’s possible that my body “needs” large quantities of special sauce to stay healthy, but I suspect not. Of course, I also come from a long line of alcoholics who, if they listened to their ‘intuition’, would be downing gallons of ripple for breakfast, so perhaps I’ve inherited some of that.

    I like your rule. Intellectually it makes sense to me and fits with how I think the human mind and body should (and often do) work… but after decades of watching this pattern repeat over and over, I think I may be an outlier and that can make even sensible rules problematic.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I have a growing sensation that for myself certain types of food seriously mess with my body’s ability to tell me what it needs.

      I think this is perfectly reasonable. In fact, it is part of eating what you want.

      You also have the right to not eat what you don’t want, even if you find it tasty, because the feeling you get from it isn’t worthwhile. (And, similarly, you have the right to not eat what you don’t want, even if that thing is supposed to be good for you.)

      For instance: I enjoy soda pop, but I don’t drink it very often because it makes me feel weird, and then I crave it more, and I feel more thirsty. So I choose not to drink it most of the time. This isn’t restrained eating; it’s being aware of how food affects you, and then honouring your preferences.

      I also don’t like raw tomatoes, even though they’re “healthy.” They taste vaguely of poison to me, and I once had an allergic reaction to a raw beefsteak tomato. So I don’t eat them.

      I eat what I like, and as much as I want. Sometimes, “as much as I want” = 0.

      once I do eat it again I wake up day after day wanting a lunch of big mac and yodels and nothing else will do. I never seem to “get my fill”. I never grow tired of it. None of those mechanisms that intuitive eating say should kick in ever seem to…

      It’s also possible that there is something else going on here. It could just be that the flavours are designed in a way to mess with your hunger/satiety/flavour cravings — some people have made that argument, and I think it’s an interesting idea, and possibly true for some people (though I still disagree with the idea that any food is addictive.)

      There could also be something uniquely individual to you and these foods (some kind of unconscious lack of permission, or perhaps you truly haven’t given yourself enough time eating these foods to ever be totally “over” them — the amount of time required varies from person to person.) Or else maybe you just really, really like Big Macs, and there’s nothing particularly wrong with that? I don’t know.

      But if you just decide it’s not worth it to eat them, then don’t. Eat what you want.

      Because when I say “eat what you want” I’m not saying “YOU ARE OBLIGATED TO EAT EVERY SINGLE THING YOU FIND TASTY.” You can decide that you don’t like to eat something that may be tasty because of whatever effect it has on you. What I’m saying is, make your own choices. And, at the same time, let other people make their choices without interference or judgment.

      I don’t make rules — I refuse to be put into that position. Because there ARE no rules except eat or die, and to make our own choices.

      I am putting into words things that are already fundamental facts of life, not rules I made up — we are condemned to be free. We also must eat or die.

      That is what I intend to mean by making statements like “Eat food. Stuff you like. As much as you want.” If you analyze the meaning of the words as objectively as you can, you will see that there is nothing there other than the necessity of eating, and of making our own choices.

      I sincerely hope this makes sense.

      1. Cassi Avatar

        It makes total sense and I wasn’t actually trying to imply that you were telling me I had to eat everything that crosses my mind (though I can see how it could have read that way). I’ve read your blog enough to know what you were getting at and just sort of went off on my own tangent about IE from there. My comment was really more an abstract observation than anything else. I do question the fairly widely held belief among certain groups in FA and ED recovery groups that restriction is THE cause of later “disinhibited” eating. I certainly agree it’s ONE cause. Probably even the most common. But I don’t think it’s the only one.

        When I tell people about months long McD-fests I’m often told that once I “get over” my last diet it will all disappear… but since I’ve never been on a diet, I find flaw in that logic. In the last five years or so (maybe even 10?) since I came across the idea of IE I’ve looked and looked for the lack of permission and/or nutritional need that would cause this craving and just can’t find it. I’m coming to the conclusion late and rather reluctantly that these foods have an effect on me that is more or different than the general population… and that my “free will appetite” might not be *quite* as free as I thought it was.

        Personally, I’ve never bothered to try to put an end to one of my runs of “junk food” eating (I refuse to call them binges, I had a roommate that binged and it was awesome and terrible to behold, I just repeat the same lunch over and over) because I figure I get plenty of nutrition and my cholesterol and wallet have both weathered the storms just fine. While I’m in one, I enjoy it just fine and when I’m not, I’m not lacking in calories… I actually suspect my caloric intake remains nearly constant except for my seasonal biking which requires boatloads of power bars to make up the difference. I’m honestly not bothered by my junk food cycles. I’m more just curious why, when the principles of IE make so much sense to me, the practice seems to operate a bit differently in me… or at least differently that I would have expected them to.

        though I still disagree with the idea that any food is addictive.

        This is one that I question often. I think the idea that giving a child (or an adult!) sugar or caffeine is a death sentence is ridiculous (that article in TDB was a scream), yet… is wine food? Is red dye # whoknowswhat? I’m not being snarky here, though I may sound that way because… well, because I often am :) But I do seriously ask myself these things all the time. Where does food processing end and drug creation begin? When does coca end and cocaine begin? (that’s probably a derail right there and I apologize, but if you’re got a good definition of “food” that would help clarify, I’m interested)

        I don’t actually think we’re very far apart on all this stuff, I just like to pick at nits and see if I can learn something new. It can be an annoying habit, so I’ll try to be clearer about what I’m doing in future.

        Because there ARE no rules except eat or die,

        On this I’m with you 100%. My dad has colon cancer and is having difficulty eating enough to stay alive. We tried all sorts of meal replacements, Ensure and the like that the docs recommended, but they all are fortified with “vitamins and minerals” and were messing with his already messed up potassium levels. We’ve now settled on the good old fashioned milk shake as his main source of calories. With lots of fat and sugar, it’s the easiest way possible to get a couple of thousand calories into him without overwhelming his already over-taxed digestive system. Plus, they’re delish :)

        1. Michelle Avatar

          I do question the fairly widely held belief among certain groups in FA and ED recovery groups that restriction is THE cause of later “disinhibited” eating. I certainly agree it’s ONE cause. Probably even the most common. But I don’t think it’s the only one.

          Yeah, I’m with you on this. Some people have binge eating for reasons we haven’t yet identified. It’s not always simple as an underlying restriction or lack of permission.

          And you are more than welcome to pick at nits, even if I sound pissy when I respond :) The whole idea of this blog (and the comments section in particular) is to pick at nits and, ultimately, help me come to a better understanding of this stuff. So I have to thank you for that.

      2. Anne Avatar

        (though I still disagree with the idea that any food is addictive.)

        I’m not so sure. I think there’s truth to what Dr. Kessler says about how food is produced to create the trifecta of taste bud bliss in all that salt sugar and fat. Whether food manufacturers are cognisant of how their manipulating our biology or, if they’re just making food that will taste good on a large scale (more sales) is up for debate I think.

        I know on a personal level there’s a lot of truth to the idea of how certain foods can be more desirable aka addictive. I started becoming really aware of how what I ate had a huge impact on how I felt. Not entirely sure how I figured it out or, why it came so easily (something I’m trying to currently understand so, I don’t wind up being as fat as I once was or, back to being a chronic migraineur with hyperglycaemia), but one of the things I’ve discovered about myself is refined carbohydrates are the spawn of satan. If I eat too many I feel sluggish, cruddy and, they contribute to the number of migraines I get. Ironically, once upon a time I would’ve told you you can take the refined carbs from my cold dead hands Now there are months where I won’t touch a single slice of the baguette I once so loved and, I don’t miss it.* I noticed if I eat more of them I crave them more so, I try to limit them in my diet.

        The other part of it was being put on Topamax for my migraines which caused anorexia. I have ADHD which means for me at least binging, overeating even though I’m full, obsessing are part n parcel of my life. Not so when I was taking the medication. It was a HUGE eye opener for me and, made me realize I might not be in full conscience control of the decisions I make. For the first time in my life I only ate when hungry, ate ’til I was full and, didn’t obsess about food all day long. If I didn’t have other, more troubling, side effects from the drug I’d still be taking it.

        I think maybe in a sense people are conflating desirability, craving, obsessing, not feeling in control of their decisions to mean addiction, but I don’t doubt that there is something unconscious going on that contributes to not being able to exercise control over what goes into my mouth.

        *I’m not on any particular diet plan I just noticed a correlation between what I ate hugely impacted how I felt and, made changes.

  33. DessertFirst Avatar

    Long-time lurker, first time commenter. I figured it was about time that I let you know how much I enjoy your posts, and especially this one. Your words of experience are inspiring and helpful to me, as someone who has struggled with food/exercise/weight for close to 30 years now (I’m 42), and who often despairs of ever getting this monkey off my back. Becoming aware of the size/fat acceptance movement in the past few years has really changed my perspective for the better, but eating and exercising sanely for more than a few days at a time still eludes me for the most part. What’s worse, I have allowed my shame and dissatisfaction with my weight to stop me from living a full life.

    This post about dietary freedom and self-trust particularly resonated with me, and called to mind the following quote from Geneen Roth’s Breaking Free From Compulsive Eating, one of the first books I read that offered a different perspective on eating and exercising:

    “Eat when you are hungry, eat what you want, stop when you’re satisfied. Remember that your body does not want to destroy you and will not go haywire as soon as you let down your guard. Trust that the two of you are working for the same end – your health, your happiness, your peace.”

    (Note: I am aware, from other posts I’ve read in the Fatosphere, that Roth is considered controversial in that much of her writing may give the impression that she believes all fat people eat compulsively/emotionally and that if one is able to stop doing this, one will become thin – which we all know is patently false. But I still found quite a few words of wisdom in her books, such as the quote above. FWIW, I have come to the realization that for me, at least 90% of my so-called compulsive eating is the direct result of compulsive dieting and exercising – which I’m trying very hard to let go of, but so far with limited success. It’s such a painfully slow process that some days I feel I’m not making any progress at all.)

    Anyway, thank you again. I truly appreciate the time and effort it must take for you to write all this stuff! P.S. Hello from a fellow Ontario resident (York Region in my case).

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Oh yeah, Roth was definitely a trail-blazer in the demand feeding thing, even if we now know her ideas about weight are problematic. Lots of people have found her work helpful, along with Orbach and others. I really like the quote you chose…that is how I feel, too.

  34. creativevoyage Avatar

    i prefer the work of Carol Munter and Jane Hirshman who much better put the problem in a feminist context to Geneen Roth (they also look healither !)

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Hirschmann and Munter were instrumental in helping me get over dieting, though in the long run, I don’t think demand feeding is appropriate for everyone. But their book When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies is really good, from what I remember. And, yes, their feminist perspective is really great.

      1. Annie Avatar

        So, would you say that in terms of recovering from dieting, people choose either demand feeding or structured (but not restricted) eating ala Satter?

        I’m a binge eater and have tried, but failed, to implement IE and Roth’s ideas for a year now. It’s to the point where I feel I’ve even failed at IE, but maybe I’m not seeing the whole picture? I think I’ve read most of the books on demand feeding/IE, but do you have a recommendation for structured eating? I know Satter writes about it, but it’s mostly for kids, right?

        1. Michelle Avatar

          I think a lot of people feel they have “failed” at IE when they come at it from a demand feeding approach — because that approach doesn’t work for everyone, though it does seem to work for some people.

          My own preference is the structured approach, because I was one of those people for whom demand feeding didn’t work. I also think, as Ellyn Satter has said before, that demand feeding is not a developmentally appropriate way to eat for people past infancy. Being able to eat at predictable times, and make space for eating and caring for yourself during the day, is an adult way to go about fitting eating into a life that has practical demands on our time.

          Ellyn Satter’s books are mostly about kids, yes. Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family, though, has a whole beginning section targeted toward adults, called “How to Eat.” Most of her work with adults has been in the form of developing a program that nutritionists can use to counsel adults into normal eating, based on her own therapeutic work with adult clients over the years. I received this training from her in November, and now I do this work myself, counseling clients (that’s what the “Learn to Eat” badge is on my sidebar.)

          1. Ross Kennedy, Dietetic Intern Avatar
            Ross Kennedy, Dietetic Intern

            How would I get that badge for learning her methods as well? I think that she is spot on when it comes to feeding ourselves and children.

            Retraining one’s brain and body to want food when one is hungry instead of fulfilling some emotional need (including boredom, which is my problem), is difficult. It sounds like you may need a little coaching in addition to your own efforts. I’m not sure who that coach might be though, someone/something which would be comfortable for you. One thing that I saw on Oprah is slowing down one’s eating to actually enjoy what is being eaten. I have times when I more or less shovel food into my mouth mostly because I am mindlessly eating. I can definitely identify with where you are coming from.

          2. Michelle Avatar

            She used to teach an ADA-approved workshop (you can get CE credits for taking it), but I attended her very last one in November — she’s now retiring from teaching them. I think she’ll have something else going on to educate RDs/nutritionists soon, though. Keep an eye on her website –

            For now, I know she has a webcast for health professionals about using eating competence in counseling — it’s $99 or $100:

          3. Ross Kennedy, Dietetic Intern Avatar
            Ross Kennedy, Dietetic Intern

            Thanks. I know many people who would love this.

  35. chloe Avatar

    It is so refreshing to read the title “eat food, stuff you like, as much as you want”. I have always tried to lose weight, I am one of those constant dieters and its posts like this that really help.

  36. Ana Avatar

    I totally agree with you for the most part, and I do think that what people want to eat is imporant. I think that people crave foods that their bodies need. People on super low fat diets crave fat because we do need some fat to survive. Women around their periods might crave “unheathy” foods like steak because they need iron. It’s not always clear cut though with the linking between cravings and foods with it!

    However, I do have a question for you. How would you suggest a person who is so fat they can’t walk with ease(like one of my cousins), with no medical causes behind it, just simply eating a lot of fatty sugary food because he likes it, deal with their weight.(He has no emotional issues with his weight, beyond that it’s hard for him to walk from what he’s said.) Would you suggest that they consider looking at diet books, or not eating all of what they want, and having a temporary diet period of “healthy” moderate portion foods, under medical supervision as is the current wisdom, or would you suggest he continues eating whatever he wants to and continuing to gain weight? What would you suggest for people who are seriously underweight when they don’t force themselves to eat high caloric foods, which in their opinions, just don’t taste that good? (As I was like as a child, and often am still. Yay for spicy foods hiding the taste of food that I otherwise would reject on the greasy taste! (For the record, I just have a very fast metabolism and exercise a lot because I enjoy sports.) ) Do you think there are any cases where a person might need to follow some “rules” to be healthy,( in the sense they’re not starving to death slowly /unable to move about) or do you think that a person’s body is always able to decide how much is best for them to eat?

    1. Michelle Avatar

      How would you suggest a person who is so fat they can’t walk with ease (like one of my cousins), with no medical causes behind it, just simply eating a lot of fatty sugary food because he likes it, deal with their weight.

      I don’t have much time to respond right now, but I do have something to say about this — namely, that our appetites for food are actually controlled by unseen biological mechanisms, and also, that there are so many potential underlying causes for this kind of weight gain that you really can’t rule them out — even if a doctor has been unable to pinpoint one.

      Nevertheless, for someone who truly has a binge eating or compulsive eating problem, diets are probably the last thing I would suggest. Developing eating competence (which is the kind of work I do with clients) would be the route to go, in my opinion. But of course, I’m biased :)

      Eating whatever you want, whenever you want, is not necessarily the same thing as being a competent eater. I think stating that this is a basic human right is important (and that’s why I say it so explicitly in my posts) but for people who have difficulties with eating, they are going to need some help to get to the place where they are still truly eating what they want, WITHOUT causing themselves physical harm.

      For underweight people, it would really depend on what’s going on with them physically. If they have a food aversion, then, again, they are not competent eaters. If they are just naturally thin, but otherwise fine around food and not medically in danger, I don’t see the need to force their weight up beyond what seems to be natural for them.

      I would like to stress, however, that I believe in a lot of cases where you’re seeing truly extreme weights that are impacting a person’s health, there is likely to be an underlying medical problem. Even if that medical problem has not yet been identified by science, or for that individual. There is still a lot we don’t know, but I do know that it’s very, very difficult for someone to force themselves far beyond their set-point range simply by eating. I tend to believe something else has gone haywire with their homeostatic controls when it gets to that point.

      1. KellyK Avatar

        I think it’s also worth pointing out that doctors may say that there’s no medical cause because they don’t want the patient to have an “excuse” for not dieting and losing weight. (I’ve had that experience with an endocrinologist who told me that PCOS doesn’t cause weight gain and that my hypothyroidism was very mild and couldn’t possibly be causing any symptoms or any weight gain, and that if I would just cut way down on grains and animal products, so that I was getting most of my calories from vegetables, everything would be fine.)

        I don’t know if this is common–I hope it’s not–but some of the horror stories from First Do No Harm combined with my own experience would suggest that some doctors ignore or deny medical causes for weight gain for whatever reason. Maybe it’s even well-intentioned, to “encourage” the patient to diet and exercise more “for their health.”

        Obviously, I’m not saying that’s the case with Ana’s cousin’s doctor. I have nothing even resembling enough information to make that assumption. Just wanted to point out something that might be worth considering.

    2. living400lbs Avatar

      How would you suggest a person who is so fat they can’t walk with ease (like one of my cousins), with no medical causes behind it, just simply eating a lot of fatty sugary food because he likes it, deal with their weight.

      In my case? Confirm there isn’t any arthritis or other injuries. (Okay, my doc ended up confirming there was arthritis and prescribed physical therapy.) Then start exercising – some walking (not a huge amount, not more than is comfortable, but regular walking) and doing strength exercises. I’ve posted about some starter strength training one can do with no equipment over on my blog.

      1. Michelle Avatar

        This is great advice. Thank you.

        1. living400lbs Avatar

          Thanks. I have the advantage of having lived it, thanks to an exercise injury. But really — despite what everyone seems to think, losing weight doesn’t increase muscle mass, in fact it tends to decrease it.

          1. Michelle Avatar

            losing weight doesn’t increase muscle mass, in fact it tends to decrease it.

            Agreed. In fact, it’s kind of funny when you look at it that way, because the most popular “diet and fitness” regimens are essentially working at cross-purposes — trying to get people to lose weight, while gaining muscle. No wonder it’s so damn hard to do long-term.

          2. Ross Kennedy, Dietetic Intern Avatar
            Ross Kennedy, Dietetic Intern

            Well the physical activity and strength training that are recommended as part of a weight-loss regimen reduces the amount of lean mass lost. Some will be lost, that is inevitable. I tell people all the time not to worry so much about their weight because the number doesn’t necessarily mean anything. It’s how they feel inside their body that matters. Some pick a goal that may not be reasonable for them and in fact they are happier at a higher number. Muscle weighs more than fat, bottom line. Therefore if one is increasing lean body mass while losing fat, they may not exhibit actual weight loss but will show a physical difference in how they look and feel.

    3. JMS Avatar

      Ana, I am not Michelle, but I would suggest that your cousin is an adult who can make his own decisions about what he eats and what kind of health care interventions he wants. If he wants to see a nutritionist, support him in seeing a nutritionist. If he wants to see an endocrinologist or a specialist in bioenergetics, support him in seeing one of those practitioners. If he feels that he is binge eating or that his eating feels wrong for him, support him in seeing a therapist.

      But if he wants to continue his current eating and exercise choices, you need to respect his decision. Even if those are choices you would never make for yourself. He’s a person who gets to design his own life.

  37. Lauren Avatar

    Excellent article. I’m very familiar with Pollan’s work, and respect him deeply from a writerly standpoint. While I don’t believe his opinions about nutrition are always revolutionary, I do give him credit for opening up a compelling (and in my mind, much needed) dialogue about food, its sources, and its intrinsic and extrinsic value.

    I do, however, agree with you completely about the “rules” thing. In my experience, the second you bludgeon someone over the head with a rule about how he/she should live, love, eat, etc., you compromise the impact of your message by taking an elitist stance on the subject in question. Just like you said, people want freedom — we’re wired that way. When we feel as though someone, even someone with “credentials,” is trying to impede upon our freedom, we’re hard-pressed to consider that person’s message with open, questioning minds. We may follow their directives grudgingly, or with guilt, anxiety, and shame because we fee like we “have to” in order to be worthy, desirable human beings. I hate to see anyone follow a health/nutrition trend (even if the trend has some merit) just because they feel like they should, thanks to its unavoidable, omnipresent popularity. No one should be made to feel like a bad person, or a failure, because he’s not living by “rules” that someone in a position of power (I would argue that Pollan holds one) conceived and then promoted.

    I guess it just make me wonder why the hell anyone feels entitled to impose “rules” upon anyone else, when it comes to something as singular and private as the body and its health. Tips and suggestions, fine. Rules just seems way too autocratic . Maybe it’s a matter of semantics for me.

  38. Patsy Nevins Avatar
    Patsy Nevins

    Also in defense of potato chips, I would like to point out that they are made of potatoes, which are one of the most nutritious vegetables around &, since they insist on printing nutrition on the package & chips are frequently sitting around in my household (sometimes for two or three weeks at a time), I can tell you that one ounce of potato chips will provide some protein, some fiber (depends on the type of potato used & whether or not the peel is left on), & decent amounts of Vitamins C, E, some of the B vitamins, a little zinc, some iron, a fairly amount of potassium…&, last time I checked, that was food.

    I also read an article years ago about some people consider ‘bad’ food something one buys prepared, while ‘good food’ is something that someone, usually the mother of the family, spends hours preparing. The author talked about how much we are told that cauliflower, for instance, is ‘good’, while it has a little fiber, lots of water, & only traces of a few vitamins & minerals, while cake is ‘bad’. When I read that article, I happened to have a dark chocolate cake on the table & perusing its label, I learned that 1/12th of it provided 4 grams of protein, 4 grams of fiber, 200 mgs of calcium, 10% of the RDA of iron, & 4-6% of the RDA of several B vitamins. That, & many other things, is why I don’t believe in ‘bad’ food & why I would never say that something is not food…unless you get your kicks from chewing on chalk.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Yes, did you know that the primary source of vitamin C for most North Americans is not oranges, or orange juice, or even strawberries, but…potatoes?

      Yes, indeedy. And potato chips still have some vitamin C in them (I checked.)

      Here’s another Satterism for you: “Even the most reprehensible-seeming food provides some nutrition.”

      1. Cassi Avatar

        Yes, did you know that the primary source of vitamin C for most North Americans is not oranges, or orange juice, or even strawberries, but…potatoes?

        Covert Bailey (whose books I do NOT recommend AT ALL as they utterly drip with fat hate not to mention some seriously out of date info, but who happened to be on PBS one day while I was flipping through and was interesting until he got to the fat hate section of his lecture) told a story about how it was common in Ireland at the turn of the last century for widowers to start losing their teeth and getting other signs of scurvy… why? Because potatoes tended to be something their wives made and they stopped eating them when she was no longer there to prepare them (thank Maud for the microwave, before the microwave it took a while to bake or boil a potato). I don’t know where he got his stats, but I can tell you in my dad’s big Irish family, without the potato it would have been nothing but meat and whiskey breakfast lunch and dinner.

        And I mentioned he’s 90 right?

      2. sannanina Avatar

        Oh, someone defending potatoes! I am kind of emotionally attached to potatoes – they are a comfort food for me, so I am very glad to hear someone saying something positive about their nutritional value.

        Where I come from, the soil is not very rich and therefore a lot of things don’t grow there very well – and therefore potatoes have been the most important crop there for a long, long time which meant people ate a lot of them and some of them still do. My dad actually starts complaining when my mum doesn’t cook potatoes for than two days in a row – and french fries, potato dumplings, etc don’t count. So while I personally can go quite some time without eating potatoes I still love them, and potatoes with “quark” (a very soft cheese in this case prepared with salt and herbs that we eat instead of sour cream) is still one of the most satifying foods I know. This means that I find the many claims that potatoes are “bad” for you (supposedly because they are too high in starch) are actually a little upsetting to me – how can a food that saved many, many people from starvation and that is so satisfying actually be deemed unhealthy?

  39. hsofia Avatar

    This post is brilliant. I was raised by a health nut so I grew into adulthood with specific ideas about what was “real” food vs “artificial” food. My hubby, by comparison, grew up on processed food. His favorite meal as a kid was Kraft Mac and Cheese and Hershey’s chocolate milk. (I have yet to have either.)

    I’ve definitely chastised him for his food preferences over the time we’ve been together, seeing myself as superior for having “healthier” tastes, but I have stopped since learning about FA. About a year ago I remarked to him that I didn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t choose a piece of fruit over a packaged fruit roll up and he patiently (he is very patient with me!) explained that from his POV, fresh fruit is unpredictable. He said he gets very annoyed when he bites into a piece of fruit and it’s all mealy or rotten. “I have never been disappointed by a fruit roll up,” he said. “They always taste just like I expect them to.” For the first time I heard a reason for why someone might eat more processed food that didn’t have to do with them being lazy, poor, gluttonous, or “not knowing any better.” At that point I realized, there is nothing wrong with wanting consistency, to feel like you’ve gotten your money’s worth, and to enjoy the taste of your snack or meal. Certainly, I understood the frustration of spending my hard-earned money on a bag of oranges, only to find them dry and tasteless. But I kept on buying them. How exactly did that make me superior?

    This blog is great. This post in particular made something “click” for me. I feel like I’m finally taking the first real step away from disordered eating to … intuitive eating or guilt-free eating or whatever the term is. So thanks.

    1. Cassi Avatar

      “I have never been disappointed by a fruit roll up,” he said. “They always taste just like I expect them to.”

      Yes, yes, yes!

      I was once on a usenet group where a bunch of people were very smugly dissing McDonalds and I and another old fart commented that those people had clearly never had to drive cross country prior to 1970 (or whenever the heck it became ubiquitous). When we did it in the 1950’s, yes each town looked more unique, each place had more of it’s own ‘flavor’, there was far more of that wonderful ‘sense of place’ everyone so misses… but truth be told you never knew at any given stop if you were in for the greatest gastronomic experience of your life or a horrible meal and a nasty case of food poisoning. Predictability may not be exciting, but I’ll take it over the ‘excitement’ of salmonella any day. (Not saying there’s never been food poisoning at McD’s, but seriously… it tends to make national news when it happens.)

      1. KellyK Avatar

        Excellent point. Much as I like shows like “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives” and as much fun as it can be to find new and exciting restaurants, when you’re traveling, predictability can be a very good thing. Sometimes you don’t want an exciting culinary experience; sometimes you just want something to make your stomach stop growling, preferably quickly so you can get back on the road and get to your destination.

      2. living400lbs Avatar

        Absolutely. An acquaintence who travels a lot for work and has food allergies frequently seeks out places like Denny’s and McD’s that have strict uniformity standards. Doesn’t matter if it’s Boston or Seattle or LA, if she orders the same thing it will be the same and she won’t have to use the EpiPen and/or rush to the ER.

  40. Siobhan Avatar

    I’ve always had a pretty toxic relationship with food – everything from having food physically forced into my mouth as a child, to dumpster-diving as a runaway teenager to developing anorexia in my 20’s.

    The urge to starve myself is never very far away, and just because of some really triggering shit that is going on my life right now the fight has gotten particularly brutal. It does not help that the entire freaking world is on a diet.

    Reading your blog has been a much-needed dose of sanity. Thanks. I mean that.

  41. KellyK Avatar

    I really like the way you frame things in terms of choices and freedom, because it makes all the difference in the world. Tell me that I must eat salad because I’m a fat fat fat chick, and I hate salad with a passion. But if I go to a restaurant with a salad bar and mental permission to eat what I want–green peppers and cucumbers and broccoli and onions and romaine, nom nom nom. (The mental permission to add croutons and blue cheese dressing is a huge part of this too, and the fact that the salad doesn’t have to be my whole meal, unless that’s all I want.)

    I also like the point that nutrition is different for everyone. Athletes and sick people sometimes do need to cram as many calories as they need into their bodies, and different things affect people…you know…differently. This is why I hate, hate, hate the push for posting calorie and fat counts at fast food places. Heck, just assuming that everyone, or everyone within a certain height-weight range, needs the same number of calories is problematic.

    As another example of nutrition being different for everyone, hypothyroid. My mom-in-law discovered that she would have thyroid issues when she tried to cook low-salt (you k now, that’s supposed to be so healthy) or forget to buy the iodized kind. (She ended up with Grave’s Disease, then thyroid cancer and had her thyroid removed, so hers was probably way more sensitive than most, but that kind of variation is sort of the point.)

    1. Ross Kennedy, Dietetic Intern Avatar
      Ross Kennedy, Dietetic Intern

      I really don’t think that posting the nutritional information for a restaurant will eliminate obesity. It’s good to have it easily accessible and available. But, pure and simple, the one’s who are interested will read the information and those who aren’t interested or simply don’t care just won’t. I think that knowledge is power and many people can make good decisions for themselves when they have all of the information. I choose to not have whipped cream on my Frappaccinos because I don’t feel that the additional Calories are worth it because it doesn’t enhance my experience in any way.

      1. wriggles Avatar

        I choose to not have whipped cream on my Frappaccinos because I don’t feel that the additional Calories are worth it because it doesn’t enhance my experience in any way.

        This sometimes happens through taste.

      2. KellyK Avatar

        The main issues I have with prominently posting nutritional information are the focus on fat/calories and the potential to screw with people’s heads, especially people who have issues with disordered eating.

        I think the information absolutely should be *available,* but I would include more than just fat/calorie counts. Vitamins and minerals, a full ingredient list, etc., would be nice, but those don’t conveniently fit on a sign. Usually what you see is the stuff geared toward weight loss and heart health: calories, fat, saturated or trans fat, sodium, maybe cholesterol. So, I’d much rather see full nutritional info available in a pamphlet that an interested person could grab than just the diet-related bits posted.

        Knowing the fat/calorie content of a food is way different than knowing how “healthy” it is–it’s only part of that, but requiring fat/calorie counts conflates the two and assumes that everyone everywhere should be restricting their caloric intake. It also feeds into the assumption that less is always better when it comes to fat and calories when satiety might be a better measure than calorie-counting to tell whether you’ve had enough food.

        I like your thoughts about leaving the whipped cream off because it doesn’t enhance your experience of the Frappucino. I do a similar thing with cheeseburgers–I don’t order bacon unless I very specifically want it; I don’t get it just because it’s there. The same thing with soda, too, come to think of it. The real stuff is marginally better than the diet, but not so good that all that sugar really enhances my soda-drinking experience. (I’ve also noticed that some real-sugar sodas are fantastic, but that they lose that fabulousness if you drink them too often. Jones Cream Soda is like liquid candy, but when I ran out of diet and drank 2 or 3 cans of it in a day, it became “meh” pretty quickly.)

      3. deeleigh Avatar

        Not to mention the fact that fat people aren’t necessarily big eaters in the first place, or are already suppressing their weight by restricting calories. How does anyone expect to “eliminate obesity” when eating less (within reason) usually only results in a drop of 10-30 pounds? That’s not going to make most obese people into normal weight people.

        1. living400lbs Avatar

          How does anyone expect to “eliminate obesity” when eating less (within reason) usually only results in a drop of 10-30 pounds? That’s not going to make most obese people into normal weight people.

          It’s not going to make those of us who are large enough to be “headless fatties” into normal weight people. Or even folks with a BMI of 40 or 35.

          But it might make the folks who became overweight overnight “normal”.

      4. living400lbs Avatar

        I choose to not have whipped cream on my Frappaccinos because I don’t feel that the additional Calories are worth it because it doesn’t enhance my experience in any way.

        Hee. I don’t have it because a) I don’t want a whipped cream mustache and b) it makes the mocha less drink-like and more cream-like. (Reason (b) is also why I have nonfat milk not whole.)

        However, I also don’t see my reasons as “better” than yours, just mine.

  42. Audrey Avatar

    While reading through this article and the comments, I just realized an interesting (and insidious) rule that Pollan (and many, many others) keep telling me: You Must Cook.

    The problem? I’ve really never liked cooking. Every once in awhile I’ll get the urge to cook something serious (usually when I have excess free time on my hands over a long weekend), or I’ll throw together some tacos because I like how they taste, or I’ll put on some pasta because it sounds better than anything else in the house. But we’re lucky enough to have resources to eat out fairly often, and we buy frozen meals and frozen fish sticks and frozen pizza and all sorts of “EVIL!1!” things. (My mom regularly chides me for both eating out too much and eating frozen foods.)

    But despite years of being told to cook more, guess what? Hasn’t happened. Eating out less because it’s “unhealthy”? Hasn’t happened. All that happens is that if I already feel like I’m being “bad” for eating out I’m more likely to rebel and make rebellious food choices rather than “what I want to eat” food choices. (I also spent a long time NOT ordering things that I could make at home, even if I wanted them, because it made eating out “a waste”). It’s interesting the rules I’ve managed to make for myself by interpreting the outside rule!

    Just thought of a fun anecdote about eating “as much as you want”. We have friends who make the best cookies on the planet (in my opinion, of course). I had two cookies, and then was feeling pretty full… but the cookies were delicious. I decided that I wouldn’t have a cookie this second, but if later I felt unfull enough to have a cookie I would. I didn’t end up having another cookie because I was really full, and didn’t even realize that I had made the decision until we were leaving. (Although the next day I wished that we had taken some home, heh.)

    Anyway, that’s my rant.

    P.S. I really love this blog, one of my favorites on eating/nutrition.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Yes. This has bothered me as well, especially b/c there are a lot of misogynist undertones to messages about cooking more (even from Pollan himself, who was taken to task over a recent NYT [I think NYT] opinion piece waxing sentimental about traditional wifey-mommy cooking.)

      Frankly, not everyone wants to cook. And that’s a perfectly fine decision, because it’s a personal one, and really has no moral value one way or another. I like cooking, but at the moment I live with a tiny kitchen that doesn’t always encourage/accommodate cooking. So we eat some frozen stuff and some canned stuff, supplemented with salads and fresh fruits, and we get by just fine on that.

      Not everything has to be a DO OR DIE proposition, but something about our cultural mindset leads us to interpret all advice as RULES or even COMMANDMENTS. I’m still scratching my head over why this is the case.

      1. mara Avatar

        “Not everything has to be a DO OR DIE proposition, but something about our cultural mindset leads us to interpret all advice as RULES or even COMMANDMENTS. I’m still scratching my head over why this is the case.”

        I think it’s because we are hungry for rules or orders or direction – or, maybe, for a prescription – for what to do. For how to make A + B = C, C being the undisputably ‘good’ outcome.

        And I think that’s because.. well, expert opinion has superceded things that used to depend on gut instinct in many aspects of life. Science has ‘better’ tools and measures than the average person. Its ‘answers’ are more accurate and therefore safer. So we became less and less the experts on our own lives.

        That’s turning around, but … inconsistently. Like, I think there are many people who would assert their right to speak from their own experience on a social, philosophical, or even a psychological level, but still accept others’ expertise on things relating to the body. Maybe it’s just that.. a postmodern perspective hasn’t quite made it into how we view medical science, yet?

        So, we take advice as a prescription because we think we need it to be prescribed. We are so desperate for this that we’re not even overly fussy about who is holding the prescription pad.

        1. Michelle Avatar

          Maybe it’s just that.. a postmodern perspective hasn’t quite made it into how we view medical science, yet?

          I think you’re onto something here.

          The thing that really brought it home to me was something Kate Harding wrote: “We are mostly pretty normal people living in a culture that tells us eating — EATING — is a perilous, potentially deadly endeavor that the average human being can’t be expected to negotiate successfully without professional assistance.”

          And I thought, “Yes. That’s exactly it.” Because we can survive — and given that nutrition, as a science, has been around for less than 1/10th of a percent of the lifespan of Homo sapiens as a species, it’s obvious that we HAVE survived — without nutritional information of any kind. And we’ve not just survived, but become one of the most prolific and dominant species on the planet.

          The only reason I am doing the job I am doing now is NOT because people can’t be trusted to choose their own food. It’s because our culture has now genuinely messed people up around food so much, by telling them they can’t possibly be trusted with it, that it’s become a self-fulfilling prophecy, and people’s eating competence has been undermined.

          People now believe they can’t trust themselves, and even if some of us get to the point where we intellectually believe we CAN trust ourselves, it is hard as hell to put into practice while surrounded by the messages and cultural climate we are. And it will take many people a long time, doing the work that I do or similar work, to help reverse that.

          I’m kind of hoping I can put myself out of business eventually, but sadly, I doubt I ever will. If I do, I’ll be happier than you can imagine.

    2. Lisablue Avatar

      Yes, yes yes!

      I work full time outside of the home, and have a 2.5 year old child. How exactly am I supposed to have the time to constantly cook all our meals from scratch?

      That sort of “it’s good because you made it, NOT good if you didn’t” is also snobby. Sure, I like to cook – when I don’t feel exhausted and pulled in 10 different directions. And sure, I enjoy the flavour of my home-cooked meals, WHEN I’M NOT TOO RUSHED TO.



      1. KellyK Avatar

        I work full time outside of the home, and have a 2.5 year old child. How exactly am I supposed to have the time to constantly cook all our meals from scratch?

        Moms don’t need sleep or relaxation hobbies, right?

        Yes–very snobby. Cooking is great when you can do it, but breaking yourself to make everything from scratch all the time sounds like a bad plan.

  43. Hope Avatar

    This post and the discussion in the comments has just been incredibly helpful. Thanks Michelle and everyone!

  44. STL Mom Avatar
    STL Mom

    I just found your blog (I think through “Already Pretty”) and this is the first post I’ve read – and it is great.
    I have very mixed feelings about food and food rules. I want to be healthy and feed my family healthy food, but I also want them to enjoy food and be able to make their own food decisions. But only if they make “good” decisions, of course!
    Ellyn Satter is the best. I think I’m going to get off the computer and re-read “Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family”. Here’s some of my favorite section headings:
    “Choose Food That Tastes Good”
    “Enjoy Salt”
    “Don’t Be a Food Snob”

  45. STL Mom Avatar
    STL Mom

    FYI: New York Times article about a healthy 51-year-old man who lives on candy:

  46. Marya Avatar

    ““I have never been disappointed by a fruit roll up,” he said. “They always taste just like I expect them to.”

    This cracked me up because it’s almost exactly what Frances the badger says in the wonderful children’s book “Bread and Jam for Frances,” in defense of eating bread and jam at every meal.

    “There are many different things to eat, and they taste many different ways. But when I have bread and jam I always know what I am getting, and I am always pleased.”

    She holds out for, I think four or five straight meals at which her mother cheerfully hands over the bread and jam before she breaks down and cries at the dinner table and is helped to some nice spaghetti and meatballs. The next day she brings a fabulous six-course lunch to school that includes a lobster salad sandwich and celery with a little salt shaker and dessert and two kinds of fruit.

    It’s a very exuberant book.

    1. Slim Avatar

      Actually –and not to be pedantic, but I like to think I earned this knowledge, and dammit, I am, so just hold still while I do, months after the fact — Frances holds out for less than a day. Once there’s no battle to be won, she listens to her tastebuds/body/belly, and the family’s dinner looks better than more of the same bread and jam.

  47. usedtobeavegetarian Avatar

    Hi Michelle,

    I love, love, love your blog & found it through Shapely Prose.

    I’m interested in the discussion you had with Cassi above about understanding and responding to what one’s body “wants”.

    I’ve been working on healing compulsive eating/dieting for about 20 years (!), mostly with a IE/demand feeding approach (though I wish I had known about Ellyn Satter sooner — maybe that would have worked better for me). Like you and many of your readers I like Pollan’s writing about the food system, but I’m annoyed and triggered by his “rules”. I actually have been trolling around FA sites to see their responses to his Eater’s Manifesto, and of course yours takes the cake (smile).

    Anyway, I do mostly eat a kind of traditional/unprocessed/lots of veg/Mediterranean/Pollan-y kind of diet, because that is truly what I like and what makes me feel good and what fits my ideals of food justice and sustainability. I do still have occasional episodes, though, where I will eat crunchy, sweet-salty foods, and when I do eat them I eat MUCH more of them than makes me feel good. I think that I have truly “legalized” those foods, so I don’t think it’s a post-deprivation issue, but once I’m eating those foods, I feel like I’m in a trance, and I just keep going WAY past the point of feeling satiated. I haven’t read David Kessler’s book, (The End of Overeating?) but I’m suspecting that that is the mechanism that is at play.

    Do you have a suggestion about this? I don’t love the idea of restricting, but I don’t feel like I’m being very loving towards myself with this. Do you have ideas about how to frame this that is about building self-trust and not about making these foods ‘bad’ (and therefore setting off my oh-so-rebellious nature)?

    Thanks again for all your great work!

    1. Anna Avatar

      I personally avoid foods that make me feel crappy, because they annoy me. But it took some time to form that association. It really had to be naturally, from within, rather than imposed from some silly idea of what I should be doing.

      I think about how a food makes me feel, and if I want to, I eat it anyway. But I make sure to remember how I feel afterwards, so I can take it into consideration next time. My tastes have changed drastically over a number years by paying attention to what feels good and what doesn’t. (Not going to give any examples, because it will look like a “should”. But suffice to say there are many things I seldomly eat and some things I just have no interest in anymore, ever. But it took as long as I needed, years, to naturally lose interest).

  48. […] I’m going to be bossy Jump to Comments For real. Go here and read this. […]

  49. Marie Avatar

    I am myself a whole foods movement fan and I think a whole bunch of people here either didn’t read Pollan’s book (or didn’t understand what he meant). When he referred to “your grandmother or great grandmother” he didn’t literally refer to your family. It was an example used to illustrate how the state of today’s food industry will confuse an old person to the stage of not being able to recognize a packet of GoGurt as “food”.
    BTW, I eat a whole fats diet. I eat butter, eggs, whole fat milk, whole fat yogurt, pork chops…you name it, I don’t avoid foods. Hell, I am cook and eat pastries at work, but won’t touch a Twinkie. Pastries at work are made with flour, eggs, egg, real chocolate…what he meant as FOOD. Twinkies are made with a whole bunch of bat-crazy shit that allows them to never rot (I guess that’ll be great when zombies come or something).
    Basically, Pollan is actually advising people in America of an extremely obvious fact: Eat food, not whatever the food industry is trying to pass at food with their extreme marketing ploys.

    BTW, this a picture of my “diet” based on Pollan’s advice:

  50. Marie Avatar

    PD. Kessler book is just of informational piece regarding what corporations are doing to what their “food” to increment sales and how their ploys are making you for example eat a 2,000 calories salmon entree when you think you are eating sensible (no, they wont tell you the freaking entree will actually be as big as your total daily caloric intake). Very interesting read.

  51. Marie Avatar

    PPD. Please, google Polysorbate 60 after you’re done reading.

  52. Alana Skye Avatar
    Alana Skye

    Thank you so much for this blog. I came here from Shapely Prose, and I’m in the process of figuring stuff out for myself to do with food. For instance, I’ve realised that, *for me*, comfort eating makes me feel worse. And I’m really happy that today (Saturday, not at work) I had a few slices of yesterday’s pizza, two chocolate milkshakes, a cheese sandwich and a teacake (do you get these in America? Like a bread roll with raisins in) for breakfast. It tasted nice, I enjoyed eating it and I was comfortably full. I’ve been asking my body politely if it wants any more food yet, and the answer is no. I’m guessing that’s because during the week I work at a job where I’m on my feet most of the time, and then I come home and do a bunch of chores (beacuse I choose to and want to) and at the weekend I tend to chill out by the computer and the TV, so I need less to eat? Is that how it works? Anyway, sorry to be long and rambly but thankyou, and keep up the good work!

    1. Alana Skye Avatar
      Alana Skye

      Just a PS, the time on the comment is showing 1152am, I’m in the UK so it’s 1652 here. Does “As much as you want” include sometimes not wanting to eat? (The brreakfast I mentioned was about 9am)

      1. Michelle Avatar

        Does “As much as you want” include sometimes not wanting to eat?

        Yes, but with qualifiers. For instance, if you’re sick or there’s some kind of underlying eating disorder or medical abnormality, you may have to override your internal signals or figure out how to work around them after a point, so you aren’t at risk of dehydration or malnourishment.

        But for people in general, including children? Yes. Ellyn Satter’s division of responsibility specifically says that parents choose what to serve and when, and children decide how much to eat of what is offered, and WHETHER to eat at all.

        A healthy body can be trusted to decide not to eat sometimes.

  53. Celia Avatar

    To be frank, I question your logic here. You say that people, when left to their own devices, will eat the right thing, but can we ever *really* be left to our own devices when it comes to consumer choices in a capitalist economy? We can’t stand outside the system–a system driven by industrial farming, corporate interest, and fast food economics. When you claim that food is morally neutral and that people can decide for themselves what kinds of food to eat, you’re assuming two things: first, that advertising, the food industry, the media, etc. have no direct effect on a person’s choices; and second, that somehow we are able to make those choices in an informed way. The first assumption is clearly false: would companies spend billions of dollars a year to advertise their products and services if our free will trumps our capacity to be persuaded? As for your second assumption, the way our food is produced, where it is produced, what went into making it: these are things that are no longer immediately obvious when it comes to the average food-buying experience. When I pick a tomato out of my garden, I know exactly what went into that tomato. When I buy a prepared meal at the megamart, though, it gets a bit more complicated, doesn’t it? My Lean Cuisine might, for instance, have an enormous carbon footprint, or use shrimp farmed in Indonesia (a practice that is often socially and environmentally devastating in developing countries). Buying food connects us to practices and people in a way the average person can’t really know: we no longer have access to information about where our food comes from and what goes into making it. In other words, I object to your classification of food as morally neutral; it is far from it. Food *is* culture, and whatever food you choose to eat has an impact that goes well beyond you.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I’m just going to quickly respond by saying: I believe systemic problems require systemic solutions. If there is a moral problem with the way food is produced, then it is really the responsibility of the producers to change things.

      Can individuals put some pressure to bear on that change? Yes. Should individuals who have the means (material as well as mental) to do so make individual changes? Yes. But I don’t believe that is the entire solution to the problem, and I don’t think it is right to charge individuals with the responsibility of changing things that are far beyond their immediate control.

      And, if your assertions are to be believed, then it’s especially difficult for people in the current food environment to stand outside it in order to make “moral” choices about food. All the more reason to change that context, rather than blaming people (which brings with it the nasty complications or orthorexia and eating disorders and general anxiety about food being poisonous) for making choices that get them through the day.

      You’ll note that, nowhere in this post or on this site, have I ever said the food system shouldn’t be changed. What I’ve said is, individuals shouldn’t be blamed for it. And the cost of putting the burden of change on individuals has had real casualties, in the form of undermined eating competence and even frankly disordered eating.

      Bottom line: we eat to survive. You can’t hold someone morally responsible for eating what’s available to them in order to survive.

      1. Celia Avatar

        I think you’re misreading my comment: I’m not putting responsibility for changing food patterns on to the individual. You are, and that is exactly my criticism.

        1. Michelle Avatar


          I think you’re actually misreading…the whole of everything I’ve ever written, if you think that I’m putting blame/responsibility on the individual for systemic problems.

          Perhaps we actually agree? What a thought.

          To be honest, I found your comment confusing on first read, and on another read, I still do. Can you explain a bit more what, exactly, I’m missing?

          On second thought, I’m really brain-fogged right now. I’ll come back tomorrow or the next day and give it another go + more thought. Today I’m just fagged.

      2. Michelle Avatar

        Individuals can put pressure to bear on the authorities who can make change. But I think this pressure comes from political action, not necessarily by radically changing our diets — though that is, of course, one option. I just don’t think it should be considered a mandatory response for every individual, because not all people are in a position (whether financial or psychological) to make those kinds of changes.

        Thankfully, in a democracy, all of us have the option to vote, or to write our representatives, or even to demonstrate and raise awareness and call others to join the political action. I think this is probably a better strategy than trying to eat our way around the issue. Though I certainly wouldn’t tell people who wanted to boycott certain foods to not bother — that is entirely your choice. But don’t make it everyone else’s responsibility as well.

        The way in which food is produced is manifestly NOT morally neutral, and I never said it was. In fact, if you look up there at the actual post, I did add a brief disclaimer to this effect when I said “And, setting aside the very-interesting-but-not-to-be-had-right-now discussion of ethical and religious foodways…” by which I meant to include not just vegetarianism for the sake of animal rights, but also choosing food on the basis of how it is produced.

        I still maintain that food itself, however, is morally neutral. Because no one becomes a bad person by eating food — no matter how it’s produced.

        1. Miss B Avatar

          Thank you.

          I love you. Should you require extra-uteran assistance to carry a child, allow me to offer mine up. ;)

          I just ended my email subscriptions to all diet newsletters. I just quit WW and didn’t feel guilty (I wasn’t following it anyhow). I just stopped all the bullshit stuff after reading this yesterday.

          I have spent the majority of my life with someone looking over my shoulder telling me what I can and can’t have. What is “good” and what is “bad”. Being told I was being “bad” for “sneaking” food or “cheating”. Dealing with pressure from a parent with an eating disorder to join her in her never ending quest for thinness. I was 5’4″ tall with a 28″ waist and weighing in at 123 pounds and told I still needed to lose weight – “Only five pounds more and you could be a size 6!”

          Was this motivating? In ways – it motivated me to stop eating in front of my family and binge while they were asleep. It motivated me to view my body in an unrealistic light until I was actually overweight but what I saw in the mirror was NO DIFFERENT than what I saw when I was “thin”. It motivated me right to the edge of anorexia or bulemia and probably beyond but I have no actual diagnosis of that.

          I have been working since October to find ways to fling my negative attitudes towards food and towards my body to the winds.

          Your three short sentences feel like a key to a door that has long been locked to me.

          Thank you.

  54. Emi Avatar

    One thing that worries my about Satter (I have not read her books yet) is that she wrote that breastfeeding beyond a year is “indulgent” Now I know that breastfeeding is very controversial so I don’t want to get into that. I guess that I would be suspect of advice about nutrition coming from someone who believes that. It seems to be taking a moral stance on nutrition (never mind that the breastfeeding in general is not just about nutrition) wouldn’t you say?

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Yeah, I can see why you’d be concerned about that. I don’t know a ton about breastfeeding and Satter’s stance on it myself, but I think that’s a fair question.

  55. Anna Avatar

    “Being un-free is a fate worse than death to an animal. It means either you will be killed, or you will be tortured and then killed, or your entire life and all of your efforts will be used exclusively in the service of someone else’s desires. And that service is probably going to be pretty unpleasant and continue indefinitely, until you die (see: tortured and then killed.)

    Ever wonder why animals are willing to gnaw their legs off to get out of a trap?”

    This pretty much perfectly sums up why I’m a vegan…

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Excellent point :)

  56. kelly Avatar

    I am a fat person (5’7″, about 185-190 lbs) and I’ve been this size since puberty. I got some really disordered eating habits from my family and I’ve worked hard to get past those, and I’m trying to raise my daughter to follow the “eat what you like when you’re hungry until you’re full” model. She’s nearly three, and she’s doing pretty well–the other day she explained to me that what she wanted for dinner was a plate with rice on the bottom, then some broccoli, then a scrambled egg, and then some feta cheese, all stacked up. We made that together and she ate the whole thing and called it delicious. She also knows she’s welcome to try anything I am eating that looks interesting to her (except alcohol or raw fish).

    But it’s amazing to me how people react when I say I let my kid eat what she wants. People say “if I let my child do that, she’d eat nothing but saltines and ketchup!” Or they berate me because do I really want my child to be fat like me? Don’t I know how bad it is? It’s very very difficult for people to understand that by letting her choose her own food and how much to eat, I’m trying to teach her to feed her body well without all the shame and value judgments that so often go into food.

    Also, people often assume that I’m fat because I eat junk, but I grew up in Alaska, where a Pollan diet is pretty much assumed. I ate fish and moose and caribou and veggies we grew in our garden. (As an aside, I always kind of want to smack Alice Waters when she talks about eating what’s in season–that’s a lovely idea when you live in a climate like Northern California’s, where strawberries and tomatoes are both in season for much of the year. It’s quite different when eating what’s in season means four months of nothing but fish and about two weeks of berries. Preserving food so we can eat out of season is a wondrous thing). Having eaten the Pollan diet for the first 18 years of my life, I can tell you that it can be pretty monotonous and unsatisfying depending on the climate.

  57. […] of interest. One is the blog Fat Nutritionist, which I have recently started to read regularly. This post, in particular, is a must-read. Also, this excellent post from Bitch Ph.D. (apologies if […]

  58. […] that it’s no one’s business to tell you to do otherwise. End of […]

  59. […] my cake stems from these influences, but it specifically occurred to me reading Michelle’s post, “Eat food.  Stuff you Like.  As Much as you Want.” She writes, It should come as no surprise to anyone reading here that our culture views food as a […]

  60. CraftyLuna Avatar

    I’m currently working my way through reading this entire blog, and I am relatively new to Fat Acceptance, HAES, and intuitive eating. I officially stopped dieting only about a month ago and for about two weeks I ate lots of potato chips, ice cream, pasta, all the things I was denying myself. And then just this week I all of a sudden really, really wanted some fruit. I always hated fruit before. I could tolerate vegetables, if they were cooked with lots of butter and salt, or better yet as part of a casserole, but fruit to me was THE symbol of “what you’re supposed to eat” and so of course I hated it but forced myself to eat it anyway.

    And now, it’s so weird, now that I don’t have to eat it, I want to. I really didn’t think that would happen. And now I want to eat everything. When trying to lose weight I always had this list of “safe” foods that I always had on hand and my diet was very predictable and monotonous and . . . boring. Now I want to go buy vegetables I’ve never head of and learn how to cook them, go to restaurants I’ve never been to and order things I can’t even pronounce, travel the world and taste food from every country.

    I definitely feel like my mental and emotional health is on the mend. I’ve been doing a lot of crying, but it’s the “Wow, I’m really going to be ok” kind of crying instead of the “god I’m such a failure” kind. And I can’t help but think my new attitude is going to help my physical health too. Thank you so much, Michelle!

  61. Mongoose Avatar

    Thank you for this. It’s wonderful.

    For years I’ve felt like a lone voice in the wilderness, because at work I am surrounded by what I call the Skinny Women On Diets brigade who talk about food in terms of morality. And I keep saying to them, “No, listen. Lying is a sin. Malicious gossip is a sin. Eating a chocolate biscuit is not a sin. It may be an inadvisable thing to do if you’re already full, but there’s nothing wicked about it.” It falls on deaf ears, and I even sometimes get implied criticism for obviously enjoying something chocolatey (despite the fact that I’m 5’7″ and have a 27″ waist!).

    I eat what I like. All the time. Mostly, what I like is fruit, vegetables and wholegrains. Sometimes, what I like is stuff involving chocolate (I’m not too interested in other sweet things). I also like salty things, to the extent that I tend to consider the Government guideline on salt to be a useful minimum rather than a prescribed maximum. This is a clear case of my body being sensible, because I have chronically low blood pressure, and if I don’t get enough salt I will get dizzy spells. (Insert rant here about one-size-fits-all health advice – I won’t take over your blog, but I will just say there is far too much of it about.)

    Our Head of Section at work eats eye-popping amounts of chocolate. He’s also as thin as a pencil. I once tried to give a reality check to someone who fulminated about what a Terrible Thing it was that he ate all that chocolate; I asked her how thin she thought he’d be if he didn’t eat it. “Oh, well,” she countered, “it must be bad for his health!”

    Le sigh.

    Thank you so much for providing a sane, rational, and above all compassionate counterweight to all that sort of stuff.

  62. […] The Ultimate Reward I am constantly amazed at how much personal finance and fitness are related to violin playing and practicing. Case in point: one recent bloggy gem called The Fat Nutritionist. […]

  63. Michelle Eatingjourney Avatar

    I needed this so badly it makes my brain hurt. Thank you. SO much!

  64. […] I came across this post from The Fat Nutritionist So, in the service of that, I offer you […]

  65. MilkySandwich Avatar

    Man, this is such a wise style of thinking. But I want to share my situation with you and I would be happy if you would help me. First of all, I am a girl and I have 15 years. Please don’t be stuck on the fact that I’m a child, because I can be more anxious about eating than a 40 years old lady. why ? Because being a teen is hard for a person like me, who loves food.

    I wasn’t fat as a child, I was always okay, when the doctors saw me they always said : ” This is a healthy child “. But the time passed and in only 1 year I became plump ( not obese ! just plump ) And from that moment the chaos started. I tried to cut off all the sweet things and bread, potatoes, pasta too, then I followed 100 diet tips , then I went on Atkins………I must admit that in the last 3 days I’ve been searching for a post like yours. I mean, there are people who weren’t made for a diet ! And this doesn’t mean that we will be the future obese generation. Dieting and trying to eat only HEALTHY foods was and IS incredibly painful for me ( because I’m still on Atkins, I’m just planning to quit it ). What value has a life full of inside conflicts ? Fighting with enemies, fighting to get a job, a house, a partner, these are OTHER TYPE of fights, but fighting with your own traits is terrible ( like for example fighting with your appetite )

    Many people said I don’t have willpower, but I have willpower ONLY if I’m able to stick to healthy foods and dieting ? I mean , life isn’t sth MORE than this ?
    And maybe even you are thinking now that I’m a silly , weak teen, but I’m not ! I fought very much, I really did, but I find no joy in my life anymore…….It’s not like only food makes me happy, but it certainly plays a big role. I have a pretty big appetite too……….what do you think I should do ? Please don’t give me diet-style tips, just say your honest opinion because I really put my faith in you……sorry if I wrote this confusing, but I’m very sick and tired with all this and I want to find a solution because I endured enough !!!! ( this is what I’m feeling right now

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I mean , life isn’t sth MORE than this ?

      Yes, it is. And willpower really has nothing to do with how you eat or what size your body is. I don’t know how we got so mixed up as a culture, but here we are.

      And maybe even you are thinking now that I’m a silly , weak teen…

      Not at all. You’re struggling with exactly the same thing so many people struggle with for their entire lives. It’s a good thing you’re beginning to question it relatively early on.

      I find no joy in my life anymore…….It’s not like only food makes me happy, but it certainly plays a big role. I have a pretty big appetite too……….what do you think I should do ?

      Oh my dear. If you find no joy in life anymore, it’s either something you need to get help for (like from a therapist), or something you can address by putting joy back into your life. If you’ve stopped doing things you enjoy (because of your weight, or because dieting took up all of your time and energy) try doing them again.

      Food makes everyone happy. There is a reason for this — if food didn’t make us happy, we wouldn’t go to all the trouble to procure and prepare and eat it, which means we never would have survived as a species. Food is a natural reward, and we not only get physical pleasure from it, but emotional pleasure too. This is as it should be — it doesn’t mean you’re a weak person or have anything wrong with you.

      Stopping a diet and trying to eat normally again is HARD. It can be an uphill battle, given the culture we live in that will give you diet tips and tell you to lose weight at every turn. But you have to create a protective bubble for yourself. Surround yourself with supportive friends who don’t focus too much on weight. If you need to, ask your family not to discuss weight issues around you. Start reading blogs and books about body image, self acceptance, and health at every size. (You can do this by clicking on the “Notes from the Fatosphere” link on the right-hand sidebar, and by going to and looking at some of the books there.)

      I am in the early stages of developing an online class that will help people like you learn to eat normally, and it should be relatively cheap. Hang around here and talk to people — we’ve all been through similar stuff, and some of us have even found our way out.

  66. MilkySandwich Avatar

    Because your help, I quitted my diet

    Thank you ! From now I’ll try to live smarter

  67. Elina Avatar

    My body has been telling me for 2 months now that I need to eat at least 5 cookies every day. :D After being cookie-deprived for years, I guess that’s what it takes?

  68. […] choices. Intuitive eating helps us eat when we are hungry, and stop when we are full. It says to “Eat food. Stuff you like. As much as you want.” It acknowledges the first rule of nutrition (“Eat or die.”). It recognizes that there […]

  69. […] Michelle, The Fat Nutritionist, talks about what and how to eat. […]

  70. […] Michelle, The Fat Nutritionist, talks about what and how to eat. […]

  71. Marie Avatar

    I found your blog through Shapely Prose a few days ago. I’m new to the world of FA and HAES, but I’ve been lurking over at SP for a couple of months.

    First of all, thank you for your excellent work, Michelle! I greatly appreciate

    After a decade of disordered eating and bouts of severe clinical depression, I got so depressed that I was constantly considering suicide. Now, this last and most severe depression came upon me after almost two years of starving and exercising obsessively (and secretely). Urged by my family, who suspected that I was suicidal, I finally found a therapist that I could actually trust. I think I fell for her the minute she, upon hearing me complain about not being able to get out of bed in the morning because I felt so horrible, responded: “Why do you have to get up if you are unable to? Should a person with a physical injury making getting up impossible also get out of bed?” Something went click in my head at that point, and I kept having sessions with this amazing therapist on a weekly basis.

    However, food per se turned out not to be central issue in the course of my therapy. I slowly unravelled so many past instances of my boundaries not being respected, of not being allowed to express my feelings, etc. I was overwhelmed by the pain I had tried – and managed – to suppress for so long. The therapy was immensely demanding, and I slowly realized that I had to spend my energy on my sessions, rather than on my expanding waist. (Assuredly, for a long time I nourished a “secret” plan to go back to dieting once my inner wounds had healed.) Somewhere along the process however, food and weight just started to be non-issues, in a positive way. It was like something in me went all Caps Lock and told me WHY SHOULD I HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT DIETING IF I DO NOT HAVE THE ENERGY TO DIET?!, and then I went more or less straight to structured eating, intuitively, without knowing about FA or HAES.

    Now I’ve been eating structuredly for about three years. I didn’t know life could be like this. Bacon? I want it? I can has it! Cauliflower? I crave it? I can has it! I have not gained weight (lest we count the weight i regained, having lost it dieting myself suicidal and prone to viral infections). I have gained health, life quality and optimism. I have not been depressed either.

    Sure, many things in my life, other than my approach to eating, have improved, adding to my overall well-being. But still. I think that that WHY SHOULD I HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT DIETING IF I DO NOT HAVE THE ENERGY TO DIET?!-moment should not be underestimated.

    1. Marie Avatar

      Sorry for the typos, I got carried away for a moment and forgot to proof-read my comment.

      I just want to add that there are of course lots of reasons why I and other people shouldn’t diet, also including – in my case – not being fat in the first place. I was 141 lbs (at 5’4) at my heaviest, for crying out loud. But my eating _and_ thinking were so disordered that I needed that WTF-moment as a sort of lever, a temporary permission not to diet, so that I could regain some strength and peace of mind. And with that strength and peace of mind, I lost the urge to once more torture myself down to 112 lbs.

    2. HeathJ Avatar

      Thanks for the moving description of your experiences, Marie.

  72. […] Finally, my favourite Bodily Autonomy quote is from The Fat Nutritionist: Eat food. Stuff you like. As much as you want. […]

  73. […] “eat whatever you want”, and why worries of death by snack-cake are probably overblown. Ultimately, it’s about individual freedom and trusting people to make their own decisions. Possibly I should send Michelle’s contact info to Carnie Wilson; Michelle would likely […]