Real food.

“Real food” is a term I dislike almost as much as “real women,” and for many of the same reasons.

On occasion, I run into this idea coupled with the concept of intuitive eating. People will proclaim how much they believe in permission and fulfilling your hunger and eating whatever you want (so far, so good)…but with one small caveat (uh-oh.) Permission and eating as much as you’re hungry for and eating what you like are, apparently, only legitimate if the food being eaten meets some mysterious criteria that imbues it with that holiest of all holy contemporary food values, the coveted title of “real food.”

For some people, real food means “food I make entirely at home from scratch [for varying values of ‘from scratch.’]” For some, it means “mainly plant-based foods with a smattering of dairy and animal protein.” For others, it means “entirely raw foods that have not been cooked.” And for yet others, it might mean anything from “a vegetarian diet” to “mostly meat and certain vegetables and no grains” to “a vegan diet composed entirely of homemade food” to “I grow everything I eat on my own land, including grains which I mill into flour myself and then deep-fry unrepentantly.”

There is a lot of wiggle-room in this term.

Before I go further, it is important for me to make it crystal clear that for people who choose to eat in one of these ways, I say good for you. I sincerely hope you enjoy it and feel great. Rock on. I am all for people making very personal choices about what foods they eat and don’t eat. I think the above are all decent options, but most importantly, it doesn’t matter what I think, because your body belongs to you. Personal autonomy around food is the driving force behind this entire website.

The problem is that I’ve met very few people who make personal choices of the “real food” persuasion without also pressuring those around them…without also proclaiming that the foods most people rely on to survive are inherently inferior…without also implying that the reason the rest of us are fat, or poor, or don’t have shiny hair, or don’t walk around perpetually bathed in magical sunbeams of happiness, is entirely because we eat the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad food — the food that is not Real.

(Those who can make such choices without also being rude about other people’s food choices often comment here, or hang out with me on Twitter, and to all of you I give my unalloyed thanks.)

That large caveat disposed of, I will now proceed to my central argument, which is this:

All foods, like all women, are real.

No, this does not mean that all foods are nutritionally equivalent, or that all foods are good for all people in all situations, but it does mean that choices around food must be individual, that all food choices can be valid, depending on the person and the circumstances, and that universal pronouncements on a food’s relative realness are not helpful or, well…real.

“Real food” is not a real thing. Because what constitutes food is too many things.

There is no One True Way to Eat. Most people tend to accept this as a generality, and express mild agreement through such aphorisms as “Do what works for you,” “Your mileage may vary,” etc. But I’m afraid general, mild agreement with the idea that different people are different does not quite do justice to the reality. Thankfully, I can provide you with a little glimpse into that reality.

The reality is, even foods we tend to recognize as universally wholesome and healthy are not actually appropriate for everyone. Bodies differ and circumstances also differ. For example, our universally beloved super food, dark leafy greens, are considered a food to avoid (along with a bunch of other “healthy” foods like whole grains, legumes, and many fruits and vegetables) for people with kidney disease who require a low potassium diet.

Eating more sodium instead of less sodium can actually be a critical thing for people who experience hypotension — when I was working in the hospital, we actually had to stop purchasing a popular brand of bouillon for this purpose when they lowered the sodium in their product in an attempt to provide a healthier option to consumers. Well, it wasn’t healthier for our patients on tube feeds, some of whom required a sodium boost between feedings — in fact it was quite dangerous.

And while you may be tempted to write off hospitalized patients as the exception to the rule, they are consumers too, and there are far more people with serious medical conditions in the world than our culture allows us to be aware of.

Some of them are kept out of sight and out of mind in hospitals (except to those of us who work there), but many more are living their lives and buying their food right alongside us. I wish we could all be a little more aware of that, and I wish food companies and public health nutrition education campaigns alike would take these very real and present needs into account, rather than continually and exclusively prioritizing the speculative health needs of the generally well.

Right this minute, there is someone going through chemotherapy shopping at your grocery store, buying popsicles and ice cream to help their sore mouth, and worrying what the cashier is going to think.

There is someone on hemodialysis buying white bread instead of whole wheat, trying to keep their phosphorus levels reasonable between appointments and hoping for the best.

There is a person attending intensive outpatient treatment for their eating disorder who has been challenged by their therapist to buy a Frappuccino.

There are dietitians picking up a dozen different candy bars to eat with their clients, who feel ashamed and guilty about enjoying them.

There is someone who just doesn’t have it in them to cook right now, and this frozen pizza and canned soup will keep them going.

There are people recovering from chronic dieting and semi-starvation who are buying chocolate and chips at their deprived body’s insistence.

All around us are people listening to what their bodies need and attempting to make the best possible choice within a context of overwhelming food pressure. All of their choices are valid, and every single one of these foods is “real.”

It is not a coincidence that the foods popularly imbued with “realness” map so cleanly onto class-related ideas of healthy, high-status food. Yes, they may be nourishing and wonderful, but these foods also tend to require more resources to acquire or prepare.

Those resources might be financial, in the case of going out to eat at a splendid restaurant, or they might be temporal and energetic, in the case of high-quality raw ingredients that require careful shopping, preparation, and cooking. They might even be educational, in the case of culturally novel foods requiring that you learn of their existence in the first place, and then have the knowledge and skill to render them into something edible to you. Resources can also be emotional and psychological, in the form of having a good relationship with food and being lucky enough not to feel either overly compliant with, or stubbornly rebellious against, cultural messages telling you what and how to eat.

None of it comes cheap.

It is wonderful if you have these resources and inclinations, and if the resulting food choices work well with your unique needs, but it is also lucky. Which means you should appreciate your good fortune enough not to go around spoiling other people’s food choices by insinuating that only yours are real.

If food is keeping someone, somewhere alive, then it is real enough.


P.S. Someone brought up an important point that I want to include, which is: Buying and eating food just because you like it is just as valid as any other reason. I only highlight people with clinical nutrition needs here because often they are overlooked.






351 responses to “Real food.”

  1. Marie Avatar

    Thank you so much for writing this. I constantly hear about eating “real” (aka non-processed) foods like vegetables, and I feel such frustration about the fact that I simply don’t like fruits and vegetables. What others would call healthy eating is simply unsustainable for me. The cost in mental and emotional energy is just too high. Food in general is an agonizing topic for me, and it’s so much worse because I’m such a picky eater. People always kind of stare at me in disbelief when I tell them what I don’t like, and that constantly makes me feel like I’m defective because I don’t like normal, healthy foods. Sigh.

    1. ChannonD Avatar

      I am sorry to read about your food struggles. I take care of a girl who is also very restricted in what she likes and it can be a real challenge to feed her.
      anyway, years ago I read an article by a dietitian about how long it takes our taste buds to adjust to new foods, especially vegetables. She says it take 12 times to adjust. So for her children, each meal she made a vegetable they liked and one they didn’t like yet. They had only to take one bite of the “new” item and if they didn’t like it, “no problem”, they could just eat the other items. If after the 12th time, they still didn’t like it, they never had to eat it again. She said that by the 12 th time, her children actually liked most vegetables. In the interest of eating a more varied diet, I did this to myself and now some of my most hated vegetables are some of my favorite! It worked for me and for some other folks I have told. It hasn’t worked on my charge yet, but there is still time. I don’t expect her to change totally, or to love vegetables, but I hope to give her more food choices so she can feel better and eat a bit healthier. (she is worried about these things and her weight already, at age 10) So I still always have salad or a fruit she likes, but offer new choices too. And if she isn’t feeling up to it, I don’t press her to try anything new, I just offer it if she wants to. She seems to like this system and is growing more adventurous.
      Anyway, maybe, if you want to, this method could help you learn to like at least a few more fruits or vegetables. And if you don’t want to, or already have tried and tried, then that’s cool too. Whatever you do is your choice, after all.
      Good luck with your eating and food-related stresses. It seems we all have some food issue or other.

      1. Barlow Avatar

        I’m sure you’re an excellant caregiver but there’s something about a 10 year old child worrying about their weight that is seriously messed up. And I think there’s something equally as messed up about a culture that, instead of telling the 10 year old child that they can be fat and healthy and that they don’t NEED to worry about their weight, instead tells them that if they eat the magical amount of fruit and vegetables, they’ll be thin and magically “feel better”.

        1. ChannonD Avatar

          You are right, it is messed up. I didn’t create the problem in her, I am just trying to help her deal with it. She knows her diet is poor and wants to change. She sees that she looks different, she feels less energetic and she hears the insults on the playground. This has developed over the time I’ve know her, due to her diet and she knows it. I tell her how to love herself as she is, but I am also trying to help her solve a problem she wants to change.
          I am teaching her about reading labels, preparing foods she likes in a healthier way, portions, serving sizes from snacks, sauces and dressing, etc… Things every person needs to know to be healthy. Don’t kid yourself that people don’t gain weight when they eat mostly junk food.

          1. Orla Avatar

            It’s sad that you say the 10 year old girl knows *her* diet is poor. But it isn’t hers. Every child is eating a diet that the parents have prepared. She isn’t choosing the food that is stocked in her kitchen – why should she have to read labels at home? I’m not sure what kind of a neglectful situation this little girl is in but it sounds severe, if she is having to shop for and feed herself at 10.

            “Healthy” food is basically a myth. I had horrible heartburn- even after just one bite – and couldn’t sleep at night eating any cruciferous vegetable – even after I went on medication for acid reflux. I don’t eat sugar, “processed” meants, food from cans, and I don’t drink caffeine or storebought juices or citrus. I couldn’t do up my pants after eating an apple, even if I went for a brisk 30 minute walk to try and reduce bloating. I’m also happier after cutting my water intake in half.

            Now, I eat more bread, some if it white, more cheese, and I eat a lot of sauerkraut. I’m a vegetarian but I’ve cut out a lot of whole grains and I eat potatoes, corns, peas, instead. I drink wine, I have a second cup of coffee, I eat candy. I drink chocolate almond milk and use oat milk for cereal. I eat eggs with hollandaise sauce and vegan fake bacon. Once a week I can eat an orange. A couple times a week I’ll eat a few grapes or a kiwi. I might have a couple apples a month. I eat onions. Lettuce and celery are my only greens, now.

            I feel so much better after cutting out cruciferous vegetables, regular dark leafy grains, daily “whole” (as in “real”, no?) grains, “6-8 cups” of water daily, daily fresh fruit (especially apples). Once I cut this stuff out, I mostly just starting replacing it with unpasteurized preserves/pickles like kimchi and fresh kraut and potatoes and cheese. Eventually I started drinking a glass of wine or beer once in a while, or adding a big cup of herbal tea I didn’t have “room” for before with all that water. If there is a slightly more sugary cereal on sale in the organic section I’ll buy it now and forget about the “breakfast is the most important blah” and just enjoy the sweetness with my (still always black) coffee. Life is good now that I’ve said goodbye to the broccoli I’ve been forcing myself to eat for 30 years.

          2. ChannonD Avatar

            Your assumptions are so sensationalist and overly dramatic I don’t even know where to begin. Of course she does not shop for her own food. But she is served food at many different places (school, my house, her house, her uncle’s, her gramma’s, etc…) over which she has no control. The control she does have is in which foods she will or won’t eat. that is all on her, unless you think someone should force feed her? If she doesn’t learn to make better choices, she will have problems with her weight all her life. She may anyway, but given how her body is reacting to her diet, it is guaranteed on her current path.
            healthy food is NOT A MYTH. Some foods are more healthful than others. Some foods lead to weight gain and/or clogged arteries when consumed in excess. Fact, not myth. That is part of why there are serving sizes and a food pyramid.
            Of course there are exceptions to every rule and you seem to be one of them. she is not. Her issues stem from being too picky for her own good and from only wanting to eat fattening stuff like cheese, meat, chips, fries etc… She is not the first child I have met like this, not even close. She is just the only one who shows an interest in changing, so I am teaching her.
            Please stop adding in ridiculous assumptions. And stop judging her, her parents, me. It’s not your place.

          3. Michelle Avatar

            Some children are actually in those situations, so it’s far from ridiculous. I’m gonna need you to tone it down a bit.

          4. KellyK Avatar

            It worries me that you’re trying to teach her to read labels and pay strict attention to everything she eats. That’s not her job as a ten-year-old. (I’m not sure it’s even beneficial to an adult unless they have allergies or specific health issues that require them to seek out or limit specific nutrients.) Trying to get her to eat certain foods because of her weight doesn’t seem like something that will encourage her to *like* those foods.

      2. Sonja Avatar

        Can you remember any identifying information about that article? I’d love to read it.

        1. ChannonD Avatar

          I wish I remembered more, but here’s all I know: it was written by a Dietician and was republished in Reader’s Digest sometime around the year 2001. I know where I was living, so that narrows it down to a few years around that time. I googled and could not find it, but maybe you will have better luck. Or maybe you can ask Reader’s Digest. Best of luck to you!

    2. Cátia Borges Avatar
      Cátia Borges

      Mary did you ever tested if you have high sensitivity in taste buds? There are several people that experience the tastes differently because they have more concentration of taste buds.
      It takes more exposures to the food for these people to learn to enjoy it. If these exposures are done with pressure (example childhood) and give very unpleasant emotional experiences they are more inclined to never try it again and they develop a long last aversion to some food items. It is almost impossible that you have ever tried every single fruit and vegetable and not like any because each one has a different taste. Are you sure you didn’t develop some kind of psychological aversion to those food items? I would advise you to seek a dietitian with some kind of training in food aversions and cooking. If you don’t enjoy tasting new things or cooking or had bad experiences with food and meals you will have to have patience if you want to change, only slow changes don’t create stress. Good luck.

    3. Jenny C. Avatar
      Jenny C.

      I am sure you mean very well ChannonD, but you are probably inadvertently causing your charge more harm than good. I’m sure your intentions come from a place of wanting good for her, so I would encourage you to check out The Feeding Doctor and Ellyn Satter websites to learn more about helping this child create a healthy and more neutral relationship toward food. Both of these sites, along with the Fat Nutritionist have helped me immensely to improve my relationship with food and the way I present it to my children.
      On a different note, I feel very blessed and lucky to be able to make the choice to cook most of my family’s foods from scratch. I love to cook and play around in the kitchen and I am glad that I have the resources to be able to do this. I know that not everyone has the resources or even the interest in doing that and that’s okay too.

  2. Twistie Avatar

    So. Utterly. Spot. On.

    For an illustration, I need go no further than my best friend and myself.

    A couple years ago, quite suddenly, my friend developed an actual allergy to meat. She literally cannot eat meat without becoming violently sick. It happens when some ‘well-meaning’ person sneaks chicken broth into a risotto or a soup, too.

    On the other end of the scale, here I sit. I enjoy my vegetables. I – in fact – adore them. But I cannot live healthfully without meat, for some reason. If I go more than about two to three days without actual meat, I become listless, forgetful, and really, really cranky. At that point, Mr. Twistie knows to go get me a burger, stat, and all will be well again once I’ve started digesting it.

    I have friends who are primarily starchatarians who live on grains and bread and cakes and pasta, and I have a other friends who have seen a host of miserable health issues clear up quickly once they went gluten-free.

    It’s been my theory for many years now that while there are generalities that are more usually true than not, every single body needs a slightly different nutritional profile to function at its best. So some people are healthier and happier going vegan or raw and others are healthier and happier going paleo or vegetarian by proxy (animals consume vegetables, so consuming animals includes vegetables… and I’ve heard this argued with a straight face). Some people need more sugar than others, or more salt, or function better with dairy than without it.

    And yes to the class issue! When you get your food mostly by SNAP benefits or what the local food bank has available for you, you are limited not only by dollar amount, but also by what is and is not approved for use in those situations… not to mention what facilities you have for storage and cooking. Even if you aren’t using government or community resources, price tags make a big difference. Mr. Twistie and I have found our best bet since we’re seriously getting close to complete abject poverty is – ironically enough – a local CSA that provides us with plenty of organic vegetables at rock-bottom prices, combined with doing our primary shopping at a local restaurant supply that doesn’t check to make sure you have a restaurant to buy there.

    Luckily for us, we have a lot of storage, a fully functional gas stove with a large oven, plenty of cookware in excellent condition, a huge range of cookbooks, vivid imaginations, and internet access to look up what to do with the stuff we’ve never cooked before (which means, incidentally, stuff I’ve never cooked before, because I do the cooking). In addition to that, we’ve got the fact that my parents taught me to cook seriously from the time I could barely see over the countertop.

    And all of that knowledge and experience would do diddly over squat for us if what we had to work with was a small ice chest and a George Foreman grill.

    Some people eat canned Dinty Moore stew because it’s what they like, and more power to them. Others eat it because without it, they would go hungry.

    Don’t Marie Antoinette them for it.

    1. Mich Avatar

      I too have a friend who’s allergic to meat. She can’t order things that are deep fried, since meat is also deep fried in the same vat.

      The ppl at Moxie’s are very good at taking care of us though, since our dining party has loads of food don’t’s.

      1. Susan S Avatar
        Susan S

        Sounds like one of my brothers-in-law. He got some chicken fried in the shrimp vat at Popeye’s a few weeks ago, and ended up in anaphylactic shock. Both his kids have severe seafood allergies, and his daughter has life-threatening food and non-food allergies. It’s not pretty.

    2. Sarah Avatar

      Have you ever had your b12 levels checked? I don’t know how likely it is to see an effect that quickly, but the symptoms you describe are all possible symptoms of b12 deficiency I believe. It may be worth having it checked – you might be borderline – and/or taking a supplement. Not that I’d suggest you need to stop eating meat when you need it, but if it is b12, it’s pretty cheap to fix and you may have fewer cranky miserable days. When my b12 levels drop it’s like my brain stops working properly and it’s horrible and scary, even though my actual b12 blood levels are OK. Some people apparently just need more than others.

      OK, random aside over – thank you for this great article. I am chronically ill and agh I hate when people say, oh, you need to eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, and never eat ready meals EVER. Hey genius, I live alone and some days cooking a ready meal finishes me off. Peeling and chopping a carrot is like scaling Everest. And I’m living below the poverty line of my country. So… If people will provide the food and the chef, I will happily eat freshly prepared food and never go near another ready meal, but telling me I just need to eat better is so far beyond unhelpful and ridiculous that I just can’t even.

      1. Sarah Avatar

        I totally forgot to put in the bit about b12 that’s relevant: that it’s only found in animal products, and meat is a good source of b12. My comment doesn’t make a lot of sense without this bit of info. D’oh!

        1. Emily Avatar

          B12 is found in nutritional yeast in high quantities. Also, many vegan milks like soy, almond, hemp, rice, ect. have added fortified B12. Also, you can always take a supplement. B12 only being found in animal products is a myth that needs to die a very quick death so the lie can be stopped.

          1. Pastry Thief Avatar
            Pastry Thief

            Actually the cobalamins (B12) in nutritional yeast are usually degraded to the extent that they won’t help a person with a deficiency. There are many forms of cobalamin and the human body uses two: methylcobalamin and andenosylcobalamin. Our bodies can convert a few other types, like hydroxocobalamin and cyanocobalamin, into the two needed forms. The type of cobalamin found in nutritional yeast is highly susceptible to degradation from UV light and temperature variation. Unless your nutritional yeast has been kept in a light proof container in a stable environment since the moment of production, it will provide little if any B12 to you.

            There are also cobalamins in some mushrooms and fungus and assorted plants, but they are not forms which the human body can use or convert. In fact they can worsen a B12 deficiency because they block the useful cobalamins from being used in your body.

            A decent quality multivitamin or B vitamin supplement will be fine for most people on a low or no animal product diet. If you have an actual deficiency you’ll probably need injections to get you back up to normal levels and then either oral supplements or injections to stop the deficiency returning. (Depends on why you have the deficiency and your individual response to treatment etc.)

            Source: a hell of a lot of reading I’ve done over the years; I have autoimmune pernicious anemia and it’s taken years for me to recover neurological function from the deficiency that caused.

            And it is true that you can have a severe B12 deficiency even while your blood tests look normal – serum B12 measures total cobalamins, even the ones you can’t use, and doesn’t measure the B12 that’s actually getting to your cells. Active B12 (holotranscobalamin) gives a better picture of B12 status.

            If anyone’s concerned about their B12, google the UK Pernicious Anaemia Society. Their forums are full of great information.

          2. Michelle Avatar

            Pernicious anemia is bad stuff. Glad to hear you’ve recovered, and thanks for the detailed info.

          3. Mich Avatar

            Pastry thief, thanks for that information. I already knew some stuff about the yeast varieties not being adequate. Some nutriceutical companies say that the body can’t use the cyano variety in pill form, and push their methyl sales. Others say your digestive tract doesn’t absorb it, so to put it under the tongue. I dug up a study about it and they can’t tell if the tongue method actually contributes to B12 absorption because it may eventually dribble down your throat and you swallow it anyway.

            Taking B12 though has improved my life immeasurably.

        2. Melissa Avatar

          Actually there is one source of non animal derived b12 called nutritional yeast, check it out!

          1. ChannonD Avatar

            That stuff makes the best macaroni and “cheese”! And it’s great on freshly popped corn.

  3. Go Kaleo Avatar

    You’ve put into words, so eloquently, exactly how I feel about this subject. Thank you!

  4. Janet Avatar

    Thanks Michelle. This post is something that I need to, and will, read over and over. I need to learn ‘food acceptance’ the same as I’m still working on ‘fat acceptance.’ Why the hell is it so difficult for people to just ‘be’?

  5. Sarah Avatar

    Exactly. In other words, keep your eyes on your own plate! This is, in more or less words, exactly what I have tried to explain to friends and family members who lament, “Why can’t I lose weight? I eat real food—fruits and veggies, low-fat, etc.—and I see what my friends on MFP eat. Junk, junk, junk all the time! How?” My advice: stop punishing yourself and make your OWN decisions, and accept that there are many parts of other peoples’ stories that you don’t know.

  6. Chirokatie Avatar

    While I try to get patients to eat more “real food” aka unprocessed in my definition, I agree with your post. As a health professional focused on healthy lifestyle behaviors you can only imagine the kidding and attention I receive when I do eat something defined “unhealthy”. Heaven forbid I ever eat a candy bar in front of someone who knows what I do for a living. People need to stop focusing mainly on the guilt and shame of eating…that is what is really unhealthy. Stop making eating centered around bad emotions. It should be savored and enjoyed…no matter what it is.

  7. Kerri Avatar

    Real food is anything I choose to put in my mouth, chew, swallow, and digest, that is edible for a human being to consume and that I have no allergy to. That’s the only definition I go by.

  8. Amy Button Avatar

    Thank you….for many reasons that I won’t go into. I’ve been so very tired about the discussion of food, what’s real, what isn’t, etc. and for a long time I thought that I was the only one that wanted to jump off the crazy train. I’m glad that there are others out there that jumped first and that have credibility in the form of credentials and science.

    1. Janet Avatar

      No you’re not the only one who’s so tired of it all. I thought food issues would get easier as I got older but they haven’t. Sometimes I think it would be so much easier if I didn’t have to eat at all. That’s not going to happen but not having to deal with all the issues seems easier without dealing with food at all.

  9. Emily Avatar

    Thank you so much for this. I’m recovering from an eating disorder brought on by a diet, and I’ve been working on divorcing food from morality (good vs. bad food) for about a year now. It’s a major struggle in a society where there’s SO much judgement about food. I know I’ll read this over and over :)

  10. Jeanne Avatar

    I loved this. I’m still tinkering with the food I eat (mainly trying to figure out what helps me feel the best in terms of energy, etc.) but one thing I’ve finally, finally accomplished is shutting off the commentary track in my head about “good food” vs “bad food.” My body knows what it needs… sometimes it needs a cookie, other times it needs veggies. It’s all just “food” to me now… no more moral judgment stuck to it.

  11. skittykitty Avatar

    I also hate the term “clean eating.” Like…I’m pretty sure food is “clean” as long as it’s prepared correctly, not contaminated, stored at the proper temperature, and hasn’t been dropped on the floor.

    1. allison Avatar

      Oh, so now you’re judging me for eating food off the floor? My floors are sort of clean! :)

      1. Susan S Avatar
        Susan S

        Five minute rule, called it! ;)

  12. Alana Smithee Avatar
    Alana Smithee

    Thank you so much for this. I’m in some new eating territory because of advancing chronic illness (hello, MS; goodbye desire to smell food), and I get a lot of “you can’t eat the same thing every day!”, and such. Well, I can and do because I don’t know when I’ll find another thing that’s not making me feel ill again. Gotta eat something.

  13. Nicole Boyhouse Avatar

    This. Just this. All of it.

  14. Maxine Dangerous Avatar

    Wonderful post. Thank you!

  15. Liddle-Oldman Avatar

    Speaking of priveledge, depression makes an interesting meal planner as well. Many nights, if I can get the energy to make microwaved soup and Saltines, I count myself fed.

    1. Sean Avatar

      A few years ago, I spent months eating nothing but cold spaghetti-o’s, pork and beans, and chili straight from the can, because even pouring a can into a bowl and microwaving it was too much emotional effort. Especially with depression, food can be anything with calories you can force yourself to consume. At times like those, food is what keeps you alive, not what you enjoy or want, or certainly not what might be considered “healthy”.

    2. Barlow Avatar

      You get to the point (or I have) where it’s like “well, I ate yesterday, how much do I REALLY need to eat today?”

      If I didn’t have blood sugar issues, it’d mess with my head a lot more.

  16. Audrey Avatar

    I liked this, but I think that, amongst all those very very good reason why people choose the foods that they eat, you forgot a crucial important one, taste.
    I buy white bread and chocolate and frozen pizza with no “good” reason at all, except that whole wheat taste like cardboard to me and my son thinks I am a goddess on pizza night, and well, chocolate never needs a reason …
    I actually don’t think you meant it that way but it sounds a lot like : yes there are valid reasons to get white bread and here is one. Except that nobody should need a rebuke other than I am a grown ass adult and I like it, you know.
    I guess I am generally pissed at a culture where it is sometime more efficient to make a point using a good fatty approach.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Oh you’re right, I did get on kind of a tangent and forget that crucial point. I made sure to add it to the bottom of the post. Taste and personal preference are definitely perfect reasons to buy and eat whatever you like.

      (In fact, I could write a whole other post on that, and maybe I will!)

      1. Lauren Avatar

        please do! i could always use some reminders about how silly it is to feel guilty about eating food that tastes good.

      2. DessertFirst Avatar

        I second the motion — please do!

        1. ChannonD Avatar

          I third it! I think we could all use that!!

  17. Nof Avatar

    So eloquently put!

    Marilyn Wann had a piece on “clean eating” several weeks ago over at xojane, and the commenters were pretty nasty. “I eat clean because it makes me feel better! What’s wrong with that?!” was the overarching theme. No one seemed to be able to make the connection that it isn’t what you eat that’s at issue–it’s what you call your diet, and any and all moral values attached to the name. There are glaringly obvious connotations to both “clean eating” and “real food”, both in the names themselves and in the way they’re spun in popular media.

  18. Gillian Avatar

    Ah, yes, the permission to eat whatever one wants. A hunk of cheese because it will fuel my swim, a Reese’s peanut butter cup because the salty chocolatey taste is divine, sushi because I’ve had a hankering for it for a week, a thick slice of toast with butter and jam because I’m hungry for breakfast and it reminds me of my Mom.

    There are a million reasons for my food choices. Hunger is not the only component and I am now fairly free (I still hear the voice “only 2 ounces of cheese” in the distance!) to make my choices with freedom. Free at last.

  19. Susan S Avatar
    Susan S

    Hear, hear. I’ve said for a long time that there’s no single diet that’s right for everyone. Hell, my body’s so weird I can’t handle mass-produced cow’s milk, but sometimes I can handle it if it’s produced by a single farm. (Of course, some days all I can keep down is sugary liquid, either sugar-sweetened soda or juice.) Other than that, I swing between vegetarian and pescetarian, no gluten, no peanuts, no yogurt, and I should get rid of dairy again once I’m in a position to do it. Oh, and limited or no solids before lunch at earliest. Thank Elvis I can still eat veggies and most spices. I’d go nuts otherwise.

    Though, uh, if the box says Playskool, I’m gonna bet it’s not real food. ;)

  20. Thalia Avatar

    Thank you for this.

    I have some kind of very mild but kind of chronic cystitis, and I have found that drinking a can of ginger ale a day somehow soothes things enough to the point that I can’t tell I have it (which is a very very very very very good thing because man, I swear, feeling like I had to pee all the time came close to driving me literally insane). And no, I don’t drink diet soda because I can’t stand the taste. I am also fat. I was fat long before I started drinking the soda, too. (And honestly by now trust me I’m pretty sick of the stuff).

    My doctor recently relocated across the country which means I had to find another one. The first one I saw took my information and then declared me ‘morbidly obese’ (which even by the crap BMI standards I’m not) and I left there seriously triggered and was honestly a mess for most of the next month and a half. But I came to as it were the next day and decided she damned well was NOT going to be my doctor. So I tried another.

    This time I went in assuming this was a job interview. For her. And I have to say I was kind of not in the mood by then and asked her outright if she was going to give me shit about my weight. (Yes, that is exactly how I phrased it. Seriously, not in the mood.) Well, that set off a major cascading failure on her part that ended with her talking about what was food and what wasn’t. So I said, because it is relevant to me, if she considered soda food. She looked horrified and was like OF COURSE SODA IS NOT FOOD!!!! HOMG!!!! and so I said Okay we’re done and I walked out.

    Now of course I still have to find a doctor (sadface) but I want you know Michelle I was thinking of you and the things you have written here. Because damned straight ginger ale is food to me.

    1. Andrea Avatar

      Ginger ale is so food, Ginger ale is MAGIC.

    2. Foodoo Avatar

      Actually, it sounds like ginger ale is medicine to you. One can of 140 calorie ginger ale per day does not a morbidly obese person make. No doctor of any kind – unless you drink it before bed and your dentists protests, or you have diabetes – should have any problem with this treatment if it works to make you feel better. Chronic cystitis is the absolute pits; I’d have eaten a daily stick of butter to make it go away.

    3. Puck Avatar

      Ohmygosh you are INCREDIBLE; I have been wanting to be better at talking to doctors and be more assertive about the things I can live with and you are awesome for doing just that.

      1. Thalia Avatar

        :D It took me getting really mad to be able to do that. The first doctor triggered me so badly that that night I had my first suicidal thought in about a dozen years. The next day I recognized the thought for what it was and then I think my survival instinct kicked in and I just became enraged because NOBODY FUCKING GETS TO DO THAT TO ME. So when I went in to the second doctor I just didn’t fucking care what I said to her because it was survival.

        I am lucky that my survival instinct is that strong. So I don’t know if that helps anyone else. I do think one can work at it, though; I spent most of my adult life being terrified of authority. Getting angry really was key for me.

        1. Jesse the K Avatar
          Jesse the K

          Had to interview three doctors before I found a keeper. Great work! You will succeed.

          1. CoryD Avatar

            I am in the process of interviewing doctors…. I haven’t had much luck but I’m still hopeful! I also have Pernicious Anemia and a host of other AI diseases and I have days where a bowl of gluten free chex is all I can manage, some days I chow down a steak and potatoes.
            2 of the doctors I interviewed said because I like to have an occasional can of icy cold coke, that they “can’t help me”. I said I wasn’t there asking for help and they BOTH said “well its apparent you need it”…. I guess they said that because I’m fat? :D Jerks. Next.

          2. Mich Avatar

            How does drinking coke make you sick? :$

          3. Susan S Avatar
            Susan S

            I know snorting it causes major problems. Drowning, for one, never mind how much the bubbles tickle.

    4. Elizabeth Green Avatar
      Elizabeth Green

      I am wondering whether you have chronic bacterial cystitis or interstitial (no infection but it @#$% feels like it). I have interstitial cystitis and was told to never never never drink anything carbonated – so I haven’t… I follow the food guidelines listed at as per my urologist’s suggestion – essentially no acidy foods, no spices, citrus, coffee, chocolate, tea etc etc. and I take drugs that make me crave carbs and not feel full – you can see where this is going right?.. I would eat or drink pretty much anything if I thought it would give me relief, so you go girl! Good for you for finding something that works for you. One day when I am feeling brave, I might try a ginger ale too.

      1. Thalia Avatar

        As far as I know it wasn’t (isn’t) interstitial cystitis, but I never got as far as finding out, as it’s really quite mild and is mostly not there so long as I avoid certain foods, hot peppers being at the very top of the list. I did read quite a bit about interstitial cystitis when I was trying to figure this out a couple years ago, and you have all my blessings Elizabeth Green because IC really is straight from Hell.

        I have heard the prohibition on carbonated drinks; cola will set me off a little but ginger ale won’t for some reason. Again, mine is very mild these days so I have more leeway than a lot of people probably. You could always try cooking with fresh or powdered ginger, or making a ginger tea with fresh shredded ginger and a little honey. You wouldn’t think ginger would be soothing like that but I swear it works for me.

        Again all the blessings and very very best of luck.

        1. rydra_wong Avatar

          I was thinking about commenting to mention intersitial cystitis too.

          I have very similar symptoms, but am lucky enough that I can mostly manage it by cutting out a few things (citrus, tomatoes and cranberries — I found this out by trial and error based on common IC diet recommendations, and I’m lucky in that I can still happily consume coffee, chocolate, etc. and even things like vinegar if I’m not actually in the middle of a flare-up).

          My doctor and I have agreed that it’s probably IC but because I can manage it that way, it’s not worth doing the biopsies etc. for a official diagnosis.

        2. Rikibeth Avatar

          I can think of a couple of explanations for the ginger ale working: ginger is anti-inflammatory and carminative, and while “carminative” is a word for describing “things soothing to the GI system”, well, if it calms stomach and intestinal griping, it’s affecting smooth muscle tissue, and your bladder’s smooth muscle tissue too.

          And, hey, if it works, fantastic.

      2. Thalia Avatar

        Okay not to hijack the thread or anything but I frankly can’t figure out the prohibition on acidic foods. I mean it all goes through your stomach, right? Which is full of acid anyway. Why would a little more make a difference? No, I am definitely not a scientist, but I’d think the stomach is already regulating how much acid passes out of it. Plus acid + base is real simple chemistry and I would think it wouldn’t be hard at all to figure out how much antacid would be required to literally neutralize the acid content in say a glass of orange juice, and then you could just take one after the other, right?

        Can you tell how much I miss orange juice?

        1. Elizabeth Green Avatar
          Elizabeth Green

          I have no idea either. I don’t get how lemon (for example) is acid, but turns alkaline in your body but still this is ‘too acidic’ for your bladder. I asked my urologist once if I could possibly see a nutritionist or dietitian at the hospital and he told me they don’t go near IC patients with a ten foot pole. Too complicated I guess. I would really like to know why it is supposedly ok to eat parsley but not cilantro, or almonds but not walnuts etc etc. I miss orange juice too.

          1. Michelle Avatar

            I don’t get it either. I’ve had clients with IC who explained to me what they went through, and it was incredibly painful and complicated. I think the reason RDs won’t do much with it is because there literally are no evidence-based guidelines tying a specific therapeutic diet to IC symptoms. BUT people really do seem to have individual triggers, based on their own experiences, and that is about as good as the guidance seems to be right now: figure out your triggers and try to avoid them. Some common triggers are listed.

            More info here –

            And here’s an interesting looking paper –

            The recommended strategy I see is an elimination diet to isolate triggers, but elimination diets are difficult, miserable, and put a person at nutritional risk, so that could be part of the reason why RDs don’t do them very often.

            According to PEN, the mechanisms by which the common trigger foods might cause symptoms is still unknown.

  21. Eleri Avatar

    Thank you. I’ve been trying to get the point across elsenet that no one gets to tell me what I can and can’t eat, unless they are the ones actively buying my groceries and preparing my meals. And what dives our food choices is a hugely complex issue. Try making ‘real’ food choices when you’ve got to deal with stress and disabilities and pain and financial challenges and allergies and medical needs on a daily basis. Dollar menu, here we come!

    I was pointing out once that fast food is not really the dietary antichrist most ‘real food’ people make it out to be, nor is it automatically ‘cheaper’ to eat ‘real food’, when somone said “But you can eat rice and beans for a month for only pennies a day!” .

    Who the heck would want to live on rice and beans for a month? How reinforcing poverty shaming can you get? Not to mention nutritionally lacking, emotionally draining, and pretty darn blah after the first few days.

    1. Susan S Avatar
      Susan S

      People who say you can live on rice and beans have never lived on rice and beans.

      1. Ellen Avatar

        Truth. I was in Costa Rica on a fellowship for two weeks about 10 years ago, and I was crawling out of my skin after just a few days. It was served at just about every single meal at the university and research stations where we stayed.

    2. Jo Avatar

      I’m eating rice and beans right now, and I love it. Ate it yesterday and will make it again tomorrow. Could happily live on it for a month. Dismissing a rice and bean diet for other people (“Who the heck would want to?” Freaks? Other cultures?) seems to be missing the point of the post, to me.

      1. Susan S Avatar
        Susan S

        IME, when some individuals up the Rice And Beans argument, it hasn’t been a matter of food preference, but one of social class. To be Southern for a moment, it’s the Bless Your Heart of having to scrape up cash to get groceries. “Well, sugar, why don’t you just get yourself a bag o’ beans and a bag o’ rice? You’ll eat just fine.” It’s considered slave food, or Black food, or white trash food, or immigrant food. Heavens! You might as well eat acorns and squirrels, honey chile!

        (For the record, my ancestors did eat rice and beans. And acorns, and squirrels, and crayfish, and a whole bunch of other things a lot of people who’ve never lived on rice and beans wouldn’t approve of. And I am SO glad my parents grew up during the Great Depression and WWII, because they taught me to understand the real value of things like rice and beans, and not what some idiots choose to see them as.)

        Speaking of rice and beans, I want falafel tomorrow. I need to set some chickpeas and fava beans to soak. :9

  22. GH Avatar

    Whereas I would LOVE to live on rice & beans for a while, but I can’t have beans anymore due to my personal allergy set. Which just reinforces Michelle’s points I think. As someone who enjoys cooking, I had a pretty “real” diet of homecooked ingredients, including lots of veggies. And I was getting progressively larger and more tired because I was having an antibody reaction to many of my favorite wholesome foods — including eggs and dairy. Now I eat a lot more processed substitute foods that I don’t even really enjoy, but at least I’m not making myself ill.

  23. Ellen Avatar

    Amen to all of this. I am really damn sick of the food police. They are not in my body, so how can they possibly know what food is good for me?

    I did a cleanse with my acupuncturist a few years ago that, while I think might have had dubious benefits, actually helped me focus on the way certain foods reacted in my body. I added foods back, one by one, and observed what happened. That’s how I found out beans, peanuts and legumes cause me to break out in painful cystic acne and wheat/gluten is the cause of snot and joint pain. Cow dairy is okay unless I have too much, and then I start getting pimples. What *does* work for me? Meat, fish, vegetables and fruit. I feel full, my skin is clear, and my body feels good–that’s *all* I care about.

    My hubby, on the other hand, is pescetarian. He feels better if he eats that way and doesn’t have the issues I do with food though he’s thinking the dairy might be causing his adult acne. He’s weighing whether it’s worth it to give up cheese. A lady at a booth at a street fair *screamed* at him for eating fish a few years ago. Accused him of murder and bad health and all manner of shrewish awfulness because he wasn’t at least fully vegetarian. Made me want to get a hamburger and eat it right in front of her.

    Do I still eat those things that cause me pain? Yep. Sometimes. But I do it knowing what the consequences are, and most of the time it’s worth it.

  24. Heather Avatar

    Holy hell, this isn’t just about food. This is about LIFE! THIS paragraph:

    Resources can also be emotional and psychological, in the form of having a good relationship with food and being lucky enough not to feel either overly compliant with, or stubbornly rebellious against, cultural messages telling you what and how to eat.

    None of it comes cheap.


  25. Emily Avatar

    I think you’ve made some very valid points. You discuss your frustration with people who eat ‘real’ or ‘clean’ food encouraging others to do the same or are a little too vocal about other’s food choices. You do not however mention the other side of this. Quite often people who eat vegetables, salads etc as their main source of nutrition often are ridiculed by people who choose not to do this. It can be very difficult to eat around people who make smarmy comments about what you’re eating. I know your message is about everyone being able to choose what they want and not be hassled about it, but please remember this goes both way, not just one.

    1. Cátia Borges Avatar
      Cátia Borges

      I was reading the comments and finally I find someone that experiences the same thing as me. People often comment on my normal body weight (BMI of 21Kg/m2) saying that I am skinny, comment on my food choices (I stopped eating in the cafeteria because of that), comment on my exercise habits (3x week of tai chi), I even have patients and work colleagues to look at my basket when I go buy grocery on the supermarket. You get criticized either way, if you eat well or if you eat bad. I am a nutritionist, I work in primary care, I enjoy having healthy habits and taking care of my body. I think the author forgot that people that try to have a healthy living style get criticized to. The major problem of the society is that humans like to pay more attention to other peoples lives and their own.

      1. ChannonD Avatar

        You are so right. My mother is a little wisp of a woman with a very small appetite and a taste for fruit, vegetables, yogurt, cottage cheese and lean meats. She eats very few carbs or starchy foods except dessert. And people resent her for it. I am always reminding her that mainly, people are jealous of her physique and “will power” and she reminds them of their mistakes so they lash out. The same is probably true for you.

        1. Michelle Avatar

          Their mistakes. Their mistakes having a different body type? Or choosing to eat differently? I’m fat and I’ve had people make obnoxious comments about how “healthy” I eat, so I honestly understand the obnoxiousness. But you are engaging in some nasty implications with your words, and you need to stop.

  26. Kate Avatar

    I’m trying to come up with a better phrase to describe this type of eating style, which I do follow and believe strongly in for my own personal health. To be clear, I don’t care what others eat. But I do run my own blog/health page and I talk about my own choices and why I make them and have many people who choose to follow me because they want to read about that. I’d like to do so in the most caring and compassionate way. So rather than “real food” what terms do you think are better to use when writing about a diet that is based on cooking, using whole ingredients, lots of vegetables, less packaged stuff, less fast food, etc? Is there a phrase that is less loaded? I like the term “whole foods” but then there’s the store, so that’s a little confusing.

    1. Sarah TX Avatar
      Sarah TX

      It seems to me like you are describing “home cooked meals.”

    2. Sarah TX Avatar
      Sarah TX

      …or to get even more specific, home cooked meals from scratch.

    3. Rowan Badger Avatar

      The term I’ve found that works for me there is ‘slow food movement’, though I actually try really hard not to use any term at all unless I’m made to.

      The ‘slow food movement’ is based around the idea of cooking from scratch, choosing whole ingredients, using more traditional and complicated recipes that require attention, skill, and resources.

      One of the things I like about the term is that it acknowledges, right in the name, “I recognise that my choice requires a substantial time and money investment and that it is not the norm of what is practiced or available to everyone.” It often sparks a discussion of resource disparities, food deserts, educational gaps, and food classism.

      You do, though, need to be mindful about the comparison to ‘fast food’, and the implication that your choices are inherently better. It’s really hard to advocate for one dietary style without sounding like you’re demonizing others, and it’s important to also remember that how you describe what you DON’T eat is as important as how you describe what you DO eat. There is no good food, there is no bad food, there is no inherently universally healthy food.

      However, I might suggest that instead of focusing on finding a label for what you do, you simply talk about how and why you do it. Especially if you’re running a blog or a community, no matter what label you choose SOMEONE is going to read classism, elitism, or exclusion into it.

      Just talk about the FOOD, man, not the SYSTEM.

  27. Lindsay Avatar

    God I needed this post.

    There are honestly not many spaces left in the FA or ED recovery that are safe spaces away from food shaming language. It’s gotten to the point where just hearing certain food catch phrases makes my blood boil and I just go NOPE and have to leave the conversation.

  28. ERose Avatar

    I volunteer with a food rescue, and I know a lot of people who depend on a grocery store’s still-usable garbage for fresh produce. Literally, their diet depends on what a grocery store ordered too much of from week to week. I volunteer with a food bank and I know a lot of people who don’t get healthy food any other way, and won’t have certain things if no one’s donated any that week.
    My sister has celiac disease and can’t eat whole wheat or whole grain anything. I have a friend whose dietary restrictions mean she needs to eat unusual amounts of protein and if you didn’t know that, her grocery list would look appallingly carnivorous. I can’t stand milk, but you’d be shocked how hard it is to find collard greens – which are a great source of calcium for me – in my town.
    And that’s just the things that immediately occur to me when some smug rich white lady blogs about how “really it’s not that hard to eat the right way like the way I feed my family if you’re truly committed to being healthy.”
    There really are food-related problems in our society. So many people need better access to a broader spectrum of foods to be healthy, whatever that means for them. We do waste a lot of food in Western societies, especially the United States. A simple dietary disorder can take your grocery bill from manageable to astronomical.
    Shaming solves none of those problems, and if you have the free time to be blogging about how holy your family’s meals are, you have the time to be doing real activism.

    1. Rhiannon Avatar

      Hear hear!

  29. Do Mi Avatar
    Do Mi

    Thank you so much for this. I am four months into a condition that we think is a version of Burning Mouth Syndrome (probably caused by menopause). I don’t know if it will ever end or not. It means that many things I used to like taste bad to me; I can’t feel hunger or fullness cues (until my blood sugar drops) and I can’t think of anything that will taste good. I’ve been eating intuitively for years and now I’m having to change my entire eating routine. Soda and coughdrops are the only things that relieve the bad feeling in my mouth, and ready-made food saves me when I just can’t get myself to cook anything. And the “real food” voices are pretty loud–I have to consciously give myself permission every day to eat sugar as I need it, to eat and drink anything that might taste good in the interest of making sure I get enough to eat.

    Whew. Thank you for this whole website.

  30. Mich Avatar

    Test. I’m trying to post.

    1. Mich Avatar

      I’ve been trying to post a reply to Thalia’s post about ginger ale.

      I am in agreement with you. I consider us the employers of doctors, since they are servicing us, and they receive their pay from us. We are not the employees: they are. We are their boss. They seem to have gotten it backwards, possibly due to advances in how we view the medical world in the 20th century.

    2. Mich Avatar

      It’s not working. :(

      1. Heather Pryor Avatar
        Heather Pryor

        Yes it is :o)

      2. Thalia Avatar

        It’s okay, I found it. :)

        Before I went in I kept reminding myself that doctors are in a service industry. A highly-paid, well-educated one, but a service industry nonetheless. I was even ready to pull that one out if the doctor gave me too much crap, but I didn’t get a chance to.

        I’m kind of surprised, looking back on it, just how well I did. I guess anger really can be empowering!

  31. Nichole Avatar

    This was the best thing I’ve read in a long time and I wholeheartedly agree with you. I am beyond tired of the increasing food shaming happening lately. Everything is somehow “bad” it seems… Sugar is bad, wheat is bad, soy is bad, cows milk is bad, butter is bad, meat is bad, protein powder is bad, eating out is bad, iceberg lettuce is bad, fruit bought from a store that isn’t the most expensive in the county is bad, etc. And somehow, according to these sophisticated and well meaning folks we need to “cleanse” and “detox” from these terrible things! So many times I read comments like “I always look in other peoples carts and judge what they’re buying”. Well that’s crap and I’m sorry makes them look like jerks.

    I try to eat “well”, “healthy” whatever you want to call simply… eating. But you know, sometimes I just want a bowl of Moose Tracks and a huge freaking cookie. Yeah, as “they” say – the taste only lasts a few minutes.. blah blah blah but seriously? Those minutes are AWESOME. That is certainly not bad.

    1. Mich Avatar

      What are Moose Tracks?

      1. sparrow Avatar

        Moose Tracks is a flavor of ice cream, usually chocolate/peanut butter (like dirt) with mini peanut butter cups in it (like moose footprints). It is delicious. Sometimes there are also streaks of fudge or peanut butter or caramel (like…more interesting-looking dirt?).

      2. Lundie Avatar

        Moose Tracks = heaven in a bowl.

        Absolutely loved this post.

        1. Mich Avatar

          Doesn’t look like it’s sold in Canada. :( Sounds amazing.

          I found the President’s Choice brand of ice cream has a mint choco-chip one, that’s “loaded” with little reese peanut butter cup-type mint-choco thingies. Really, it even says “LOADED” on the box. :)

          That’s my heaven. ;)

          1. Kate Avatar

            You CAN sometimes find moose tracks in Canada! Kawartha Dairy makes it, which you can sometimes find in parts of Ontario.


  32. Cat Avatar

    This was a very refreshing post to read after just being accused of being a terrible person for being an omnivore. Not only a terrible person, but also lazy and unhealthy simply because I include dairy, eggs and meat in my diet. Grrr.

  33. Tori Avatar

    I don’t know. I’m pretty sure there are some foods that are not real. As a child, I distinctly remember playing house or store or restaurant or tea party and having all our imagined foods being made of air. ;)

    Other than that, though….

    1. Campbell Henderson Avatar
      Campbell Henderson

      A product sold as edible with little to no additional benefit to the body other than rough starches and baseless flavour may count as “real food” here, which worries me as the site is being sold as good nutritional infomation.

      At least genetically modified organisms will give us a chance to put real nutrition back in some of these “real foods”.

      1. sannanina Avatar

        Maybe I should leave this to Michelle since your comment contains an ad hominem against her and her blog…

        However! Where did Michelle EVER say that a diet that consists exclusively of foods rich in starches but with little other nutritional content is an example of good nutrition? In fact, she stated in this very comment thread that she is usually not a fan of cutting out whole food groups. In other words: She thinks that variety is a very good thing.

        But here is the thing. If for some reason you find yourself in a situation where you could either live of plain white bread or of plain green leafy vegetables for one week, what would you choose? And – considering that both types of “diet” would be quite one-sided and unhealthy in the long term – which would be relatively healthier? I know what I would choose: The bread – hands down. Sure, I wouldn’t get enough protein or fat, not to talk of micronutrients, but I would not get enough protein or fat eating the green leafy vegetables, either, I would only get a subset of essential micronutrients, and most important of all I would be never, ever able to meet my bodies energy requirements. In other words, I would go constantly hungry. (Not to mention the fact that it is also possible to eat too much fiber.) Things would look different for a person who is gluten-intolerant, I guess, but that is the whole point: People have reasons for their food choices. Some of them have food intolerances and allergies, some have psychological reasons that make it hard for them to eat certain foods, some of them have very little money and buy food that gives them the most calories for the money that they have.

        1. Michelle Avatar

          Hi there! Thanks for replying on my behalf.

          Rather than get involved in arguments with commenters, I have opted to save the rest of my responses for future blog posts, and to give my wrists a break. But I appreciate any readers who want to jump in and answer people’s concerns here. It saves me work.

    2. Laura (dusty_rose) Avatar

      I remember playing with plastic food too! My favorite was the scented plastic ice cream.

  34. Cath of Canberra Avatar

    I totally support eating only real food!! Say no to fake food! And while these may contain fibre, it’s really not the right type for anyone’s body!

    (heh heh. I had to do that.)

    1. Laura (dusty_rose) Avatar

      That fake food is awesome! :)

  35. […] I really could quote the entire piece (I love it that much!), but I’ll just link to it here and let y’all read it for yourselves: “Real Food.” […]

  36. Madeleine Avatar

    Oh, I just adore this post. THANK YOU. I’m going to write a post on this in the next week because I just absolutely love what you are saying here.

    And this is coming from a (just this minite) reformed grocery-store judger.

  37. Kait Avatar

    I get this all the time. I have type 1 diabetes, and with the miracle of modern technology (aka an insulin pump) I can eat virtually anything I like, provided I know the carbohydrate content to enter into my pump. Except regular soft drink because it tastes too sickly sweet after so many years of drinking diet coke. Generally I try to eat well – not only am I a dietitian but I also have other chronic illnesses and want to fuel my body as best I can. But I’m also entitled to treats, and thanks to the nutrition info panel I can have my chocolate when I want to… but then the food police comes out with “but you can’t eat that, you’re diabetic!” WELL, not only is it my body and my decision what I eat, but I also have a University degree that says I *do* know how to decide for myself what’s best for me (and other people and their clinical conditions) and yet I still get judged on my choices.

    1. Susan S Avatar
      Susan S

      DOOD. Insulin pumps can do that? I honestly did not know. Oh, wow. That’s an AMAZING leap forward from the two diabetic brothers who grew up in the ’20s, whose mother kept them alive by measuring every single thing they ate to the gram. :D I know they were ecstatic when plain old injected insulin came out.

      Oh, man. Now I wish I could give you a couple of homemade pralines! Science must be celebrated! (And pralines must be made very soon. Holy crap, when did it get to be November 14? And how much cane syrup can I fit in my car?)

    2. Rikibeth Avatar

      I lived with someone who learned she was diabetic while we were housemates, & since I did most of the household’s cooking I went to the hospital’s nutrition training sessions with her — and even though she wasn’t on a pump, but using a combination of short- and long-acting injections, the same basic thing applied: it was more important to know WHAT she was eating and adjust the dosage to suit it than it was for her to avoid sugar or carbs entirely.

      The first week she was home from the hospital, I made a batch of cheddar biscuits to go with dinner, and I can remember doing all the arithmetic with the recipe and packages of flour, butter, etc. to give her the carb and fat counts per homemade biscuit. Because she needed to know. But once she knew? She could totally have biscuits.

  38. naath Avatar

    I have a friend who has lately been on a low-carb kick. Great for her (I guess she’s having fun with it? probably? her food anyway). But now she’s got it in her head that carbs are “unhealthy” and “bad for you” and why would places like gyms sell “such unhealthy food” (now, don’t get me started on places that only sell ham and cheese sandwiches; I know so many people who for one reason or another don’t eat said item…) while I’m sat there thinking “yeah, carbs are what fuel me to get through 13 miles on the treadmill” (this is the “standard” sports nutrition advice; it works for me, probably there are loads of people for whom it does not work) please keep selling them in the gym cafe, I like not running out of fuel.

    Also fun salt related anecdote… if you follow the “eat less salt” advice and carefully make all your food from raw ingredients without adding salt, and then have a 30 mile/week running habit… yeah, you get sick, and then your doctor says “eat less salt” ‘cos the symptoms apparently look the same as having et so much salt that it is making you ill. Salt is *necessary* to life. Also it makes porridge taste better (if you are me)

    Also I find it odd when people assume that there is a universal set of “things that taste nice”. Like for instance people who assume I take my coffee black and un-sugared because I’m denying myself tasty tasty frapa-wotsits – no, I *hate* the taste of milk and/or sugar in coffee, I *like* it black and un-sugared. That’s kinda tangential.

    1. Jo Avatar

      Re: salt – I had a doctor tell me to reduce my salt intake without once asking me to track it, or even asking me what I ate.

      I very often FORGET to salt food I cook.

      Needless to say, they’re no longer my doctor.

      1. Mich Avatar

        Me too. I’ve had the “eat less salt” spiel, and I listened to the tv which say we were all gluttons for salt. Needless to say, I wanted my legs amputated because they hurt so much. Now that I salt my food, I don’t have a problem anymore.

      2. Nof Avatar

        I’ve had this talk too. Right after I’d told the doctor that I was having intense salt cravings–I was salting my ramen. I put salt on stew so thick that it looked like frosting. I had cravings that radically changed my eating patterns. When I said “I’m worried because I’m having EXTREMELY INTENSE SALT CRAVINGS” I was kind of hoping for some help, not a lecture on the evils of sodium and blood pressure*!

        *The blood pressure bit was particularly grating, because I was all-but having an anxiety attack while the nurse was checking my vitals and my bp read a whopping…110/70. Low bp runs in my family; a normal reading for me is around 95/65, so I don’t think I need to worry about it! ><

        1. Minty Avatar

          I’ve never been in a situation quite that bad, but I want to sympathize re: low blood pressure. I tend to make nurses nervous, because when I’m stressed my “resting” heart rate is extremely fast and my blood pressure is usually still below 100/70. Lately I’ve been wondering what my real resting blood pressure is. Since I’ve been paying attention, the only times I’ve had it taken were before donating blood (or getting deferred for a too-high heart rate) and before my first ever pap smear– definitely not calming situations.
          I inherited low blood pressure and poor circulation from my mom’s side of the family, while my dad has high blood pressure and started a low-sodium, low-fat diet while I was in college. Summers at home were kind of a difficult situation for me, because my mom wanted to just have all the food in the house fit my dad’s diet, but getting that little sodium made me weak and dizzy to the point of almost falling over when I’d get up to make lunch. At least now I know to be aware of how much salt I eat.

          1. Mich Avatar

            We bought a bp monitor machine and it comes with a small and large cuff. We haven’t used it in years though. I think mine was always on the low side. Maybe you can find one yourself and test it at home. Some pharmacies also have a bp self-tester, but it’s one-size cuff (I’ve never been able to use it).

    2. Susan S Avatar
      Susan S

      Very little beats an expertly made cup of unadulterated coffee. Save maybe one with a dash of fresh Vietnamese cinnamon.

      Oh, no. I’m not a beverage snob. *guards her locally produced apple cider like a wolf bitch protecting her cubs*

  39. Bren Avatar

    Thank you so much for this post. Nobody ever understands about clinical nutrition needs, and I always feel so inferior when I have to tell people that actually, high-fibre foods are dangerous for me (I have severe Crohn’s disease with strictures; following a lot of surgery I also have Intestinal Failure due to a short bowel, so I’m getting a lot of my nutrients from enteral feeding, and it is so nice to type that to somebody who won’t need it explained further) despite being considered the gold standard for healthy eating.

    I’ve had a lot of support from friends and family I’ve stayed with or eaten out with (the usual reason for having to explain my needs), but sometimes there’s a lot of pity mixed in with it about having to eat such processed foods (white bread, white pasta etc. instead of wholegrains – and hey, why go to the effort of making a soup from scratch and straining it when I can get dream of tomato in a tin and not deplete my dwindling energy supply?).

    And that can be unintentionally hurtful, because while I wish to god I could eat fruits and veg and wholegrains as I used to, it’s not going to happen barring a transplant (which is not a magic solution, so I try not to raise it with people who won’t grasp that). So it’s actually really good that I *can* enjoy my tinned soup and frozen pizza and white bread and so forth, and it kind of hurts when people imply otherwise.

    I had a very bad experience once when I was referred for Indian head massage therapy by a crisis helpline I’d been in touch with during a particularly stressful phase in my life. We were talking about my insomnia, and the massage therapist constantly tried to work things round to my diet. She was *convinced* that there must be something wrong with what and how I was eating, and she thought I should see a nutritionist.

    This is a common initial reaction from people who don’t understand clinical nutrition, so I explained that due to my condition, I’m under the care of the most expert people in my part of the UK – doctors, surgeons, dieticians and nutrition nurses who are trained to deal with Intestinal Failure. Well, the next time I went to see her, she brought it up again. And it seems she had a nutritionist friend who she could refer me to, so she was either being well meaning but ignorant and refusing to listen, or she was seeing me as just a moneyspinning opportunity for her friend. Either one was not cool. I told her that her friend would not be an improvement on dieticians who are actually seeing patients like me on the wards every day, but we still had to have some variation on that conversation every time I saw her.

    She was unprofessional in other ways, and I was in a very bad place, so I stuck it out until the end of the sessions (because they were free and provided by the helpline, which had taken my details, I felt uneasy about discontinuing the sessions in case they didn’t want to help me anymore), but it’s bothered me ever since and it feels like the kind of thing you’re talking about.

    Anyway, I’m sorry to have written an essay here; I’m just overwhelmed to see someone address something that’s bothered me for nearly half my life at this point. I’ll definitely be reading your blog in the future.

    1. Rowan Badger Avatar

      I just wanted to say *hugs* to you, and that I think a lot of people who get into alternative therapies become very rigidly opposed to the idea that traditional western medicine and doctors could possibly help anyone.

      I have severe enough anemia that I occasionally need IV iron infusions. I mentioned this to the receptionist at my massage therapist, because I like for them to understand that the GIANT BRUISES my condition can sometimes cause are not painful and do not mean I am abused.

      She looked me dead in the eye and said, “Well, you need to be doing yoga, because that would clear that right up.”

      Yes, of course, I’ll just yoga the iron right into my veins, there, and yoga my DNA to reconfigure itself and change my intestinal structure so that I’m able to metabolise iron at the same rate you are. I’m sure the problem is just that I haven’t been stretching and breathing properly. I’ll advise the hematologist, and the cadre of doctors working for me, that they can all take the rest of their lives off, because no one thought to tell me to try yoga.

      1. Susan S Avatar
        Susan S


        Yeah, a couple of years ago, I managed to yoga and exercise myself right into a severe chronic migraine syndrome. I still can’t exercise regularly, and it took a year of daily severe migraines to get things remotely under control. I’ve only ever known one person with a worse migraine condition. It was ridiculous! At least I turned out negative for the guaranteed death sentence I had all the symptoms for.

        1. Mich Avatar

          I never knew migraines could be triggered by exercise. Maybe that’s why I had 1/wk when I was exercising for the past couple yrs, but have dwindled down now that I’m being more “lazy”. This whole “exercise” panacea is for the birds!

          Thanks for the tip.

          1. Maureen Avatar

            In my experience, migraines can be triggered by just about ANYthing. :-) My triggers have included exercise, too much sleep, not enough sleep, low blood sugar, HFCS, bright lights, and fritos. Go figure.

      2. Kathy Avatar

        I was told recently by a good friend, who is taking yoga training, that for some of my chronic illness issues I should stop the medical appointments (chiro/massage) and “just do yoga”. Well I tried some of the poses at home she gave me and guess what my chronic pain was worse AND I needed a chiropractor. If I do yoga again, it will have to be w/ a qualified instructor.

        She is a good friend, and has my best interests at heart, but can be rather a zealot about things and yoga’s now no exception with her.

        All this to say I feel your pain Rowan.

  40. Jo Avatar

    …give up things I really love (multigrain bread) for “less healthy” alternatives (white bread) because I’m allergic to flaxseed. Which seems to be in EVERYTHING. Ironically I don’t get to partake in a number of desserts because I’m allergic to almonds and stone fruit.

    I try to give myself full permission to eat anything, because that’s how I’m fighting the old restrictive attitudes. If I use “real food” to describe how I eat today vs how I ate in the throes of the ED, there’s an implicit judgment of my old eating patterns. I’m STILL being hard on myself, the self of then, when I “congratulate” myself on changing.

    So. The rolls and Yoo-Hoo I ate in high school were probably food after all – even if they weren’t enough food.

    1. Mich Avatar

      I totally agree about the flaxseeds. I’ve noticed too that “probiotic” is the latest buzzword. So far, in Canada, the only lactose free yoghurt is probiotic, not regular. Probiotics are found in pill form in the laxative and suppository section of the pharmacy. This might explain why I always get diarrhea when I eat a full “serving” of the yoghurt. So I always have to eat less than “recommended”.

      1. Barlow Avatar

        Have you tried greek yogurt? I’m lactose intolerant pretty badly (like a couple tablespoons of ranch dressing can give me a stomach ache) and a like 100g or something cup of greek yogurt doesn’t affect me at ALL.

  41. Mary Kate Avatar
    Mary Kate

    My own personal food rule is simple, is built around my set of allergies and intolerances, and seems to me that it would work rather generally (which is why I repeatedly share it with the friend who seems to enjoy agonizing over whether or not to eat a “bad” cookie more than she enjoys the actual cookie):

    If I can eat it, it won’t make me sick, and I want to eat it, I eat it. Food is not a moral judgement.

    But mostly, I keep my food philosophy to myself unless fending off one of my allergens.

  42. Neeva Avatar

    I’ve got another example:
    That dazed woman buying only meat and bread could well be a nursing new mother who has been told that fruit will make her baby sore, vegetables will make it colicky and dairy products will make it allergic.

  43. Jen Avatar

    This post made me feel so much better. I’m teaching speech very-part time at a small college right now that is a) obsessed with sports to the detriment of academics, and b) on an anti-obesity, clean eating “health” kick. It breaks my heart to hear speeches from young people about what we should all eat, which they are getting from their coaches and college marketing. It also breaks my heart to hear from wrestlers who basically starve themselves for a couple weeks, depressed and woozy (they said) because they can’t eat anything but rice cakes. No one questions this stuff.

    One day I got fed up and said “did you know that it’s not bad to be fat?” (I am fat.) It didn’t even register. I’m hoping that some of them remember that and look something up. Maybe I’ll add “did you know there is no such thing as ‘real’ food?”

    Point being, it’s really nice to hear this after months of living in this insular environment of “clean” eating WTF.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Nice to hear from you :)

  44. Fritz Catlin Avatar
    Fritz Catlin

    All well and good but in my experience if you are lucky enough to have a local old school hippy style health food shop rather than a modern hyper priced fresh n wild one you will find plenty of poor folk there trying to find some health answers for chronic conditions that the nhs is failing to help them with.
    Having experienced suffering from mental instability caused by anaemia and caring for my mum with a dementia caused by excess carbohydrate intake I personaily think sharing (obviously in a non judgemental manner) the fact that metabolising refined carbs uses up your body’s store of b vits to be a responsible action.

    1. Rowan Badger Avatar

      Are you sharing that information with total strangers who have not asked you to advise them on their food choices?

      Are you a medical health professional with a completed patient history sitting in front of you?

      Are you in any sort of position where people might assume you are a dietary authority?

      Because no, it’s not a responsible action to approach people in the store and tell them about the pitfalls of what they’re eating. It’s an intrusive action. If you believe these issues should be more widely known, then start a blog and write about them, so that people seeking information can find it.

      I am a slightly heavy girl who likes cake, and also veggies. No matter what’s in my basket, I can pretty frequently count on some self-righteous jackhole to approach me and tell me I should be dieting (if I have cake) or I shouldn’t be starving myself because I’m ‘not that fat’ (if I have veggies).

      Inserting yourself into someone else’s shopping experience to offer unsolicited advice is just rude.

      1. Elodie Avatar

        Do people actually walk up to you and criticize you for what’s in your cart? I’m not doubting you, I’m just flabbergasted. Also I am curious about where you live, mostly so that I make sure never to live there.

  45. […] Michelle Allison, the Fat Nutritionist, who dislikes the term “real food” because “all foods, like all women, are real” (emphasis […]

  46. Jacqueline church Avatar

    I understand the main point here, may I make a couple of small points?
    1. I think it’s important to separate the issue of what is real food and what is rude and judgmental behavior. While bluefin tuna is not imaginary food, therefore “real” it’s also very near endangered. I may choose not to eat it for that reason, I may write about it in a post on sustainable seafood. But to confront someone in a sushi bar and scold them for eating it? That would be rude.
    2. It doesn’t mean I have to agree it’s okay for everyone to eat bluefin tuna.
    3. People draw personal, idiosyncratic lines all the time. (I”m so “green” we only eat organic! Even when we drive our giant SUV to our family ski vacation…) I may judge those obvious inconsistencies (privately) but you raise valid points to show why I should check my own tendency to draw conclusions about choices.
    4. As a writer, trainer and food allergic person, I am horrified that a parent with a child w anaphylactic allergy would eat fast food in a place like Popeye’s. That is irresponsible. For more more information look to A parent has a responsibility to keep their children safe. That is a judgement I am ok with. Information,training, support is available and quite necessary for food allergic folks. I always emphasize that it is OUR responsibility to be aware because I’ve seen scary, potentially lethal mistakes made by even well-meaning restaurants.
    5. If people make choices that affect the public, we as a society make some exceptions to limit personal freedoms – seat belts are a classic example. There is a real, demonstrable public health benefit that overrides personal liberty. We may be heading toward another such limitation re: food – with the ban on trans fat. Interesting that no amount of information, education, scolding, enticed us away from transfats, so the government has stepped in to balance the public vs private needs.
    And on a related note, the processed food manufacturers were not ever going to step away from transfats which are cheap and easy profits without regulatory intervention.

    So, the whole issue of what is real food is in many respects more about information and education and balancing of public good vs private rights. We have too often allowed some perceived “truth” to justify what is at base rude behaviors. Thank you for the reminder to be more civil.

    1. Susan S Avatar
      Susan S

      I should probably add that my niece is nearly 30, and a medical professional. XD She can handle her own allergies just fine (apart from that time she was stupid and drank a beer that had been sitting open on the dock at her parents’ lake house–yeah, let’s hear it for bee stings and Life Flight).

  47. Rowan Badger Avatar

    Food should be a source of joy. If the only reason you’re eating something is that it’s ‘good for you’, then you’re wasting your time and the food. Put it down. Someone else loves it, and let them have it. Go find something, preferably something that is appropriate to your health and allergy and ethical concerns, that is DELICIOUS and eat that instead.

    I am a grownup, so I don’t have to eat my brussels sprouts if I don’t want. I don’t like them because no matter how they are cooked (because I just KNOW you were about to give me your Famous Brussels Sprout recipe that you’re sure I’ll totally love) I can taste the bitterness, and it’s overpowering. It’s genetic. Just let me be and stop telling me about their health benefits and why I should ‘get over that childish prejudice’. You can have my share. Please enjoy them.

    But brussels sprouts are delicious for many people. Those people love them and they eat them up with butter all the live-long day. They are not bad food; they are food I don’t choose. I would never make faces at them and say, “Ew, eating that is nasty and disgusting.” I say, “I am glad you enjoy those.”

    What I can’t stand is the food-shaming, because it’s not really fo0d-shaming. It’s people-shaming. If donuts are ‘bad food’ and ‘you are what you eat’ then people who eat donuts are ‘bad people’. Once you internalize that cultural ‘you are what you eat’ then you cannot demonize food without demonizing the people who choose it.

    There’s a lot of food out there I wish people weren’t reduced to eating. A lot of people are eating things they know are not good for them personally, but they don’t have other choices, really. I have this vision of a world where people can consistently eat the foods they *want* to eat, whether that’s a twinkie and a Diet Coke or a massive locally-raised organic salad with free-range steak on top.

    So if I see you in the grocery store, and you’ve got a stack of tv dinners and frozen foods and snacky cakes, I’m not going to judge you. I am, however, going to take a moment to hope that those are willing choices, that you can afford and know how to prepare and have the time and energy and resources and understanding to choose anything you want, and you chose that — even if I don’t understand why you chose it (maybe you would rather spend two hours a day reading romance novels than preparing dinner. I don’t care, as long as you had the OPTION to choose it). Because if you don’t think it’s delicious and it doesn’t feed your body and your spirit, it makes me sad if you have to eat it because you don’t have the resources to eat the things that would.

    1. Twistie Avatar

      Rowan, I will delightedly take any and all Brussels sprouts you care to send me. In return, you are welcome to every mushroom that comes across my path, as well as all my asparagus, if you like.

      Oh, and cherries. For some reason I just can’t stand cherries. Go figure.

      I will, however, fight you to the death if you get between me and any food featuring the combination of dark chocolate and hazelnuts.

      I’m just saying.

      1. Rowan Badger Avatar

        I think we can work out an equitable exchange of brussels sprouts for mushrooms and cherries. I’m lukewarm on asparagus, so we can find someone who likes that and give it to them.

        We’re just going to have to make double-batches of the chocolate-hazelnut cookies, though, so we both get some. I’d rather eat cookies than fight to the death.

        1. Twistie Avatar

          I, too, believe in sharing.

          Clearly we are going to get along just fine.

          Any takers on the asparagus? I can absolutely make triple batches of those cookies in return.

          1. Muse of Ire Avatar
            Muse of Ire

            Mmm, asparagus. Roasted asparagus. Will gladly forego mushrooms for that.

            And you can have my tomatoes too. (True fact: my mom LOVED tomatoes. And until the end of her days, could never remember that I didn’t like them, because who doesn’t LOVE tomatoes?)

          2. Mich Avatar

            I will have the asparagus. I also want tv dinners.

          3. Thalia Avatar

            Probably too late now, but I’ll gladly take the asparagus too. OMG I actually grew some in my pathetic little garden and I swear every couple days this spring I’d sit down with like three precious precious spears and slowly savor them because fresh from the garden asparagus is this sweet nutty heavenly manna and I just aldskjfsdkljf

            /Homer Simpson aaaaaaggghghg drooling

          4. Thalia Avatar

            Oh I’m sorry, I should offer to trade too, that was rude of me. Does anyone want all my coffee ever?

          5. Rowan Badger Avatar

            I will so take a large portion of that all the coffee ever. I delight in good coffee.

            Clearly, what we need to do is set up a random exchange network.

            “Peas, no thank you. There’s a woman in Ipswich who eats my share. But I’ll have extra pears, because there’s a man in Ohio who hates them!”

          6. Candice Avatar

            I will take your asparagus! Could you also throw me a few brussel sprouts, mushrooms and cherries please? You can have my bananas! No need to share the cookies though, so if we could get a fourth in our trading group…..

          7. Red-Cat Avatar

            Ooh, I’ll take all the tomatoes! And the mushrooms. I’ll donate every coffee bean that has ever crossed my path, dark-chocolate covered or not. We definitely need a food exchange…

      2. Susan S Avatar
        Susan S

        I’ll fight you for those sprouts. Or, y’know, make you candy from scratch. Either works. :D

        1. CoryD Avatar

          You can have my brussel sprouts…. and I won’t even ask for anything in exchange :D

          1. Do Mi Avatar
            Do Mi

            I want brussels sprouts and will trade…are you ready? All my chocolate!

    2. Barlow Avatar

      If you bake them in the oven instead of microwaving them, most TV dinners actually taste pretty good. Once I asked the kid I was baby-sitting what she wanted for dinner. World of choices at her hand and she said TV dinner XD That kind of food might be a treat for someone.

      Also carbs, a vegetable, and protein is a decent meal when you’re broke and tired, honestly.

  48. Daxle Collier Avatar

    I loved this article and it’s something I would share with clients. I have to admit, though, I am still a little conflicted on the issue. I often refer to “more processed foods” and “less processed foods” which I think feels less judgmental. I do think there is a difference in these foods, and how they feel in our body. In my experience, most people feel better if they have less processed foods. However, I don’t think it works for people to simply tell themselves they need to change their diet to achieve some mystical goal of wellness. As soon as we start telling ourselves not to eat something, it becomes more desirable, potentially sending us into a spiral of deprivation and guilt. Instead, I think it makes sense to become more mindful (if you want to, of course) of how eating different foods makes you feel, and then deciding accordingly what to eat. In my favorite example of Cheetos, I had to first let myself eat them freely to stop feeling deprived. Then I did some observation of their effect on me (If I was hungry and ate only that, I’d have a weird feeling in my mouth and then feel sort of listless and anxious. If I had a handful at a party with some other food, I’d notice no effect.) Over time, I just wasn’t obsessed with them anymore and it wouldn’t occur to me to buy them. I do, however, buy cookies and eat them semi regularly, because that works for me. It’s not a clean and easy path, but I think it’s effective in the long run.

  49. Virginia Sole-Smith Avatar

    Thank you so much for this. I’ve struggled with the “real food” dogma in terms of my own eating for awhile — but recently even more so when it came to what to feed my infant daughter. She was born in August and for the first month of her life was exclusively breastfed, since that is what everyone told me was the very best thing to do for her. Breast milk = “real food” or (even more pressure!) “liquid gold.” Formula = garbage.

    Then on her one month birthday, my daughter was diagnosed with complex congenital heart disease and rushed into open heart surgery. She is recovering well and her prognosis is good — but somewhere along that incredibly traumatic way, she lost the ability to eat. She is now fed via NG tube while we work on helping her re-learn how to swallow. I fought to keep breast feeding and then when it was clear she no longer knew how to do that, I fought to keep pumping and berated myself for not producing enough milk to cover all of her calories. I worried endlessly about what becoming a “formula baby” would do to her health and well-being. Because sure, my daughter is surviving on half a heart — but the fact that she’s eating formula is obviously the real tragedy here!

    I’ve been slowly coming to terms with the whole thing, but reading this post and in particular, your last line really crystallized things for me. If food is keeping someone, somewhere alive, then it is real enough.

    Formula is helping my daughter to thrive against incredible odds. It is, in fact, real food. Thank you.

    1. Anna Avatar

      There’s a lot of shaming related to breast-feeding vs. formula feeding, and it really shouldn’t be that way–the important thing is making sure your kid is eating, right? Breastmilk does have benefits to it, but formula-feeding isn’t as dire as people tend to make it sound. Sometimes it’s the best option.

      I tried exclusively breast-feeding my daughter, and I didn’t make enough milk for her to gain weight at anything close to a normal rate for a baby. She was starving all the time, despite being fed constantly–we pretty much spent all day camped out on the couch with me feeding her. We tried a few things to boost my breastmilk supply, and none of them made enough of a difference. We started supplementing with formula and it was like magic. She started gaining weight and stopped screaming all the time. For the most part, no one’s been snarky about it to me, but one man did suggest that maybe I needed to relax more to make more breastmilk. Funny how none of the doctors and lactation consultants I saw told me that.

    2. Susan S Avatar
      Susan S

      Oh, geez! Have my fingers crossed that your daughter keeps on keepin’ on. She sounds like one tough little girl!

      If it helps at all, when I was three months old, my 14-yo sister totaled my 17-yo brother’s car (oops), and the stress caused Mom’s milk to dry up. From that point on, I was on soy formula. (I didn’t handle cow’s milk at all, and amino acid formulas didn’t exist back then.) Didn’t stop me from growing normally, and usually beating targets for speaking, walking, etc. by at least two months. I know I was running around independently by 7 months, and speaking in full sentences by one year. Somewhere, there are photos of me taking apart the Christmas tree at 11 months, and I was not only standing, but stretching for high branches comfortably. So formula babies aren’t automatically stunted. Frankly, between your milk and the formula she’s getting, she’s got the best of both worlds. :)

      1. Mich Avatar

        Perhaps it’s the late hour, but I read your comment as saying a 14-month old totalled a 17-month old’s car. I couldn’t wrap my head around babies driving cars. I went bug-eyed. I took a second look and say that they were teenagers.

        That’s amazing about you hitting milestones early, and tackling the tree.

    3. Linda Strout Avatar
      Linda Strout

      All the best to you and your daughter!

      I hate the breast milk pressure ever since a friend of mine adopted a baby girl and spent awhile freaking out because they would have to feed her formula.

      Yeah, let’s make adoptive parents, who already going through huge amounts of emotional roller-coasting, feel like shit for not being able to breastfeed.

      Of course, having formula being pushed in third world countries with questionable water isn’t a good thing either.

      Just another incidence of no food choice being perfect for all people in all situations.

      1. Do Mi Avatar
        Do Mi

        This happened to us when we adopted our daughter. My partner used a contraption so the baby could get formula while sucking on her breast–we liked that she got the skin-to-skin and sucking experience–but we still got a hard time from some clueless breastfeeding rah-rah people. Sigh. She grew up healthy and fine, by the way.

        1. Linda Strout Avatar
          Linda Strout

          Glad you had a solution that worked well for you.

          Boo to the clueless people.

  50. Angela Philley Avatar
    Angela Philley

    We went on food stamps when my husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer. While he was in treatment and especially in his last days, I bought whatever he would eat. I think about that a lot when people are making all kinds of judgy comments about what people should be able to buy with food stamps. My son is on the autism spectrum and a picky eater. I was exhausted caring for both of them. My cart would have been fodder for complaints, I’m sure. But, to us, the processed piemento cheese, tapioca pudding, ice cream, frozen pizza, sherbet, vienna sausages, canned meal replacements, among other things – all real food.

  51. Linda Avatar

    I agree with you 100%, though I do want to point out that some people are vegan for someone other than themselves and their own well-being: that being, farm animals. There’s nothing ‘foodie’ about it, and many vegans eat from a broad, delicious repertoire of foods with great enjoyment. Many people think veganism is a dire, unpleasant, restrictive way of eating which leads to undernourishment, but in my experience, nothing is further from the truth.

  52. Siobhan Avatar

    I agree in principle, but I still have trouble thinking of anything that contains olestra as being food. Same with a lot of other “diet food” ingredients that exist soley to make the food less available to the digestive system.

    1. Mich Avatar

      I just looked up what olestra is: EEEEWWWWWW!!!!

    2. KellyK Avatar

      I think it makes sense to define the “diet food” ingredients (olestra, splenda, etc.) as “not real food” but I don’t think they automatically make the whole item “not food.” Like, a pumpkin pie made with splenda doesn’t cease to be a serving of fruit (or cease to be yummy, if you don’t mind splenda) because it contains an artificial sweetener.

      1. Barlow Avatar

        Hold on a sec, I need to double check what splenda is… right, sucralose based.

        Okay, so. Asparatame? I can taste in pretty much anything. The only thing I can handle it in is cough drops and that’s because the menthol is so overwhelming and usually when I’m eating those, my nose is so stuffed up I can barely taste anything anyways. And if I eat one when I’m not sick, like if it gets really cold and my lungs hurt from being outside (the menthol helps), I can taste it. From that little amount. It doesn’t really taste sweet to me in, like, diet soda. It tastes kind of bitter and like chemicals and leaves a weird aftertaste.

        Sucralose? I can’t taste a difference between that and sugar.

        Bodies are weird.

  53. Kelle Avatar

    THANK YOU!!!! This is an important argument for the sake of all people. I constantly hear about eating “real food” and “whole food” and they are such amorphous terms that mean very different things depending on your circumstances.

    I have Crohn’s disease and an ileostomy, and while the Crohn’s is very well-controlled with Remicade treatments, I still have significant challenges eating vegetables. It’s not that I don’t like them or can’t access them, it’s because what many people consider to be “healthy” foods are going to make me sick, cause me significant digestive problems, or get stuck trying to pass through my ostomy. Corn, peas, and raw carrots are tops on the list for things I cannot eat. Lettuce? It depends what kind; I prefer to grow my own baby lettuces and pick them very young. Baby spinach was amazingly gentle on me this summer.

    And these problem foods aren’t just raw, fibrous foods, either. About 4 years ago I discovered I could no longer digest beef properly; it caused my ostomy to “work too hard,” meaning it took too much effort for my body to digest and process it. So no more burgers, spaghetti bolognese with abandon, no meatballs, and sad, plain yorkshire puddings with no beef gravy. Yes, even beef gravy, bouillon, or stock causes the same reaction.

    “Real Food” not only means different things to different people, but for people like me it may vary on a day-to-day basis. I’ve been to the dentist today, so “real food” today is going to probably be Vietnamese noodles for lunch. Chicken or pork, of course. Tomorrow it could very easily be yogurt and potato chips. On very bad days, when the Crohn’s flares, “real food” is Jello.

    Thank you again for being such a sane, reasonable nutritionist and sharing yourself and your knowledge this way. I cannot tell you how many nutritionists and hospital-employed “dieticians” I have met who look at my 2-week food diary and ask, “Why don’t you eat more salads??” “Because I have Crohn’s disease and salad can kill me.” Dramatic? Sort of; I once went to Emergency with a bowel blockage caused by effing mini wheats. Yeah, “healthy” food. I’ll be over here with my Cheerios and my pudding :)

    1. kisekileia Avatar

      Have you thought about using ground lamb to make burgers, spaghetti sauce, meatballs, etc? My boyfriend makes a ground lamb meatball recipe that tastes REALLY good.

    2. Rikibeth Avatar

      I’ve made some nicely beefy-tasting gravy using Marmite as the base. It’s not a perfect substitute but it might cheer up your Yorkshire pudding!

    3. Barlow Avatar

      I put in a vote for chicken burgers and meatballs!! Also chicken sausage is yummy. And you can use pork to make burgers and stuff. They actually mae chicken/porn sausages so I imagine chicken/pork meatballs would be really good! Ground chicken, man. It’s a good thing. My aunt bought a bag of frozen premade ground chicken meatballs, cooked them up like she does normally with spaghetti sauce and everything, and served them to her carnivores – I mean, my uncle and my cousin. They DEVOURED them.

      Also. Slightly off-topic but I’m rambly.

      My friend taught me one thing that’s kind of funny – Fruity Pebbles are gluten free. Also, low in fat, not really high amounts of sugar, a gram of protein, lots of added vitamins, including B12 and Folic acid. But it’s not exactly what people are thinking when they talk about “healthy” food, even though there’s a lot of good stuff there.

      I taught her something, too, that I found amusing. She wondered once why, when she ate marshmallows, her mouth got sore and cut up. I told her to read the ingredients on her marshmallows because they’re made with corn syrup and dusted with cornstarch and, did you forget you’re allergic to corn?

  54. Lee Blum Avatar

    I agree with you and actually my husband and I argue about this often. He works in wellness and I work at an eating disorder treatment center. The problem is really more about when we say “Bad” and “Good” food because we attribute emotions to them. Ideally we would all eat the foods that have the greatest nutritional value for us, but we don’t and we don’t need to feel shame when we do. Society puts so much shame around eating those “bad foods”. Those of us who have struggled with an eating disorder then become afraid of those foods and have to relearn how to eat them. I like…all foods fit in moderation. AND…ask your body what it needs …it will tell you. Sometimes your body wants oreos. And that is ok :)

    You are doing great work here. The word fat has such a “force” behind it…I wonder why that was your choice for the title of the blog. It seems so negative (i.e. our society’s stereotype) and you are doing such positive work!


    1. Angela Avatar

      This is very true. I am still struggling with removing ‘moral attributes’ from my eating choices. “I was good today, I didn’t snack” or “I can only have salad for dinner because I was bad at lunch”. Food is personal and individual, but all the food advertising places products as wicked indulgences, or the only good healthy option, or so tasty you’ll “feel like you’re getting away with something”.

    2. Michelle Avatar

      The use of the word “fat” is a reclaiming strategy, because fat is not an inherently bad thing. It is just a description of a body type, and I am, indeed, quite fat.

      Keeping doing good work!

  55. Danielle Avatar

    As someone who has been living Paleo for 6 months, I am certainly guilty of using the terms real food and clean eating. Do I push it onto others? I hope not. I do tag posts on my Instagram and Facebook page with those words but this is only so other people also living that lifestyle can find them. Whether we like it or not, people are always going to judge us. I’ve been a fat girl my entire life and at 42 I’ve finally found a way of eating that makes me feel well and healthy and is producing FOR ME long term, sustainable fat loss. It certainly isn’t for everyone, just as the 15 or more other ‘diets’ I’ve followed over the years didn’t work for me. But as a fat girl my whole life I’ve been judged by strangers, friends and family alike for pretty much every piece of food that goes in my mouth.

    In the past, particularly as a young adult, eating in public I’ve had cruel taunts about ‘you shouldn’t be eating that burger’ to when I would be eating a salad being told ‘you should have just had a burger fat girl, that’s what you really wanted’. – strangers can be incredibly cruel.

    Even now I get comments from friends and family about ‘oh you’re so hard to cook for now with what you eat’. No actually, I’m not. I’ve found a balance in my life where I eat 80/20.

    80% of the time I stick to my Paleo foods because I feel good eating them. 20% of the time I eat what I’m provided with by whomever is being so generous as to cook for me, and I’m not complaining that you just served me a big bowl of pasta, I’m tucking in and enjoying it because I love you and I love pasta. It might make me feel crappy tomorrow but I’m not going to judge you on eating this or get annoyed you cooked me wheat that I no longer consume it by choice. So no, I’m not hard to cook for. And if I need a chocolate fix, then I’m not going to deny myself. I now understand how various foods make me feel physically and emotionally, and I’m prepared for any negative reactions my body might produce if I eat something in the 20% zone.

    I understand Michele your commentry on labelling things real food and clean eating but sadly Whilst there is a billion dollar dieting industry out there, then labels are going to exist. To me these words are no different to non fat, low fat, cholesterol free etc. just a way of describing something, not meant as a judgement on others.

    That said, I will certainly think more carefully when I am talking or writing about my Paleo journey to ensure I’m not making others feel I am judging them because their food is different to mine. I’m still a fat girl who will always be on a journey to stay as healthy as I can be, in a way that works for me, not a way that works for everybody else.

  56. Annie Kuhn Avatar
    Annie Kuhn

    Agreed. I have been reading a book (and I won’t make a plug for it ’cause I don’t think it’s appropriate) about how everyone needs to find the foods that work for them. I am a personal trainer and have a HUGE interest in nutrition. I am a foodie who loves wine, chocolate, coffee, butter, bread… yup, the good things in life. I am working on discovering the foods that don’t work for me like, EGGS! Anyway, I do believe in a healthy lifestyle and eating foods that are good for YOU! Be happy AND be healthy.

  57. […] to the blog post though…..Fat Nutritionist – I really like her stuff.  She has a ton of good information on her […]

  58. […] Required pre-holiday reading: The Fat Nutritionist reminds you that all foods, just like all women, are real. […]

  59. Keane Avatar

    I’m sorry, but I can’t agree with this post and the very first comment here (along with many subsequent others) demonstrates the exact reason why.

    ‘I constantly hear about eating “real” (aka non-processed) foods like vegetables, and I feel such frustration about the fact that I simply don’t like fruits and vegetables. What others would call healthy eating is simply unsustainable for me. The cost in mental and emotional energy is just too high.”

    I’m sorry, but what’s unsustainable is NOT eating fruits and vegetables. If you’re not eating fruits and vegetables, you’re not a healthy person nor are you ever likely to be. That’s a dangerous mentality to get into and I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that so many people are literally celebrating processed foods. Now I get the non-food shaming aspect of it all. These things are fine in moderation, but I call them “sometimes foods” because that’s exactly what they should be. In all of the health scenarios listed above there are better ways to meet those nutritional requirements and I seriously hope there are no doctors out there prescribing frappacino’s to people with eating disorders. Again, it’s not that a frappacino, a slice of white bread, popsicles, or kale will kill you, but the processed foods need to be taken in moderation.

    I’m not trying to shame anybody here, but seriously, saying you don’t like fruits and vegetables is, in my humble opinion, lazy. There are so many different varieties and preparations that exist, that there are bound to be AT LEAST a handful out there and they’re mostly not complicated or time consuming. Is it fully possible for somebody to not like a particular food item? Sure, of course it is, but we’re designed to eat these things. Our bodies require them in order to sustain life and whereas you can supplement some of these things, but you can’t supplement them all, so again, it is 100% unsustainable to think you can just avoid these things all together.

    Again, I understand not shaming people for the foods they eat, I love me some junk food too and I eat more than my fair share, but making this kind of argument in this way to this many people sets a dangerous precedent and paves a road to a large variety of problems including illness and death.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Some people have health conditions that make their bodies not handle fruits and vegetables, or certain fruits and vegetables, well. That is just the truth, though it may not be your experience and it may make you uncomfortable. I am not a fan of anyone randomly cutting entire food groups out of their diet because variety is the cornerstone of good nutrition, but sometimes more pressing medical needs require this.

      However, I suspect that most people who feel this way are actually still in the process of learning to like different foods, including fruits and vegetables, which actually takes some time. It is a process, not a switch that gets flipped. Most people have to go through a phase of really not liking a food at all before they can become indifferent to it, and perhaps eventually like it. Pressure from other people is what messes up that process, more often than not.

      People have to start from where they are at. No, I don’t recommend that most people go their whole lives avoiding fruits and vegetables. But I am accepting of where people are – and in some people’s case, where they are is not liking fruits and vegetables. They are adults. They will figure it out. That is really none of my, or your, business.

    2. Rhiannon Avatar

      I’m almost 50 and have not eaten much in the way of veggies or fruit my entire life. Don’t like ’em. All my checkups are perfect; bloodwork, blood sugar workups, BP, all excellent. I’m not planning to live to 100 anyways…

    3. Danielle Avatar

      Free tip: if you have to claim (multiple times, too) that you aren’t shaming anyone with your comment, the truth is likely to be that you are and you are just trying to deflect that particular criticism by declaring it wrong.

    4. Lindsay Avatar

      I sincerely hope you don’t work with people with eating disorders – yes, sometimes people with eating disorders do literally need foods with high sugar/salt/fat content (such as a frappacino) – if you’re trying to get someone severely underweight to gain 30+ pounds, this can be very uncomfortable with a diet of mostly produce and lean protein which fill the stomach with limited caloric content. Having high calorie beverages or calorie dense foods makes eating these large meal plans easier to manage. It is called debulking, and it is extremely common in treatment centers. That’s a reason on it’s own, nevermind the emotional challenge people with eating disorders have of eating these foods without guilt or having compensatory behaviors.

      You say you don’t want to shame anyone, but implying people are “lazy” for not liking/eating fruits and vegetables is extremely problematic. You have no idea what that poster’s food history is or anybody elses. I don’t see why you get to decide how much processed food is appropriate for anybody elses body but your own.

      1. Keane Avatar

        I’ll give you that my choice of the word “lazy” was out of place, because I honestly don’t believe in food shaming and no I do not work with people in a medical capacity nor am I a nutritionist or a dietitian. However, just because I’m not certified doesn’t mean that I’m not educated enough to know for a fact that there are certain things that people have to do in order to be healthy. I’m a big guy myself. I love big macs, fillets o’ fish, frozen pizza’s, dorritos and a lot of other crap. My problem is finding a balance between my sometimes foods and my always foods and most people are in that same boat.

        I understand that some people are in a position where they need to gain wait for medical reasons, but a doctor that recommends frappacinos is a doctor you should avoid. There are other, better ways to do that and if you mix in the occasional frappacino, no big deal. If you try to do it all with frappacinos that is a big deal and that’s largely just common sense. People can make their own choices, I’m not here to do that for them, but making this kind of argument is DANGEROUS, especially coming from someone licensed as a nutritional professional. Just because it’s what we want to hear doesn’t make it true and I’m sorry for that. You will live a shorter life, you will be tired and energy deficient, and you will likely experience a lot of aches and pains that you wouldn’t otherwise and is that worth it simply because you “don’t like fruits/veggies”? Maybe it is for some and that’s their choice, but this kind of information is false and it leads people to believe something that is not true.

        I study our food system for a living and this kind of argument sets the whole process back to the 1950’s when we first accepted processed foods as a daily part of our lives. Since then we’ve gotten sicker and are dying younger. Just as I don’t advocate suicide I can’t advocate this style of thinking and when I see someone doing so, I do feel it’s my responsibility, given what I know, to say something. What you do with that information after the fact, is entirely up to you.

        1. Michelle Avatar

          Okay you need to leave now.

        2. Cath of Canberra Avatar

          As a public health statistician, may I just add to this: NO. We are not “getting sicker and dying younger”. The population is aging, and is now dying much, much older than we were in the 1950s. By decades, literally.

          1. Campbell Henderson Avatar
            Campbell Henderson

            Ah Cath – you might need to check that factoid, as you’re wrong AND apparently get paid for that skill.

            The mean age of life has increased so significantly due to outlying values at the top end, and the significant reduction in infant mortality.

            I would suggest you were fooled, however your introduction implies you know how to read skewed and false statistics.

          2. Susan S Avatar
            Susan S

            I have to give some agreeing anecdotal evidence. My paternal grandfather died of a heart attack in 1944, right after Dad’s 12th birthday. He was 52. Dad has the same form of arterial disease, and is still annoying the hell out of us at 81. He had a quad bypass in ’85 or early ’86 (I was in third grade), a technically fatal heart attack in the late ’90s (my friends and I sometimes call him Zombie Dad), and had some stents put in after that. However, with medication and furkid therapy (I convinced him to get a cat), he’s done great. Hell, he’s the healthiest person in the house!

            So, yeah. At least in my family, we’re definitely living decades longer.

          3. sannanina Avatar

            @ Campbell Henderson:

            I have heard the claim you make concerning life expectancy before, and as someone who regularly gets pissed off by the uncritical use of mean values (albeit in a very different field) I am open to the possibility that there might be something to it – could you cite your sources, please?

          4. Michelle Avatar

            I looked up some information on the CDC website about (U.S.) life expectancy at age 25. There is some recent data (within the last two decades if I’m remembering correctly) about how it has increased somewhat. You might find it interesting :D

          5. sannanina Avatar

            Uuuuh, this is great!

            @Campbell Henderson, the data on page 148 might be interesting for you:

            The table shows numbers of death per 100,000 US residents by age group. As far as I can see, the number of deaths decreased for every single age group from 1970 to 2008 (the trend stays the same if you compare any of the other years, except for some small fluctuations in certain age groups between 2000, 2007, and 2008, which are probably not significant). If your statement concerning life expectancy was true I would expect death rates to go down for children under one year and for people in the higher age groups but to increase during middle age. This does not seem to be the case. Care to comment?

            Concerning your statement that people have gotten sicker – there is data in the report which supports this. Examples are Table 49 on page 204 and Figure 35 on page 60. Table 49 shows the rates for heart disease, cancer, and stroke by age for several years between 1997 and 2010. Rates for cancer and stroke appear to have slightly increased. I have a bit of a problem with the rather short time span – I would have liked to see data from earlier decades, though. Plus, at least for cancer, screening has gone up as far as I know, which would also increase the number of diagnosed cases. In fact, as far as I am aware there is a debate if certain forms of cancer (e.g., breast cancer) are not over diagnosed. This might influence the data. Similar concerns hold true for Figure 35.

            (Not quite on topic, but I did find the influence of income in Figure 35 really striking.)

          6. Linda Strout Avatar
            Linda Strout

            Thank you for finding that and sharing!

          7. Michelle Avatar

            God I love nerds.

          8. Michelle Avatar

            Incidentally, whenever I’m experiencing terrifying existential dread about the inevitability of death that makes me want to lash out at others, it heartens me somewhat to look at this chart – – but maybe that’s just me.

          9. Mich Avatar

            All these comments are amazing.

    5. Linda Strout Avatar
      Linda Strout

      Are you honestly telling people to spend their extra time and energy and money (if they have those) on buying and cooking fruits and vegetables until they hit on something they like?

      I really can’t support that. People get to choose what they do with their extra time, energy and money just like they choose what they eat.

      NOBODY has found the perfect eating/exercise formula for maxing out health (whatever that is) for any given individual, let alone all individuals.

    6. kisekileia Avatar

      There is a thing called sensory processing disorder that can make people physically unable to tolerate certain tastes–as in, they cannot get the food down. It is extremely common for people with sensory processing disorder to be unable to tolerate fruits and vegetables. You try attempting to eat food that tastes so vile to you that it makes you gag.

    7. Barlow Avatar

      *raises hand* Um. Vegetarians tend to not like meat?

      I don’t eat fish. Period. I don’t like it, for many reasons. Some of those are taste, some are personal memories related to it that aren’t good, some are that I have problems with the ethics of fishing.

      So, you know. Tada. Possible.

  60. Sara Avatar

    Beautiful. Thank you.

  61. Chris Hudson Avatar
    Chris Hudson

    I question your initial premise. There are “real” foods and there are foods that are edible, but not “real”. I would not use the word real first off. I would use the word “natural” instead. Of course all foods are real because they are in our reality. All foods are not “natural” though. A frozen pizza or a candy bar or a can of soup are real, but they are not natural. They are loaded with sodium, fake sugars, synthetic fillers, and a host of other artificial ingredients. Although they may be less expensive and more affordable to many people, they are not “real” foods just because people eat them and choose to eat them. I argue that if they focused on natural foods their health would improve, they would feel fuller because they are ingesting more nutrients, thus eating less and saving money in the long run.
    Please do not try to convince people to give into their rationalizations about the foods they eat by saying it’s ok because it’s “real”. That is a false and misleading argument. And please do not couple nutrition with your personal beliefs about what a woman “real” should be or is. By doing so you are feeding into and priming women to immediately agree with your stance. That is unfair to the reader and does not allow them to fully critically think about the issues in your article.
    All food is real. All food is not natural though or healthy. Please do not tie together realness with health.
    Thank you

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Thank you for the lecture, I have greatly benefited from it.

      1. Thalia Avatar

        I don’t know how you are so polite Michelle, unless it’s being under the influence of Canada.

        1. Mich Avatar

          I think it was sarcasm.

          As for the “not natural”, bread is not natural because nowhere in nature can you find flour, sugar, salt, and yeast together, they are always made by human hands.

          The staff of life.

          1. Susan S Avatar
            Susan S

            Hell, wheat’s not natural. It’s the product of selective breeding. Same goes for sugarcane and several domesticated strains of yeast. In fact, if you want wild yeast, you pretty much need to get a lambic. Or, y’know, a yeast infection. Though even that’s debatable since human Candida strains are technically symbiotic.

            Honestly, after a few hundred thousand years of various hominids screwing around with the environment, if you want to eat something completely natural, your best bet is to go lick Antarctica. But not near any of the research stations.

            Or that Metallica concert I’d give a rib to go to.

          2. Michelle Avatar

            Are you telling me there is a Metallica concert in Antarctica?

          3. Susan S Avatar
            Susan S

            According to one of my local radio stations, yes. I would seriously give up body parts to go. And would subsequently either get arrested or invited backstage for terrifying people with stories of the Hot-Headed Little Ice Borer. (Just Google it.)

  62. […] Encouragement to eat whatever is normal for and available to me and to not make excuses for not meeting someone else’s standard for so-called real food. […]

  63. Alice Avatar

    Thank you so much. I really needed to read this. It hit so close to home and helped reinforce my own resistance to completely and utterly changing my diet to fit a nebulous ideal. It’s especially frustrating living in California, where people fancy themselves health experts and rave about their quinoa concoctions. There is so much shame associated with food choices and cooking and eating and it’s all seen as a reflection of the moral quality of the person eating the food. It’s a nightmare! But I just really want to say thank you, it means so much to me to read this article.

    1. Rhiannon Avatar

      I agree! I live in SoCal where it’s all about yoga and Whole Foods, lol. So annoying.

  64. Christina Avatar

    Finally. A voice of reason in the darkness of what we used to call reality. ;)

  65. Danielle Avatar

    Thank you for this. Four to five years ago I endured a lot of criticism about my food choices, including by my then manager, who was the reason I made them. I was employed by a state university in an at-will state (translation: we could be fired at any time with or without reason) as a Linux System Administrator and the manager wouldn’t say “no” to more work for my department, a disproportionate amount of which he put onto my shoulders and he, at points, mandated that I work 14 hour days plus do at least 20 hours of work over the weekend. I had moved multiple states for this job and, it being the middle of 2008, there was no viable Plan B for me – the Great Recession was in full force and there simply weren’t other jobs.

    So I did it. I left my apartment at 7 A.M. and usually arrived home after 11 P.M. M-F. All of my weekday meals were eaten at my desk and the choices available within a reasonable time-distance of my desk were poor. I did what I had to in order to not join the ranks of the unemployed (and was very much aware that I was damned lucky to have a job, even as layoffs happened around me.)

    1. Inca Avatar

      Anyone who forces that kind of work hours foregoes the right to say *anything* about health.

  66. Young CC Prof Avatar
    Young CC Prof

    Thank you. I sometimes feel ashamed, buying canned fruits and veggies while visibly pregnant. I have a severe form of oral allergy syndrome, and I cannot eat plants unless they’ve been really thoroughly cooked. Cooking them myself is also a challenge, since that involves quite a bit of exposure to the food. So, I buy canned, or pre-chopped frozen.

    1. Barlow Avatar

      People have been canning goods for HUNDREDS of years. Why should you be ashamed that someone else canned them?

  67. Kristin Avatar

    THANK YOU. Your line of thinking, which I agree with, is why food snobs, like Michael Pollan drive me bonkers, especially the “Don’t eat anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food” mantra. It assumes privilege, a grandma of a certain age, and one who had access to very very high quality foods. Let’s just stop being judgmental. Thanks again. I will share!

    1. Thalia Avatar

      Right. Because everybody’s grandmother was a fantastic cook.

      My mother tells a story about her mother making a chocolate cake during the Great Depression. A chocolate cake made with bacon grease, because there was no shortening or butter. In response to my horrified look, my mother said, ‘After the first bite or two it didn’t taste so much like bacon.’


      1. Mich Avatar

        Weird cake.

        My grandma was the worst cook in the world, and after she turned 70 they didn’t eat any home cooked anything. So when we went over it was always delivery pizza. Pizza gets boring after awhile too.

        Plus her food likes and dislikes changed over the decades. In her 70s she didn’t like green bell peppers, and couldn’t imagine how we could stand them, but then she got after EVERYONE for not eating onions. And then in the last couple years she no longer liked broccoli and said that she’d never liked it, which was a lie.

        The whole “don’t eat what your grandma wouldn’t” would eliminate most of the “exotic” foods we have today, like quinoa, amaranth, millet, bok choy, belgian endive, spinach, etc. They should think twice before uttering that phrase.

        1. Susan S Avatar
          Susan S

          Millet is one of the things my Grandma fed to the chickens.

    2. Rikibeth Avatar

      Both my grandmothers kept kosher and readily recognized stick margarine as food; the one who baked used it in all her recipes, because that meant she could serve dessert after a meat meal.

      They also made use of a solid vegetable shortening called Nyafat. It came in unflavored and onion-flavored varieties, same idea as unflavored and butter-flavored Crisco, but in this case, it wasn’t meant to be replacing butter; it was a meatless alternative to chicken fat!

      I don’t think Michael Pollan would approve of either of those things, or the non-dairy liquid creamer they would put out with after-dinner coffee, and yet my grandmothers considered these things staples.

      I don’t use them, but it’s because I think they taste funny and I’m not keeping kosher so I don’t have to. Not because “my grandmother wouldn’t recognize it as food.”

      1. Linda Strout Avatar
        Linda Strout

        What a brilliant solution for keeping kosher!

        1. Mich Avatar

          Most margarines in Canada are stamped with a Kosher Dairy label. The one that’s pareve is the Becel Vegan variety. All other margarines have casein added which is the milk protein.

          I just use butter now, or coconut oil to cook in. They work best to fry.

  68. MargeauxTtrewell Avatar

    Why are so many commenters here sick or have medical conditions? Does no one healthy read you?

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Why are there so many appallingly sociopathic commenters on the internet? Life is a mystery. Everyone must stand alone. I hear you call my name, and it feels like home.

    2. Susan S Avatar
      Susan S

      Actually, we’re all perfectly healthy. However, we’re pathological liars with fetishes for various illnesses. How else do you think we get off?

      1. Michelle Avatar

        I have psoriasis in my ears. It’s pretty hot.

    3. Kristin Avatar

      I wondered the same thing. You can trace a lot of diseases directly to nutrition or lack thereof.

      1. Susan S Avatar
        Susan S

        Wooooooow. You really know how not to make friends with me, don’t you?

      2. Lindsay Avatar

        Blaming people for their illnesses now? You seem like a really nice person!

        1. Linda Strout Avatar
          Linda Strout

          Now now, maybe she thinks we all have scurvy or rickets.

          Or maybe she doesn’t understand the role genetics play in a person’s body.

      3. CoryD Avatar

        Yes I asked to have Celiac, its the trendy new illness!

        1. Linda Strout Avatar
          Linda Strout

          You can cure that by eating whole grains you know.


      4. Elodie Avatar

        I threw out my back. No, I was not “overweight” when it happened, nor was I inactive. Severe back problems run in my family.

        But oh, if only I had eaten kale, I am sure that would have saved me!

        There are more sick and disabled people than many like to acknowledge. Because life is not fair. No food you eat or do not eat is going to make it fair; judging other people for what they eat or do not eat is most certainly not going to make it fair. When you get judgey about people being sick and/or disabled, and blame them for it, you’re only adding to the unfairness of the world. It’s a thoroughly crappy thing to do.

        1. Susan S Avatar
          Susan S

          THANK YOU. This sums up the rage I felt when I first read that horrible, Calvinist comment. Being told, “You just need to eat better, and you’ll be fine!” with regards to my health issues, nearly all of which stem from a congenitally faulty immune system, makes me want to lash out. IRL, it makes me go dead silent, which is how you know I’m:

          A. Enraged beyond the limits of safety.
          B. Dead.

          (I should probably note that one of my Aspie tics is talking to myself and vocalizing sounds almost constantly. Yeah, there’s a condition that’ll go away with enough salad.)

          (And, yes, I do talk in my sleep. It’s that extensive.)

          One thing I haven’t gotten used to in nearly 18 years of near-daily Internet use is the inefficacy of dealing with trolls. How can people be so immature as to believe it’s okay to hide behind anonymity while taking potshots?

    4. Linda Strout Avatar
      Linda Strout

      How do you define health? How do you know if someone has something undiagnosed. A male friend of mine just discovered he has osteoporosis by way of a cracked vertebrae. Was he healthy before his diagnosis? If he’d eaten and exercised perfectly all his life would he have developed it? Since we don’t know the cause, nobody can answer that yet.

      Should we all be tested for everything every year? What if we all have something wrong with us? Does that mean nobody is healthy? Or would we develop some sort of guidelines?

  69. Rhiannon Avatar

    I recently told a personal trainer who runs a gym, that I love fresh farmer’s market tomatoes, and that I’m not keen on many other veggies. She laughed and said I may as well eat ketchup then, nutrition-wise. She went on to say I should be eating the “superfoods’ like broccoli and cauliflower. I decided not to join her gym! The term Superfoods is another pet peeve, much like “clean eating.”

    1. Kristin Avatar

      Tomatoes are a super food especially if you combine them with avocados! I don’t mind the term clean eating, and I know we need other vegetables, but tomatoes do awesome things like fight cancer. If all you can eat is tomatoes, hey! At least you eat a vegetable and a good one. Maybe you’ll add one or two more. I hated asparagus until my thirties. I’m still working on tomatoes.

      1. Rhiannon Avatar

        It’s the linguistics that bug me. I grew up in the ’60s and ’70s where we were taught that all veggies are good for you, none of this “super” food nonsense. It’s just reflective of our hyper competitive culture. And seriously, eating berries won’t keep away cancer, especially if it runs in your family. One month kale is the life saver, next month it’s something else. Sorry, but fuck the idea of “super” anything!

        1. Kristin Avatar

          Goodness! Such anger. Compared to a Snickers tomatoes are a superfood. And there are certainly foods that can keep us from getting some forms of cancer.

          1. Susan S Avatar
            Susan S

            Well, we’re annoyed because you’re trying to ‘splain us. As for preventing cancer, ya know, I think my BRCA mutations, and collection of extraordinarily expensive third- and fourth-tier treatment option autoimmune medications with side effects like lymphoma and leukemia trump your tomato.

          2. Susan S Avatar
            Susan S

            Oh, and I don’t eat Snickers. Peanuts will kill me.

          3. Elodie Avatar

            Snickers have a relatively high amount of protein. I am mildly hypoglycemic. Snickers bars saved me from a severe crash many times. A tomato most certainly would not have done that.

  70. […] 1. This article about ‘real’ food. All food is real. Whether it’s grown in a garden or made from a packet; it is still food. And it’s up to each individual to determine what the right diet for them is. If you choose to follow a diet made of primarily whole foods grown in your backyard, then awesome! I honestly think it’s a great thing to do if it’s working for you. But it doesn’t grant you moral superiority compared to those who choose to shop at a supermarket and use bottled pasta sauce (that’s me!). Regardless of your food choices, they are yours and yours alone. […]

  71. Kristin Avatar

    As a mother of a type one diabetic and a nurse I must respectfully disagree with some of this post. We should never shame people for their body size or food choices, but we should always encourage them to be the best they can be within their ability. Are there diseases that cause people to require a special diet? Certainly. Can all people afford the same food? No. I’m referring to patients who are otherwise healthy and are able to eat a regular diet. All food choices are not valid. Some are just unhealthy. I refer to healthy eating as clean eating. That seems to be unpopular here. I don’t believe that the things you put in your mouth are imaginary, but some are definitely chemically altered, making them less real. Splenda, margarine, Cheese Whiz, Fruit Loops? All chock full of chemicals that were manufactured by man. Why would any healthcare professional support the eating of these things? I too have struggled with my weight, which in turn impacts my health. Being overweight does or will eventually impact your health. I know very few clean eaters who try to impose their views on others. Maybe you haven’t settled your food issues as well as you think you have if the term real food is a problem with you. My daughter is thankfully a healthy diabetic. I would never let a nutritionist who validated unhealthy food as an option have any influence over her. This is her health, her circulation, her kidney function, her life that hangs in the balance. It’s not a game. As a professional in the medical field it is our job to give people current, well-researched information about what they put in their bodies and to try our best to do the same thing. No crash dieting, no starving, just healthy food and as much exercise as you can get. It’s very good advice.

    1. Linda Strout Avatar
      Linda Strout

      ‘Encouraging’ other people to ‘eat healthy’ can still come across as shaming.

      There is no evidence that being overweight will automatically cause problems.

      I’m glad your daughter is currently healthy. Diabetes is a progressive disease though, and all the ‘healthy eating’ is no guarantee of a perfect outcome.

      ‘Well-researched’ is a bit of pickle since one decade’s research can be (and has been) overturned by another decades. Eggs were demonized because people believed their inherent cholesterol would affect the body’s cholesterol. Further research showed this wasn’t true. Even the research on cholesterol is changing.

      I can agree with the ‘no crash dieting’ but ‘healthy food’ is a label that continues to be in flux. A ‘variety of food’ is much more reasonable.

    2. Caprice Avatar

      Type 1 Diabetes in children can be a very scary disease. I can see your fear and need to care for your child. However, it seems to me that you are seeing food as magical and think that if you give your child the exact right things to eat then she will always be well. I wish it worked that way but it doesn’t. The very best you can hope for is that you and she will be able to match insulin to carbs so that she doesn’t go high or low so that she won’t develop complications. This is a huge undertaking and I would suggest you cut yourself and her some slack and allow her to eat some things that are just fun. Some candy at Halloween can usually be eaten if the insulin dose is adjusted to allow for it. A bowl of sugar sweetened sugar could be given if she has a low. Someday she is going to grow up and you will not be able to make her food choices for her. Now is the time to allow her those choices and help her deal with the consequences. Try not to let your own understandable fear take over her life.

      Splenda, margarine, Cheese Whiz, and Trix are not poison. I am an insulin using diabetic and I prefer not to drink my carbs so I use artificial sweeteners in drinks. 15 years later, I am still here. Margarine, at one time, was considered healthier than butter. Many people who have had to remove dairy from their eating eat it and are doing well. I don’t personally like Cheese Whiz but I can see where it would make those “healthy” steamed vegetables palatable! I’m not a fan of Trix but I like Frosted Flakes and eat them when I want to which since I gave myself permission to eat what I want is not often.

      I wish you and your daughter nothing but the best. Life is so difficult for all of us, we must try not to make it harder.

      1. Kristin Avatar

        Food is not a magical cure, but it does play a big part in the health of a diabetic. Less sugar in one’s diet leads to less of a need for synthetic insulin. We choose not to drink our calories, so we drink water or unsweetened tea, avoiding artificial sweeteners if possible. Splenda is made from chlorine. That is not meant to be ingested. Yes, some foods contain things that are bad for our bodies, but that seems to be an unpopular train of thought here.

        You’re assuming is that I am afraid. Maybe I’m just aware that the choices my daughter makes will impact her health later in life. I’m not fearful because I know I’m teaching her to make healthy choices. Does she splurge sometimes? Yes. But it’s a treat, not an every day occurrence. Some day she will make her own choices. Right now it’s my job to provide her with healthy foods and help her make wise choices. That’s what moms do.

    3. KellyK Avatar

      You’re making a whole lot of “fact” statements without anything to back them up. Like, “Being over weight does, or will eventually, affect your health.” If that’s the case, then why do people in the overweight category live longer than those in the “normal” category?

      Also, I notice that while you’re quick to point out that people in favor of “clean” eating don’t try to push their views on other people, you felt the need to do exactly that in this comment thread. Up to and including judging people’s reasons for eating the way they do. Like, it’s okay if you’re flat broke or have health issues that dictate your diet, but otherwise, you’d better eat as “healthy” as you possibly can.

      You’re also really misinterpreting Michele’s post. You’re by far not the only one, but I find it really interesting when she says something that should be completely non-controversial like, “Different people have different food needs. Don’t judge random people you see eating ‘unhealthy’ because for all you know it may be exactly what they need,” and it turns into “All food is equally good! Eat sugary cereal and deep-fried twinkies three meals a day, even if you’re diabetic and have heart disease!” in the minds of a lot of commenters. Nowhere did Michele suggest this, but that sentiment keeps getting attributed to her.

      When you say, “All food choices are not valid,” what evidence do you have that a specific food, in the context of an otherwise varied diet, is going to harm someone who doesn’t have a specific reason (allergy, diabetes, etc.) for avoiding that particular food?

      It seems to me that it’s actually the opposite. If you eat what you want, and pay attention to how food makes you feel, you will, overall, eat a wider variety and a more balanced diet than if you declare certain foods, foods that you otherwise enjoy, to be evil and “dirty.” Because then eating becomes this huge scary moral undertaking, with pressure to do it perfectly. It also takes the pleasure away from vegetables and whole grains to view them as “clean” and moral and virtuous. I think in other posts Michele has cited research that supports this.

      The other thing is that moralizing about food makes it difficult for people who need to eat a certain “bad” food to do so. Someone who’s gotten the “veggies good, Froot Loops evil” message all their life can’t just flip a switch and change all the associations with food and virtue that have seeped into their brain. If they lose their job, or get diagnosed with an illness that makes Froot Loops a much better choice than salad, all that programming makes it harder for them to eat in a way that’s best for them.

      Likewise, even people who can eat “clean” most of the time are allowed to have bad days, or bad weeks. A healthy, energetic, upper middle class person is allowed to order take-out when they’re working 12-hour days to meet a crazy deadline, or eat nothing but ginger ale and Ritz crackers if they have a stomach bug.

      But again, attributing virtue to foods that our culture deems healthy makes it harder for people to do that. I’ve come home from a crazy day of work and felt guilty because I was too tired to cook dinner from scratch. I’ve been sick and unable to keep food down and had get over the “HFCS BAD!” messages in my brain before I could just drink some ginger ale and at least get *some* calories and fluids into my system.

      1. Kristin Avatar

        I don’t moralize food. Food is an inanimate object, so it has no morality. For us it is simple. Some foods are better on blood sugar than others. HFCS can not be a staple of a healthy diabetic’s diet. Unfortunately, eating what we want is not always an option. I would love nothing more than to eat chicken nuggets and chocolate all day, but the adult and mother (and nurse) in me knows that is not healthy. We all have bad days. I’m talking about the bulk of the days, where we are not sick with a virus, and we are at our norm. I don’t think I’ve misinterpreted anything. If I’ve read correctly these posts seem to tell people that all food choices are valid. Nowhere did I say “otherwise, you’d better eat as healthy as you can.” I gave credence to Michele’s point that different people need different things at different times. However, that does not mean that all foods are good for us. I know that an unpopular statement around here, but it’s true. Considering that losing one pound of fat takes 4 pounds of pressure off of your knees too much fat can’t be all that great.

        1. Michelle Avatar

          that does not mean that all foods are good for us.

          I have never claimed that all foods are equally good for all people, but I have made the case that all food choices can have good reasons behind them, and that, furthermore, food choices cannot make you a bad person. I have restated, in my own words, the Total Diet Approach to Healthy Eating. If you find that problematic, you’d better take it up with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

          too much fat can’t be all that great.

          I’ve never claimed that either, but I also acknowledge that weight loss dieting is not effective for most people, and that fat people can improve their health even while still being fat. And that, furthermore, being fat cannot make you a bad person.

          I am arguing against food moralizing and weight stigma, not against the idea of getting good nutrition or being healthy. I’m also pointing out that “good nutrition” looks a bit different from one person to the next, and that categorical blanket statements about nutrition, while they seem to work for some people (like you, apparently) actually demotivate and discourage other people (the majority of my readers) from taking steps to take care of themselves. Demanding that people eat in a certain way for health, while it may seem a practical and straightforward way to do things, does not help those people. In fact, sometimes it results in the opposite, such as binge eating or other disordered behaviours. I’m sorry you can’t seem to get that.

          You seem pretty bound and determined to miss the point here, so I’m going to bid you good luck and godspeed on your journey to wherever.

      2. Mark Avatar

        Re the statement: “If that’s the case, then why do people in the overweight category live longer than those in the “normal” category?”

        Have any of you actually read the paper and more importantly the follow up reviews of that meta-analysis? It’s full of holes and you can’t put truth in that statement at all. In order to get a better idea of what’s going on it’s important to understand just exactly what that study is evaluating and how that evaluation is being done. Once you do that you can begin to see the flaws in the idea that I quoted above. Most notably is that BMI was taken at death, not sampled numerous times over a lifespan so there is not correlation to body weight over a person’s lifetime and the length of their life. Also consider that the knowledge that often people who die of illness are underweight due to the illness and it’s no wonder the study had the results it did.

        This paper does a good job of analyzing the issue with the original study:

        1. Michelle Avatar

          I’m sorry to interrupt but I have to ask – what are you doing? You’re arguing with a comment from last November? Both you and Kristin today suddenly decided to respond to a comment that is nearly six months old? Go home, you’re drunk.

          Asking “have any of you actually read the paper” is not engaging here in good faith. It is disrespectful of me, and disrespectful of my readers. I appreciate your points, but if you’re going to argue here, you’re going to have to do it nicely.

    4. Kathy Avatar

      Just as an example, I am lactose intolerant, along w/ a few other dietary issues. You mention margarine. If I eat butter instead of margarine, I have intense bouts of diarrhea. For me, margarine IS the healthier choice.

    5. Barlow Avatar

      Froot Loops (you spelled it wrong) are low in fat, have 12 grams of sugar per serving (your average banana has about the same), are actually quite low in calories, low in salt and cholesteral, and according to the website, the ingredients are as follows: Sugar, corn flour, wheat flour, whole oat flour, oat hull fibre, corn bran, hydrogenated coconut and vegetable oil, salt, colour, natural fruit flavouring, bht.

      Plus added vitamins and minerals, which are: iron, niacinamide, zinc oxide, thiamine hydrochloride, d-calcium pantothenate, pyridoxine hydrochloride, folic acid.

      But they’re cheap, colourful, easy/low-energy output to make, and tasty, so obviously they’re full of chemicals and terrible for you. I mean, 25% of your daily iron needs? Who needs that!

      Margarine – yeah, I can spend 3.50 on an almost 3 pound tub of margarine, or I can spend 3.35 for a 1lb block of butter. On sale, because not on sale, it’s closer to 5 dollars. Mind you, I’m lactose intolerant so I wouldn’t be able to eat that much of it or risk making myself ill and possibly damaging my body.

      Cheez Whiz – the kid I baby-sat used to eat Cheez Whiz and honey sandwiches for lunch. On whole wheat bread, usually. They didn’t go bad in her lunch box without an ice pack, they were nut-free, and she liked them, so she actually ate, because she was on Adderall for her ADHD and it didn’t help her appetite.

      Besides all of that, those things taste good. And it’s really NOT your business what other people eat. If I want to eat a deep fried stick of butter for breakfast and a box of fruit loops for dinner, that’s my business and, yes, it’s still real food.

      1. Kristin Avatar

        Of course, it’s none of my business what other people eat until they end up in a hospital bed while I’m caring for them. ADHD can have nutritional components. That statement doesn’t help your argument.

      2. Kristin Avatar

        Please excuse my spelling mistake. That’s not a staple at my house. I’m sure my faux pas negates my point.

  72. […] we eat the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad food — the food that is not Real.” – The Fat Nutritionist, in a very important discussion about how we talk about […]

  73. […] The Fat Nutritionist on Real food. […]

  74. Sean Avatar

    Michelle, thank you so much for a thoughtful, insightful, and compassionate article on this. With all the vitriol surrounding this topic, combined the number of trolls on the internet, I’m most impressed with your ability to keep a positive, polite demeanor when you respond to people. Your voice is appreciated, and you are one of the lights in a dark world.

  75. Anna Hayward Avatar
    Anna Hayward

    Not directly related to your article, but for what its worth, my daughter has a gut problem and cannot cope with a lot of fibre in her diet. This includes wholegrains, peas, beans, green leafy vegetables, nuts and dried fruit, all of which cause her problems. This is more difficult than it sounds, particularly for breakfast cereal, as everything these days seems to boast of its high fibre content.

    Yet, she is constantly being told by people, including healthcare professionals “But you *need* to eat some of these foods to be healthy”. The truth is what is healthy for one isn’t necessarily healthy for another, but we’ve been so brainwashed into believing certain foods are ‘healthy’ that we fail to realise this.

    1. Mich Avatar

      I’ve discovered that fibre isn’t very good for me either. It makes me feel like dying, and gives the constipation. I’ve been hospitalized for it before, but then they said “eat more fibre”. Yeah, good solution.

  76. Sandy Avatar

    Michelle, thankyou! I can never decide if the guilt of not eating ‘perfectly’ is better or worse than the fact that I manage to almost completely forget eating regular doses of ‘super’ foods. Like an earlier commenter – my gran taught me to eat lots of veges, some fruit, some meat, even (gasp) some sugary foods. A bit of everything does you good, she’d say. She was right – she lived strong and healthy to 101, passing in 2012 after a short illness. For years my manta has been “Would my gran eat this?” The answer is usually “yes”, in moderation. Good enough for gran, good enough for me. Nice post, cheers :)

  77. C Avatar


    I recently went to a doctor about some fatigue issues I was having and he put me on a super-low fat vegan(ish) diet. I had a minor meltdown when I got home, as diets/obsessing over foods are a trigger for me. Not to mention, I’ve had SO MANY experiences with the latest “perfect diet for human kind” that to me, this thing is just another fad. I’ve been trying out this new diet none the less, with lots of self-care along the way, and will ultimately take what I learn from it and implement it into my old diet.

    It feels great not to be alone on a topic like this. :) Diets are not one size fits all.

    1. Linda Strout Avatar
      Linda Strout

      Did your doctor do anything to find out the cause of the fatigue? Like check your thyroid or iron levels?

      I hope you find some useful information from your experiments at least.

      1. C Avatar

        Thank you, Linda! My thyroid levels have been checked before, by other doctors and haven’t raised any concern.

        This latest doctor is also checking. That, and iron too I figure. Still going through the array of blood tests and such.

        But, along with the new diet, I’m also taking B12, Iron, Iodine, and Vitamin D. So far so good!

        1. Linda Strout Avatar
          Linda Strout

          Groovy! Hopefully something will click.

        2. kisekileia Avatar

          Re: thyroid issues, make sure you get the actual lab value for your TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone, which is produced in excess when you have hypothyroidism). A lot of people have hypothryoidism symptoms with TSH levels in the 2 to 5 range, which a lot of labs still classify as “normal”.

          1. KellyK Avatar

            Absolutely. I have symptoms when I go above 3.0, which is the new “normal,” but which a lot of endocrinologists & a lot of labs still view as “subclinical.” Definitely get your actual number.

  78. […] “All foods, like all women, are real.” […]

  79. Cath of Canberra Avatar
    Cath of Canberra

    The nesting has gone too deep for me to reply to the commenter who questioned my statistics. I’m quite well aware of the pitfalls of including infant mortality in the statistics. You may like to check this (Australian data):

    Life expectancy at 25 – well past infancy – was a solid decade higher in 2009 over the 1950s. Today’s aging population was mostly now born after the great decreases in infant mortality in the late 19th & early 20th century. A person who is 80 today was born in 1933; when the life expectancy at birth was 63, and at 25 was 69. A person born today has a life expectancy of 80-85.

    The statistics absolutely do NOT show that we are dying younger and sicker. Even the disability-free years of life after 65 have been on the increase.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Thank you for your reply! I was looking forward to this.

      1. Linda Strout Avatar
        Linda Strout

        I found your chart about the causes of death from two different eras really interesting. Both heart disease and cancer increased, but heart disease did not increase as much as I thought it would, based on all the heart disease fear that seems to be around.

        I can’t help but wonder if these two things increased simply because people quit dying of other things before those two diseases had a chance to take effect.

        1. Michelle Avatar

          It certainly makes you wonder :D

        2. Twistie Avatar

          That’s long been my hypothesis.

          Once upon a time, lots of people died of childhood diseases that are easily prevented now. More died in accidents whose catastrophic effects were untreatable then, but are treatable now, with quick reaction and a fair wind.

          But the fact remains that everyone has to die of something sometime, so my belief is that more and more of us are dying of diseases and conditions more commonly associated with old age (heart attack/failure, strokes, cancer, etc.) because we’re not carried off by the measles or diphtheria or polio as children.

          I’ll take the bargain, but I’m still volunteering with the American Cancer Society to look for better cures and prevention techniques. One good friend of mine is about to celebrate six years of cancer-free survival and my very best friend in the world has recovered nicely from endometrial cancer with a prognosis of very little likelihood of further cancer scares.

          Fifty years ago, my friend with breast cancer would probably be a memory, and my friend with endometrial cancer wouldn’t have known about it until it was too late to do anything at all.

          Now both can expect to live for years to come. Food for thought.

          1. Linda Strout Avatar
            Linda Strout

            Indeed. People still get heart disease even when they try to follow all the recommendations. I decided it wasn’t a ‘modern disease’ when I found out the ice man had evidence of it.

            At least with medical advances, we can fix a lot these problems that we couldn’t before.

            Now if we can improve the health care system…

          2. Mich Avatar

            The Pharoahs also had atherosclerosis too, which some archaeologists and pop-commentators have attributed to their “freakin’ high-fat diets and sedentary lifestyles”, but it’s merely a fact of living.

            These following videos I found in a round-about way via a link on “thisisthinpriviledge”. I found the docus very interesting and the extended interviews with Dr. Ernest Curtis very interesting.




  80. kelly Avatar

    I have a genetic thrombophilia and I must take Warfarin, and will have to for the foreseeable future. I must follow the Warfarin diet, which requires that I eat very little vitamin K. No green leafy veggies for me. It is sad and I miss eating a salad or broccoli or brussels sprouts, but I have had a DVT and prefer to not have another.

    But if you don’t eat green veggies, everyone must remark on this always. It is incredibly annoying and embarrassing because I’d really rather not explain my medical history to my sister’s best friend’s brother at a wedding or party or whatever.

  81. Maureen Avatar

    I’m reading an article about juice cleanses ( that harkens back to many of the issues brought up in these comments: “… as Vanessa Grigoriadis puts it in New York magazine, “Food is the focus of an enormous amount of modern moralism … One wants to be skinny because one wants to be healthy; one wants to be healthy because one wants to be good.” I guess I’m not only a religious atheist, I’m a food atheist – my morality is not determined by what food I do or do not eat.

  82. JennyB Avatar

    I am afraid to comment for fear of the wrath of someone who doesn’t ‘agree’ with me but I will just say that shaming, blaming and critiquing people’s choices, whatever they are and for whatever reason really serves noone. I have been a chef and food educator for many years, and while I have very strong beliefs about food and nutrition, making someone feel bad, or telling them what they ‘should’ do or eat is rarely productive and never makes anyone feel good.

    I do believe however that highly processed industrial food is problematic on many levels, particularly as it relates to the corporate food system as a whole, and the way that it has impacted our world and the health of people and the planet on many levels-environmentally, philosophically, financially, and physically. I try to help people work toward plugging in to what they truly want and need (and I realize there are many factors here-no need for a lecture about various health conditions)
    and how to best provide that for themselves or whomever they take care of. Again, I believe that food plays a critical role in health and for that reason, it matters what you eat.

    Ultimately though, shame, blame and judgement serve noone. ever.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I don’t disagree with you.

    2. KellyK Avatar

      I think that’s very reasonable, and I don’t think you’ll get as much argument here as you’re expecting.

      I think there’s a huge difference between critiquing the system and critiquing the food itself and the people who eat it.

  83. brittany Avatar

    I could not disagree with you more.

    All foods are NOT real. Food stops being real when it becomes a weird science product. Ho-hos, Cheez-whiz, and Big Macs are not food. They may be edible and they may keep you alive for the moment, but let’s not pretend they are the same as fruits and vegetables! The body doesn’t process it the same. It causes damages. It causes sickness. Partially hydrogenated oil, for example, is technically edible. It actually makes some very tasty food-like-products, like cake frosting and cookies. Should you eat it? NO. It causes lots of long-term damage to your body.

    If your choice is starvation or high fructose corn syrup trans-fat filled artificially flavored artificially colored cake frosting, then by all means eat that frosting, keep yourself alive another day. But most people have far more choices that DEATH or FAKE FOOD.

    1. Susan S Avatar
      Susan S

      What in mothershitfucking hell is it with people who read this and automatically jump from, “These are valid food items with no moral standing that people are allowed to choose to eat,” all the way to, “ZOMG LUUUUUUURLZ TWINKIES R JES LIK BANANANANAS LOOOOOOOOOOL?”

    2. KellyK Avatar

      Cite please.

      Like, seriously, show me a study that demonstrates that Ho-Hos or Cheez Whiz directly cause damage and illness.

    3. Elodie Avatar

      *citation needed*

      You know, they used to say whole wheat bread was bad and white bread was good. “Bad food” and “good food” are entirely class-bound. And did you even read the article?

      1. Maureen Avatar

        Back when I was deciding that I didn’t like white bread anymore (I just like the taste of whole wheat or especially multi-grain breads more), I suddenly remembered the bit in the original “Heidi” book about how Heidi brought back soft white bread from town to her grandmother, and how much healthier grandmother felt after eating the soft white bread rather than the hard black bread which was the only thing she could afford. Yep, definitely some class values going on there!

        I just looked for and found the quote from the book:
        “And now she had to tell Heidi how much she had enjoyed the white bread, and how much stronger she felt already for having been able to eat it, and then Peter’s mother went on and said she was sure that if her mother could eat like that for a week she would get back some of her strength, but she was so afraid of coming to the end of the rolls, that she had only eaten one as yet. ” That’s some magical bread, making grandmother “much stronger” after eating one roll!

        1. Mich Avatar

          Interesting about Heidi. I’ve seen that in my studies of pre-20th century history, that the more refined and less rustic a food is, the more healthy and more expensive it is and is usually reserved for the rich. Like in the 1700s and 1800s whole wheat bread is considered a poor people food, and contributes to disease.

    4. Mich Avatar

      Big Macs are meat with salad and bread. Follows the meat, veg, and grains that the modern food pyramid prescribes.

      Cheez Whiz is made from whey protein which is sold by buckets at health food stores.

      1. Kevin Dunbar Avatar
        Kevin Dunbar

        Let’s not pretend that the sodium and saturated fat on white bread in a Big Mac is healthy. I worked at Kraft foods. Cheez whiz contains 200 lbs of real cheese in a 2000 lb batch. Much of the chez whiz filler is edible petroleum. You should try some low fat Brie or even any of the kraft natural cuts ie cheddar. It tastes better. Save your money. Pack a lunch then once a week go out to a nice restaurant that serves real food. If you want to eat beef order a small steak with a salad and a baked potato.

        1. Susan S Avatar
          Susan S

          I prefer full-fat brie, personally, though it’s a bit outside my budget. With an unripened cheese like that, a good portion of the flavor lies in its fat content. When you remove the fat, you remove the glory.

        2. Susan S Avatar
          Susan S

          As for saving money, IIRC, it costs a minimum of $15 to get a steak at a place that knows how to cook it well, and prices go up from there. (I’ve been vegetarian or pescetarian for a long, long time, and my prices are probably a decade or longer out of date.) Not everyone can afford that. OTOH, most people can afford a Big Mac. There’s also the matter that sometimes it costs more in power and gas to cook at home than it does to get a few items off a dollar menu, especially this time of year in the Northern Hemisphere. Finally, not everyone has the health or energy to cook. They may work two jobs and have kids to take care of, or they might have crippling depression or arthritis, neither of which is exactly a party.

          There are many, many factors to take into account when choosing food, and many types of budgets. Just because you can afford to eat good steak once a week, doesn’t mean everyone can.

  84. Rubyfruit Avatar

    Thank you. Thank you so much for saying this. For more reasons than I can explain.

  85. Blue Avatar

    “There is someone who just doesn’t have it in them to cook right now, and this frozen pizza and canned soup will keep them going.”

    Tell me about it. I like to cook but when I come home late from work, famished and tired, cooking is the LAST thing I want to do.

  86. Elodie Avatar

    there are far more people with serious medical conditions in the world than our culture allows us to be aware of

    Thank you for this. I keep running into people on the internet who claim they can tell with one glance if someone is disabled, usually in the context of how we should not be allowed to park in handicapped parking unless we are in wheelchairs, but also often in terms of exercise, weight, food stamps, etc. No, one cannot tell. And it is incredibly disheartening to continually encounter these arrogant, uneducated people who think that they can tell, and that I am somehow harming them by taking the elevator because everyone not wheelchair-bound MUST be able to — and choose to — take the stairs.

  87. Kathy Avatar

    My issues re “diet” is more related to food triggers. I have multiple chronic illnesses that food can be “triggering” for. I have migraines, rosacea, and IBS. If I cut out everything that was a potential trigger for each of those there’d be nothing left to eat. For example, Rosacea flushing can be triggered by histamine-producing foods and /or foods high in niacin, alcohol, caffeine, hot beverages, spicy foods. (You will have to pry my coffee out of my cold, dead hands.) Most of us are familar with migraine food triggers, and IBS can have food triggers as well (high fat foods, deep fried foods, coffee, foods high in insoluble fiber, sodas, to name a few). I’m unsure of what to do at this point.

    1. Linda Strout Avatar
      Linda Strout

      Many sympathies for your health problems!

      I hope you can find some balance that mostly works for you.

    2. Andy Avatar

      Hi Kathy, I also suffer in a similar way and I can recommend Linda’s comment. Balance is the key. If I don’t drink Coffee I struggle to get through the day, I tried avoiding it for several years as this was the common wisdom, but for me its better to have some coffee even though it does cause ringing in my ears. If I eat fruit something I am assuming the sugar, causes me to be drowsy and gives me spots, it also puts me in a bad mood, I have been checked several times for diabetes but have no blood sugar level problem. So I eat fruit very occasionally on the basis I like it and it has lots of nutrients I probably need. Try to find what works best for you, my findings will not help you as you body is different, you need to find your own balance.

  88. Sagi Avatar

    Yes, I agree that every living person has right to consume whatever food they want. Where I have to disagree is where whether or not these decisions are ethical in some senses. Whether the food is processed or organic, fast food or something made from scratch it’s all food at the end of the day. But if we choose to view food in that sense, i feel it’s an ignorant way of eating. I think as consumers it’s very important to be conscious of what we are eating, the more ignorant we become and the more we remove ourselves from what we are actually consuming the more pain, suffering, destruction, we are inflicting upon ourselves and on to others physically, environmentally, ecologically.

  89. Kevin Dunbar Avatar
    Kevin Dunbar

    Replace “real food” with unprocessed food and you will have a better diet. Eat fruit, vegetables, dairy and meat. Avoid the center of the grocery store where the processed food is. If you are going to eat cake or cookies make them yourself. You’ll obviously eat less of them. You don’t have to make your own bread but if you do you’ll at least know what’s in it. Whole grain and brown rice. Avoid canned.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I’m missing the part where someone asked you to tell them what to eat. Please don’t do this here.

    2. Susan S Avatar
      Susan S

      Oh, FFS. I know how to grocery shop, and I know how to feed myself. In fact, I probably know more about human nutrition and metabolism and related research than you do. And you know what? I’m not sitting at your feet like you’re some kind of dinner guru. If I take your advice, I’ll risk being on a nasogastric tube within a month. As much as I’d love to eat nothing but fresh produce, if I did that, I wouldn’t be able to eat anything.

      You know what I can digest? Sugar water. Don’t even think about telling me to go to a doctor, either. I’ve seen every specialist from Tulsa to Mayo. I eat actual food about once a day, because more would do things you don’t even want to imagine. The best treatment I’ve found is goddamn amphetamine, because it decimates my appetite while allowing me to get from one end of the day to almost the other. So I take Adderall, and I drink sweet herbal tea, and I look forward to the days when I’m able to enjoy a fucking salad.

      Got it? Now go away.

    3. Mich Avatar

      Then you’d best avoid the bakery since that has the world’s oldest food processor in history: the oven.

      1. Susan S Avatar
        Susan S

        Don’t forget other heat sources. They’ll destroy enzymes and denature proteins. That steak better be raw.

        Oh, and from a wild species of bovine.

    4. Barlow Avatar

      But the middle of the grocery store is where the rice is. The outside has bread (including *GASP* white bread!), fruits and vegetables (no dressing for you, though, not even olive oil… and almost nothing seasonal since those are in bins not on the outside), cheeses, including cheese slices, eggs and yogurt, including tuuuuuuuuuuuubes, margarine, non-dairy creamer, eggnog, pillsbury cookies, pillsbury cresents and biscuits, meat – but no seafood, sorry, oh, and no salt or spices, yuuuum, hot dogs, sausages, sandwich meats, Lunchables, bacon, pre-cooked bacon, pickled eggs, and almost the entire frozen aisle! Frozen veggies and fruits, sure, but also TV dinners and french fries and frozen meat pies and egg rolls and ribs and wings and fried chicken and ice cream and premade pie crusts and frozen cakes and pies and pizzas. Oh, and soda. Sounds good to me!

      Oh. But no water. Better get used to metallic tap water that might make you sick.

  90. Hannah Avatar

    This is so perfectly worded!!! It is great to hear that some one finally understands about eating choices different from their own! I’m tired of being pressured to eat differently with things I simply don’t have the finances or time for. I’m lucky to be eating again period. Thank you for the encouragement that it’s okay to be where I’m at with food.

  91. Beth Landau Avatar

    Thank you for such a frank article.

    I encounter similar prejudice because of gastroparesis, a disorder in which the stomach does not function properly. It affects my entire digestive system, and this my weight, overall health, and diet.

    The number one piece of advice I get re: my digestive system basically stalling out is that I am not eating enough fiber. OMG – fiber is the worst thing for someone with gastroparesis. Our systems aren’t slow due to lack of bulk in our diet, they’re slow because of autonomic nerve dysfunction or tissue damage or muscular problems. We need easy-to-digest foods LOW in fiber.

    And I won’t even get started on contrary and uninvited dietary advice because of low body weight. Thanks for speaking up for people whose diets don’t meet newest-food-fad criteria.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      When it comes to nutrition, everyone’s an expert, but no one knows what they are talking about. Gastroparesis is serious stuff. I’m glad you know how to take care of yourself. Unsolicited advice is the worst.

    2. Mich Avatar

      I don’t know what gastropabadkfjdk is, but it sounds scary enough. Amazing that you are able to find some way to live. Hats off to you.

  92. […] day. I’ve already written my thoughts on food idolatry, but I wanted to share this post on Real Food that I also like a lot. It makes a great, great point. Everyone should eat what they want to eat […]

  93. LisaK Avatar

    I’m a little late to this discussion but thank you sooo much for posting. I used to eat nothing but snack foods and after attempting to vary my diet for the sake of my health I became obsessed with eating clean to the point where I would be about to gag because I really didn’t want the vegetables that I was forcing down my throat. I also avoided all things I considered treats until I felt unbelievably deprived, and when I would eat a treat, I would overeat on it because I hadn’t allowed myself to have it for months. I’ve been vegan, vegetarian, and paleolithic all in the name of health and NONE of it has worked for me. I have found that what works for me is eating a varied diet, treats included, but honestly what I like mostly is oatmeal, nuts, fruit, yogurt, chocolate protein bars, and peanut butter. I could go off this for DAYS and sometimes, like now, where I am in need of a rest from my life but can’t take it, I DO. When things get hectic there is just something so comforting and easy about the foods I mentioned. I used to feel bad about this and would even wonder what the cashiers thought of me when I purchased my items since I am an avid store goer and I am ALWAYS buying the same thing. I am now realizing that I shouldn’t worry about these things. I am in NO mood for what society considers “real” food at this point in my life, and I also eat whenever my body calls for it. Which means I am often up eating at 2 and 3am, but that is a whole different topic!! Thank you kindly, Michelle!

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I love oatmeal. Like 1/3 of my diet is oatmeal. Oatmeal.

    2. Barlow Avatar

      Peanut butter is my JAM. I don’t get enough protein and I’ve found that the perfect breakfast for me is 2 pieces of toast with peanut butter and a cup of greek yogurt. (Like the cup they come in, not a full cup.)

  94. Lizzy Avatar

    Thank you. Just thank you. I needed this.

  95. Mark Avatar


    After reading this article, the responses and some of the other info here I felt compelled to wade into the fray and join the discussion. I love a lot of the message being delivered here; we do need to change our attitudes about food and what it means to us. I agree it’s highly important to remove some of the societal pressure on how and what we’re being told to eat. I feel the psychology of food is far more important and plays a much bigger role in what we choose to eat than most people realize – and this includes socio-economic status. But despite all these things I agree with and embrace myself, I find I’m left with a sense that the pendulum is being swung too far the other way in this article. That people are being “let off the hook” so to speak.

    Whatever term we want to use – real, clean, natural, etc – there is a way to eat that serves us better in terms of our health. There is a line in the sand somewhere, where your definition of “normal eating” begins to pull us backwards. I’m afraid of that definition because the world we live in makes it nearly impossible to “trust your body to make up for your mistakes in eating.” In some cultures I do think that’s perfectly reasonable and acceptable, but in Western culture I don’t think it works. We simply have far too great an abundance of food, particularly the “wrong” foods, readily available for our mostly unncessary consumption. I don’t think it’s fair to seemingly seperate our current environment from our past (essentially our physiology) in relation to how we eat. The circumstances we find ourselves in now are highly different from those of 100 yrs ago, never mind 100, 000 yrs ago. We have created an environment where our biology is set up to fail.

    The question I ask is can we do a better job of appreciating the more extreme individual circumstances while at the same time developing awareness and changing attitudes within the general public about how we perceive food in our current environment?

    I think you’re on the right track and for the most part am right there with you, but I also think some adjustments need to be made in the message that’s been delivered.

    1. Linda Strout Avatar
      Linda Strout

      Yes, circumstances have changed. Curse my food security, longer lifespan and overall better health.

      1. Mark Avatar

        Well Linda I’m simly trying to open up some dialogue here, was the flip comment really necessary?

        To start with, let’s be real with your statement. Yes we’re living longer and healthier lives but that is primarily due to advances in medical science and the control and/or elimination of disease. It has far less to do with our food supply. And in terms of your comment on food security I’d have to ask that it comes at what cost? Currently in the US anywhere from 1/3 to 1/2 of our food supply is wasted. We’ve become so accustomed to having readily availble and inexpensive food that huge quantities are thrown into the garbage.

        There needs to be a serious discussion on the way we view food before we’re going to get better with how we handle food. It makes no sense that some go hungry or even starve while others have far to much to eat. That is not representative of a balanced society.

        And yes, some people won’t like this statement but just becuase one can be overfat (in relation to their own specific body type and genetics) it doesn’t necessarily mean one should. We produce more food than we actually need, yet people go hungry due to waste. The toll that takes on the planet is significant. I don’t think people have a “right” to eat whatever or as much as they want when it results in significant costs to themselves and contributes to costs on the planet. Social responsibility takes higher priority over one’s individual right to take more than they need. People need education and guidelines in terms of being told what and how much they should be eating as clearly a significant and increasing percentage of the population is unable to figure it out for themselves.

        1. Linda Strout Avatar
          Linda Strout

          You are

          a) telling people they should strive not be fat because it is bad for society;

          b) telling people not to trust how they eat;

          c) combining a social problem (people going hungry) with an individual choice (what to eat and how much)

          Whether you mean to or not, you are not opening up a dialog, you are telling people that if they are over some arbitrary weight for their size (whatever that means) that they are bad and causing people to go hungry and they should let someone else tell them how to eat.

          That deserves a flip answer because you are dismissing peoples’ ability to care for themselves, making ridiculous assumptions about how their bodies work, then blaming them for stuff that is certainly not under any one person’s control.

          There is no way to generalize food advice because nearly every person I know personally has specific issues. If I ate less, I have no guarantee the food I don’t eat won’t get wasted by someone else. Everyone who struggles with weight-loss has discovered it doesn’t work for over 90% of the people who try it.

          You really are missing the point of the blog and the comments.

          1. Mark Avatar

            Ok, so as you asked some questions I’m going to give you some serious answers to the best of my ability. To start with though, I personally do not believe that making poor choices (whatever the driving factor behind them) necessarily makes a person bad. This applies across all aspect of human behavior and not just food choices. However it is important to acknowledge our behaviours and choices and how they affect us personally and the world around us.

            In terms of your first question re my statement about people being overfat (in relation to their own specific body type and genetics), that statement acknowledges that some people are genetically predisposed to carrying more body fat just like some people are predisposed to carry more muscle mass, just like some people are predisposed to having low body fat, just like some people are predisposed to having low levels of muscle mass and plenty of combinations of each therein.

            So whatever genetic predisposition one falls under, I feel that yes it is important to live a lifestyle that allows us to stay relatively close to that genetic predisposition for one’s own health as well as to limit the impact one has on the planet as a whole.

            And yes, you have to acknowledge that some people (not all – I did not say all) do not have the ability to care for their own health. This applies not only to food choices but many other facets of human behavior as well. There’s a reason we’re starting to look at the neurological effects of sugar on our bodies in the same manner as other addictive substances such as cocaine, heroin, etc. That does not deserve a flip answer, it deserves some critical thinking in terms of examining human behavior.

            I also have to partially disagree with your statement that there is no way to generalize food advice. Yes it is very important to recognize that we all have some different and individually specific nutritional requirements. In fact that is what makes is all unique and the human race so wonderful – we are all different. Even identical twins can have differences in their metabolic processes. But even though we are all different, there are similarities we all share, so we can say that there is general advice that may need to be fine tuned for the individual. So no, I am not making “ridiculous assumptions” about people’s bodies at all. That is the very reason I acknowledged that point by saying we have to take each individuals specific body type and genetics into consideration when assessing if they may be over fat or not.

            And finally, I am not missing the point of the blog. I agree with you 100% percent that people who have and do struggle with fat loss usually don’t have long term success. The reason for that is we’re looking at the wrong thing. Instead of focusing on fat loss we need to focus on doing what’s healthy (and this include fitness and physical abilities) for the individual within their genetic potential and what reasonably fits into their lifestyle.

            I’m not just pulling this stuff out of thin air either; it’s based on science, both physiological and psychological. The evidence to a large part has been around for a while, but it has often been misinterpreted or worse biased towards a specific outcome designed to benefit someones specific interests. Like I said in my first response I am basically right with Michelle on the same page, but I see a slippery slope in in part of the argument. Yes we need to change the model that people should be XYZ, but we also need to educate people on reasonable lifestyle limits for their individual characteristics.

            Not everyone should or needs to be super lean or thin as the media may portray, but there is also an upper limit that is very important to recognize.

          2. Lila Avatar

            Also, I read Mark’s comment as more of an attack on our society than on individuals. I don’t think it’s fat-shaming in the slightest to criticize the government for subsidizing commodity crops like wheat, soy, and corn, which are hugely used to create junkfood, which has led to an increase in obesity.

            Taxpayers are literally paying for 20 twinkies per half an apple. Less than 1% of subsidies go to fresh fruits and vegetables. This is NOT because of fat people; this is because of greedy corporations like Monsanto, Cargill, and other large agribusinesses.

            It is not fat-shaming to acknowledge the fact that crappy food is cheap and accessible. It is an outrage that lower-income communities are just blocks away from gas stations and fast food restaurants, while those in wealthier neighborhoods tend to be right next to real grocery stores with nutritious and fresh foods (as opposed to junk foods).

            I’ve been reading this blog for years and love it. I think that the one of the best ways to fight fat-shaming and create a better society is to change the way our food system works. Not blaming individuals for their choices or lack thereof. I don’t think health advocates like Mark and myself are hurting the fat acceptance movement. It is possible to accept and celebrate body shapes and work to fight fat-shaming on the street and in businesses and in doctor’s offices and acknowledge it as a real and serious -ism, while simultaneously fighting the screwed up system in which junk food and obesity are subsidized and so many Americans have no choice but to buy and eat crappy food.

          3. Michelle Avatar

            I’m totally with you on the food system points. Systemic problems require systemic solutions, and I am very much in favour of providing food that is more nourishing and more accessible to people. Unfortunately, though, a lot of advocacy for change in the food system gets wrapped in very classist, ableist, and healthist rhetoric and attitudes. This is not acceptable to me.

          4. Chris Avatar

            Mark, this that you have suggested, is essentially the point behind the Health at Every Size method:

            “Instead of focusing on fat loss we need to focus on doing what’s healthy (and this include fitness and physical abilities) for the individual within their genetic potential and what reasonably fits into their lifestyle.”

            And I could not agree more. There are numerous things that are totally beyond a person’s ability to control when it comes to health and size. At age 11, I was diagnosed with type one diabetes, and there isn’t a thing in the world that an 11 year old can do that places the blame for that on their own shoulders. The “personal responsibility for your health” argument certainly has limitations – some of them more visible than others, hence why people talk about ableism and privilege, and poverty and social prejudice. These things are just as real as any arguably self-caused contributor for disease, but I’m sure you already know that they’re real.

            The shortfall with the “adopting healthy behaviours” to tackle obesity argument is this: the assumption that this will result in weight loss. I’ve worked as a personal trainer for several years, in fitness in general for fifteen years, and when people adopt healthy behaviours, and continue to eat adequate amounts of food – even if they change from ‘bad’ to ‘good’ foods, at best they tend not to lose more than a few kilograms. Without some sort of radical restriction, I have never seen a person move down a complete weight class – ie. go from the middle of the obese category to the middle of the overweight category, or from overweight to thin – simply by adopting healthy behaviours. I have, however, witnessed radical improvements in markers for disease from adopting a sustainable exercise habit, even when weight loss has not occurred, and food intake has barely changed.

            This is what it means to me to adopt healthy behaviours and not focus on fat loss. Almost everyone I’ve ever seen lose enough weight to move down a whole weight class or two has regained the weight, and in all cases it’s been pretty clear that they were trying really damn hard to do all the right things, but it seems really hard to maintain a healthy metabolism in the face of restriction. The inescapable conclusion for me was this: so many people can’t all be lying – there must be something wrong with our assumptions. All the science I’ve seen that shows successful weight loss – they’ve only been short term studies, and all the long ones I’ve seen show regain.

            And the more I research metabolism, as Michelle has referenced too, the more I see human bodies priming themselves for weight regain.

            The only notable exceptions I’ve seen, are people who have been naturally thin their whole lives, and spent a couple of years fatter – they’ve been able to get back to their naturally thin state with a little training and maybe some food tweaking.

            But in my experience, the idea that eating right and exercising regularly results in anything more than a tiny amount of weight loss – it’s an assumption that usually doesn’t work out that way. I’ve seen too many people weight cycle – they lose weight and they feel good – they regain, thinking it’s their fault, they diet and train again and again – it gets harder each time. They think it’s because of ageing, or don’t realise and often can’t be told that it’s not a character flaw, and they can’t see the possibility that simply having dieted once can make subsequent dieting attempts significantly less successful. They often can’t see that it might be the correct response of a metabolism working to protect them against famine, a metabolism we are very far from fully understanding, and frankly the sooner we accept ourselves as we are, the sooner we can get off that damn wheel, and really start to focus on what it means to try to be healthy in a body-positive way.

            I wish people could embrace this healthy-behaviour-based approach before attempting a series of disastrous weight-cycling attempts, but usually people want to believe that if they just do the right things they’ll get a little bit thinner. This is why I care about promoting a body-positive, weight-neutral approach. If fat and thin people thought, from the beginning, that they didn’t have to get thinner to be healthy, we’d save ourselves a lot of despair, and we’d be able to sink our teeth – so to speak – into a whole other bunch of practical things we could do to promote health for an individual and a population, and to reduce stigma.

          5. Michelle Avatar

            Your experiences with your clients’ weights are very interesting. The only people I ever see who lose weight are people who are currently at their highest weight and have a documented history of losing weight unintentionally when their environment changes. It happens, but it is rare.

    2. Kristin Avatar

      Mark, you hit the nail on the head. There is always a balance somewhere if we look for it. I take care of people every day who have eaten too much, smoked too much, or drank too much. It seems that this place is an unsafe place to say that. You get labeled for judging. I’m a nurse, so you would think I would automatically steer people down the low fat, low sugar, low salt diet. Wrong. It’s about eating good fats and sugars. A hospital diet isn’t truly healthy or appetizing! But I tread closely to being charged with telling someone what to eat. Gasp!

  96. John Wiegand Avatar
    John Wiegand

    Surprising to note that little mention was made of the importance of fiber in your diet. There is less fiber in enriched wheat products than whole grain. I equate eating enriched wheat products to consuming empty calories. This can lead to eating more of the enriched wheat products etc etc. High fiber foods are more filling & a better option for good nutrition. Bottom line: reduce your intake of processed food.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      High fibre foods are not appropriate for every person in every situation. Bottom line: don’t tell other people what to eat unless you have their informed consent to do so.

  97. Alanamous Avatar

    Thank you just for being another human who recognizes that people are human. We all have reasons for our choices at any particular time of our existence. And they provide us with a basis for a continued existence. Life becomes so complicated and difficult when others decide that they know more and/or better than someone else. When in fact they are merely on the outside looking judiciously in. Critiques should be reserved for specific arenas rather than doled out as a way for somebody to elevate themselves above someone else. Even members of the healthcare profession tend to be narrow-minded at times. When instead they should learn to exercise a bit of compassion and look at things more broadly to ensure they are not jumping to conclusions.

  98. Linda Strout Avatar
    Linda Strout

    Mark, you are still judging people’s choices, passing judgement on their own ability to make those choices (something this blog does NOT support) and telling people if they get TOO fat, they have made the wrong choices.

    Your idea of health and fitness may not be someone else’s. The science of nutrition is still in its infancy and the information keeps changing.

    Yes, educating people is important, but so is avoiding telling people some things are bad and some are good.

    1. Mark Avatar

      I don’t see it as judgement Linda, I’m looking at this from a cause and effect perspective. I feel it’s important to acknowledge that our choices and behaviours may have negative consequences on our well being (mental, physical and spiritual). Likewise, it’s important to acknowledge that those consequences do not necessarily affect the value of an individual (and I say that from a wholistic perspective, not just the body fat issue).

      I think we have a personal responsibility to work towards achieving our potential because life is such a precious gift. I also feel we have a moral and ethical responsibility to help those around us on their journey to achieve that potential as well.

      1. Susan S Avatar
        Susan S

        What about those of us who don’t find evidence for a spiritual world? Meditation and such fall under mental well-being, so they’re irrelevant arguments. Can we go ahead and continue with choices and behaviors that others might see as spiritually damaging? ‘Cause, frankly, my state doesn’t allow same-sex marriage, so for now, I’m really into premarital sex.

        The issue, Mark, is that you’re pushing your morals and ethics on everyone else. That doesn’t fly. It also seems that you’ve applied a moral value to a person’s weight. Do you not understand that what a person eats has less influence on their weight than the number of times they’ve dieted? Calorie theory is severely flawed. In addition, many people have dietary limitations, or they take medications that cause weight gain, or they have medical conditions that cause weight gain. Do you want to apply a moral value to my Lyrica, because it’s made me gain 50 pounds since I began taking it despite no increase in my food intake? Is some of that evil negated by my Adderall, which has decimated my appetite to the point that I no longer feel hunger more than two, maybe three times a week? I haven’t lost weight due to it, mind, but that’s because calorie theory is bunkum.

        Grow up, and look outside your precious little sphere. Human life is often disposable, not only in a literal sense, but in the sense that, well, read the news. In America, breadwinners with full-time jobs, office jobs, are living on the street or in homeless shelters with their families, because a full-time job isn’t enough to live on. I have no doubt this is taking place in every other developed nation, and homelessness and other serious issues are rampant in this world. You want to take ethical responsibility? Quit judging my ass, write your representatives, and buy some cases of bottled water to hand out on the street.

        1. Mark Avatar

          Susan, you’ve taken my words and gone in a completely different direction than what I intended.

          When I say spiritual it is not in the religious sense and it does not equate to the soul. The human spirit is what drives us and it comprises many facets of our mental being yet is distinct from our mental being.

          No I have not applied a moral value to a person’s weight and I’ve as much in some of my previous posts. I’m also not applying a moral value to any medications you may be taking. Something I often tell our patrons is that there are very few hard rules in life and that most things are shades of grey. What works for one may not work for another. So while calorie theory in not necessarily bunkum, yes in your particular situation it does not apply.

          The essesnce of what I am trying to say is that our actions have consequences (positive and negative) and we need to accept and take responsibility for those consequences without disparaging ourselves for them.

  99. Mark Avatar

    Chis, thanks for that.

    Yes I agree that there is a danger in the idea of adopting healthy beahviours to tackle obesity. This is why I support establishing healthy behaviours first. Let’s encourage people to focus on healthy lifestyle choices first and being able to make those choices and behaviours as part of their daily lifestyle – shift away from fat loss and towards a healthy lifestyle first.

    Someone mentioned that healthy lifestyle can be seen as code for fat loss and while it can include fat loss, a healthy lifestyle deosn’t mean that fat loss is the primary goal. Let’s look at what the individually can reasonably adopt into their current lifestyle and then challenge the question are they capable of other changes?

  100. ChannonD Avatar

    I really appreciate this article and will take it to heart. I do get upset (worried, sad) when I see people consistently eating foods that are not good for them, but I will be sure not to tell them to eat “real food” instead :-)
    I especially needed to read about the frozen pizza and can of soup. This is something with which I struggle. I love to cook and really don’t care for many packaged foods. BUT, I have lung disease that has gotten worse this past year, so many nights, despite my desire and overflowing cupboards, I just can’t make dinner. Eating out is too costly, so I have to try to bring some frozen options into the house. It is very hard for me, since I was raised on home-cooked food and have been cooking for myself and my loved ones for several decades now. But life has changed and I must learn to accept that is it OK for me to eat frozen foods sometimes, because that is what I can do right then and it can keep me going for another day. I must stop criticizing myself for not cooking on those days when I am physically unable to do so.
    Thanks so much!

    1. Barlow Avatar

      Why, though? First of all, how do you know what other people are eating all the time? Second, how does it affect you what other people eat? Why is it your business to get “upset” or “worried” about what other people put in their bodies?

      (Spoiler alert, it’s not.)

      1. ChannonD Avatar

        I am talking about people I know well, people I see all the time, people who complain to me about their diets and feeling bad. They are my friends and family and I have every right to worry about them and how they are faring. Just like they worry about me. It’s called a relationship. So, please don’t be a judgmental jerk until you have the whole story.

  101. Amanda Avatar

    Thank you for this fresh, sobering perspective of “real food.” Sometimes it’s easy to forget that food is individual, and that doesn’t just mean kale vs. chard.

  102. Jan Avatar

    Thanks for this lovely post. A lot of people have pressure to make this or that food choice and it isn’t always right for them. Especially if people’s weight is wrong (either way) or they are ill (or both), other people think they that gives them the right to advise, but that’s when the situation is most complicated. Thanks for being so smart about this.

    One scenario you missed (and I’m not surprised you did–it’s not your focus and everyone else misses it, too) is being thin from being sick (cachexia? usually they call it that in cancer and COPD, but I suspect other diseases can have it, too). Not everyone who is severely underweight has an eating disorder. Sometimes we are ill. We don’t feel guilty about eating food and we know we are too thin and concerned about this, but we are too sick to manage to prepare and eat enough (and we may not have the help we need, or still might not be able to eat), or something isn’t working right and it doesn’t metabolize correctly, or both.

    I eat whole milk yogurt, and put coconut oil on my rice, and use a protein shake. Such strategies have helped in the past especially if I could cut down on activity, but it doesn’t seem to be working very well this time. My GI doctor has tested everything he could think of.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      That’s an excellent point. Cachexia is so interesting and so dangerous, and yes as far as I know, it can be a result of lots of critical illnesses, including things like severe alcoholism.

  103. confused Avatar

    I know I’ll probably get plenty of hate on here from my comment, but nonetheless, we are entitled to our opinions. As a “real food” eater myself, it’s not about being snobby, condescending, or any other form of a “better than you” attitude. When we spread the word, while some may be pushy, it’s more of a general spreading of knowledge. If you take a vacation to somewhere beautiful and relaxing and amazing, do you not tell your friends about it? We share the word because the healthier you eat, the better you feel, the less medications you have to take, the less you’ll struggle with losing weight, etc. Plus, we downright feel amazing. Doctors and scientists these days are doing all this research into food to figure out what we’ve already known for thousands of years. You are what you eat. If you eat living foods and things that work with your body rather than against it, you start to feel better as your hormones balance out, your neurochemistry gets back on track and rebalances your neurotransmitters, etc. It isn’t just some sunshine hippie BS that we’re touting to get everyone on the bandwagon.
    The big message we try to get across is that processing is for the most part, completely unnecessary, strips nutrients from foods (which creates the need to fortify the food and is completely illogical to take something out only to put it back in), destroys beneficial bacteria, denatures proteins, and overall makes our food a heap of chemical “sustenance” rather than “food” as we would call it by nature. So when we’re saying real food, we’re basically making the distinction between the food that nature gives us and the sustenance that man gives us. Man-made and modified foods certainly don’t nourish the body the way that nature made foods do (which has been extensively proven in studies). Also, we are in an era where people would rather take a pill than eat the food where the beneficial nutrient comes from, hence why we have dietary supplements, berry extracts, multivitamins, etc.

    What we’re saying with “real food” is, is that nature gives us what we need. We don’t need to genetically modify the food, we don’t need to rearrange lipid structures to make stable fats (trans fats), we don’t need all these pills and supplements either, and we don’t really have to live with most disease. Unfortunately, food and medicine has kept America in a chemical bath for the past century and we wonder why we take the most medicine, yet have the worst health in the world. It’s because we’re rejecting nature in favor of chemicals and “hard lab science” when most of the experiments done in lab settings (and with isolated nutrients) don’t have any correlation to the effects of real world settings and un-isolated nutrients in food. We also blame genetics for everything (down to obesity, which actual genetically caused fatness is incredibly rare, it’s mainly a matter of environment. We also try to reject the premise that sugar and fats are addictive, and most people who think they’re “eating healthy” or “dieting correctly” are just being fooled by industries looking to make money while people are still stuck on this “I can’t lose weight with anything, diets don’t work.” Well, if we treated people looking to lose weight like we treat people in rehab, it would work.
    (Yes, sugar works in the same dopamine pathways as other addictive substances. When we go on a diet and take that sugar away, we aren’t “depriving ourselves” of food. It’s like taking cigarettes away from a smoker, or cocaine away from an addict. You go through withdrawal, and that’s why people fail. We keep treating it like a lack of willpower rather than a disease that people are powerless to. People are powerless to addiction because neurochemistry is changed and if you know anything about neurochemistry, you know that it’s the driving force behind everything we think and feel. When you literally CAN’T control it, it’s an addiction. What we have are a bunch of people too afraid to be labeled as addicts, but these people need to understand that it’s not their fault. It’s the fault of the companies that put this food out, use deceptive and clever advertising, etc.

    And that’s my take on this subject.

    1. Susan S Avatar
      Susan S

      Am I crazy, or has everyone missed the point of this post? Both?

      *gets bullhorn*


      I’m out.

      1. Mark Avatar

        Susan, you’re right in the respect that we shouldn’t look at people with scorn based on their food choices. However, for people that are not educated nor aware about food issues how would you propose we educate them? On some level, people need to be educated about general food guidelines that promote health as well as being taught about foods that undermine health. If people find they have issues after trying to follow a well balanced diet then they should seek the advice of medical professionals to determine what their unique needs are.

        1. CapriceBr Avatar

          Mark, since you asked, my advice is to forego giving unsolicited advice. How do you know which individual needs “to be educated about general food guidelines that promote health as well as being taught about foods that undermine health?” Why do you think your take on foods that promote health or undermine health is right? Are you aware that a food said to be “healthy” one day is the worst to eat the next? What is a “well balanced diet?” Other than a need for food in order to survive, your dietary “needs” can be very different from mine. Don’t you think it’s a trifle arrogant and rude to presume that by looking at me or at what I have in my shopping cart that you need to tell me what to do right now? That is scorn right there!

          As for “seeking the advice of a “medical professional;” that’s a crapshoot.

          Mark, I have been where you are now. Many times I have thought I knew what was best for everyone! I didn’t and neither do you. Let it go. Work on yourself. People might do as you do but do as you say doesn’t usually work!

          1. Mark Avatar

            Hey CapriceBr, after reading your post I see where some of the backlash is coming from. Yes I agree on not giving unsolicited advice – that’s gauche beahviour and something I don’t do. It’s not like I’m just randomly walking up to people in the grocery store and saying “You shouldn’t be eating that.” However, I do have a lot of people ask me for advice and I do respond. I also take time to prepare a lot of literature on healthy eating including a weekly recipe column.

            The fact is that a lot of people simply do not know how to create healthy and tasty food. That’s not a crime nor a judgement, but simply the way it is. I feel that health providers have a responsibility to include healthy eating as part of their mandate. And yes, like you say seeking the help of a medical professional can be hot and miss. That’ where those who do not have expertise or a significant body of knowledge need to associate themselves with those that do to create a circle of people who can at least provide education, if not specific answers.

            As for what I consider healthy I have a very broad scope of foods. There is no food that I say you should never eat as I feel an important part of life is the pleasure derived from the many wonderful tasting foods out there. That said there is a balance to be struck. My line in the sand so to speak is between whole foods (one ingredient foods – ie apples, broccoli, fish, etc) and processed foods. Eat as much whole food as possible and eat as little processed food as possible. So veggies, fruit, fish, meats, nuts, legumes – yes, and the other stuff not so much.

  104. Lindsay Avatar

    I was seriously up half the night thinking about this post, so great job getting me to think. :)

    I am starting a blog this month mostly dealing mostly with food and food politics so I think I will write about this in more detail once I get it up and running. But for now I will just say, YES YES YES! All food is real food. I agree with you that “not all food is nutritionally equivalent or right for all people in all situations” but it is all real and whatever people choose to eat, for whatever reason, is a valid choice.

    I do have a lot of conflicted feelings about the idea of “real food” and poverty though. As someone who has lived in poverty for half my life and who volunteers as a client advocate for others living in poverty, I have heard the philosophy “all food is real food” as a way to justify some pretty gross behaviour. Rich people donating expired, stale, cheap food to poor people because, “Food is food. They should eat what’s given to them.”

    Corporations donate their excess products or new promotional foods that the public wasn’t interested in and get loads of attention and tax breaks for it. People living in poverty deserve so much better. They deserve more money to buy what they want to buy. They deserve more than society’s handoffs. I’ve been there. I’ve eaten what was given to from food banks many times when I had no other option. But it made me sick and depressed to only have can after can of zoodles but hardly any milk and no fish or vegetables, which i love. It’s all real food and if you love zoodles, go get some right now and enjoy! But not having a choice and having people tell you to suck it up because “all food is real food” can be really depressing and humiliating.

    I know that you were in no way saying that. These are just the thoughts that I was dealing with in relation to this post so I thought I would share them.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I totally get you there, and I find that uncomfortable as well, the idea that poor people should exclusively eat poorer-quality food because basically they don’t have the structural power to receive anything better. I hope you write some about this, because I am still grappling with it and thinking about it too.

      I think the core of the idea is that all food is real, all food can be appropriate, but ENTIRE DIETS are what make people either healthy or not healthy. And when your options about the variety of foods that go into your diet are severely limited by poverty or lack of access, then it means your overall diet is less likely to be healthy. That results in health disparities that are actually rooted in power dynamics that create unhealthy diets, not in the zoodles themselves. Zoodles can be a fine addition to an already-adequate diet, but asking people to live on zoodles alone…no. It’s preferable to outright starvation, I guess, but in a world where there is plenty of money and food to go around if we’d just distribute it equitably, it’s not good enough, and it’s not right.

      1. Mark Avatar

        As long as we exist in a primarily capitalistic society we will struggle with income inequality, which of course extends to food inequality. There are ways to develop a more equitable food distribution system, but imo it really comes down to the willingness of the public to not only educate themselves but take action to change the current system we live under. As long as large corporations have the ear of gov’t they will lobby the gov’t to do what ultimately is in their best interest – profit.

        In the interest of food equality changing the distribution of food susbsidies would be the first place to start imo. Here’s a link that has data for farm subsidies from 2003-2012 with the page link itself showing the numbers for 2012.

        The resources currently exist to feed everyone a healthy diet, but the way the resources are used are horribly distorted.

        One other point which is important to acknowledge is the personal responsibility we all have to do what’s best for each other and ourselves by educating ourselves.

    2. Twistie Avatar

      Lindsay, I think I love you. That’s about all I can coherently say just now, but YES!

  105. Aviv Avatar

    I know…jumping into the thread reeeal late. But I just have to say this post is brilliant. Something that is missed I think by some of the trolls creeping under the bridges of this post is that these loaded semantics (real food v. unreal food) include sooooo much intersectionality. We spend way too much time being fed a dogma of what the “average” person should do who is able and has resources at their disposal – who doesn’t have to choose between food and other expenses, or even whether or not it is SAFE enough outside to go and GET that food. The rest of us get swept under the rug and forgotten about until of course someone scrutinizes us…because that in itself is healthy…

    I’ve watched my mother struggle with diets for a good part of my life. The kitchen was full of books chronicling the latest nutritional information of the day (low cholesterol, low fat, low carb, low something, eggs = satan), and just from the bindings you can see where this nutritional information doubles back on itself like a timeline. At the end of every diet phase I would sit with her and her look of defeat, watch some TV and eat peanut M&Ms. I try to give her a message that is really missing from her life through the media and advertising, her friends and society that have been brainwashed by said media and advertising, and that is that she is fine the way she is. She doesn’t need to “diet” and she doesn’t need to feel guilt, and she should push that earworm away who takes on the voices of criticism she perceives around her. In fact, I think we should all do that.

    I don’t know if this is the chicken or the egg either, but we also need to disregard the values placed on words related to food, or food quality (either started by the media or seized upon after the new ‘word’ is out on how to feel about what we eat). It just makes those of us who are not part of the “average” part of the spectrum, or the “normal” part feel like shit generally, like there is something intrinsically wrong with us and we hear it from eeeeveryone else. I have a suggestion though: If they can play with semantics than we can too. Maybe instead of practicing eating “right” we can practice “empathetic” eating (I don’t know if that’s a thing already…) which is when you take other people’s specific situation relating to food into consideration and not squashing their shopping cart into a schemata that will send red flags and sirens buzzing through your head (shopping cart here used metaphorically, not literally like peeping into what people are buying at the supermarket). The government mandated food guidelines on what a healthy diet is should have another base – a HUGE grain of salt. It should be more geared towards the individual, not the masses. Then, maybe we’ll recognize the nuances and differences between one another, how we eat, and all this shaming and patronization will be lessened in the future.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      This is beautiful, thank you.