When Eating Becomes A Performance

will perform for food.pngI think that our current culture seriously messes a lot of us up around food and eating, and that goes for people of all sizes.  One of the places where I often notice the results of that mess is the way that we talk about food.  I’m not talking about the way that we talk about liking or not liking food, or letting someone know what food allergies, sensitivities, needs one has, I’m talking about the way that we perform around food when we eat with others or – especially at this time of year – post to social media.

Sit at a restaurant for 20 minutes and I can almost guarantee that you’ll hear some version of each of these (possibly triggering) phrases:

  • This is SO MUCH FOOD, there’s no way that I could eat it all!
  • I’m going to have to do two hours on the treadmill to make up for this cookie.
  • I skipped lunch so that I could eat here tonight.
  • I’ve been so good, so it’s ok for me to cheat and eat this.
  • I exercise because I like to eat!
  • I did an extra mile on the treadmill this morning, I deserve this!
  • This fits into [my weight loss diet] for [these reasons].

Scroll through your Facebook feed and I can almost guarantee that you’ll see pictures of food with statuses about how the person is being are “being good” on their low carb/paleo/weight watchers/low fat/ whatever diet, or how this person suddenly loves steamed kale so much that they don’t miss ice cream.

All of these things might be true and I’m not trying to tell people what they should/should not feel or do around their food.  The ideas of “earning” food through exercise, or why we make food a moral issue (sinful, guilt free etc.) is the topic for another post.  My question today is more about why we feel the need to talk about this out loud.

We make lots of personal decisions every day without talking about them out loud.  Many people, who would think nothing of saying or hearing any of the above phrases at a business meeting with a catered lunch, would never be comfortable in the same meeting hearing or saying “I kind of have to pee but I don’t have to go that badly so maybe I’ll finish this TPS report and then head to the bathroom.” or “I really have to poo but I’m hoping the bathroom will be empty so I’m going to wait until the meeting breaks up and people get off this floor.” (Some people might be very comfortable with these things and of course that’s totally ok, I’m looking more from a cultural perspective.)

I think that a lot of it is the way that our society placing value, even morality, on food – “sinful” dessert, “reduced guilt” crackers, eating “clean” – leads to us treating decisions around food as a public performance that justifies our choices often at the expense of (purposefully or inadvertently) shaming or triggering others others.

If I get a plate of food and I decide that it’s more than I want for whatever reason, that’s fine.  If I decide to vocalize that, I may inadvertently shame the person next to me who ordered that same plate of food and does intend to eat it all for whatever reason, and I add to a world where food decisions need to be justified and rationalized out loud and I’d rather not be a part of that.  Just like I don’t want to engage in negative body talk, I also don’t want to engage in negative food talk.  I want people to be free to make their own decisions about food for their own reasons without feeling like they need to justify those choices to anyone.

At the end of the day I think that since I never know what’s going on with the people around me  (lots of people are dealing with disordered eating and eating disorders, food sensitivities and allergies, health issues etc.), I would rather be safe than accidentally triggering or shaming.  So while I’m happy to talk about food – what I like, what food I don’t, recipes and preparations etc.,  I eat what I eat and I don’t need to justify it.

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11 thoughts on “When Eating Becomes A Performance

  1. The ideal world for me would be a world where I could say: “This plate of food is too much for me today” without shaming anyone, because everyone would agree that it’s ok if for another person the same plate of food might be not enough, and “this is too much for me” would mean exactly that and nothing whatever about the food choices of the people around me. Well, one can dream ….

    But really, when I see all the posts etc at the beginning of the new year, I get the feeling that my whole life should be a performance nowadays … food is a main topic there, of course, but I should have high and instagrammable goals in every part of my life …. well, no thank you, I’d rather just live my life in a way that is good for me and enjoy my food.

  2. One thing I am working on for myself is to get away from these emotions I tie to food and just plain *enjoy* good food. Of course, how did I get these emotions? By trying – and failing – various diets where this or that was “bad” or “forbidden” and I rationalized eating something “bad” in various ways or congratulating myself for my self-denial. I find myself still thinking – and sometimes saying – these things, and am trying to shut it down. It doesn’t do anyone any good.

  3. For more years than I can remember, I have dealt with portions bigger than my appetite by taking half of my meal home to enjoy later. This has become routine and has nothing to do with food shaming or diet excuses or whatever. Just a way to get two great meals out of one!

    1. This is totally fine, of course. What I’m talking about is if, when the food came, you launched into a performance about it “I could never eat this much, I always put half of my meal away for later etc.” For you it’s about appetite, but this is a method suggested to people who are dieting as a way to ignore their bodies hunger signals and just eat half of whatever is served to them. By putting away your food without a performance you help to not trigger people who have been shamed for what they eat!

  4. Just had someone at work announce last week that the burrito I was about to eat for lunch was “so huge–it’s as big as your head!”

    I smiled and said, ” I bet I can eat it all, though.”

  5. I’m ever amazed at the responses I get when I bring this exact thing to the attention of the person “performing”. Seems like it’s justified as how they monitor and coach themselves. They own no responsibility for triggering or accidental shaming of others.

    Sad face.

    I don’t eat with them much after that.

    Now, I’ll admit to commenting on how little or great the portion is in relation to the cost or what I could have made with the money spent on it….but I’m pretty good about not broadcasting that I’ve earned a cookie or will need to work out to make up for something. I do however, admit to being anxious when I’m eating a lot that others are judging me.


  6. This is a very interesting piece for me to hear – I realize that I do often comment on restaurant portions that seem particularly large to me. It’s essentially a reminder to myself, a nudge to focus on enjoying the food and only eating to my hunger level. I find it so easy to get caught up in the pleasures of eating out with friends and family that I can get distracted and eat to the point of feeling unpleasantly full. Thank you for pointing out that this could be triggering for my companions or anyone who overhears.

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