Just Eat It

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I read a lot of food-related books but it’s been a while since I enjoyed one this much. ‘Just Eat It’ is a really satisfying read (or listen. I have it on Audible) for anyone suspicious of the health and wellness industry.

 

Laura Thomas grew up in Scotland, eventually studying nutrition in the US and doing her PhD in Texas. As well as her bizarre Scots/American accent, her plain-talking approach and liberal use of expletives differentiates her from the average simpering dietary adviser. And she’s quick to dispel any misconception that this book will prescribe a diet to achieve perfect wellbeing or an enviable bikini body. Instead this is about ‘helping you to get your shit together around food’.

 

She speaks bravely from both personal and professional perspectives, about a subject many nutritionists are uncomfortable to broach as it casts the industry they operate within in a very dark light. Citing numerous studies and statistics, she shows that our fixation with what we eat is creating disordered eating habits (distinct from eating disorders), and that anxiety around the ‘right’ diet is being cultivated by an industry that blatantly associates wellbeing with a certain body image.

 

I am so pleased to see someone from the academic community speaking out about this in such an accessible and informed manner.  

 

As a food educator, people most commonly assume that my role is either to tell them what to eat, or to cook and feed them ‘foodie’ delights. I do not do either of these things. But the fact that folk struggle to conceptualise a food-oriented career that is neither chef nor nutritionist is understandable when our culture consistently represents food in only one of two ways: as a problem that can be solved by attaining the right set of rules (prescriptive dietary advice), or as a slightly naughty or indulgent pleasure (#foodporn).

 

As Laura says, this marginalisation of food, which is only the vital nourishment required by every human to enable and sustain life – is seriously fucked up.

 

She is a proponent of ‘intuitive eating’, – a non-prescriptive, self-led and individualised approach to constructing the diet that works for you - and says that the antidote to the current proliferation of disordered eating lies in our own hands. We need to learn to listen to and have confidence in our own bodies (like knowing when you are hungry and when you are full, and when you are experiencing a craving generated by anxiety rather than actually needing food) as well as realising that all bodies are different so trying to conform to one ideal is unrealistic and potentially damaging. She says that reconnecting with our bodies starts with a detox – not of your body or your diet, but of your social media. Laura identifies the barrage of photoshopped imagery and insidious pseudo-science (particularly on Instagram) that we receive everyday as being a key cause of our disordered eating, and recommends unfollowing anyone who makes you feel crap, or who prescribes dietary advice.

 

Detox your social media of ‘bikini bodies’, prescriptive diets, and anyone doing a handstand on a beach.  Image from Deliciously Ella’s Instagram account in 2017.

Detox your social media of ‘bikini bodies’, prescriptive diets, and anyone doing a handstand on a beach.

Image from Deliciously Ella’s Instagram account in 2017.

She blames ‘healthism’ – a mentality that equates attainment of health with success – for cultivating a self-obsessed culture. Of course, there is nothing wrong with wanting to be healthy. But this version of ‘health’ in our media, advertising and everyday imagery, is narrowly associated with thinness, and having a toned body and flawless ‘glowing’ skin. It is embarrassing, even shameful, that the fixation on being healthy appears to have overtaken all other concerns amongst one of the most privileged, and healthy, groups in society – those who could be using their wealth and time to much better effect in the world.

 

She is clearly angry that the causes of equality and social justice have become side-lined by this fatuous obsession. But she also writes with compassion for victims of this culture who have been disempowered and disconnected from their bodies. Physically and socially, we are what we eat. To fetishize or fear food is to cultivate the same problematic relationship with the self.

I couldn’t agree more. Laura Thomas and I seem to be approaching our work from similar standpoints. Reconnecting with food is reconnecting with the world that it comes from and with the self it nourishes. It is seeing the fads, trends and stories we are told and sold for what they really are - shaming, unsettling material designed to make you feel bad so you will buy more stuff. It is learning to two be empowered within yourself and the world around you, and that this can happen through food, not in spite of it.

For more satisfying reads on this topic, have a look at:

The Angry Chef

and

Vice