Italy and the art of eating well
An antidote to body shaming
I’m still receiving emails and messages about last week’s newsletter and it has been very touching (and also heart breaking) to read about the personal experiences readers have had with body shaming or dieting as children. Women who wrote to me about having an eating disorder from as young as age 13 because of food restrictions and diet talk at home, or a woman now in her fifties who at 8 years old heard a careless comment about her chubby arms and to this day can’t wear sleeveless tops. This is obviously something that we need to talk about, that should be talked about more in the open — and it is something that I think people want to share.
I got messages from so many women, mothers, young women, older women, nutritionists, cookbook authors and chefs. To say I was blown away is an understatement. Karen Barnes, the editor of delicious. magazine in the UK, even wrote to me to say:
“I am one of those who was born curvy, with a zest for life and food (I was nicknamed the Michelin baby). I can’t tell you how much shame I felt all through childhood (I was once given a pair of American tan tights for Easter instead of an Easter egg to help my weight). I felt ugly, I was constantly on diets as a teenager and my weight yo-yoed wildly. It’s only now that I look back and see I was only a bit bigger than others and it took someone else, as an adult, to make me (finally) feel beautiful. So many wasted years of shame, though - and I still battle with that now, while simultaneously loving life, cooking and food! I’m so pleased you are encouraging your beautiful Luna down a different, happy path.”
I also heard from many people who did have an upbringing (or brought up their children) where food was a joy, eating was never a guilty activity and their bodies weren’t scrutinised — and they wrote to me of their love of food and how they are not preoccupied with the scales and encouraged me on my path with a bigger bodied child. One of them was British chef and author of Party Perfect Bites, Milli Taylor, who said:
“It was only much later on in life that I realised how lucky I was to be raised with no restrictions or negative connections to food. I’ve always been slightly chubbier than friends but can truly say I would prefer to be this way than have a voice in my head telling me not to eat this or that or to go run and work off what I just ate.”
This is a short and simplified summary of the numerous anecdotes I received, of course, but the science is there too, in more studies than you could count (here’s one article that explains in a broader sense the damaging effects of our diet culture, from a researcher who has been studying weight stigma for more than 20 years). Body shaming is harmful, particularly for children and it is linked to depression, eating disorders and low self esteem (see this NPR article on a study on the effects of body shaming on children and this study on the effects of weight stigma).
This is just scratching the surface but, just to put it very simply, restricting food and body shaming is incredibly unhealthy.
So what is healthy? As I said in this Instagram post, I think loving food and finding joy or comfort in it is healthy (kneading dough and baking is my favourite form of mindfulness). I think knowing how to cook for yourself and your loved ones and knowing that food can equal love is healthy.
I really like this reel from Gwen Kostal of Dieticians4Teachers about what “healthy” eating means. To summarise, the things she lists in her definition are:
eating for enjoyment
eating to manage illness
foods that fit your budget
eating a wide variety of foods
learning food skills