Treating Food And Exercise Like A Zero-Sum Game Is Peak Eating Disorder Culture

Here’s a horrible idea that promotes disordered eating: Researchers in the United Kingdom have suggested labels that list the amount of exercise required to burn the amount of calories in a food. As someone who nearly died of anorexia, I know that displaying this information in this manner — on literally all packaged foods — is a direct threat to the lives of the tens of millions of people struggling with eating disorders.

Eating disorders are hell. They make enemies of food, movement, and living life in general. With eating disorders, numbers become instruments of obsession, self-hatred, and self-torture: calories, nutrients, bites, steps, pounds, and sizes.

Putting the number of minutes required to ‘work off’ a food is peak eating disorder culture because food and movement are two different aspects of life that should not be presented as prerequisites for one another. You deserve to eat whether or not you exercise. You deserve to enjoy exercise without verging on the brink of collapse.

Food is fuel and nutrition as well as culture. At times food is an instrument for expression of creativity, love, and joy. Our bodies are built to eat food. Without food, we die. Movement and exercise are energizing, empowering, and make us feel good in body and mind. Even considering the range of disabilities that bring diversity to our communities and perspectives, our bodies are generally built to move.

The authors of this study suggest their food labels could help fight obesity, and troublingly, one representative responded to CNN with concerns about eating disorders with a dismissive, “we’re interested in the population as a whole.”

In the United States, more than 30 million people struggle with eating disorders. As an anorexia survivor, I have learned the hard way that people struggling with lethal eating disorders come in all shapes, sizes, weights, genders, races, ethnicities, socio-economic classes, and ages. We are your children, parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, and non-binary siblings.

As for scientists who wish to be ‘helpful,’ please can you not? Let’s not turn labels into weapons slapped onto every food at the grocery store. We’re still working on getting rid of the digitally altered magazine covers at the checkout aisle.

Note for readers who struggle with eating disorders or negative self-image: I want you to know that I believe in you and your ability to live a life without this horrible stuff. You deserve happiness. Recovery is possible. Seek professional support. Keep pushing, it’s worth it. xoxo

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