Megan Nicol Reed is a columnist for Canvas magazine.

Megan Nicol Reed: Our poisonous preoccupation with diet

Each week Megan Nicol Reed talks through what’s on all of our minds.
Why is it that when we give in and eat what we like we are "weak"? Photo / iStock
Why is it that when we give in and eat what we like we are "weak"? Photo / iStock

Faithful friend. Foul foe. No other relationship, neither the boyfriend whose many treacheries afforded me not a moment's calm, nor the friend over whom I shed a summer of tears, have burdened me quite so terribly. Or so pleasurably. Food, for me, is both love and hate. It is kindness and generosity, creativity and sensuality. And it is meanness and control, vanity and rivalry. Last night's snapper tacos and chipotle cream; tomorrow morning's bircher muesli and mapled walnuts: I have never forgotten a meal. Cannot understand how you could. I love to feed people. Eat, I say. Eat. And at times of misery, loneliness, and sometimes great joy, I have eaten and eaten. Until my fullness turns to hatred and swallows me whole.

Last week I said I wanted to discuss food. Rhiannon replied, "there is a bookshelf full of things you could write about food", but what interests her most is, "how women so often equate the kind of person they are with the food they are going to not eat."

"How often," she asks, "have you heard women say, 'I am being good today, I won't have any cake'? Somewhere along the line, we seem to have decided the mark of a good woman is her ability to say no to food that is offered, which she likes, but will (presumably) turn her into a bad woman, because of course she will become fat and unwomanly." "Strong," she added, is another adjective that is routinely applied to the exercise of self-restraint around food. And when we give in and eat what we like we are "weak".

There was a time when a person's goodness was determined not by their renunciation of sugar, but the gentleness of their heart. I know this and yet I pat myself on the back for ordering the kale and smoked almond salad when really I hankered after the crispy soft-shell crab sliders. Worse, I judge another for ordering both the duck fat chips and the deconstructed lemon meringue pie. I agree with you, Rhiannon, and would argue only that while once this defining of character according to one's aptitude for self-deprivation was firmly in women's territory, increasingly we have infected men with our poisonous preoccupation. A man described his diet to me recently with all the ardency of a zealot. The food groups he spurns. The miraculous properties of the few that are left to him. My diet, he intimated, will be the death of me. But I have learned that although being slim doesn't make me happy, being fat makes me very unhappy, and with the wisdom of age have found ways to temper my appetites. And so as much as I was disturbed by our conversation, I reminded myself of all the leafy greens I eat, the soups I make from scratch, about how I love fresh bread and butter, but for me it is now a treat, not a staple, and I decided I wouldn't beat myself up next time I bite opposing corners off a Tim Tam and suck cold milk up through my biscuity straw.

YOUR FEEDBACK: You wrote thick and fast on the innocent but patently fraught, "How are you?" Phil made me laugh out loud. He once delivered an angry tirade against two Mormons who chanced to push their bikes down his rural driveway. "Let's just say I was having a bad day. Finally I ran out of expletives and one of them said, quite quietly, 'Just thought you might like to know your goats are out on the road'." Gary, too, tickled my fancy. Of dogs, he wrote, "We have Facebook; they have Arsebook. We have email; they have weemail." And of greetings, he wrote, "I sometimes play a little game at supermarket checkouts and places where asking customers how their day has been is in the job description. I like to get in first and ask about their day. They sit there doing one of the world's dullest jobs and having to ask the detritus of society how their day has been. Suddenly somebody takes an interest in them. They feel good. I feel good. Win-win!"

- Canvas

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Megan Nicol Reed is a columnist for Canvas magazine.

There were many things Megan Nicol Reed imagined she would do in her journalism career. She ticked off feature writer, editor and columnist. She never envisaged agony aunt. Now, when she isn't trying to sort out her own life, she's trying to sort yours. And when she's not doing that she is writing her first novel. In her downtime you'll find her mothering, cooking, running, cleaning and reading. Needless to say she spends much of her life in activewear.

Read more by Megan Nicol Reed

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