A Comment on Women and Food

Last year, I gave up any form of weird food restriction after a Dieting Decade which saw me trying every single fad going to keep my weight under control. Atkins, Dukan, 5:2, GI – I’d done the lot. And I was heartily sick of it.

I had my ‘epiphany’ on a Turkish beach, when I suddenly realised that it was all utter bollocks – I didn’t have to adhere to some magazine advertising executive’s view of female body shape and I could simply be me, as I am, eating normal foods and being my normal shape. The world didn’t end and I didn’t suddenly die socially – if anything, I became happier, more confident, sexier and sharper-minded. I simply realised that restricting food restricts a woman’s ability to perform well in the world and I describe my Road to Damascus moment here: http://becauseicanblog.com/2014/07/24/epiphany/

Since then, I’ve really noticed how other women seem amazed that I order normal food in restaurants, and don’t sit there picking at a protein-based salad (as I used to do). When I offer up the excuse that I walked to work that morning (it takes an hour and twenty minutes) they seem happy that I’ve ‘earned’ the right to have a proper meal (ie with carbohydrates). What I’m eating is always commented upon, and I notice more and more that the other women feel the need to ‘be good’ at the dinner table. And to tell everyone about it.

I went for a dinner last year with a group of friends and sat next to a Serial Restricter. She talked about the calorific value of her food throughout, then told me all the various ways she was going to ‘work it off’ the next day. When women go out for meals together the topic often turns to weight control, and the more they eat and drink at that meal, the more they tell everyone about all the ways they’ll keep the weight off afterwards. I used to do it too. Yawnsville. You can guarantee the guys aren’t talking about this shit.

Recently, a friend I hadn’t seen for a while turned up for lunch and another female friend immediately ‘complimented’ her on how ‘skinny’ she looked. A little piece of me died inside, knowing that this is the first thing we value, or monitor, about each other. Now, I make a point of never commenting on appearance, until I’ve at least asked about how a friend’s life is. And that applies to women and men. If I tell them they look ‘well’, it’s because they truly do look healthy – I’m never going to use it as a codeword for ‘slimmer’, which is what most women do.

I’ll never forget seeing a work colleague take a brownie from someone who’d baked for the office and watching her scrape her teeth down it before discreetly throwing it in the bin. That moment has stuck in my mind as a truly tragic one. This woman was, and is, an amazing person. She is better than brownie-scraping.

But women in groups police each other’s weight. Codewords are used to comment on shape and you get used to your body being surreptitiously scanned by other women when you walk into a room. I’ve worked in female-heavy offices where eating disorders break out because one woman goes on a crash diet. When I taught ballet, a promising young girl of twelve became anorexic because another girl told her she had a ‘funny’ body.

I think that women owe it to themselves to be strong and healthy-bodied, able to stand, walk and run in the world without fear of a small gust of wind knocking them over. I think we owe it our brains to keep them well-fed, so that we are able to speak confidently, debate loudly and deliver a killer pitch at work. Not to mention show younger women a good example. You can’t do any of this well if you’re surviving on 500 calories a day.

Ladies, let rip. We don’t need to do this. No one is asking us to be control-freak skinny and unhappy except us. And we are agreeing to it because we think that’s what the world wants from us. Ask yourself who is going to love you more for being ‘skinny’ – possibly the magazine advertising executive because he/she is selling you products based on your biggest fear. It won’t be anyone else, not even you. Because you’ll never be skinny enough.

Don’t be scared. Have the brownie, then walk out of the door and take up your space in the world.

You’ve earned it.


On policing women’s appetites: http://www.dailylife.com.au/life-and-love/parenting-and-families/stop-policing-my-daughters-appetite-20140423-373ur.html

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Fifty-five-year-old woman flying solo since 2010. Freelance writer, editor, hiker, traveller, yoga teacher. Alcohol-, child-, and hair-dye-free.

6 thoughts on “A Comment on Women and Food”

  1. I’m trying to lose weight for health reasons but I take your point entirely. I’ve been on the hefty side most of my adult life (I tipped the scales at 15st 7lbs at one point) but I got down to a size 12/14 when I was 29. I’m broad shouldered and wide hipped and at my skinniest (BMI 25), people kept looking at me in a frightened tone of voice (if you get my drift) as if they thought I had a terminal illness. I don’t want to be bone thin and won’t be again – I just want my blood pressure to come down!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. So Lisa the Serial Restricter you mentioned – ” She talked about the calorific value of her food throughout, then told me all the various ways she was going to ‘work it off’ the next day”
    Did you approach the subject as to why she had the need to do that? – respect, attractiveness to others, self worth, inner beliefs, self cleaning etc etc. But initiially she allowed herself self indulgence at the time of eating etc and defo felt regret afterwards to work it off – find that difficult to ascertain really lol. Why bother with calorie control in the first place lol


    1. I didn’t, Phil. This happens all the time among women – and we never discuss the reason why we do it. Men find it difficult to understand. The huge pressure on us to ‘look good’ isn’t self-inflicted, although it may appear so. Our bodies are public property from a young age and constantly commented on and policed. Mine was too, I’m afraid to say.


      1. Hi Lisa, I have commented on this issue before when we spoke about Unspeakable Things and your recent hols to Greece/Turkey I think. Yet again I’d like to congratulate you on your brilliant blog. You have made a very brave move, to do away with all the self loathing and restricting and controlling that so many of us do. Also, if the restricted eating etc is done in a disordered way as you know has been the case for me it can cause real problems for people and they may need professional help to get out of that type of pattern of eating.But slowly, with baby steps it can be done. The main thing which is vital to all of us whether female or male with eating issues is that we must learn to love ourselves again. I appreciate that this may sound silly but it so true. Again take baby steps. For me my eating issues have never been about wanting to thin but rather about suppressing my emotions so I couldn’t feel any more – a source of numbness, controlling pain. Does that ring any bells with any one? Anyway hon great blog, glad you are on the mend! Go Girl!!! Mxox

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thanks Marije. I think I have only just learned to like who I am, physically anyway, so that’s where it came from. It’s interesting to hear about the source of your issues with food – it’s always a control thing, isn’t it? And often nothing to do with body shape…


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