What Happens If I Like Foods That Are Tied To Diet Culture?

closeup image of tattooed arms holding a small tray with two donuts covered in pink frosting and sprinkles in one hand, and another donut with a bite taken out of it in the other hand- for article about diet culture

I like cauliflower crust pizza. The texture of the crust, I like the extra seasoning in the dough, and I even like the way that the sauce absorbs into it while it bakes. The labor-intensive process of making cauliflower crust pizza is fun, challenging, and yeast-less (a blessing for my lack of baking ability). But cauliflower crust pizza is a product of diet culture. Born from the false need to consume fewer carbohydrates and replace foods we enjoy with similar versions we tolerate. As I grow closer to full recovery and further from diet culture, I still find myself tripped up by certain food choices.

I start to wonder: am I choosing this because I like it or because I subconsciously believe it to be the healthier choice? Am I even allowed to prefer diet culture’s version of a food? Does that prove that I’m not as recovered as I think I am?

You can have your cake and flourless, too

Cauliflower crust pizza belongs on a much longer list of diet culture foods I genuinely enjoy, such as: kale chips, banana “nice” cream, flourless cake, chickpea pasta, and many more. Diet culture asks us to treat these foods as replacement foods from their original source. But the great thing about food is that you don’t have to choose between anything.

Just like you are allowed to have pasta one night, you are allowed to have chickpea pasta the next. It doesn’t have to be an earth-shattering decision between the two or a macro-counting game to pick the right one. There is no “right” one. They can both be part of your nourishment. Together, separate, or not at all, if that’s what you prefer.

How Tied to Diet Culture Are Your Food Choices?

It can be just as difficult to remove the morality diet culture assigns to these foods as it is to remove the immorality assigned to other foods. But ultimately, you are the only one who can assign value to the foods that you consume.

Getting curious about food choices and removing morality

You may not even realize you’ve assigned morality to certain foods before you eat them.

A big part of recovery is exploration, which includes exploring why you may be reaching for something just as much as why you may not be.

Ask yourself some questions:

  1. Am I actually in the mood for this food?
  2. Is this providing adequate nourishment?
  3. Do I view myself as superior for choosing this food?
  4. Am I settling for this instead of choosing what I actually want?
  5. Is this choice in line with my recovery?

If a question trips your up or causes you to reconsider, you may not be in a place to explore foods that are steeped in diet culture without the guidance of a nutritional counselor or other professional. Particularly if weight restoration is part of your recovery process.

Be honest with yourself about how foods feel

In my first month of recovery, I ate a food I hadn’t eaten in years: my beloved Skyline Chili. For those who don’t hail from Cincinnati or other parts of Ohio, it’s a Greek recipe for beef chili featuring ingredients like cinnamon and chocolate. It is absolutely delicious, and my new commitment to freedom around food made me super excited to reintroduce it.

An hour after a warm and filling bowl of the chili, I started to notice some mild stomach pain. Nothing too alarming at first. Just felt like perhaps I was swirling up some future gas (lovely, I know). But half an hour later, my stomach kind of went sour. I felt fatigued and overheated.

The chili never made an early evacuation, but the experience kind of turned me away from my beloved childhood food for some time. I’d been excited to reintroduce this food to my menu. But I had to be honest with myself about how the food made me feel. It didn’t give me energy or make me feel happy. Or even taste as amazing as I’d remembered. It was just…not great.

Always Remain Honest with Yourself

But in the same week, I had some of another Cincinnati favorite that I’d been shunning because of my eating disorder: Graeter’s ice cream. And it was SUPERB. The taste, the texture, the way it sat in my stomach the rest of the day. If I was going to be honest about how the chili made me feel not so great, I needed to acknowledge that the ice cream made me feel really satisfied and happy.

I completely acknowledge my GI issues with the chili may have been exacerbated by my ED. Given that something like 98% of folks with an ED also experience digestive distress. So I gave it another shot a few months later. Did it sit better? Yes. Did I enjoy it as much as I’d hoped? Honestly, not really. I may still eat it intermittently, but it has fallen from the pedestal I placed in on when I was deep in my disorder.

Not every food you try again in recovery has to find a place in your life again. But you should be open and honest about the ones that do.

It may be worth trying foods many times before trying to decide if they’ll be showing up on your plate. Especially if you are experiencing GI symptoms as a result of your disorder and/or recovery.

You are allowed to like the things that you like regardless of diet culture

I spent a few months feeling like I wasn’t committed enough to recovery because I was still choosing diet culture’s foods at regular intervals. Often, it boiled down to that cauliflower crust pizza. I just really liked it. Yet I couldn’t shake the feeling I was a failure for preferring it to a traditional pizza.

But if I remove diet culture from cauliflower crust pizza, I’m left with the same sort of decision I’ve faced in my life hundreds of times. Deciding what I like and what I don’t. I like folk music, and I don’t like country music. I like taking the train, and I don’t like taking the bus. I like writing, and I don’t like math.

I didn’t intentionally train myself to prefer folk music over country music, and I wasn’t pressured to prefer writing over math. I just let my experiences guide me, and figured out what I liked. I didn’t train myself to like cauliflower crust pizza over traditional pizza because diet culture wanted me to. It was just another preference I developed.

Preferences, however, don’t overshadow calorie needs. Again, these choices can be tricky when you are returning from deprivation. So make sure that your approach involves a recovery mindset and satiating choices. For instance, if I have cauliflower pizza for dinner, I usually pad my meal with a carbohydrate source (and extra extra cheese on top) to make sure I’m getting the fuel I need.

Parting thoughts

You know what cauliflower dish can f$%* off? Cauliflower rice. I’ve tried it many times before and during recovery, and it just doesn’t do anything for me. If I’m choosing rice, I want actual rice. But I’ll take my cauliflower crust pizza and run with it any day, and I’ll be okay knowing that neither decision has to have any ties to diet culture.

Being able to remove diet culture from food choices takes a lot of personal exploration.

If we remain curious about the foods we enjoy without moral judgment and focus on the abundance of options available to us, diet culture’s labels will lose their purpose. In the meantime, we can focus on ours.

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