Everyone has the right to enjoy cake, not just thin people

Yesterday one of my clients told me she was not doing to well with mindful eating. When I asked her to elaborate, she said how the day before, in a meeting, she had eaten two of the mini cakes on offer. I asked her what they were like and she said delicious, fresh and moist, just to her liking and that she felt satisfied and not too full afterwards. I then asked her why she felt this wasn’t mindful – it sounded like a perfect example of mindful eating to me – and her response was, “I didn’t need to eat two of them”.

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This is one of the commonest misperceptions with mindful eating, the idea that if you eat mindfully, you’ll eat less. While this may happen, it doesn’t need to and it certainly shouldn’t be the reason for practising mindful eating. If it is, it simply becomes another diet rule in an already saturated diet culture of food rules that dictate how or what we should or shouldn’t do with food. It is no surprise that mindful eating is being mixed up with dieting as diet companies such as weight watchers teach “mindful eating” as part of their program. If weight loss is your main focus, it becomes very difficult to not turn mindful eating into just another a diet – the mindful eating diet. Thanks weight watchers.

There is no one way, or correct way, to eat mindfully. Mindful eating involves some awareness of the sensory properties of the food (look, smell, taste, texture) and some awareness of appetite and how the food feels in your body, or leaves you feeling. Notice I used the word ‘some’ when talking about awareness. Awareness does not need to be 100%.

We then explored why my client felt she shouldn’t have eaten both cakes. She mentioned she didn’t feel too full afterward and actually ended up eating less than usual at lunch as she noticed she wasn’t as hungry. So what’s the issue I asked? My clients response was centered around “too much” sugar and calories and cake not being nutritious or “good” for health.

This lady is fit (she moves her body daily with swimming and walking) and she is healthy (she feels good in her body and bloods are all normal). The issue as my client sees it, is her body is larger than it “should” be. My client felt because of her weight, she didn’t really deserve to eat one of the cakes, let alone both. I then asked her if she felt it would be ok to eat the cakes if she was thinner and her response was emphatic – “Yes I would have both, I’d thoroughly enjoy them and not feel an ounce of guilt!”

We then discussed that if cake really was bad for health, surely it would be just as “bad” for thin people. Of course it’s not, thin people who eat cake are not automatically unhealthy. If thin people can enjoy both cake and health, and they can, then why on earth can’t bigger people? Now I am not saying we can all eat as much cake as we want without any regard for how we eat, that would be silly – I feel the need to say this as there will be people who choose to interpret my message as that.

The message I am aiming to get across here is that not only thin people have a right to enjoy whatever they hell they feel like eating without judgement or guilt. However, our culture is such that this is often what happens. People in larger bodies are often judged, not only by society, but also harshly by themselves, for their food choices. What we need to acknowledge is that this judgment usually has NOTHING (or little) to do with the nutrition aspect of health, but rather that they somehow don’t deserve to eat that food. This is a culture that needs to change, as not only is it misplaced concept, but it usually only serves to damage a person’s health. When people are made to feel shame about themselves, especially with regard to weight, they are LESS likely to engage in healthy behaviours. This paper on the impact of weight stigma clearly shows this.

Everyone has the right to enjoy all food, not just thin people. Enjoying cake does NOT mean you are disregarding health or that you don’t care about the health of your body. Health is not just a product of the food you eat and the nutritional aspect of health is something that occurs over many many food choices over many weeks, not just one food choice, be that an apple or a cake. So have your cake and enjoy it!

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