To Control or To Be Controlled: The Relationships between Humans and Food

In recent decades there has been a spike in unhealthy foods as well as health and food trends worldwide. These new nutritional phenomenons have destabilized the relationship that people have with their foods, resulting in an increase number of diabetes, obesity, as well as eating disorders. 

When you are a young girl in high school, the goal in life is to be like the tall, popular, skinny girls that look like they could be models. As an insecure young girl, who does care of what people think, you do get self conscious when you don’t look like those girls because you get worried that guys won’t like you or that you’ll never be successful. Furthermore, kids are not nice and will bully anyone who is different. At this sensitive age, girls do have the tendency to develop irrational and obsessive relationships with food. While some choose to avoid food all together, others use it as a tool for comfort and escape.

In the age of social media, mainly young girls between 16-25 years of age are affected by social norms and body image expectations generated by the mainstream media. This has led to a rise in food trends such as pro ana, thinspo and heroin chic.

This behaviour and trend setting has been prominently shown on platforms such as Tumblr, resulting in insecure girls to come together, advocate and influence each other to develop eating disorders and be thin by going through extreme measures such as only drinking black coffee and smoking cigarettes.

The numbers of eating disorders in Australia have increased where one in 100 girls develop Anorexia Nervosa and where 90% of Bulimia and Anorexia Nervosa sufferers are women. In addition, 31% of women who are between the ages of 15 and 24, have experienced with unhealthy weight loss methods and behaviours.

On the other end of the spectrum, websites such as tastemade and buzzfeed as well as fast food chains have been increasingly popular for marketing high sugar beverages and foods.This type of behaviour from big companies has contributed to the rise of type 2 diabetes, which has now reached an epidemic level. The Australian national health and medical research council released data surrounding the affects that the country is having as a consequence of unhealthy diets. The data sourced estimates the direct cost of people who are overweight or obese is $21 billion and indirect costs are $35.6 billion. This data shows that at least $56.6 billion Australian Dollars are costing the government per year from the effects of poor and high sugar and fat diets.

The reason why people eat unhealthy while knowing that the food is bad for them is because they don’t trust their own body and what feels good on them about what they eat. They either follow a new fad diet that in reality isn’t helping them and their relationship with food, or they spend too much time focusing on their calorie intake than being healthy. Or they eat what makes them feel psychologically rather than what their bodies need. Some people binge eat when they are under emotional stress, don’t eat at all. Either way, people do it so they can control their food intake as they cannot control what is going on around them, the things that are putting them under the emotional stress in the first place” – Tahlia.

Tahlia, a psychologist, highlights that the unhealthy and sensitive relationship that different people have with food stems from their confidence level and how comfortable they feel in their own skin and with their bodies. Furthermore, although they know that the food they are consuming is unhealthy and results in negative consequences in their health, the need to feel happy and to fill a void is more important.

“There has been an increase in the number of people who have food related psychological disturbances and that is mainly due to the way society is causing us to look at food. Through either advertisement or the latest food trends. Also, through peer pressure there has always been an issue with people trying to conform to others expectations to improve their sense of worth”, says Tahlia. 

In the modern age, social media, television and other technological platforms are exploited in order to tell people what to think and what to do. People are losing their identity and individuality and this phenomenon can be found in different mediums that are consumed daily such as the mainstream music industry, fashion trends, social media trends and many others. Humans are becoming spineless and easily manipulated by the system and their unstable relationship with food is a obvious result of this. Furthermore, people are pressured by their peers as well as the environment around them to conform to a particular criteria, which results in these uncontrollable and sometimes dangerous relationships.

My relationship with food is probably not healthy, I know that. However I can’t seem to change my way of thinking or the habits and desires I have because of it. I go through periods of extreme dislike, where it’s typically days of fasting and feeling bad about eating the tiniest thing. On the other hand, I experience days where I simply do not care about the food that I eat, all I can think about is the taste and the craving I have for it. There are days that I usually binge, which are also not healthy. I know that I don’t have a very healthy relationship with food” – Emma.

Emma is one of those girls that have an obsessive need to be thinner and they struggle between what their body is telling them and what their head is telling them. As someone who likes to be in control of everything she consumes, Emma restricts and calorie counts, which results in an obsessive and compulsive relationship with her food. Furthermore, she sees food and eating as bad because she wants to be thinner.

“I haven’t participated in set diet rules as the typical ABC or Cassie diets where calories are set a different amount each day. However, I do set a limit to the amount of calories I can eat, which is typically 1000 calories but I try to get under. Other days I fast the entire day apart from at night time (for dinner) because of my mum. As well as this, I do not ever allow myself to eat breakfast unless I have to go the work (I don’t want to pass out). Also my lunch is always vegetables (capsicum, cucumber and one other). I exercise daily, but not intensively because I really dislike it”.

“Sugar my addiction, it’s so bad but I love it. I usually eat something sugary on non-fasting days but I will never go over my calorie limit. I make it up by eating less or exercising more. I love sugar”, says Emma.

Including the restriction of food and daily calories intake, Emma also consumes a lot of sugar. This results in not enough required nutrients in order for the body to function properly. This sort of extreme dieting results in a slow metabolism (body goes into starvation mode) as well as lots of vitamin deficiencies such as iron and B12. Furthermore, although she eats very little food, most of it is sugar so there is still a high possibility of developing type 2 diabetes in the future.

On the other end of the scale, Charlotte has also struggled with her weight and body image. Although she has a loving and non-restricted diet, food has been a comfort and a way for her to deal with some of the problems she has faced in life. Furthermore, Charlotte highlights the struggles of growing up in a society that emphasises the importance of being a size zero.

I like to think that I have a loving relationship with food. Honestly, I love following food blogs and looking at different recipes. I also love backing cakes and sweets. There are times though, where I can get lazy when making food, which leads to me buying fast and easy food such as McDonalds. At school no one was vocally open about my weight but I have had family members comment on it multiple times. Also, society and the media has established that because you’re not a size zero, you are automatically not attractive. I also have anxiety and depression, which doesn’t really help” – Charlotte.

Sugar, chocolate in particular, contains chemicals that replicates the feelings of love and happiness on the brain. When you consume it on a regular basis, sugar becomes an addiction and affects the same part of the brain as cocaine and heroin. At this day in age, there are new desserts that are in fashion, which contains the minimum of 18g of sugar (1.2 Tablespoons).

“I do worry about my health. I’m afraid that if I continue eating the way I do I will end up getting type 2 diabetes. Also, I have noticed that I have low energy  because I’m not very fit and so my energy doesn’t last very long, which I’m sure is a result of my sugar intake. I love sugar though. When I go shopping I buy packets of lollies and big blocks of chocolate and consume it in the space of a day or two”, says Charlotte.

“I love food, I love cooking and using my hands to make it too. I see it as fuel for my body, and more than that, it’s something that makes me happy. I don’t personally diet. If I crave something I eat it, almost always. I just believe in moderation, and staying active. It’s also easy to eat healthy when you see the difference it makes on your energy levels, which helps curb your junk food cravings”, says Natalie.

In the middle of the scale there is Natalie, who loves good food and believes that everything is okay in moderation. She doesn’t believe that dieting is an effective way to fix bad habits because restricting food and counting numbers are never a healthy and long term solution.

“I think crash diets are really sad. Depriving yourself of essential nutrients will always lead to over-indulgence, making yourself feel hungry when you’re dieting and feel guilty when you crash. It’s the same with sugar-high foods, once you begin consuming them you’re either craving them or regretting them. I don’t believe in either. When you start putting a number in everything, calories in vs calories out, it’s easy to become obsessed. As long as you’re eating real foods and living in moderation, there is no need to think about that. I think it must be awful to have that thought constantly plaguing you” – Natalie. 

When you start counting numbers as well as getting obsessive and in the need to control your body responses to food, it can lead to extreme psychological issues such as Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa. On the other hand, when you let your body control what you eat and how you behave around food, it can lead to disorders such as binging, which will result in extreme weight gain and other contributing factors.

Everyone has a different relationship with food, some are loving and peaceful while others a dysfunctional and messy but it can be concluded that the hospitality and entertainment industries are making things worse because they put unhealthy products in the market with advertisements campaign that highlight their monetary worth. Furthermore, the entertainment industry emphasises the idea of being a size 0, which destabilises the relationship that people have with their bodies and their food as well as society’s idea of beauty.

Originally published on in June 2016

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