the body and food and mortality

I just read an article that has significantly impacted my view on food and diet culture. In her article “Eating Toward Immortality” Michelle Anderson (of The Fat Nutritionist), writes about the twin pressures of getting enough to eat and avoiding eating something toxic as deeply rooted human impulses that have come from a history of survival. She writes about how fear of mortality underlies food consumption, but has become so subtle and subconscious that we no longer even recognize it as an influence.

Let me tell you, this is mind-blowing to me. I have never been able to put my finger on why I fear being hungry but why I also fear  “bad” foods no matter how permissive and accepting I try to be.

I’ve often felt that when I’m restricting or following food rules, I’m atoning for previous mistakes or performing some kind of ablution to wash off toxic errors. To this point, Michelle writes:

At a fundamental level, people may feel a twinge of guilt for having a body, taking up space, and having appetites that devour the living things around us. They may crave expiation of this guilt, and culture provides not only the means to achieve plentiful material comfort, but also ways to sacrifice part of that comfort to achieve redemption.

There is something purifyingly painful about “eating clean” and denying my body’s desires for the “right food.” It’s why when I was most suffering, I was most obsessed with fasting, but constantly thought about eating.

But Michelle’s article puts all these thoughts into a broad philosophical context that just expanded my view brilliantly. These fears and struggles are not just fueled by individual struggle and societal pressures, but also an innate understanding that I will indeed die. Food rules are created with this not in mind, but below the surface. As she notes in the article:

Humans are the only animals aware of our mortality, and we all want to be the person whose death comes as a surprise rather than a pathetic inevitability. We want to be the one of whom people say, “But she did everything right.” If we cannot escape death, maybe we can find a way to be declared innocent and undeserving of it.

This especially rings true as someone who has fear of being judged for the constant criticisms of fat people: that I am a drain on the system because I will be unhealthy, that I am going to die young unless I diet, that it will be my fault and I should be ashamed if I fall ill.

Michelle’s article speaks so many of these fears. It had such a calming effect on me. Suddenly, these deep anxieties had context that made sense, and I can’t thank her enough for giving me that.

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