I had the besssst meeting with a new connection this week. After what feels like forever since I’ve had those on the regular, it was great to sit at a coffee shop blathering on and on and all of a sudden looking up and seeing it had been an hour and forty minutes.
Sigh, I miss people.
We talked a bit about our moving experiences, both having recently relocated to Denver. We talked about our backgrounds and career passions, which align in a lot of ways. And, as is becoming the norm, we talked a bit about our pandemic experiences, especially during early quarantine.
I’ve actually had quite a few conversations about this recently with people in all kinds of areas of my life. It’s something I’m supporting clients with too – gaining an awareness of how they’re feeling physically, mentally, emotionally, how it’s all connected. Then working through acceptance and self-compassion too, while working together to get some clarity on how they can live life today and feel better because pandemic fatigue is real and symptoms and expressions are unexpected and frustrating and shit is just generally hard AF to deal with right now.
Anyway, this new friend shared how much she struggled during six weeks of very tight quarantine, as an in-person service provider, a person whose love language is physical touch, and an intense extrovert (her words). You might expect that it didn’t feel great for her to be all alone, not working, in a one bedroom apartment! She told me about how hard it was on her, how emotionally and mentally challenging it was to be isolated in such a way, and how confusing it was to not really be able to understand exactly why she was feeling so awful for so long – an experience you might be familiar with too, looking back on those first few weeks or months of quarantine.
When she got to the part of the story where she shared how she coped, or rather, struggled to find a way to do so, she gestured wildly to emphasize just how dire the situation had gotten and told me:
“I mean, I ATE A TWINKIE!”
And in that moment I simultaneously understood exactly what she was trying to tell me and felt like I wanted to scream from frustration.
As if eating a Twinkie was the worst possible thing in the world to do. As if eating a Twinkie would make her a failure of a person. As if eating a Twinkie automatically means you’re at absolute life rock bottom.
I’ll admit that I let her have that the other day. Normally, I would call it out, point out the things above, gently nudge with questions, make a person reflect on the morality of a fucking Twinkie. But I didn’t. I let it ride, because well, we’ve all got our shit right now and I’m not a monster and also I’m good at reading a room and wanted to build better rapport before I jumped into that conversation with both feet.
But in truth, I can’t stop thinking about it. And I got to thinking about how all these other people in my life are sharing with me their own personal Twinkie experiences too.
So, here we are, talking about Twinkies.
Let me start by saying eating a Twinkie, or whatever else the World of Wellness deems to be The Most Toxic Food of All Time, is not the worst thing in the world to do. It doesn’t make anyone a failure. And it doesn’t mean anyone has hit rock bottom. Good gracious, it’s just food. A collection of oil and sugar and flour.
Let me follow that up by saying that somewhere along the line, certain foods, or types of foods, have been assigned moral valuations that have affected our emotional connections and reactions to them. That, in turn, has created a good/bad framework (similar to the on/off of fitness I talked about last week) that ends up attaching guilt and shame to food choices. Which, in turn, ends up encouraging us to associate actual worth and success as a human to those food choices.
Yes, some of these foods, or their iterations, have been studied. Some have been associated or correlated with health issues. But think about this a little more. Look at what foods or types or categories of foods you demonize or, alternatively, deem to be good. Can you definitively make those claims without finding evidence of other information that could support a different conclusion for the very same food?
Hell, we talk about our grandparents all the time and how healthy and hardy and simple they were, and guess what they ate? Margarine. Lard. Meat. Twinkies. Bread. Spam. GMOs. (The horror!) And let’s not forget how much alcohol they drank and cigarettes they smoked. I mean, sure, maybe they ate some homegrown veggies too, but they were far from clean eating machines.
Jeez, even I grew up on fruit flavored store brand soda and Little Debbies and Twizzlers. Also, squeeze cheese and crackers and pop tarts and Honeycomb cereal. And when I say “grew up,” I really mean, “I basically only stopped subsisting on these food groups about seven or eight years ago.” Not to mention, I lived mostly on French fries and soft service ice cream and Campbell’s soup in college, supplemented by the occasional salad.
Does that make me a failure of a person?
On the flip side, I also went through a period of time where I only bought organic, ate super clean, nothing processed, etc, etc, etc. I can’t quite tell you I felt too much different or better, and really, I just turned into an elitist, privileged jerk about food and health.
Is that any better than eating Twinkies?
Alright, I digress, and I think I’ve made my point:
It doesn’t serve us to place judgment on the food we eat, and thereby, ourselves as humans (whether consciously or not-so-consciously).
And really, it doesn’t serve us to judge food in general. The economic disparity and food insecurity that contributes to Twinkies being the only option (especially in a crisis) for way more people than you think is very, very real.
But aside from that, listen. We’re going through some incredibly challenging times, and that’s not an excuse – it’s a reality that’s affecting us greatly. For a lot of us, our mental and emotional health is not at its best. Our physical health might not be either. We’re just trying to hold it together and find our way. There is absolutely no way to disconnect any of those things, and that is totally OK.
If it means that in order to deal with everything we’re going through, we need to take care of ourselves in new (or old) ways, that’s OK too. If that means doing things that wellness or fitness or diet culture judge to be super terrible? Well, maybe it’s worth taking a look at who’s doing the judging, and why.
Before you say it – sure, I’ll agree, maybe we don’t want to be emotionally eating 100% of the time, and we can do our best to learn and incorporate tools that will provide us other ways to cope along the way. But sometimes? A Twinkie is the only way. And we need to stop doing this thing where we make that the end of the world, where we assume it means we’re giving up, that we’re broken and terrible people. We’re not. You’re not.
Eat your pandemic Twinkie if you need it, or if you want it, OK?
We’ll go for salads tomorrow.
Here are a couple articles I’ve been sending to clients getting a little overwhelmed by pandemic life: this one and this one. Basic, maybe, but serves as a reminder that you’re not alone and you’re not making this up. Give yourself a big dose of self-compassion today, right this minute <3
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