Why Food Morality Is So Toxic for Body Image and Mental Health

Why Food Morality Is So Toxic for Body Image and Mental Health

Judging someone (or yourself) based on how they eat is also incredibly reductive, Lampert says. Whether or not you choose the salad, sandwich, or pasta dish has no bearing on your worth as a person.

“Viewing food as good or bad tends to create shame and guilt towards consuming certain foods,” Wengler says. But, despite what diet gurus may say, you’re so much more than what you eat.

In fact, fixating on eating a certain way, or beating yourself up for not eating a certain way, can have health implications in and of itself.

“When it comes to mental health, an obsession with ‘good’ foods and ‘bad’ foods is unhealthy,” Atkinson says. For example, feeling shame and guilt every time you eat a burrito or an ice cream cone (because you think it’s bad, and therefore think you’re bad for eating it) can have a significant negative impact on your mental health.

Shame has been associated with all kinds of mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, social phobia, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, substance misuse, certain personality disorders such as borderline and narcissistic, and body dysmorphic disorder, according to a review published in February 2018 in the Nordic Journal of Psychiatry (PDF).

Focusing too much on eating “good” foods can even be a disorder in and of itself.

“Orthorexia, the term used to describe the obsession with ‘healthful’ eating, continues to be on the rise since the term was first coined in 1998,” Wengler says.

There’s not great data on the prevalence of orthorexia, probably because it’s not considered a clinical eating disorder with set criteria, but one study published in January 2017 in the Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy (PDF) surveyed 404 college students and found that over one-third of them showed elevated orthorexia symptoms (like thinking a lot about healthy food, getting stricter about what one can and can’t eat, and socially isolating in order to eat a certain way) based on a validated questionnaire.

“Viewing foods as good or bad can create anxiety, stress, and guilt around food choices which can make simple tasks, from a trip to the grocery store to dinner at home, difficult,” Wengler says. “This can lead to continued disordered eating patterns, which can further impact mental health.”