Growing up, eating well meant eating low-fat; I felt good about a snack of instant oatmeal and Diet Coke. When I started to gain weight in college, the concept of looking at a food label for ingredients instead of calories was altogether foreign, and later, while living in New York, I swung between street meat, my aunt’s macrobiotic home cooking and an uncomfortably tight waistband.
I currently split my time between NYC and Northern New Mexico, surrounded by small farms and fresh food. In this new life with little conveniences or nearby McDonalds, I basically have no choice but to eat well. Ironically, once I stopped worrying about calories and started focusing on actual health, numbers on the scale became a non-issue.
21 year-old me was a different story — I’d basically eat sugar-free crap all day so long as I consumed no more than 1250 cal. Counting calories felt like a good way to be health-conscious, because every woman I knew was keeping track in one way or another.
At some point in the last few years, though, actual health became more important than dress size. For me, the shift came thanks to a few wise women and herbalists who helped explain what my body actually needed. Once I realized how well I could function with the right fuel, the seed was planted for a larger overhaul. And while it got me down to a steady, healthy weight, that was no longer as important to me as the improvements I was seeing in overall health.
What’s more, I’m seeing a similar trend among friends and relatives. Ten years ago, the women in my family opted for aspartame and low-fat milk in their coffee; now, the few who still drink coffee wouldn’t touch Sweet-N-Low. Meals are as delicious and joyful as always, but very little comes pre-packaged. Part of that is motivated by the awareness of sickness that comes with age. However, it seems there’s also a larger cultural change — while it still costs a fortune, organic food is no longer reserved for conspiracy theorists and the uber-wealthy.
The organic food market is expected to grow 14% per year over the next 4 years, and organic food production in the US increased 240% between 2002 and 2011. While healthful eating isn’t solely about eating organic, the increased production is a good measure for interest in eating well. It may be optimistic, but I don’t think we’re that far off from a time when girls are less worried about their weight and more aware of their waning energy post-candy bar.
To be clear, this isn’t an “I lost weight and you can do it, too!” post, or a plea for everyone to start gardens on their roof. (Though that would be amazing.) Nor is it a celebration of some great personal accomplishment — I will always want a pack of Twizzlers when I see them. But the sense of constant deprivation, and the embarrassment or hubris that comes from either succumbing to or resisting temptation no longer exists.
So, I guess my question is: have you felt a cultural change in the approach to food and calories? What about among your friends? Has it affected you or your habits? Does it feel like just another diet? Or is it finally a healthy, sustainable life-change?
Image via Vogue Brasil