Why We, the “Foodies”, Don’t Talk About Weight

updated May 1, 2019
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When people who love food start talking, conversation flows. Restaurants, travel, and home cooking are such treasure troves of opinions, stories, questions, and complaints. Even people who don’t think of food as their lifestyle typically love to talk about what they eat.

But there is one topic that can bring even the liveliest of food-focused dinner party chatter to a halt: Weight.

I think the metabolically blessed among us don’t want to talk about their good fortune, and those of us who struggle often don’t mention it either, because we feel ashamed. Like politics and religion, it’s considered inappropriate conversation.

I personally feel more comfortable declining a piece of chocolate cake under the pretense that I prefer a higher percentage of cacao than admitting the truth—I actively avoid dessert as much as I can without being a complete buzz kill. Sweets make me gain weight, and fast. But I know no one wants to hear it, even though other people probably feel the exact same way.

There’s a long tradition of weight-worry scorn in food circles. Julia Child herself cracked wise about it, mocking “the food police” and saying the only time she ate diet food was while waiting for the steak to cook.

To fret about what is and isn’t fattening, to decline sharing everything in order to keep control over one’s own food choices at a restaurant, to count calories or eschew white flour, to place any importance on food values other than local-sustainable-authentic-delicious, is to out yourself as someone unserious and unappreciative of food culture. It’s a fine and uncomfortable line to walk when you are obsessed with both amazing food and managing your weight.

I think it’s even harder for women to talk about than men. We don’t want to be bad feminists. Obviously, women are under a great deal more pressure to be thin than men but we don’t want to be perceived as a high-maintenance diner (“Can I have that sauce on the side?”) or overly concerned about our appearance.

I hate to admit the mental bandwidth I’ve sacrificed to weight and body image issues and tortured food decision-making. It’s embarrassing. If I would have put the time and effort I spent dieting into learning foreign languages instead, I could be a UN translator by now. Who wants to call attention to this sad fact by talking about it?

And of course, most significantly for many people, weight and diet talk is painfully boring.

But as the boring, awkward, inappropriate person constantly bringing this topic up in the food space, at ambitious dinner parties and food writing conferences, I can assure you it’s simmering just beneath the surface. A couple years back, between talks at a food blogging retreat, I sparked an informal discussion about the tension between loving food and wanting to lose weight that quickly became emotional. The six or eight women I was talking with all said some version of: “I can’t believe you feel this way, too. Why is this so hard?”

It’s important for me to talk about, though. Frankly I need the support these discussions can turn up. And I can think of no better way to find that elusive middle path that will lead me to the food/health/weight balance that I want.

Loving Food While Losing Weight

Is it possible to talk about the fraught space of food, body, and weight in a healthy, thoughtful way? We think so, and we’re presenting a monthlong column exploring one food-lover and food writer’s journey towards finding her own personal balance. Joy Manning is joining us this month with her own stories, practical tips, recipes, and perspective on the real-life struggle between loving food and loving your body.