Words matter. Definitions matter.
In the world of health, fitness, diet and nutrition, words get misused and definitions get twisted. Often.
For example: toxic, clean, poison, superfood, addictive, cure, carbs, sugar. These are just a few loaded words that are very emotionally charged, and they’re used frequently in conversations about food. Their definitions can change depending on who you ask. These particular words often lead to debates and many people making terrible mistakes in diet and health because they don’t understand the true meanings. Lack of understanding and clinging to inaccurate beliefs leads to frustration, failure, and even health disasters.
NOT hearing words matters. Not hearing the words actually said, but instead hearing what one expects or wants to hear – this MATTERS. Listen – really listen.
When I say, “It’s OK to eat ice cream,” some people hear “EAT ALL THE ICE CREAM ALL THE TIME!!!”
When I say, “White rice is probably better,” some people hear “Antonio just said junk food is GOOD FOR YOU!”
Sometimes people hear the words they need to hear in order to preserve their beliefs about food. People, including diet gurus, express their disordered ideas when they do this.
It’s Not Always Words. It Can Be What’s Implied.
Sometimes, a combination of innocent-seeming words and an innocent-seeming image, both charged with cultural baggage, filtered through the perception of people with personal bias (which we all have), results in a shitstorm of conflicting reactions, most of them missing the point entirely.
In my opinion, Maria Kang’s intention with this meme was innocent. What her words imply was the point that was missed. The backlash, although exaggerated in my opinion, is reasonable considering the rampant body shaming that goes on. Some people found it immediately and strongly offensive, accusing her of being privileged, oblivious to or uncaring of the challenges ‘average’ people face, and her faux-pology didn’t help. Other people defended her vehemently, saying those offended were reading too much into a simple attempt to motivate people. This conflict was a microcosm of the wider picture of the contradictions, confusion and disordered thinking of the diet and fitness culture today.
Fitspo memes illustrate this, as well. They’re usually a bunch of triggering words put together with an idealized image, meant to motivate, but with such a poor use of words and unrealistic image that it doesn’t actually accomplish the supposed goal. Instead, it usually ends up demotivating people, or reinforcing an unrealistic expectation, because what’s IMPLIED by the combination is unattainable by an average person. They also imply, and therefore subconsciously reinforce, other unhealthy ideas that are not explicitly stated in these memes. Using the Maria Kang meme as an example, the unhealthy implication is that any mother who ‘tries hard enough’, who doesn’t use ‘excuses’, can achieve a similar figure that quickly after giving birth.
“If ‘fitspo’ was actually about fitness, there’d be more pictures of Sarah Robles and Holly Mangold lifting heavy things or other athletes actually competing at a sport, and less pictures of conventionally attractive photoshopped female torsos in sexualized poses.” Melkor
Parents – The words you use in front of your kids matter. “I’m fat. Ugh, I hate how I look today.” Kids absorb the words, they incorporate them into their consciousness, their worldview and self-image are shaped by the words they hear you say, about yourself and others.
Law of Attraction – A bunch of words put together to sound intelligent or spiritual, yet completely failing at both. These words are insulting, not supportive, classist and ignorant.
Struggling to not joke about his make-up while rolling my eyes at his delusional comments.
Doctors Don’t Know What They’re Talking About – “Doctors don’t study any nutrition, they’re far from expert” – these words are used often, by people that fancy themselves an expert, yet may have studied less than the average doctor they criticize. There’s a kernel of truth in the idea that doctors are generally not nutrition experts, but it’s inaccurate to tar them all with the same brush, and frequently those criticizing doctors on this account are also quite willing to offer medical advice when they aren’t educated in that area. Find my FB friend and doctor extraordinaire Dr. Spencer Nadolsky: (https://www.facebook.com/DrSpencerNadolsky)
Strong is the new skinny – No. Strong is good enough as it is. We don’t need a ‘new skinny’ and we don’t need a new, exaggerated, unattainable ideal held up as ‘motivation’.
‘Oreos are addictive’ – Give me a break. The people who defended this idea with passion most likely have an unexamined eating disorder. They’re either unaware or vehemently in denial. People with an eating disorder that causes them to eat sugar (or anything else) in an uncontrolled fashion often want very much to blame the SUBSTANCE, instead of looking within for the problem, or seeking professional help. They use the words to twist the narrative to fit their comfort zone.
Unintended Consequences – Sometimes we can be grateful for those who don’t ask for feedback before sharing their words.
Other times, it isn’t funny. Words can be stupid, ignorant or an expression of our cultural biases.
White Devil – I actually love this one. Alas, it is simply an inappropriate use of words when discussing food.
More charged words: garbage, junk food, clean eating. Using these implies that other ways of eating are dirty. I don’t mean dirty dancing. It can imply a moral judgement on others – if you eat ‘clean’ then everything else is, by default, ‘dirty’.
Asking people to stop and think before they speak, or requesting that you get clear on definitions of the words you use in conversation really isn’t that philosophical. You don’t have to be a logophile to appreciate this. It’s a necessary component of having a coherent conversation. There needs to be the common ground of a shared understanding of definitions and associations before an exchange can be meaningful.
We should all consider our words carefully, and make adjustments to our language as needed, as our understanding evolves or cultural mores change. For example, I’m not using the words ‘retard’ or ‘retarded’ anymore. The hurtful associations of those words with ridiculing a group of people (who are undeserving of ridicule) has caused the use of them in casual conversation in a degrading manner, to indicate contempt for an idea or individual, to be inexcusable. In order to allow for more complete understanding, to have a common context, I think we all need to consider the words we use with more care. Words matter.
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‘Audio Ammunition’ inspired by The Clash (This is Radio Clash)