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A few days I wrote about the inherent contradictions in how we are emphasizing the negativity of being “overweight” while also telling everyone to love themselves and be happy in their bodies. There is another aspect of this that I want to explore with food.

We are taught a contradiction in terms of food and eating: always finish everything on your plate AND don’t eat too much because you’ll get “fat”.

As children, especially in school, we were told to finish everything on our plates. “Think of the starving children in Africa” we were told (a really annoying phrase because really how does me finishing – or not – a disgusting pie change whether children are starving?). So I forced down food that I had no choice in the quantity of while feeling completely full. When I make my own food, or serve myself, I rarely leave anything nor do I want to. I have served myself the correct amount for my desires. We are taught to feel guilty about not eating everything on our plates, but it is rare that we actually get a choice in how much is on our plates.

On the flip side of this, we are constantly being inundated with facts about how we eat too much, how portion sizes are too big, and we’re all too fat.

Does no one see a contradiction here? Almost everyone I know was brought up to feel guilty about not finishing everything on their plate, but now we are also being made to feel guilty for doing so because finishing everything means we ate too much.

Food waste is bad. That I completely understand. It seems terrible to throw away food while there are people starving; however, does it really make a difference to those starving people if we keep eating when we are full or if we leave the food? Either way, they’re not getting any!

I was brought up with this guilt, made to sit at the table until I finished everything on my plate, told off in primary school for not finishing my food, and now I still feel guilty when I don’t finish something. I don’t think this guilt is fair. Why should anyone keep eating once they are full? Who does that help?

Over the past few years I have worked to change my attitude. When I am full I stop eating. If I am cooking for myself or serving myself then this will occur when my plate has been emptied. In other situations I may leave a lot of food on my plate. At a restaurant I will take it home for later. I don’t like waste. However, I will not be guilted into making myself sick because we are taught that we must empty our plates. If I am served more food than I can eat I see no reason to eat it.

Serving sizes are frequently much larger than we need, and there is no need to stuff ourselves in order to empty our plates. Do we really do this out of guilt for those who have no food? Do we really think that overeating will help those who are starving? This guilt about wasting food is misplaced. Yes, there are ways in which should feel guilty about wasting food, food that we choose to buy at the grocery store and never eat, or choosing to put far more food on our plates then we will ever eat. We should not feel bad for not eating food that is more than we can eat in one sitting. Sure, we should do more to help those who are going hungry, but don’t kid yourself – emptying your plate has no effect on those people.

I am happy with how I look. I know that I don’t need to gain weight or lose weight. I want to eat as much as my body wants me to eat. When I am full I want to stop eating. I do not see why I should be made to feel guilty about this, especially when we all know that the amount of food on our plates usually far outweighs the amount we need.