Friday, July 14, 2006

Being Good

I often eat a diet frozen entree for lunch, and one of the brands I buy most commonly is Smart Ones, which are affiliated with Weight Watchers. They're reasonably priced when they're on sale, and tend to be tastier and more filling (per calorie) than most brands (excluding the brands like Amy's that are very good but also expensive and less widely available).

But one thing really bothers me about the Smart Ones, and that is their slogan, which is "Taste so good, you want to be good" (TM). This is on all of the boxes, as well as something like, "Another way you can be good today."

I really reject the view that sticking to my eating plan is "being good" and that making different choices is "being bad," though it's hard to avoid using that language sometimes. (My coworker diet mate uses that type of language all the time, and of course I'm not going to pick a fight about it.)

I think when you use that kind of language, it sets up a view where there is like an adult you and a child you. The child you wants to eat all kinds of unhealthy food - it's a bad, naughty, willful child - and the adult you thinks in terms of controlling the child you with rewards, punishments, lectures, shame, etc. It gives you this whole pattern of thinking that involves morals and deserving. ("I was good today, so I deserve X.")

The way I prefer to think is that my choices determine the outcomes I receive directly - there's no moral link or god to punish or reward me. Some choices satisfy my short-term desires but may harm me in the long run, but I'm fully authorized to make those choices. If I look at yesterday's eating and conclude that it wasn't in my best interests, I will try to choose differently next time, but there's no sense that I was bad or naughty.

I could be totally full of shit about this, but my feeling is that this kind of good/bad talk, which is totally pervasive in our culture, actually makes it harder, not easier, for people to choose well. And I'm sorry that Weight Watchers, which usually has their head on correctly about issues relating to dieting, is sponsoring this other view.


sally said...

Tam, as you know I totally agree with you on this whole "being good" thing. How does it help to characterize food that is inherently delicious and desirable like chocolate as "bad" as well? Doesn't that naughtiness factor only add to its appeal?

I have the strong and absolute belief that I can eat anything I want. I reject the entire "forbidden fruit" approach both as a, well, moral matter (for lack of a better word) and because it does not seem to work. However, there are plenty of things that I choose not to eat because they do not satisfy me in the fullest sense. I seem to react to a poor eating decision with a "Man, eating a brownie as big as my head is a stupid thing to do" than "Oh no, I was so bad to eat that brownie." This seems to have the benefit of re-enforcing the idea that food is about maximizing my utility (which includes pleasure, health, satiation, having money to spend on other things, all of which I "deserve" in a fundamental way) and not about virtue or what I can "get away with" or whatever.

The alternative slogan (not wordsmithed here) that would appeal to me in a context like that would be along the lines of "Taste so good, the choice is easy."

But I think Tam & I are the exceptions in this. I'm curious if anyone here thinks of food as being "good" or "bad" (in the sense that Tam means; and I don't mean regarding a decision to eat or not eat meat, which is a complex issue that is separate from this kind of labeling and is a more obvious and very reasonable place for moral considerations) - how does this work for you? Can you meet your weight/health goals this way? What does it feel like in your head? Where do you think this view of food comes from?

Tam's momm said...

I don't really think of food as good and bad. I wouldn't call eating a few potato chips bad and I don't think potato chips are bad food. My eating a whole entire big bag of potato chips would not be good for my diet though. I did that this weekend but I don't feel like a bad person or anything. The exception applies to anything with a face. I do tend to think of organic as good and non-organic as not so good not. This is more for the planet and farm workers than anything else. I'm also kind of horrified that my daughter would attend a polo game. Yuck. Remind me to send you some PETA literature, Tam.

Tam said...

The Healthy Choice brand seems to share Sally's general approach (and mine). Their website says "Eating Well: Choose Healthy Foods Anywhere" and I remember the labels on their boxes being along those lines too (though I don't have one here to quote). Of course, their name suggests that whole paradigm as well.

Tam said...

As for polo, I could be wrong, but it did not seem particularly abusive to me. The horses did not run to exhaustion and all seemed frisky and happy to be out. They are not whipped as far as I could see. I'm sure they have way better lives than most of the animals I eat. If I knew more about the sport I might end up finding it distasteful as a regular form of entertainment, but it doesn't bother me to attend a charity polo event for free once a year.