White Death

I was teaching at a gifted program at Northwestern University for PreK/Kindergartners. They always had a nice spread of bagels and cream cheese from Panera available. I’d always have a bagel in the morning there for breakfast, and since I never packed any food for lunch, I’d have one at lunch as well.

A colleague of mine, new to the program, was offered a bagel. She immediately screamed, “I’m not eating a bagel! Those are so unhealthy for you! They are like WHITE DEATH!”

Wow, that statement really took me aback. I was stunned. Blind-sighted.

Here I was, eating white death twice a day, & had up until that point been enjoying it. Okay, it was the perfect match for what my whole body desired, but my mind and my tongue really loved it! I continued to eat White Death throughout my tenure teaching in the program.

Fast forward three years into my dark dieting days. That phrase, WHITE DEATH, really stuck with me. Anything with sugar, but especially breads/grains, was labeled WHITE DEATH, & I tried to avoid them. But as I mentioned above, I really love my bread/bagels! So, restriction lead to bingeing and misusing bread for other purposes other than physical hunger.

Restriction —> Bingeing —> False Guilt

White Death. White Death. White Death.

The teacher’s lounge is covered with White Death at all times of the year. I remember once instance after eating some White Death, I felt instantly ashamed. So, instead of chewing and swallowing. I just chewed and spit it out. And that was the beginning of my unhealthy pattern of chewing white death, and throwing it away.

Diet Mentality will do that to you.

(Honestly, how many calories was I even saving?)

I feel my throat choking as I write this. It was such a sad and desperate place to be. I was at my thinnest, and yet so afraid of food.

I no longer fear food the way I used to. I know that food is not love. Love is not food. My relationship with food is evolving. It’s exciting. It’s freedom.

How have you learned to stop labeling food as good or bad?


About eatingasapathtoyoga

Learning to savor food, yoga, & life.
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26 Responses to White Death

  1. Megan says:

    You keep giving me so much to think about (thank you for that – clearly, I’ve done some backsliding in my intuitive eating and it’s like the universe provided your blog as my wake-up call).

    I don’t really think of food as good or bad any more, which I thought seemed like a win, but I’ve realized I definitely categorize food as “real” or “not real” foods. “Real”: fruit/veg, whole wheat whatev, full-fat dairy, beans, proteins. “Not real”: white flour things, store-bought baked goods, desserts, snack foods. I really force myself to eat out of the “real” category because I feel like the “not real” choices aren’t valid. But of course they are – I’ve just dropped the moral terminology for “health” terminology, which is so cheaty of me.

    Thanks for the eye-opener. Again.

    • Great to connect with you Megan! I think balancing “real” and “not real” is a challenge. Food is food. Our body’s will tell us what is needs, if only we would listen.

  2. Kara says:

    Yes, for me, it’s just food now. I agree, it’s an exciting feeling, and it is freedom. The other shift I’ve noticed is that I’m excited to eat fresh, healthy foods and I basically see all processed food as junk, for which I have very little interest in eating…

    It’s amazing how we think of food dictates our eating habits, yet for many years I thought food was the problem as opposed to the actual culprit, my thinking. Although I was never afraid of food, I was at the point when I could no longer make a decision about what to eat. Eat good food equalled dissatisfaction. Eating bad foods equalled guilt and shame. Either choice lead to overeating.

    The diet mentality triggers eating disorders, but it is accepted as normal as it is so common in our culture. I’m so glad that you’ve recovered from your disordered eating. Great post…

    • Thanks for your comment! I would say I am recoverING… I’m in a process, however, I am in a good place.

      I liked what you said about fresh, healthy, & unprocessed. I’m at the stage where I may consider integrating more “gentle nutrition” into my daily eating.

    • Kendra says:

      “Eat good food equalled dissatisfaction. Eating bad foods equalled guilt and shame. Either choice lead to overeating.”

      This response was an exact mirror of where I am currently at! I’ve just never heard it explained so well.

      Any tips for moving through this stage?

      • I think bad food glitters sometimes. When we give ourselves full permission to enjoy & savor it, it neutralizes the glitter. How do we make good food satisfying? Having physical hunger for it is important. Respecting our body so that we fuel it well is also. I don’t have the answers, these are just some thoughts. Maybe Kara will have some too! 🙂

      • Kara says:

        I like that: bad food glitters. I agree, it glitters and it’s shiny and sugary. I agree, you have to take away the shine and glitter of bad foods.

        The more you say “no I can’t eat bad foods” the more the anxiety about eating bad foods will build. The anxiety will trigger false hunger, which can lead to overeating or obsessing over said food (adding more anxiety). Same thing goes for “good” foods – the more you focus on “I must eat good food” the anxiety about eating good foods will build.

        To get past this (and heck – to even figure out what actually triggers eating) I worked with a cognitive behaviour therapist for about a year. (Cognitive therapy is different from other therapy in that the goal is to change behaviour.) Basically, I had to complete reprogram how I thought about food and eating.

        I’ve noticed that the more I eat healthy foods, the more I crave healthy foods and the less I crave junk food. But, your mindset (especially heavily entrenched diet mentality) can make it difficult to make healthy choices.

        I’m worried that it is bad blogging etiquette to link/talk/refer to one of my blog postings, I wrote a couple of posts recently about reprogramming thoughts that might provide better insight into the process. Search for the posts “How I learned to think like a thin person” and “I did not want to stop dieting”. I believe they both appear in my list of popular posts at the bottom of my blog. Sorry? Is this bad? Kendra, I can’t find your blog to tell you there….

      • You can link back, I love it!

  3. Run Eat Play says:

    I love this story! I try not to limit any food, but eat it in moderation. I love bagels too. I will eat the whole wheat bagel thins, but every once in a while, I will buy myself a big, fat, doughy everything bagel!
    I know that I shouldn’t label foods as good or bad but sometimes it’s hard to not do it!

  4. Paleo Yogini says:

    I try to question people who categorize food as good and bad (I call them Food Nazis), either directly or in my head. One of my friends who is a Food Nazi about wheat, like your colleague, will eat “wheat free, gluten free” fake bread with a whole laundry list of chemicals, gums, dyes, and preservatives on the ingredient list, yet thinks it’s healthier than a loaf of artisan white bread. I’ve tried to explain to her why eating Vegannaise instead of a nice mayo with an egg yolk and some olive oil doesn’t make much sense. She doesn’t listen, but at least questioning her forces me to question myself and my own beliefs about what’s good and what’s bad.

    I also try to remind myself that there are good reasons and not-so-good reasons to eat. The food itself isn’t so important; it’s the other stuff we bring to the table that is.

    It’s tough. We live in a world where foods might be labelled “legal” or “illegal” (at least Weight Watchers used to do this). I think it’s good that you recognized how this triggers you and how you are coming to terms with it. I’m looking forward to following your progress and reading your takes on this process.

  5. jay says:

    It wasn’t until my acupuncturist pointed out to me–that if my body “wanted” a food–something in that food was needed. Even if it was sugar–a low functioning gall bladder qi would crave sugar to stimulate it. It wasn’t until he gave me permission–that I was able to let go of the guilt I had with eating certain foods. I keep track of points to keep me from eating everything nailed down and to keep me eating in moderation–but if I want something–I’ll go ahead and have it.

  6. Anna says:

    We all get our own food labels, don’t we? It’s amazing that, no matter what you call it, these labels get so deep in our psyches. I had the same thing with labels — or seeing everything in terms of calories, points, etc.

    Thanks for sharing your journey!

  7. Lynn says:

    I love your comment “bad food glitters”. It’s so true. I just started therapy to allow me to make peace with food. I feel like I have taken a small step in a journey that will last the rest of my life.

    • Lynn, what an exciting journey you have begun. Therapy plays an important role in giving yourself unconditional permission to eat & eating mindfully. Thank you for commenting!

  8. I gotta say, I have not learned entirely. I feel like I go through stages in my eating journey that I must re-learn to make peace with food all over again.

    However I did learn that it is more important to make peace with your body than it is to make peace with good/bad food. When you are at peace with yourself, your food choices will follow suit.

    So glad your over those times though . . . Crazy to look back on, yeah?

  9. Thanks so much for emailing me this post. I love it and could not agree any more. I have a big fear of all “white” foods (rice, bagels, pasta) because of my past. I hope one day I could look past those “labels” and learn to love every type of food. I am so glad those days are over for you and you get to enjoy food in its natural form (with cream cheese 🙂


  10. Thanks for sharing this with me! Really interesting post! I think it’s amazing the type of involvement our minds have with something (eating) that’s really quite basic. As in, a person is hungry, they eat enough to sate themselves and are done. But I mean, who really lives life like that? And more importantly, who wants to?! And then using our minds we’re able to make choices based on desire and preference, but then if it goes too far one way, you can have the negative diet mentality like you pointed out. Crazy!

  11. Steph says:

    I just received your email about this post – I’m sorry, somehow it went to spam. This was a great read. I think it all comes down to balance. Can you enjoy some “white death” once in a while? Sure. You only get one life. But, BECAUSE we only get one life, it’s important to fuel ourselves properly. I’m a true believer that natural and wholesome foods can taste the best. It absolutely amazes me how often they are not available in public places like offices and teachers’ lounges!

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