No, you don’t have to ‘earn your food’ this Thanksgiving

Anyone running a turkey trot this Thanksgiving might notice a problematic component in marketing the race: diet culture.

Races are taking place across the country this Thanksgiving season, and some runners encourage using it as an opportunity to eat guilt-free, to burn off the calories from the pre-Thanksgiving meal, or to “earn the turkey”.

While this language may sound innocuous, it’s not helpful for those who struggle with body image and eating issues, says Rachel Rodgers, an associate professor of applied psychology at Northeastern.

It’s also not new or uncommon, says Rodgers, as part of a two-pronged approach to food marketing: Consumers are encouraged to indulge during the holiday season, while being told to “earn” their meals or sit guilty for eating

What is the impact of messages like these and how can people take care of themselves during this time? This is what Rodgers said. Rodgers’ comments have been edited for clarity and brevity.

What is your reaction to the marketing of Turkey Trots that are geared toward “earning your meal”?

It’s all related to guilt and the idea of ​​weight control. And that food is something you should spend most of your time resisting and only enjoy if you’ve really atoned for it sooner or later.

What is the impact of those messages?

I think it fits into the broader diet culture, a pressure to use food as a way to manipulate weight and shape and genuinely consider it the enemy, which is not a helpful stance.

Do you see this as a trend in diet culture?

Marketing trends come and go to be effective; it needs to be perceived as new. And so things tend to circulate; there is really nothing new. There’s an illusion of this as a new trend or a new look, but it’s basically the same thing.

Food marketing has a tension between marketing things that are represented as very, very appetizing and tempting, and things that are represented as things you can eat without guilt, and that will help you regulate your weight and shape. And most of the time those products are sold by the same companies.

There is this tug of war: you must consume, this is going to be really delicious, go for it. And then there’s, Oh, but wait. Let’s see how we can do that and worry about our weight at the same time. And we’ll call it a party.

Some people might say, what’s the point of exercising if you’re not burning calories? Why do we bother? What do you think about that?

I tend to think of exercise a little differently. We know that exercise can be done from different mindsets, and that if you approach exercise with a mindset of how it will make me look better, that tends to be associated with poor results. It may be effective in the short term, but it creates a dependency on maintaining a rigorous exercise regimen to keep looking the way people want. That’s dangerous because you can end up exercising even if you’re hurt, it creates a lot of anxiety if you think you won’t be able to keep exercising, etc., etc.

While we see that exercise done for social benefits or from an embodied perspective of being in tune with what’s going on in your body and enjoying the sensations tends to be associated with much more positive mental and physical health outcomes than general. Benefits.

How would you react to someone saying that it is an overreaction to say that these messages are harmful?

It’s never black or white, is it? They are probably right that for many people this type of message will not be very harmful. And there will be a small group of people for whom this will be very stimulating. Globally, it is not harmful to most people, simply because it is so normalized. It’s a replay of things you’re seeing everywhere in all shapes and forms. That doesn’t mean it’s a good message. It just means that it is so ubiquitous that, to some extent, you don’t even notice it anymore.

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