Today’s Observer includes a piece entitled “Women own up to guilt over eating habits”. It’s an interesting choice of wording – are women “owning up” to the eating itself or is this some kind of meta-guilt relating to their response to food? I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s both. These days, not only is eating too much and being a porker a Bad Thing, but so too is failing to be a Real Woman who celebrates her curves. Hence regardless of whether you’re literally stuffed, metaphorically you are.

According to the piece “millions of British women have eating binges, lie about how much they weigh and have a negative relationship with food”. All pretty remarkable, when you consider that only 2,000 British women were interviewed. It’s amazing what wilful extrapolation can do:

Three-quarters of UK women – 24 million – say they often feel guilty about how much they eat. Women typically think about food 12 times a day and those under 25 have it on their minds twice as much as those over 55, the poll found. Six out of 10 told researchers they had lied about how much food they ate, almost half (43.74%) said they snacked in secret and more than a quarter (27.68%) confessed to binge eating – this rises to more than a third (36.72%) of those under 25.

Whether or not this really does affect 24 million women, it’s sad that anyone has these feelings at all. Eating ought to be a pleasurable and sociable experience. Still, at least the dieting industry is doing its best to raise awareness of all the lives it fucks up, albeit while taking the opportunity to persuade a few more people to fuck up their lives just that little bit more.

See, I’m quite a naïve person. When I saw this Observer headline, I assumed this would be a news report about disordered eating and the work that’s being done to help sufferers. It turns out that the “research” was commissioned by New Atkins Nutritional, who, as you may be aware, are not to be confused with BEAT or anyone else who actually gives a shit about the welfare of ED sufferers and human beings in general. Here is what Linda O’Byrne, chief nutritionist for New Atkins Nutritional, had to say in response to the findings:

These are very worrying figures that reveal many women are ill at ease with food. Whether it is bingeing, lying about how much you weigh or eating in secret, you must do your best to stamp it out. On a diet or not, food should never be the enemy. It should be a positive and not a negative influence in your life.

Thank you, Linda. Now let us all do our best to “stamp out” all unhealthy thoughts regarding food, unless such thoughts relate to carbs, in which case I presume it’s totally fine to remain “ill at ease”. Oh, and also, since your research finds that “boredom, stress and feeling depressed were the biggest triggers causing women to eat more”, I guess we should all try extra hard not to get stressed and depressed about how fat and ugly we are, or too bored despite the fact that we’re thinking about food all the time because we are really fucking hungry.

Ahem.

Genuine research into eating disorders suggests that bingeing and food obsession tend to be very closely linked to dieting or food restriction. Funny, that. “On a diet or not, food should never be the enemy,” claims O’Byrne. See, it’s the “diet” part of this that’s the problem. Rather than give people the knowledge and tools not to give a shit about these things, what articles such as the one in today’s Observer do is overlay the pressure to be slim with the pressure to have (externally, at least) a “healthy attitude” to eating. No wonder some of us end up bingeing in secret. Maintaining the public façade of a Real Woman healthy attitude to food while simultaneously bowing to social pressure to lose weight is a pretty big ask.

What’s worse, if you have an eating disorder, headlines such as that in today’s Observer will draw you in. You’ll expect to find something that helps, not an Atkins Diet expert telling you to “stamp out” your feelings. Now not only will you feel guilty about eating, and feel guilty about feeling guilty about eating, you’ll also feel guilty about your abject failure to simply snap out of it. Those are three guilt trips you just don’t need.