On May 10th 2021, The Guardian reported on actress and Goop founder Gwyneth Paltrow’s moment of madness as she, hold onto your masks people, ate bread during the COVID-19 quarantine. As Paltrow described the consumption of carbs as “I went off the rails”, on the same day that India’s Coronavirus death toll reached 246,116, The Guardian reached its own milestone. In perhaps one of the most tone-deaf COVID headlines to date, the newspaper responded to Paltrow’s pasta paranoia on Twitter by asking its readers “What was your lowest point?”
Aside from The Guardian having an inexplicable inability to read the room (one Twitter user, quite rightly, pointed out that their lowest point was when “hundreds of thousands of people fucking died”), the signal boosting of Paltrow’s ‘pasta and bread are evil’ narrative is a concerning declaration for a globally influential celebrity to make.
It’s not the 1990s anymore. Beauty standards have changed. Size 0 is no longer desirable - let alone attainable. Curves are actively encouraged and happy bodies, whatever the shape or size, are being celebrated; the body positivity movement is doing wonders for female empowerment across the world. Why then are we still being exposed to the demonisation of certain food groups? Though times have thankfully begun to change, many of us, particularly those who have had difficult relationships with food, will never forget the anti-carb culture that convinced us that carbohydrates were the enemy.
"Though we mustn’t forget that Paltrow reached the peak of her career back when diet-culture and food-fads where dominating forces in society, criticism of these ingrained ideals are still as essential as ever."
‘A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips’. Low-carb diets, bun-less burgers, cauliflower rice and swapping spaghetti for spiralised courgette are subtle but ever-present reminders that we should be avoiding carbohydrates at all costs. But why? In ‘The truth about carbs’, the NHS points out that: “Significantly reducing carbohydrates from your diet in the long term could mean you do not get enough nutrients, potentially leading to health problems”. The article also warns that a lack of glucose, which is sourced from carbohydrates, “can cause headaches, weakness, feeling sick, dehydration, dizziness and irritability”. In fact, according to The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, it is recommended that “carbohydrates make up 45 to 65 percent of your total daily calories.”. Evidently, it is very clear that carbs are certainly not the enemy and we need a generous balance of pasta, bread, potato and rice to lead healthy and nutritious lives.
However, the totally dangerous dismissal of these facts, by the likes Paltrow, are damaging and toxic for her followers. Though we mustn’t forget that Paltrow reached the peak of her career back when diet-culture and food-fads where dominating forces in society, criticism of these ingrained ideals are still as essential as ever. According to the Priory: “Between 1.25 and 3.4 million people in the UK are affected by an eating disorder” affecting men and, particularly, women “as young as 6 and in adults in their 70’s”. It’s terribly sad that Paltrow feels shame towards some of the most delicious foods the world has to offer, but her flippant and very public nonchalance regarding ‘bad’ foods is an irresponsible example to set when “eating disorders have the highest mortality rates among psychiatric disorders”. Above all else, women really don’t need yet more encouragement to punish their bodies.
"It’s terribly sad that Paltrow feels shame towards some of the most delicious foods the world has to offer, but her flippant and very public nonchalance regarding ‘bad’ foods is an irresponsible example to set"
This statement by Paltrow hits Britain as the UK confirms the introduction of the mandatory inclusion of calories on menus, a policy that I previously argued against when it was proposed back in 2020. As well as calories being a basic and often irrelevant measure of nutrition, Break Binge Eating notes that “calorie counting has the potential to elicit a pattern of black-and-white, obsessive, and perfectionistic thinking styles”. When these numbers are glaring up at you as you try to enjoy a treat, the fun of food can be sucked out of your subconscious and can ultimately be detrimental in the mental health of many. As one Twitter user wrote “if they actually put calories on menus i will never go out again pls why are the 1.25+ million people that suffer from eating disorders simply being ignored”.
For anyone that is hyperaware of diet-culture and disordered eating, it’s plain to see that society in 2021 still very much has a problem with understanding how to ensure the overall good health of its citizens. Pasta is not inherently bad for you, nor is bread, or any food for that matter. As always, balance is key but I genuinely believe that food is one of the few pleasures in life that we get to enjoy time and time again. In a world where so many people live in poverty, including in the UK, and families are often unable to scrap together dinner thanks to a welfare system that is in desperate need of upheaval, food should be celebrated. Every mouthful should be a moment of gratitude, whether you’re taking a bite of veg or carbs. Life is far too short to punish yourself over a bowl of pasta, you’re worth so much more than what tickles your tastebuds and what size you wear.