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Last week, unicorns broke the Internet.
If you don’t know what I’m referring to, high five! That means you were offline, living your life, while the rest of the world was losing their minds over a drink involving a unicorn.
So, for those of you who didn’t know, last week, Starbucks® announced a special, limited time beverage called the Unicorn Frappuccino® Blended Crème. This brightly colored drink stirred up all sorts of emotions, from excitement and glee to outrage and food shaming.
Oh, the food shaming. We’ll get into that in a second.
According to Starbucks, the Unicorn Frappuccino® Blended Crème is a:
flavor-changing, color-changing, totally not-made-up Unicorn Frappuccino. Magical flavors start off sweet and fruity transforming to pleasantly sour. Swirl it to reveal a color-changing spectacle of purple and pink. It’s finished with whipped cream-sprinkled pink and blue fairy powders.
It’s really pretty — bright and sparkly, just what everyone loves. I’d post a picture here, but don’t want to get in trouble for copyright infringement. But, it looks something like the photo above. 😉
I found all the drama about one single drink to be rather fascinating, although frustrating at times. I’m always interested in trying to figure out why people get all uptight about the things they do. I mean, there are a lot of other food manufacturers doing way worse that one drink at Starbucks, but most of the time you don’t really hear about it.
So, why did a unicorn drink create such a ruckus?
After a lot of discussion on Facebook about it, I felt compelled to write a blog post about it. This post evolved into a much bigger article that I had expected. Once I started writing, I just had so much to say. I touched on a lot of different topics, touching on things like diet culture, food shaming, intuitive eating, disordered eating, eating disorders, body image, how our current nutrition system has failed us, and a lot more.
Let’s dive into the world of sparkles and unicorns, shall we?!
This drink caused a massive amount of hoopla for one main reason — sugar. People were absolutely outraged about the amount of sugar in one drink. According to the Starbucks® website, the drink contains:
- 39 grams of sugar for a small 12oz size (tall)
- 39 grams of sugar for a medium 16oz size (grande)
- 76 grams of sugar for a large 24oz size (venti)
All across the Internet, I saw people raising a stink about how much sugar there was in one drink, how “dangerous” it would be to drink it, and how people who do are dumb. Memes abound with the number of Snickers® bars or bottles of Coke® it was equal to. Oh, and let’s not forget the classic Wilford Brimley dressed up as a unicorn chanting “diabetus.”
For perspective’s sake, there are 31.5 grams of sugar in 12oz of orange juice. A lot of green juices can contain anywhere from 15 grams of sugar to 50 grams of sugar per 12oz. Most organic ice cream is going to have anywhere from 12 to 40 grams of sugar in a 4oz serving (and who really eats 4oz of ice cream?). Even my “healthy” desserts over on Delicious Obsessions are going to have a wide range of sugar grams.
On a side note, people were also freaking out about how many artificial colors and flavors there were in the drink. When I first started seeing pictures of it, I was certain it had to be loaded with all sorts of dyes and artificial crap. I was rather surprised when I did go to the Starbucks® website and saw the word “artificial” only show up ONCE in the long list of ingredients. Reminder: don’t assume anything.
Why Are We Pitching a Fit About the Unicorn Frappuccino®??
Yes, the Unicorn Frappuccino® has sugar in it. But so do ALL sweets, treats, and desserts, including many of the drinks on the Starbucks® menu. Personally, I am not going to drink one, but that’s because it doesn’t sound that good to me. But if it did, I would try it.
Metabolically, sugar is sugar, no matter what form it comes in. While I am a fan of natural sweeteners, like maple syrup, honey, and coconut sugar, I understand that these sweeteners, although unrefined and still retaining some nutrients, are still SUGAR!
If you compare the sugar content in a unicorn drink to other desserts, then there is ZERO difference. And yes, this goes for the “healthy” treats made with natural sweeteners too (i.e. “paleo” brownies).
We don’t typically condemn people for enjoying dessert once in awhile after dinner, especially if it’s “paleo,” so why are we condemning people for having a unicorn drink?
The response I got from people was that most people are not going to use this as a once in awhile treat. That they are going to drink them all day every day. Yes, some people might do that (and who are we to judge them?), but almost every single person I spoke to last week about this topic said that something like this was a treat. Some of these people were “non-foodies” too, so I’m guessing the average person in America is not as sugar illiterate as some of us think.
So, I got a bit perturbed about all the kerfuffle around this new Starbucks drink, especially when I see people I consider to be thought leaders shaming other people publicly. I posted my thoughts about the whole thing on Facebook, and boy, oh boy. You’d think I just told people to eat unicorn drinks for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
People. Lost. Their. Minds.
(Sorry, I had to delete some of the rudest comments calling me and others names, telling me how stupid I was, saying how I was a sham, etc.)
I Want to Offer a Different View
Some of you may know that I have gone through a transformation in my life over the last couple years. I’ve had my mind opened up to new ideas and new information, I’ve taken on some intense emotional and spiritual exploration and healing, and I’ve started to become more conscious of the way words can either help or harm people.
Some people seem to think that I’ve lost my marbles. That I am now just going around telling people to #eatallthethings with reckless abandon and zero regard to their health. Umm, no, that’s not what I’m doing. I’m simply choosing to dig deeper into our emotional relationships with food and body and understand why we all eat in the ways that we do.
Without addressing our relationship with food and body first, true healing cannot take place. Period.
If you’ve been a long-time reader of this site, my new views may seem a little counter-intuitive to where I once was, but trust me, they really aren’t. I’ve just evolved in the way I think about health and have incorporated a wider range of ideas and strategies into my work.
What I have learned is that there are A LOT of people who have struggles around food and body, from mild disordered eating to full-blown eating disorders. These issues around food and body can really create a lot of problems not only physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. When it comes to food and body, compassion is key, but also being willing to meet people where they are in their food choices is critical.
So, let’s dive into why I am not getting all in a tizzy about some drink.
- The drink is here for a limited time (but even if it wasn’t, I really don’t care).
- It’s no different than eating any type of dessert, treat, or sweet (even those made with your favorite healthy sweetener).
- People have a choice what they eat and we do not have a right to shame them, no matter what their choices are.
I’ll preface this with a concept that really made people super mad in my discussions about this last week:
Food is neither morally good nor bad. It is 100% neutral. We, humans, are the ones who place moral values on foods and determine whether it’s “good” or “bad,” depending on what our personal views are and how much conditioning society has done with us. We’ll talk about this more in the next section.
I’m a big proponent of shifting our views away from “good” and “bad” food and on to how does that food make our bodies feel? Of course, there are things that I personally choose to try to avoid, like GMOs, but again, am I going to chastise someone because they do? No. I also don’t lump things like highly processed and refined foods, GMOs, artificial colors, etc. into the category of food. I view those as “food-like substances” because they truly offer no nutritional benefit to our bodies. And I know from my own personal experimentation that I simply do not function optimally if I do partake in those foods.
People seem to think that if we remove food labels and give someone “permission” to eat something “bad,” it means that they will only want to eat that one thing for the rest of their life. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth, but I have to save that for a different blog post because it’s a big topic.
As someone who has personally dealt with a lifetime of disordered eating that eventually turned into a full-blown eating disorder, I am really sensitive to the morality issue around food. Are there foods that help promote health when consumed regularly? Yes. Are there foods that help promote health problems when consumed regularly? Absolutely.
As one of my favorite health gurus, Marc David, says: The dose makes the poison.
Is one unicorn dink (or other desserts) on occasion going to kill you? No.
And yes, I am fully aware that some people have metabolic health issues where sugar can be extra harmful. I am not ignoring that fact. Of course, I want everyone to make healthy choices and eat food that nourishes their bodies. I want people to step into a vibrant life and an important component of that is feeling vibrant inside and out. In order to feel good inside and out, we need to give our bodies the fuel it needs to create health at a cellular level.
I also understand that there is WAY more that goes into vibrant health than just what we do or do not put in our mouths. That’s why I like to take a very heart-centered, all-encompassing approach to health because we have had too many decades of nutrition advice being focused solely on the fork, and not on the body, mind, and spirit as a whole.
I want people to learn how to reconnect with their bodies so they can tune into the cues that they are receiving and find a way to nourish their body that fits their specific journey. As a culture, we have become so disembodied that many people don’t know how to listen for and understand the signals their body is giving them, let alone know how to create a style of eating that best serves their body’s needs.
I have seen how much damage is done by the insane diet culture and all the crazy morality around “good” and “bad” foods and how it leads to disordered eating and eating disorders — both of which are very detrimental to a person’s overall physical, emotional, and mental health. A lot of people don’t understand the psychological aspect of food restriction, dieting, etc., but that doesn’t make it any less real and any less harmful.
My goal as a coach is to help people find balance in all aspects of their life. Helping people work through the morality issues surrounding food has been a large component of my own healing and is a critical component of the work I do with others.
Why is This Even an Issue?
Why is this even an issue? 100, 200, 500 years ago, we didn’t have all these issues around food and body and we didn’t have the prevalence of disease that we do now. Heck, even 50 years ago we didn’t because I talk to my parents about some of these concepts and they are completely new to them. “Food shaming? Disordered eating? What in the world is that,” they ask.
So, what changed?
While there have likely been many different influences in this growth in food and body issues, I think a few things happened over the course of the last century that has created the issues we are seeing today.
- The rise of industrialized food production has led to a plethora of food-like substances and a massive decline in the quality of all food in general (even “good” food).
- There has been an extreme loss of education surrounding all aspects of nutrition and health, propelled by really bad science and political corruption.
- The rise of diet culture has created a new “religion of food” with a lot of morality around all things related. I would venture to say that THIS has been the single biggest thing that has shifted our culture into the sick world it is today. This diet dogma has had a lasting impact on the physical AND psychological health of people.
I believe that most of the sentiment behind all of the “health nut” hoopla last week came from a genuine and honest place. I know that most of the people I follow were coming from a place of care for the general public when talking about this drink. But the delivery was faulty and there was not enough emphasis put on the fact that (a) this drink is fundamentally no different than any other sweet treat out there (yes, even those paleo treats we all love), and (b) when we assign a moral value of “bad” to a food, we are perpetuating diet culture and it leads to further issues when it falls on certain ears (or eyes).
Most of the people I followed who were talking about this drink were talking about the sugar content and how sugar leads to disease. I’m not going to dispute the fact that too much sugar weakens the immune system, leads to inflammation, etc., so please don’t tell me that I am telling others to have a sugar free-for-all.
Is consuming a bunch of sugary sweets every day going to be the best way to cultivate vibrant health? Of course not.
Is putting a “bad” label on a certain food going to keep people from eating it? Um, no.
As a matter of fact, it’s been proven time and time again that when something goes on the “forbidden” list, it becomes 1,000 times more desirable to us. This is one of the primary reasons that diets fail for 95-96% of the population.
Does the vast majority of people eat too much sugar every day? Yes. Can it lead to larger health problems? Yes. Does it help them at all when we shame them and give them the impression that they are a bad person because of their food choices? No.
What we need is a massive mind shift and a willingness to change how we approach the way we deliver education about food and health.
We need more education about health that comes from an all-encompassing perspective of mind, body, and spirit.
We need to fully recognize and acknowledge the impact that diet culture has had on our society, from a physical and mental health perspective.
We need to fully recognize that disordered eating, eating disorders, and body image issues are very real, very harmful, and on the rise.
The Danger of Food Shaming
Food shaming and morality around food creates larger issues for many people. As someone who works with people around relationships to food and body, it’s a slippery slope when we shame people for what they choose to eat (cue the disordered eating and eating disorders).
Everywhere we turn we are being hit with clever marketing and the self-righteous food police telling us what is healthy and what isn’t. It’s like the wild, wild west out there when it comes to nutrition and health. One day you hear one thing and the next day you hear something completely opposite. Eat this, don’t eat that, this will make you healthy, this won’t, calories in, calories out, just diet more or less, just exercise more or less.
Sheesh, no wonder we are so screwed up around food and body!
So, I would like to ask everyone (especially us “health nuts” and practitioners) to think about “food shaming” and the impact this has on people psychologically.
When we assign moral value to food (i.e. “good food” and “bad food”) and certain people hear this, it leads to a cycle of them believing they are a “bad” person if they consume that food. They begin to align their value as a human with what they do and do not eat. They are a “good” person if they eat “good” and a “bad” person if they eat “bad.”
This belief can become fundamental in their psyche and is quite often the start of disordered eating patterns, and in more severe cases, full-blown eating disorders. Both of these issues are detrimental not only to the person’s physical health, but their emotional, mental, and spiritual health as well. Of course, not everyone will be affected, but a large number of people (especially women) will be.
Words (and their delivery) have the power to heal or harm, especially when it comes to food and body. Education is crucial in healing the world we live in, but that education goes far, far beyond “good” and “bad” foods. Our world is calling out for an emotional and spiritual healing on the deepest level. We can start by stepping out of diet culture and start lifting the veil of the shame that has come with it for so many people.
The Three No’s
So, the moral of the story is this: If you want to enjoy a unicorn drink, then do it. We all have the right to choose what we eat and don’t eat. And we all have the right to not be shamed for the choices we make.
Would I advise my clients to eat this every day? No, but again, it’s their choice and I love them regardless of what they eat and don’t eat. I’m not here to judge them. I’m here to help them make peace with food and their bodies — two things that they may have been at war with for years or decades. When it comes down to it, eating this versus eating a brownie sundae or a big bowl of ice cream for dessert after dinner, well, there’s not a whole lot of difference.
Most of the time, giving someone permission to eat what they want (even if it’s “bad”), leads to them making better choices about their food long-term.
When we remove the stigma around food, when we address people’s emotional relationship to food and body, and when we learn to listen to what our bodies are telling us, a whole new world can open up.
I’ll leave you with three no’s and one yes to ponder as I wrap up this post today.
- Is enjoying a dessert a bad thing? No.
- Are you a bad person for enjoying a unicorn drink (or any other food)? No.
- Is it any of your business what other people choose to eat? No.
- Does our world need healing on a deep, deep level (and how can you help encourage that healing)? Yes.
Ultimately, my goal with this post was to help people see a different side to the argument over sugar. To help them become more aware of the way our insane morality over food can be detrimental to many people.
I know some people will agree, some with disagree, and that’s OK! That’s the beauty of the Internet. We can all find a tribe of people who fall in line with our values and beliefs, no matter what those may be.
If you’ve been struggling with your relationship to food and body and are ready to find the peace and freedom you’ve truly been craving, I would love to help. Whether you’re dealing with binge eating, overeating, yo-yo dieting, body shame/hate, or a combination of the above, know that these symptoms are holding a deeper message for you.
Come join my 7-day Food & Body Freedom eCourse (it’s free!) here. This eCourse came from my passion for helping women transform their relationships to food and body. What you desire IS truly possible if you are ready, open, and willing. It is time to say goodbye to the years of control, compulsive behaviors, limiting beliefs, scarcity of joy, and actions driven from a place of fear and feelings of unworthiness, once and for all. Learn more and sign up here.