Demi Lovato And Jameela Jamil Have A Point About Why Food Should Never Be Labelled ‘Guilt-Free’

The problem is far bigger than a yoghurt shop - society needs to stop pedalling the dangerous myth that food can be good or bad.

demi lovato

by Bonnie McLaren |
Updated on

Who knew frozen yoghurt could create such a media storm. ICYMI, Demi Lovato - the American popstar - accused a frozen yoghurt shop in Los Angeles for being ‘diet culture vultures’ for having sugar-free products labelled as ‘guilt-free’. The shop, The Bigg Chill, then responded saying that: ‘We are not diet vultures. We cater to all of our customers' needs for the past 36 years. We are sorry you found this offensive.’

They later issued another statementto Insider, which included the sentence: 'Whether they are diabetic, vegan, gluten-free, or just wanting a decadent dessert - we've always tried to have something for everyone.'

Predictably, as often happens when someone with a huge following calls something out, the argument spiralled. As she mentioned sugar-free options, people accused Demi of forgetting that diabetics exist, and labelled her posts as ‘pathetic’. DMs from Demi to the store - where she says ‘You don’t want to mess w me’ - have since been ‘leaked’ by TMZ, and people such as (checks notes: Piers Morgan, who has written a whole column about it for the MailOnline) have taken huge offence at Demi calling out a small business during lockdown. Demi even recorded an eight-minute video about the whole saga, explaining her stance, and saying she didn't intend to go after a small business.

'My intentions were not to come in and bully a small business, that was not it,' she said. 'I walked in, and got so triggered I left without fro-yo, and it made me really sad. That's all it was and I wanted to talk about that.'

Regardless of the way she has gone about it, and the impact this might have had on the business, we can see her point. Demi was trying to shine a light on how powerful these words can be for people who struggle with their relationship with food. It’s understandable Demi - who has been open about her struggles with bulimia - could find that wording ‘triggering’, when she just wanted to get a frozen yoghurt.

And, until you’ve had an ED, you don’t get to choose what those people are ‘pathetic’ caring about. Speaking from experience as somebody who has had bulimia, when you’re trying to recover, it really can be overwhelming going to buy something which you consider a treat - only to see options which are screaming about how ‘good’ they are. You instantly feel bad for what you're about to enjoy.

But this argument isn't just about me, or a popstar, nipping out to get some something nice to eat. Labelling food as ‘guilt-free’ doesn’t do anybody any favours. Terminology like this reinforces diet culture - that some foods, presumably low in calories or sugar, are good, and any which are not are bad.

iWeigh founder Jameela Jamil - one of Demi's friends - has also defended the star. ‘If an eating disorder advocate says she sees products that are positioned as guilt free, and it is potentially triggering, that doesn’t mean she’s too stupid to remember that diabetics exist,' the actress wrote on her Instagram stories.

'We need to stop using that f_ing term,’ she continued. ‘We are so lucky to even have food. What in the name of st and hell is there to feel guilty about. That’s a term of shame. Orthorexia is easy to slip into and is a F_ING nightmare to crawl out of. I think it’s good to keep raising awareness on this matter until eating disorder rhetoric is OUT of our normalized mainstream culture. We say words like this all the time. Electing foods for virtue or sin. Cheat, guilty, naughty, bad, unhealthy… etc. all problematic terminology.'

These words aren't just 'problematic' for Jameela, Demi and I, either. Millions of people around the world have eating disorders, and so words like this have a huge impact on a vast number of people. (Beat estimate in the UK alone 1.25 million people struggle with an ED.) Not to mention people who might start a disordered relationship with food thanks to terminology like ‘guilt free’ - as Jameela points out, orthorexia is ‘easy to slip into and a nightmare to crawl out of’. You might disagree with the way Demi has argued it on social media, but, her point about dangerous terminology when it comes to food very much still stands.

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