It all started with registered dietitian Alissa Rumsey and a Publix sandwich.

By Julia Guerra
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Asian woman eating wings and fries and a sandwich
Credit: Shutterstock/Pattysan

When people share food pics on Instagram, there are virtually no boundaries. You'll find anything on your feed from a vibrant green smoothie to a giant block of melted cheese dripping onto a juicy steak.

But oftentimes, there's something missing from these pics: a person actually eating the food—more specifically, a woman eating, and genuinely enjoying, the meal, rather than posing with the dish like it's an accessory.

Food is meant to fuel you, but it's also meant to satisfy you, which is exactly why registered dietitian, Alissa Rumsey, and body coach, Linda Tucker are using the hashtag #WomenEatingFood on Instagram. (Related: Are Instagram Trends Destroying Your Diet?)

It all started last month when Rumsey's husband captured her taking bites of a Publix sandwich while wearing a bikini. At the time, there was only a small handful of photos under the hashtag #WomenEating on Instagram, according to Delish. So Rumsey and Tucker saw this as an opportunity to start a conversation surrounding women and food.

Once they came up with the idea, Rumsey and Tucker researched "women eating" on Google, and the results were "insane," essentially displaying a collage of "thin, white, beautiful women with a salad they weren't even touching," Rumsey told Delish. (Related: Why Fitness Stock Photos Are Failing Us All)

The Google results struck a sensitive chord with the dietitian, as she attributes the "disordered relationship with [my] own body and [food]" to constantly seeing these very specific images of what women eating "should" look like, she told the publication. (Related: My Eating Disorder Inspired Me to Become a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist)

By encouraging women to use the hashtag and document themselves digging into fast-food burgers, pasta, ice cream, donuts, and the healthy stuff they genuinely enjoy eating, Rumsey and Tucker said they hope to spread a message of food acceptance and body positivity.

Over 600 posts later, the hashtag is gaining traction with women of all shapes, sizes, ethnicities, and professions—among them a number of dietitians.

"They see the value in [#WomenEatingFood] too, in how much seeing women simply eating without justification can help to start to normalize that action," Rumsey told Delish.

#WomenEatingFood is a movement that can not only help women feel good about what they eat but also remind them that food doesn't require validation.

"Once we grant ourselves undeniable permission to eat our favorite foods, we relieve the weight of responsibility that these foods hold over us," says Rachel Fine, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., C.D.N., a registered dietitian nutritionist specializing in sports dietetics. "Making choices rather than rules is key," she adds. (Related: Why This Is the Year I'm Breaking Up with Dieting for Good)

The hashtag also sends the message that food doesn't have to be labeled "good" or "bad," because the thing is, when you do think about food from such a black-and-white perspective, "it's usually followed by guilt that sends us into a shame spiral," Rebecca Scritchfield, R.D.N, author of Body Kindness, previously told Shape. "It's not just that the food is bad, you often feel bad for eating it. I mean, how often do you hear people say 'I was bad today' in reference to their diet? Maybe you could have eaten healthier, sure. But you weren't bad. Cheating on your SO is bad. Lying is bad. Eating a burger is not." (Related: We Seriously Need to Stop Thinking of Foods As 'Good' and 'Bad')

Hashtags are great, but if you're looking for some hands-on ways to enjoy your meals more and develop a healthy relationship with food, registered dietitian, Colleen Christensen suggests mindful eating. "Allow yourself to truly experience your food," says Christensen. "How does it taste? How does it look? How does it smell? Take yourself off of autopilot and allow yourself to enjoy it." (Here's how to make mindful eating a regular part of your diet.)

Additionally, sharing foods you love with others can be a great way to spread the positivity, says Tamara Freuman, a New York-based registered dietitian and author of The Bloated Belly Whisperer"[Hosting a meal] allows me to pore over cookbooks and look through recipes for things that I think will appeal to people's senses in a delightful way (rather than fulfill criteria like being low-calorie, low-carb, etc.)," she explains.

"It helps reframe food as something with inherent social value—the thing that helps strengthen human connections which in turn enrich our souls—rather than allowing us to view food as mere 'fuel' for the body," adds Freuman. "We're human beings, not cars, after all."

At the end of the day, your relationship with food is entirely your own, so when you find the method that makes eating more enjoyable for you, stick to it and share your story using the hashtag #WomenEatingFood. You never know who you might inspire to take that first bite into foodie freedom.