Where do I begin?
Food is punishment, and food is reward. Food soothes, and food stokes anxiety. Food is a means of control when life is out of control.
I’ve always been a bit of an odd duck when it comes to food, avoiding certain types of foods and certain types of places to avoid getting food poisoning. That’s my rationale, anyway. Frequently this can mean my meal consists of fresh French fries and either a shake or a soda because I don’t trust the safety or quality of foods when we’re out and about.
I also feel guilty when I eat too much of the wrong things, sometimes. The definition of “too much” and “wrong things” shift daily. Wrong things can include eating a whole bag of popcorn because I couldn’t stop, and then feeling absolutely terrible and angry with myself, wanting to cut as a punishment. I can also feel guilty if I eat a whole bowl of steamed broccoli, with a little salt and cheese, because then I feel full, and feeling full = feeling fat, and then I need to punish myself.
“Why did I eat the whole bowl? I should have stopped after a few bites!” Of. Freaking. Broccoli.
Broccoli has like zero calories. What little calories are in broccoli are farted out. There’s no reason to feel bad. But I do. It takes a while and a whole lot of self reassurance to get past the urge to hurt myself.
Yet I can eat a little ice cream or a bit of chocolate and feel okay about it. I can have a good turkey dinner with mashed potatoes and gravy and green beans and have a slice of pie later on and feel okay about it.
But if I have a quesadilla for lunch, I hate myself. Sometimes.
I don’t weigh myself obsessively. In fact, I almost never weigh myself. I kind of stopped after my daughter started crawling around–I don’t want her to see Mommy on the scale, and besides, she would lean on it and make the numbers meaningless anyway. Numbers are kind of meaningless after you’ve given birth. I’m the same weight I was before I had her, but my fat was redistributed and all of sudden none of my size 12 clothes fit anymore. I am solidly a size 14. And it bugs me a little–only because clothes are freaking expensive and hard to find and I really hate clothes shopping.
I have some issues with food nonetheless.
I mentioned it to my therapist, and she asked if it came from my upbringing.
Not really, I said. I didn’t think so. I mean, my parents would sometimes punish me by limiting me to one serving of food and no snacks and no dessert, and…
The expression on her face told me that was odd.
Old habits die hard, or perhaps I try so hard to make sure I tell nothing but the truth when it comes to my family because the last thing I want to do is to make false allegations of abuse (because I’m anxious like that), so I tried to clarify that you know, in a big family, what was for dinner was what was for dinner. You ate it, or you didn’t. And if you didn’t, you didn’t have dessert. And because I can’t stand the fatty bits on pork chops or ham or steak and would eat selectively around it because it was fat and because the texture was terrible, I often didn’t eat the main course of the dinner, and wouldn’t be allowed to have seconds of mashed potatoes accordingly and wouldn’t be allowed to have dessert.
Then I remembered how hungry I would be sometimes, and would try to sneak upstairs, avoiding the creaky parts of the stairs, moving very slowly, to get a snack, and the only snack I could get without waking my parents up or making noise was the bread, so I would grab a slice of bread (or if I was bold, two) and sneak back downstairs and eat it very carefully to stave off the hunger pains so I could sleep.
I also remembered how I loved to research dessert recipes, wanting to try a whole bunch of different things, and I liked to bake them. My parents once pulled me aside and tried to tell me about eating to live verses living to eat, and wanted me to stop looking at dessert recipes for a while–no more making cookies or pies for a while.
But we never went hungry, per se. Not like neglect or cruel withholding of food.
But my therapist told me that was still not okay. Could I imagine doing that to my daughter? No. Never.
And a punishment of sticking only to serving sizes, say, a half a cup of oatmeal, was not enough for me in the mornings, and that is unusual.
She mentioned something about how eating disorders start.
I know when I started college I was very cheap, and would frequently just pack one peanut butter and jelly sandwich and one fruit and maybe something else, and that would last me the whole entire day–and I had frequently scheduled 8am classes and night classes to stay at school longer and away from home longer. So I was hungry. But cheap, so I would rarely buy snacks.
I was down to 135 lbs when I first met my husband. I looked great. But I was hungry all the time. I felt good, and I felt bad. I know my dad asked if everything was okay, because I had lost a lot of weight. I told him things were fine. I felt self-conscious that he noticed I had lost weight.
He invited me over to his family’s house for dinner on my long days, so I could have dinner before my night classes, and we’d carpool back to campus together. His mom made dinner in a way you could easily build your own to suit. I ate a lot–it was good food. I started gaining weight again.
It was like an eating disorder, I guess. I don’t think I can accept that label, though. It wasn’t that bad, was it?
I eat healthier now than I did then, but I am still about 20 lbs overweight. I mostly accept where I am now, except when I don’t and want to hurt myself to make up for it. I don’t fat talk, except in my head.
But then I see my daughter and want to try REALLY hard not to screw up her sense of food and okayness, and try to withstand self injury or the desire to barf, because I don’t want her to see that, and internalize that as an okay thing to do.
And it took until now to realize that I have a messed up relationship with food and myself. Years of therapy, and this feels like a revelation to me. Why did it take this long, I wonder? (and I battle another desire to punish myself for not realizing this sooner.)
I have more work to do.
I will do it for my daughter. I have already gotten better for her, even before this revelation.
But still, shit.
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