Below is a heartfelt letter I wrote to someone within my family who had misunderstood how I felt about their eating habits (thinking I approved when I didn’t). I wrote it in 2012 and I wanted to share it because I imagine I’m not the only one to ever feel this way. It became something of a rant; an outpouring of years and years of repressed feelings about food and what it signifies.
I’m sorry if I upset you yesterday with my comment. I just find it so incredulous that you could believe I have ever supported your diet. Of course I love and respect you but you can respect the core of someone without necessarily respecting their behaviour(s).
Food is a very emotive topic for me. It may sound ridiculous, but it actually makes me very angry. I get angry that food controls a person’s life. That you can’t not eat if you choose to. (Well, ok, you could but you’d be uncomfortable and feel lousy). I know it’s ridiculous to be angry about something that is supposed to be a natural instinct but I find it so maddening when people live their life by food. H and K used to grate on my nerves when all they seemed to talk about was what they’d just eaten, what they were going to eat later, what they were going to have for dinner tomorrow, etc. etc. My friend A was forever saying, ‘Well, we’ll need to have lunch first so we’ll go after’ whenever we were planning a day out and it made me feel like screaming ‘For God’s sake, can’t you miss a meal for once?! Isn’t our outing more important than food?!’.
The more I meet other people and other families, the more I realise how obsessed our family is with food and diet. I’m not naive; I know there are plenty of families/individuals out there that eat poorly or erratically but there are also a huge proportion who see food merely as something to be eaten and socialised over. It’s so refreshing to have a meal where the only comments made about the food are ‘this is lovely, thank you’ rather than micro-analysing what ingredients are in it, where they came from, how this is going to affect them, etc.
I get so frustrated by having my life ruled by meal times and food that I eat erratically on purpose. Some days I’ll not eat anything but a big bar of chocolate. Or I’ll not eat anything until ten ‘o’ clock at night. And it’s not linked to vanity – most days I look in the mirror and think ‘I’m ok with being a size 12.’ Sure, I’d like thinner thighs and and firmer arms but that comes from a lack of exercise. I feel completely lost wandering around the supermarket, trying to decide what to put in the basket. I come back with a random collection of things that I can’t really make a meal out of and then I don’t want to eat half of it anyway; I just bought it ’cause I felt like I ‘should’. When I think about how many more years I have of this feeling of anger and frustration with food I want to cry and sometimes do.
I hate cooking because it always tastes so bland because I’m trying not to put oils and salt and sugar in things and trying not to overcook the veg and leave all the ‘goodness’ in the wasted boiled water. It’s so lovely when someone cooks for me. It takes away so many worries; what to cook, when to eat, whether there’s a balance of carbs and proteins and how many veg I’ve managed to cram in. I don’t think about what I’m eating because I’m eating with someone else so it takes away that guilt. And I don’t feel like I’m being judged because I didn’t decide what to eat – someone decided it for me and they seem to think it’s appropriate. For once I can just eat.
Maybe you remember my comment at dinner one evening at C’s. After you had both been analysing our proposed meal for what seemed like forever, I finally couldn’t hold it in any longer and said ‘It’s food. Can’t we just eat?’. I expect it from both of you because I know you both have issues with food and mostly I hold my tongue because I know that it’s something you have to do but unsurprisingly I don’t want to pick my meal apart figuratively before I literally pick it apart. I don’t want that meal to dictate whether I’m going to feel guilty about eating it for the rest of the day or not. I just want to eat it, feel satisfied and get on with my day.
Maybe none of this will make any sense to you and maybe you’ll try to impart advice about what I should and shouldn’t be eating to control my mood-swings but I beg you please not to. Yes, I know and believe that food does play a part in our emotional and physical well-being and I advise my clients to eat healthily as recommended by the Department of Health, but I also believe that there are far more factors involved in health and a huge portion of that is social well-being and mental health. And food is such a social event now. I love going out for meals and popping into a tea shop for tea and cake on my way back from a walk – it makes life feel cosy and more complete. I find it incredibly sad (as in ‘upsetting’) that food rules your life to the point where accepting a meal from a friend becomes very much more about the food itself rather than the symbolism of the gesture.
I know everyone thinks I escaped the demons about food that everyone else has but I don’t think I did. Certainly I’m not anorexic or bulimic nor am I a habitual binge-eater (although I have mild episodes when I need an emotional crutch) but I certainly have a messed up view of food. And I’m not blaming anyone because no one has ever done anything on purpose nor am I trying to get some kind of pity vote.
Anyway, I’ll leave it there because I’ve cried enough over this email and I haven’t eaten yet today and I am going to go downstairs and slather peanut butter on a slice of white bread and try very hard to shut up those annoy nagging voices that guilt-trip me.
I love you,