My relationship with food is complex.
On the one hand I love to cook it and eat it—on the other, it terrifies me.
The dark side:
Many of my days are spent living through the three hour periods between eating times. I generally have my entire day’s worth of food plotted out to the last crumb, making sure it falls within the strict guidelines I set for myself.
It must be vegan, it must be unprocessed, it must be organic—preferably it will be home made. Meals must be 300-400 calories, snacks must be 100-200 calories, I must eat at regularly set intervals and I must try not to wolf my food—but taste it—which is hard when I’m in the throes of a lustful interchange.
If something throws me off course—say I’m suddenly expected to go out to lunch with friends, or we were scheduled to go out but someone changed the location or I have to wait an hour longer than normal to eat any meal or snack—the stress it causes is almost unbearable.
I appear to be functional, but I’m silently counting calories or trying to stuff down my anger that I’ve been derailed—looking up menus and nutrition information for the restaurant I might be forced to go to covertly on my phone. I’m frantically devising methods to prevent a descent into gluttony—no eating anything white, eat half my entree and immediately have the rest packed to go and drink at least three sips of water between each bite.
Why must I have such strict and ritualistic rules for myself when it comes to food? Why can’t I just eat when I am hungry and stop when I am full and live my life like a normal person?
For me, being full and being satisfied are two completely different things. I don’t know if I even know what it feels like to be satisfied. Similar to when I was addicted to drugs, nothing is ever enough. Unless I forcibly clamp down on my compulsions, I will just eat and eat and eat and eat.
And of course, then I would get fat, and fat is the worst thing in the world anyone could possibly be.
(I know that isn’t true, yet I act as if it is.)
If I was fat, no one would love me—I’d end up alone in my XXXL sweats in a darkened room with a bunch of empty pizza boxes wondering how I could get my (fat) hands on some cyanide and just end it already.
Food is the enemy.
Terrible confession: I’ve often longed to have the discipline of an anorexic or a bulimic.
Though I’ve made forays into those lands and though I am clearly eating disordered, I simply can’t not eat, and throwing up food that the earth has provided makes me feel like a bad person.
How I envy those tiny girls, whose legs don’t touch and who have the telltale whisper of fuzz on their angular faces that come from starving.
(No, I don’t—it’s obvious they are in pain as well. They haven’t found the magic bullet either.)
I want to throw things and cut off all my hair and scream in the middle of the street—what is wrong with me?
Why can’t I find any peace?
The bright side:
Yes, I am obsessed with food, but not always in a bad way.
My obsession has driven me to discover where my food comes from and to make more ethical choices for myself and for the planet. (Of course, that’s also a curse—knowing where most of our food comes from and trying to eat ethically could drain the joy from a newborn puppy.)
But it’s deeper than that.
Years ago when I ate anything and everything—Taco Bell (five hard tacos with extra hot sauce), meatball sandwiches and chocolate muffins I bought at the deli, Corn Flakes, canned green beans and instant mashed potatoes—I had no connection to my food. I ate mindlessly.
I knew meat came from animals, but for some strange reason I never stopped to think about the actual creature I was ingesting.
I knew vegetables grew in the ground, but I didn’t know how they looked or smelled as they emerged from the earth or even what many of them looked like in their natural form.
I knew that “cooking” was a way to put disparate foods together to make something I could eat, but I had no idea how to actually do it or what it meant to let machines and corporations do my cooking for me.
In my quest for the secret to eternal thinness, I accidentally stumbled into the beautiful world of real food.
I learned to chop an onion like I meant it, to grow herbs and how to use them, soak beans and scoop avocados. I experienced the pleasure of cooking for friends and family and filling the house with good smells and laughter. I found out about flavors, cultures and how to travel to the far ends of the earth with just a shake of cardamom, a stalk of lemongrass or a ginger thumb.
When I am cooking, I am free from the terrible dictatorship of my fears.
All I care about are the beautiful colors, textures and fragrances in my pot as ingredients transform from one wonderful thing into something altogether different and perhaps even more wonderful.
My fear gave me the gift of loving food.
I don’t think I will ever completely reconcile all the contradictions and emotions that surround eating, food and body image. It’s simply a part of my fight and a way I am better trying to understand myself.
As much as I am still unwell, I am in equal parts grateful.
I have the ability—mental, physical and spiritual, to walk my walk wherever it may lead, to whatever table I may sit at and to try to make it count.
In the meantime, I will keep counting the seconds until I can eat again and maybe fix a warm rice pudding with cinnamon and coconut milk that we can share together.
Author: Erica Leibrandt
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock
Photo: media library