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Once upon a time, I was scared of food. Like actually scared of it.
Food thoughts consumed every waking moment: Is this bad for me? Does it have too much sugar? Have I eaten too many carbs today?
I would look enviably at other women who could eat dessert without a dollop of guilt on the side. How could they? Because if I spent too much time around the snack table, I would go wild.
Eating, for me, was a pendulum swinging where I was either full-on restricting food and trying to limit what I ate or bingeing on everything in sight.
Later, and in recovery from bulimia, I was trying hard to move past that dieting mentality where everything must be weighed and measured, with every ounce of food passing my lips counted and noted. I was also struggling with the thought of keeping all my previous binge foods in the house and not bingeing on them.
After all these years not allowing ice cream, chocolate, crisps, or bread in my house, I couldn’t envisage a time when these foods would freely live in my cupboards.
So, I started with my biggest fear food: peanut butter and jam on toast. One of the many things I didn’t allow myself to eat because otherwise, I would binge on this “bad food.”
So, I decided to turn it on its head.
What if, instead of restricting it, I ate it for breakfast every single day? Toast with peanut butter and jam.
It felt really weird, to begin with. Day number one and here I was slathering lashings of peanut butter and a huge blob of jam on toast. Willingly eating it (and not in a planned binge…hmm).
Delicious. It was so delicious. Crunchy, nutty, and a little bit sweet. Divine.
I savoured the taste, ate it slowly, and…really enjoyed it!
Day number two, I’m experiencing the same glorious taste going round my mouth, and then day three, four, five. Each day I made myself two pieces of toast with peanut butter and jam and enjoyed eating it, loved it, savoured it.
I thought I’d want to eat it forever. And then suddenly, one day, about three weeks in, I’d had enough. I no longer wanted to eat toast for breakfast.
That desire, the pull, the lure of peanut butter and jam on toast disappeared.
Then I had this lightning bolt thought: it was just food.
Shock horror. Just food. And that’s it.
Not inherently good or bad. Not inherently healthy or unhealthy. Not a superfood or bad food or clean food. Just a piece of toast with peanut butter and jam.
And that’s when it struck me: we laden this morality onto food that doesn’t have to be there. Just take a moment to think about the language we use.
Food is bad for us, so we avoid naughty food; we feel guilty or ashamed if we crave it, and then repent if we eat it. We’d rather eat guilt-free treats, but sometimes we cheat.
There’s so much morality in the way we talk about food. No wonder we feel so awful about ourselves when we eat.
Eating peanut butter and jam on toast for those weeks taught me to speak differently about food. To stop labelling. To call it what it is: a bar of chocolate, or an apple, or breakfast, or lunch, or snack.
Taking away the labels made me feel less guilty when I ate some chocolate and less lofty when I ate some spinach. It also helped me reflect on other reasons to eat that didn’t involve the number of calories, macros, or grams of sugar and fat.
Eating is a chance to connect with friends and family, an opportunity to share intimacy and love; it can be about culture. Food can be comforting, and a single meal can take us back to our childhood. There is an enormous amount of freedom in this new perspective.
And what of peanut butter and jam on toast?
Well, all these years on, I will occasionally eat peanut butter on toast with jam, but I don’t crave it, I don’t binge on it, and what’s more, I hardly even think about it.
That was one of the first steps on my food-freedom journey. I felt that if I could conquer peanut butter and jam, I could conquer anything. It was crisps after that, chocolate, ice cream, and now I have cupboards full of biscuits and crisps, a freezer with Ben and Jerry’s, and a whole stack of chocolate.
Sometimes I eat them, sometimes I don’t. And the main thing is that it’s always done with absolutely no guilt.