I’ve always had some kind of an uneasy relationship with food. My mother tells a story of a young me being fed lunch by a great aunt who was trying to cajole me into eating by saying “You won’t grow up to be big and strong!”. Apparently my response was “I don’t want to be big and strong.”
My mother laughs at the funny things small children say, but I never understood what was so funny about it. I never wanted to be big and strong. Big anyway. I never wanted to be big. I don’t think most girls do. And while I gloried in being taller than my younger brother #1 (for as long as that) lasted, I really liked nothing more than being towered over. I like feeling small. I like feeling like I don’t take up a lot of space; in my head I am tiny and elven and fey. In reality? Less so.
I spent most of my growing life as a very skinny person. And I felt uncomfortable in that body too. I think maybe throughout the entirety of my life, there are only a handful of moments where I actually felt comfortable in the skin of my own self. And probably if I analysed those, it would even turn out to be fewer.
But back to food.
I was a picky eater. I hated the taste, smell and texture of butter, milk and cream. I could just about tolerate cheese sometimes. I still do – all butter smells rancid to me. However, in this country, if there’s anything that’s less socially acceptable to eschew than alcohol – it’s butter. It’s added to everything. Including most dinner foods – in the mistaken view that it enhances their flavour. However (like most families) there was pressure to finish your meal – or certainly make a decent effort at clearing your plate. I quickly learned tricks to ingest foods I didn’t like, and to eat without tasting or thinking.
As a parent, I can understand the frustration of a child who won’t eat – and the worry too. Especially when that child already appears underweight. Even with the experiences I had myself, I still struggle not to insist that my children eat more than they say they want. It was particularly hard when they were younger and they seemed to just be living on air! But that long journey is starting to pay off, and I hope it will in the longer term too. Of course I wish they’d eat a greater variety of foods. I wish so many things regarding their eating in fact, but I’m working very hard to not push my issues with food onto them.
The point is, I don’t blame my parents for what they did – I don’t think they behaved any differently from any other concerned parents raising five children and trying to feed them all a relatively healthy diet.
So, I had a small appetite and didn’t like most foods. And society and my parents’ shopping list wasn’t very supportive of that. Mealtimes were a chore, I rarely liked the lunches I brought to school and while I mostly didn’t want to eat what was put in front of me, I did so without thinking, whilst continually hungering for foods I did like and feeling like I never got them.
Naturally those “liked” foods became a bit of obsession. Especially sweets and sugar.
As I grew and left home, I started to have more access to foods that I liked. Treat foods became a comfort and a reward. Throughout college I couldn’t afford much more than the basics, but once I had a job, it was no longer a case of eat all you can afford, but eat all that you can fit.
I had … have … a constant feeling of scarcity. When treat food is there, I have to battle with the deeply ingrained belief that I need to eat it now because there might not be more in the future. And in the evenings when it comes time to relax, it is nearly impossible for me to imagine relaxing without some kind of treat in my hand, on its way to my belly. And it has nothing to do with hunger – at least nothing to do with physical hunger. I will often eat past the point of satiety, or trot out to the kitchen cupboards to find more to eat even though I’m already feeling overfull, because somehow in my head my relaxation time only lasts as long as I’m eating.
So, there we are. A lot to unpack and think and feel through. Over and again I come back to the same watchword attention. I’m not trying to diet or change or anything like that at the moment. I’m just trying to notice. Notice how I feel, what I like, what I dislike, what makes me feel good, etc. And to try to stop when I am full.