Things that I have learned in the past month or so about my relationship with food

I eat when I'm nervous, especially when I have work that I need to do.  Eating allows me to put off for just a little longer whatever it is I am nervous about, maybe even (if I'm lucky) until it simply goes away....

I eat when I want to read, especially if what I want to read has nothing to do with work.  Eating is important ("You have to eat") unlike reading novels or (heaven forbid) self-help books.  I will, therefore, keep eating (e.g. by having dessert) in order to have more time to read; otherwise, I might have to stop and go back to work.

Until very recently, I rarely, if ever, enjoyed my food, whether because I was busy counting calories in my head or because I didn't feel like I was "allowed" to eat--ever.

What other people experience as occasions for fun, I have spent the greater part of my life dreading: coffee hour at church, parties with snacks, cookouts, picnics, anything that might offer an opportunity to eat something unusual or unplanned.  (Read, that I couldn't count calories for.)

I have been worrying about my weight since I was seven or eight (and weighed all of 65 pounds, or maybe it was 78, I didn't find that chart in the decluttering, I could be misremembering completely), but I have almost never believed that I deserved to be thin--or normal.

I really was bingeing regularly (daily) when I was sixteen, but the urge hits me only occasionally now, typically once or twice a month; no coincidence, surely.  It also hits when I am particularly stressed, as, for example, the day last month after my fifteen minutes of radio fame.  Again, no coincidence, surely, that within a day thereafter I was worrying about diets (or not-dieting) again.

I am clear now that I have used being "fat" as a way to protect myself against both disappointment and fear.  "If I were thin" is a marvelous shield against the terrors of the present, not to mention the unbearable ordinariness of everyday life.  "If I were thin, my life would be magical."  But, of course, I've been thin (on occasion, sometimes even for years at a stretch, although I didn't always realize it at the time), and it wasn't (magical, that is, although I did enjoy buying clothes more)--much better to be "fat" than for the dream to go away.

Thanks to the nitpicking of my family as I was growing up, I truly believed (in part, still do believe) that I was (am) incapable of eating normally, that I was in perpetual danger of blowing up like a balloon if I were ever allowed to eat what I want.  I can still hear the whispered conversations about "how fat Rachel is getting" and see the knowing nods: "She's out of control, she's going to eat herself to death."  But just because my grandmother made her family crazy about eating doesn't mean she was right--or that I was actually as fat as the family seemed convinced I was.

Fat is, indeed, a feminist issue, although I know there are plenty of men who struggle with their weight as well.  I remember reading Susie Orbach's book back when I was in high school (or maybe I didn't get to it until college; I know I also read Kim Chernin about the same time).  I am surprised, saddened, and enraged that I am still struggling with this issue even today.  How is it that a whole culture can be so sick?

As I have watched myself eating over the past month, I have learned a great deal about how I use food for purposes other than satisfying my physical hunger.  I have even started to enjoy what I have been eating, much more than I ever allowed myself to enjoy eating in the past.  Every so often, I am even able to tell that I don't actually feel better after I eat something that I was convinced I needed in order to carry on (e.g. chocolate) or that I was certain I wanted (e.g. dessert, because, you know, who doesn't want dessert?).

I have started to realize how I have used food to punish myself as well as to console; how I have denied myself the foods I most wanted (alas, including meat; my vegetarian soul is having trouble with my hunger) in order to eat the foods I thought I wanted (typically, more sweets).  I now recognize dieting as a form of self-torture, not healthful discipline.  I cringe when I think of all those "diet tips" about substituting one (fake) food for another (real) food, so as to trick oneself into eating something bland or unsatisfying, as if to say, yet again, "You can't be trusted; you need to be deceived and lied to, but don't worry, it's for your own good."

And, indeed, I still don't fully trust myself.  I caught myself adding up calories yesterday.  I don't trust myself when I think I'm hungry.  I wanted some caramel popcorn yesterday, and I was worried that I would eat the whole bag.  I look in the mirror and wonder if I've gained or lost weight, as if anything important actually depended on the size of the fat cells in my legs or the number of rolls in my middle.  Right now, in fact, I'm feeling hungry but telling myself, "You can't be; you just had a lunch an hour and a half ago."  And secretly hoping that maybe if I can keep myself hungry, I'll lose weight.  Because some part of me is still convinced that I'll be happier once I am thin.  But I'm still hungry.  I think.

(There, I ate some chocolate.  I suppose I'll have to be fat a bit longer.  But at least it tasted good.  At least, I think it did.  Now I'm not sure.  And I still have work to do.)


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