I Never Had a Normal Relationship With Food
Many proponents of intuitive eating talk about returning to a childlike mindset of listening to the body and eating in a natural way. Unfortunately, my childhood was clouded with food rules, just of a different nature.
I have always been tightly wound and anxious, and as a kid, I was extremely afraid of throwing up. I worried that certain foods would make me sick, and I panicked about the potential of food poisoning from meat, expired food, dairy, etc.
I would also get into such an anxious panic that my stomach would tie up in knots and the mere thought of eating food made me think that I was going to get sick. Essentially, throwing up was my worst fear, and I would do anything to avoid it.
I went through stages of rigid food rules, disguised as normal childhood pickiness.
I associated certain foods with illness, and would avoid those foods AT ALL COST. No one in my HOUSE was even allowed to eat those foods. (my apologies to pierogies, kielbasa, potato soup, applesauce, pork tenderloin, and many others)
I travelled to San Diego when I was 9 years old and I distinctly remember insisting on only having cheese quesadillas at every single restaurant.
My mom jumped through hoop after hoop to try to get me to eat somewhat in a normal and nutritious way, because I even lost weight one year between 4th and 5th grade because of the anxiety and food stuff.
I remember standing in the mirror and counting my ribs.
I didn’t fixate on the whole body weight thing until I was much older, but at that time, I controlled food in order to control my day. If I ate all the safe foods and none of the risky foods, nothing bad would happen to me- i.e. I would not throw up that day.
Flash forward to my 16 year old self deep in the throes of my eating disorder, the same story played on repeat, this time with a different focus.
Luckily my anxiety around the fear of vomiting had subsided, but now the ultimate fear was weight gain.
I associated certain foods with weight gain and worried about how much and when I was eating. My anxiety dictated my behavior and my choices.
I counted my ribs in the mirror.
Sometimes it was almost like a twisted way to relive the time when I was in 4th grade. When everything else wasn’t so complicated.
When dietitians talk about intuitive eating, one tip is to go back to food that you used to love as a kid. But to be honest, I can’t remember many foods that I loved just for the sake of loving the flavor.
I had an obsession with foods. I didn’t love them, I worshipped them. I went through stages too. French fries, all beef hot dogs, strawberry rhubarb pie, turkey and havarti on croissant, hummus and pita, peanut butter on an eggo waffle, mini chocolate chip freezer pancakes. My mom is definitely either cringing or crying or both while reading this.
Each food had its moment to become the new normal. Each food was kind of like a safety net, because I knew that it tasted good and didn’t hurt me.
So when I am asked to “go back to the way that I ate as a kid” it’s not that simple.
I simply can’t return to the carefree days of eating what sounded good. Those days didn’t really ever exist. Food has always been a production for me. I have always been obsessed.
Just in a multitude of different ways.
So now, when I sit in session with my dietitian, and unpack rule after rule after rule, I struggle to imagine a world in which I don’t apply any labels or any control because fixating on my food has been a forever thing. I have always used food to control what happens to me.
My dietician said that in some ways, it’s like reinventing myself, and becoming a whole new person rather than returning to the person I once was.
I like that.
I can’t go back and change my relationship with food in the past. I can’t change my innate need to control my environment using my food choices. I can’t change how tightly wound and anxiety prone I am.
What I can do, is commit to rewriting the narrative.
Just because I spent almost 19 years of my life being obsessed with food in one way or another doesn’t mean that that has to continue to be my reality.
We, as humans, are allowed to change. I can dye my hair, I can change my name, I can move across the world, and I can change my abusive relationship with feeding myself.
That doesn’t make it easy, but at least I know that I have the power of choice in the matter. I do not always have to be what I once was. And that in itself is profoundly powerful.