At lunch with a friend recently and after eating our entrées, we both contemplated having desert. Mulling over the desert menu got me thinking about my relationship with food.
I have had a love-hate relationship with food for pretty much my whole life. When I was a kid, I was energetic and kind of chunky but I wasn’t fat. And still I remember hearing people tell me that I wasn’t hungry when I was. Or they would tell me that I had to watch what I ate and how much I ate. My life seemed to be filled with food cops who watched every morsel I put in my mouth and weighed [now there’s a pun if I ever heard one] whether it was something which I should eat. The admonition was, “You don’t need that!” Or it would be put in the form of a question, “Do you really need that?” And for me to eat something which was sweet or gooey was totally self-indulgent and to be self-indulgent was wrong. Nothing like shame to compel compliance.
It feels as though I’ve been on some sort of diet or other for a great deal of my life. I think the first diet I was ever put on was when I was about 10. I did the Metrecal diet when I was 13. The family GP put me on a 2 week starvation diet when I was 14. I made myself ill when I was 16 by eating only 600 calories a day and exercising every night for at least 2 hours for 8 months. I counted calories with every meal I ate. I even spent over $17,000.00 having gastric lap band surgery. All so that I could lose weight.
I was constantly reminded by media and by my father that boys would not be interested in me if I was not slim and svelte and a size 10. Or, as I was told by a brother-in-law not long ago when I ended up in the hospital for something not weight related, if I did not lose weight and keep it off and ended up in the hospital again, no one there would want to help me. They would wash their hands of me and ignore me and I would get less than the medical aid I needed and what help I would receive would be grudgingly given.
And, with each diet that I eventually refused to follow and with each time I did not lose weight quickly [and unhealthily] and keep it off, I judged myself to be a failure – unable to control myself and ultimately disgusting. My entire worth and value was attached to my physiology – my attractiveness and my convenience to others. Nothing else about me mattered.
And for all that I was told that I didn’t need to eat some things, there was an incongruent aspect to how food was used by others in my life. Food as locus of control – but differently. Not only monitoring each mouthful I ate but also insisting that I had to eat what was on my plate. I lost count of the number of times that I was told that I had to clean my plate before I would be allowed to have desert if there was any in the offing. I just didn’t understand. Why could I not eat some things and yet why did I still have to eat everything that was put in front of me?
And then there was the ultimate use of food as control – seconds and having the last of anything. We were not allowed to have seconds of anything until everyone else had been served that particular food. And we were not allowed to just take the last of anything on any serving platter on the table. Take seconds before it was our turn or finish something without checking to make sure that no one else wanted it first and we would be judged in front of others as being selfish and a pig. Shame is such an effective tool.
And it was so easy for the food police in my life to couch everything in terms of concern for my well-being. “We only want what’s best for you.” “We’re only saying this because we love you.” So for me to question the motives of the Morsel Mounties was selfish and uncaring of their feelings.
The implication of all of this was that I had no control and that I needed others to step up and make decisions for me. As well, I had to consider the feelings of others and put these before my own. Failure to do this and I would be judged as selfish and uncaring. Shame is so effective as a bludgeon!
And eventually, I internalized the external voices of the food cops in my life until they became my own voice. They might not be there and questioning what and how much I ate, and their voices still echoed inside my mind. For all that I’ve changed and come into mySelf over these last few years, for all that I’ve read about food and the psychology of eating and dieting, for all that I’ve written about choosing to live my life differently, I know that there has been a part of me deep down inside that has judged my success each day by how much I’ve eaten. At some point every day, I’ve still listed to myself what I’ve eaten – when and how much. Little or just enough and I’ve been successful in controlling my urges. Too much and, oops, I did it again – I’m out of control.
Food – the preparing of it and the eating of it is not just a biological necessity, it’s a social thing. Sharing a meal should be something where people can sit and enjoy each other’s company in comfort and ease. It should not be something which becomes another way for anyone to impose their control over others. And yet, too often, that is exactly what it has become. That is what it became for me.
I should be amazed that my inner critic still finds something with which to try and beat me up. And I’m not. There are so many ways that I no longer judge what I choose critically and decide if the decision I’ve made is the right one in someone else’s eyes or if what I’ve done is good enough for external judges. And it strikes me that, as I continue to evolve into the fullness of I AM, my inner critic seeks to find some point of control so that it can still exist. As Louise LeBrun has said, “Your mind is not your friend.”
And, as I write this, I know that, in each moment, I’m more and more free of that critic’s voice. I feel like I’ve won at my own personal games of ‘Tag’ and ‘Hide and Seek’. And to my inner critic, I can say, “Gottcha’!”.