For our March writing prompt we partnered with Julie Duffy Dillon and her Love, Food Podcast. Below is a small collection of some responses from our community.
I write this letter to you as I am eating a cinnamon raisin bagel covered in veggie cream cheese (don’t bash it till you try it). If you knew me 10 years ago, you would have never caught me eating this for breakfast. Not because I didn’t want to, more so because I had convinced myself I didn’t like veggie cream cheese or maybe I didn’t like cinnamon raisin bagels. Reality check, I did like bagels and cream cheese but I also knew that combo contained a TON of calories, which gave me more anxiety than pleasure when it came to the thought of actually allowing myself to eat it.
My love/hate/obsessive relationship with you started in high school. I don’t know exactly why or how I became so focused on what I ate and how many calories it contained and whether or not is was “healthy”. All I know is that it caused me to go in a downward spiral that I was convinced I had full control over. I was a soccer player and a mid-distance runner on the track team, meaning I needed calories to fuel my hobbies. I was also very uneducated in what foods were good for me, no matter how many calories or fat they contained. I was a label reader who didn’t know what she was actually reading on that label. I read in a magazine that cheese was high in fat, therefore I all of a sudden “didn’t like” cheese. I did this with any food that my Women’s Health or Fitness magazine told me I should cut out of my diet. I noticed that if you don’t like something, then people won’t question why you don’t eat it as much. I hated when people questioned why I wouldn’t eat a certain food because that made me confront myself with the exact same question and the answer was simply because I thought it would make me gain weight.
My love for baking started at a young age. I have always had a major sweet tooth and I love home baked goods. My mom always made sure we had cookies in the cookie jar. My grandma passed down a sugar cookie recipe to my mom that we still use today. Making cookies with my mom and siblings was my absolute favorite thing to do. I started finding more advanced cakes and desserts to make when I was in high school. Anytime there was a function that we were asked to bring something, I would ask my mom if I could make a dessert. In the height of what I now see as my eating disorder, I noticed that I gained extreme pleasure from watching people eat what I made them. I loved sharing my desserts with anyone and everyone that would eat them without thinking about how many calories they were consuming. I gained confidence and pride from seeing someone else consume a dessert that was full of calories, knowing that I had not consumed those calories. Now if that doesn’t scream YOU HAVE A PROBLEM, I don’t know what does.
Flash forward to present day. I still struggle with you, Food. Not because I don’t enjoy you, more so because I don’t like when people around me obsess over you. Being an active individual in any community- running, Crossfit, sports- you are surrounded by fad diets. Social media accounts that I follow because I enjoy a certain activity are flooded with articles on Paleo, Whole 30, no carb diets. I find myself getting overly annoyed with people who talk about diets. I’ve snapped at a friend that said she “can’t” eat a certain food, because in reality she very well can, she is just choosing not to because of whatever fad diet she is following. I have to hold my tongue when people see me eating nachos or mac & cheese (my two favorite foods, tbh) and feel the need to comment “you’re so lucky you can eat that and not gain weight”. Well guess what Susan, you can eat that too. You just choose not to and that’s fine. Now let me enjoy my fake cheese in peace.
There will always be a voice in my head when it comes to you, Food. I’ve come a long way in my eating habits. I still love to bake, and I also love to eat the things I bake as well as share them with others. I still shamelessly watch the food network (especially the competitive baking shows) because it is satisfying watching people make you. I’ve learned not to restrict myself from you. I know when I need to eat you and how much I need to fuel my lifestyle. I don’t feel shame or guilt when I indulge in you, because it is my CHOICE. You don’t control me anymore, Food. And that is something I am very proud of.
I love you, Food. Thank you for always being there for me when I need you.
My relationship with you over the years has morphed and evolved so frequently that sometimes it’s hard to look at you objectively. There are countless vivid memories, powerful emotions, and positive and negative thoughts associated with you, all that filter my vision of all that you are and all you represent. There are times when sitting down for a meal is the most stressful part of my day, when the dinner table feels like a battleground rather than a venue for socializing, connecting, and relaxing with friends.
Why have I felt I must deserve you? Why have I felt I must earn the right to eat the quantity and type of you that I truly desire? Why can’t being a human living, breathing, and walking around on this earth be justification enough to fuel my body and my mind? Why must you be judged, categorized as “good” and “bad,” divided into groups of you that I must and must not eat? Why has a person’s diet become a reflection of their value as a human being? What I choose to eat or not eat is completely up to me. I have the right to be able to eat what I want, when I want, with whomever I want, and not feel judged.
It was never supposed to be that way. You, food, were designed to sustain us, to enable our survival and perpetuation as a species. Yes, over time, it has come to be so much more. You can mean comfort and joy; you can be a reward and you can be a punishment; you can be a blessing, and you can be a curse.
You are the fuel that powers my body to satisfy my deepest desires and achieve my greatest goals. You keep my neurons firing, my heart beating, my lungs breathing, and my internal temperature constant. You give me energy to climb mountains, run races, teach children, love my husband, and just be me. Your steady supply bestows upon me one of greatest gifts imaginable: the ability to create new life.
At the end of the day, you are just food. You can be tantalizingly delicious — a gourmet meal prepared with precision and care — or you might be a packaged snack hastily consumed en route from one activity to the next. Regardless, you are energy to be consumed by my body, used for my own good.
You don’t need to be restricted or controlled. You will always be there when I need you, sometimes for comfort, sometimes to quell the gnawing ache of hunger deep in my belly, and sometimes because a meal shared with loved ones enhances every aspect of the eating experience. Food, you do not consume me. I consume you. You are a part of my life, but you are not my whole life.
I feel like I am at a crossroads with you. For years I restricted you and then binged on you, part of me struggling to give myself enough of you and part of me demanding that I get my needs met. I know so much more now than I did when I first started struggling with you; I know about trauma, dissociation, how bingeing can’t be “fixed” with restriction, that my weight and my body and even what or when or how much I eat are not the problem. I know that, nowadays, when I use you to numb my feelings or try to escape them, you don’t provide me the true comfort and relief that I long for. I also know that, nowadays, I can enjoy you so much more than I did in the past. I can be flexible about when and what I eat, I can sometimes articulate what of you I’d like to eat, and I can sometimes say when I’ve had enough of you.
I no longer binge as often as I used to, and I don’t binge on the quantities of food I used to. But there are still lots of evenings when I turn to you and eat more of you than I’m hungry for, or I eat something that I don’t even truly want to eat. I don’t think this is the same as bingeing, but it still feels like I’m trying to use you in ways that you can’t help me, and this behavior is keeping me stuck in a place I want to grow out of. I feel like I turn to you when I simply WANT—want more of a good feeling, or want less boredom, or exhaustion, or frustration from the workday. Why do I keep turning to you when I know you can’t give me what I need? How can I connect this knowledge that you can’t fix my feelings or take them away with the part of myself that still depends on you for . . . everything? I’m ready to take the next step, yet at the same time I feel like I am holding myself back.
Caught in Between
April is Stress Awareness Month. With that theme as our inspiration, our April writing prompt is “Release”.
Contribute your essay, or share your story, with Lane 9 Project.