Food – Friend or Foe? (Oh FFS, Just Eat!!)
I was in a yoga class the other day. Please don’t think I’m one of those bend-y, human origami types. I’ve been to three yoga classes in my life. I can’t touch my toes. My Warrior pose is a serious worry. But I like the part where you get to lie on the ground in the dark listening to lovely mystical music, and call it exercise.
Anyway, in this yoga class the teacher said something that has stayed with me. He said “Your body is perfect because it is your body.” I felt I had to believe him. He was looking at his own rectum at the time, so he clearly had a much broader experience of life than me.
It was this mantra I was holding to the next day when I polished off a piece of chocolate fudge cake at lunch. After I’d had two servings of lasagne. Calories? Doesn’t matter. “My body is perfect, because it is my body”, I joyously cried through stuffed mouth. You’d think I’d been lost at sea for three months, the way I shovelled that food down. Sadly, the self-acceptance was short lived, as my food guilt crept in like indigestion.
Most days, I aim for a low fat, no sugar, low carbs, no flavour, no fun diet. Most of the time I succeed. Except for when I wrestle with temptation, give in, eat the cake, hate myself, plan an extra session at the gym I never get to, swear I’ll never do that again, until the next time I’m tempted. It’s so futile.
If asked, I say my healthy eating is to afford me slow release energy for my busy days (true enough) and because I have Irritable Bowel Syndrome. As I’m completely self-diagnosed from Dr Google, that’s probably more BS than IBS.
A more accurate answer would be “Actually, I’m terrified of getting fat.”That’s the first time I’ve ever said that publicly. I hate that I feel it, and I’m ashamed to admit it.
I know it makes me a weak minded superficial fool who is imprisoned by her own vanity. I fear it might be hurtful or insensitive to people I love who struggle with their weight. Worse still, it contradicts every other way I live my life.
I’m a FEMINIST!! I’m an independently minded woman who absolutely does NOT believe beauty comes from your appearance, and a mother who never uses the word ‘fat’ in my daughter’s presence.
But I’m also the product of my experiences. Of a childhood spent in store dressing rooms watching my mother complain about her ‘fat stomach’. Of seeing the twin girls next door get two different meals because one was larger than the other. Of knowing I was lucky to avoid the nasty snipes that float around a school gym change room because I was naturally slim.
Now that I’m an adult, I’m definitely no stick figure, and certainly I don’t aspire to that, which is a good thing because post-40, there’s no turning the tide. I have to accept my bum is heading more towards fat spider than praying mantis, and that’s OK. I genuinely celebrate all shapes and sizes, and accept the best my body can give me.
It’s just I prefer to be a lighter version of me, and I’ve felt this way for so long that I can’t eat certain foods (basically anything Gwyneth Paltrow would frown on), without that nagging feeling in the back of my mind. That guilt, like a Tupperware of leftovers lost at the back of the fridge, stinking up all that is good. Guilt, together with a decent amount of shame, because I don’t want to think this way. I want better for me, for all women, but most importantly for my little girl.
I want her to love food, to know the primal joy of it. The taste, the smell, the texture of it. I want her to dissociate food from morality and judgement. I want for her to never consider any foods to be ‘naughty’ or ‘bad’ or ‘sinful’. I mean, it’s ridiculous. How can food be bad? What? Did that pizza sleep with your boyfriend? (Actually, I have found pizza in my husband’s bed, but I’m pretty sure they’re just friends.)
It’s. Just. Food! And far from being bad, in all its richness and saltiness and sweet and fatty goodness, it can, and has, even saved a life. Tell me a tub of ice cream hasn’t held your hand and brought you back from the brink in the middle of the night, when you’ve been dumped and you didn’t want to wake your friends with your heartache.
I want my daughter to know this. To know that food is for nurturing, yes in a responsible nutritious way. But also there’s emotional nurturing, and sometimes that calls for a self-saucing chocolate pudding that warms you from the inside and reminds you of what’s good in the world.
I have, and will continue, to tell my daughter that her food choices are about growing into a strong, healthy person, and never about her appearance. And I will tell her as long as she likes who she is, it doesn’t matter if she’s a bend-y yoga guru or a butter ball.
And for every time I tell her, I will be telling myself. I’m hoping it will sink in. You never know, by the time she turns 21 we might both be able to enjoy a piece of birthday cake guilt free.