Food and I have a love-hate relationship. Mainly love, I won’t lie. Nothing gets me going more than biting into a slice of watermelon and having the juice ooze down your chin, or the folded, glossy scrambled eggs in your fried breakfast after a night out. Food smells good and tastes good, and as we have to eat it three times a day there’s plenty of room for the good stuff. However, as with anything that has a constant presence in your life, food can also cause fear, guilt and obsessive behaviour. It has definitely caused each of those things for me over the past decade, but as I’ve ‘found myself’ (cringe, but we’re not talking Into The Wild so chill) in the past year or so, my relationship with food has improved steadily too.
I used to be an obsessive eater. I wouldn’t say that is the technical term, but I think it describes quite accurately the kind of relationship I had with eating. I thought about it all the time and was painfully indecisive about what I would eat depending on the factors I prioritised at the time; the number of calories, nutritional value, grams of sugar, you name it. I would eat hardly anything for breakfast and then think about all of the food I wanted to eat throughout the morning. I couldn’t understand why at the end of the day I’d find myself finishing a packet of biscuits I’d bought on my way home when I was so intent on losing weight. It’s wild to think that I genuinely thought I was healthy.
Weirdly, a couple of years ago it improved. I think it was caused by a huge upheaval in my life with my living situation, but without even trying, I forgot about the sugar cravings and realised a couple of months later that I’d managed to kick them. I think that was the biggest step for me, and since then I’ve been practicing integrating more naughty/syn/whatever foods into my cooking. Bring on the butter, cheese and roux sauce, friends, I’m all here for it.
However, last week my progress took a knock. I don’t like to admit it, but spending a whole day editing footage of my semi-naked body did not do my perception of myself any favours. You really do see everything, and the camera really does add those metaphorical ten pounds. It felt like all the progress I’d made over the past two years slipped away and I was reminded of how sweet self-loathing could taste. Think agave nectar, stevia substitute kind of sweet. The kind that doesn’t think she’s deserving of anything other than salad, and will spend minutes upon minutes by the fridges in Tesco trying to pick out the most nutritionally dense, high-fiber, low sugar option for lunch. I think you know the sinister sweet talk I’m talking about.
Food and body image are so intimately connected. When one slips, the other tends to plummet with it. It doesn’t matter how irrational those thoughts are, and how emotionally weighted they may be, they still come back to haunt me every so often. You can make the most progress, have the best outlook and have kicked your body dysmorphia into the ground and yet, and YET, due to societal standards of beauty, you’ll never fully let that sweetness go.
And you know what? It nearly knocked my progress. I booked a spin class, filled a basket full of vegetables in my local supermarket and avoided the treat aisles. I started looking at weight loss videos, a classic vice that accompanied my late night binges when I was eighteen which I’ve avoided ever since. However, I did something different this time: I spoke to my friends about how I was feeling after the edit. They were so supportive, dismissing my concerns instantly. Friends who had also had issues with their body image understood exactly where I was coming from so it was deeply reassuring to hear their perspectives. Then I re-followed some hardcore body-positive Instagram accounts – I know, bad to have unfollowed but sometimes I find the relentless positivity a bit jarring – and they clearly do help because gradually I’m starting to feel normal again. Mirrors are just mirrors, food is just sustenance and not the monster in my kitchen cupboard that it can become. I ate pancakes on pancake day, covered in glossy maple syrup and blueberries. Things are beginning to fall back into place, and I’m seeing food as the thing that I wake up for, the thing that my friends and I enjoy together, the thing shared between cultures and passed down from family to family. Food is a really beautiful thing.
So I’m making a commitment to myself this time around: I’m going to actively work on my relationship with food and my body. I’m going to work with my brain and come up with new ways to think about the two, and actually try and keep them separate for once. It’s about rewriting the subconscious narrative I think; Just because I ate an almond croissant doesn’t mean I need to get anxious and just because I have a back roll in a photo doesn’t mean I need to eat tofu stir fry for my next five dinners. I know I eat a balanced diet and I get at least three of my five a day so what’s the big stress? I’m going to try and see my body as a temple, a very clever temple that does things like clear out toxins for me and let me walk places without looking like the Going To The Store man. I’ll stop shitting on myself and start separating my body image worries from the food I eat. I think that’s a good place to start