With the global epidemic of the DT’S settling in, (the Donald Trumps) let’s talk about something else that plagues the mind of many; food, glorious food! It is the magical source of life that keeps us going, it can cheer us up, bring people together, give us energy – it literally gives us life.
So why are so many of us afraid of it?
***Full Disclosure: The ludicrousness of this post does not waltz past me obliviously. More so it aggressively rhumba’s with me as I resonate the fact that half the world is starving and a lot of people have no access to food. Yet, in the western world we long for the willpower to starve, are overfed or avoid just about everything because something on Facebook told us we’re shouldn’t eat it.***
Think about the amount of time you’ve spent worrying about your weight, scorning yourself for not being in perfect shape, comparing yourself to others or rationalizing how considerably better your life would become if only you prioritised 6 pack abs over a 6 pack of beer. Or just thinking about food in general, what you want to eat, why you shouldn’t eat it, what will happen if you do and what you can eat instead. The daily barter within ones head. Think about how these thoughts narrate your life, determine your choices, moods and even affect your relationships. Imagine if you had spent that time thinking about something else, anything at all, choose a thing. Imagine instead of every time you thought about your imperfections or what you shouldn’t eat, you focused on that thing instead. Now, I can’t speak for everyone, but if I spent that time doing something else here are some possibilities of things I could be by now: A Shaolin Master, Mark Zuckerberg’s business rival, a neurologist, a Nobel prize winner, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, have a wrote more songs as many songs as Drake, the writer of a revolutionary 7 part saga about young wizards at a boarding school, Britney’s back up dancer, the Kardashian’s endorsement manager, a modern day Plato, Arisotle, Gandalf! You see the point? Had I spent all that time and energy and shifted it elsewhere, I could be an expert, master, academic, entrepreneurial genius millionaire. As food and body image is a constant talking point, I imagine a lot of people can say the same. This stress has primarily haunted the female sex for centuries, the expectation to look and be a certain way, and of recent decades the pressure has increased on men also.
Myself and food and have an all consuming love/hate relationship. I love food too much, then get a hulk size of the self hates for eating too much. Like, I frickin’ love food. I’m like Joey Tribiani, Liz Lemon and Garfield combined. If I even see a picture of some incredibly decadent dessert or anything with an exorbitant amount of cheese I lose myself. Not palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms heavy, full blown Eminem lose myself but I get pretty excited. I could write poetry about food but there aren’t enough words for me to describe the magnitude of my gluttony, “Shall I compare thee to a summers day?’ No but I’ll compare thee to a pizza and believe me, I’m not sure you’ll like the result.
But as much as I love it, I hate it. I’ve always felt like I should be thinner – from when I was a little girl I thought I was a chubster compare to my skinny little classmates. Looking at pictures now, I wasn’t, that was entirely in my head but yet the ghosts of puppy fat past still haunted me. Being an only child, TV was my best friend and pop culture was our playhouse – I would look at the women I adored, like Sarah Michelle Gellar or some other teen star and I would envy their toned bones. I would feel like the Michellin man compare to them and so the feeling of inferiority fuelled within me. In the Spring of my teens I toyed with dieting, even inventing some ridiculous diets like only eating apples and drinking diet coke so I could look like the girls on The OC. I think this lasted a day and a half and I realised I should probably leave the diet inventing to professionals. Dr.Atkins I was not.
I think I let the reigns off of the emphasis of being skinny, I had other teenage hormones to be dealing with. Still, I always felt dissatisfied that I wasn’t as stickly thin as the women presented to us in the media as representations of ourselves, who we’re supposed to relate to. Flicking through magazines, enormous guilt would hurricane within me that I wasn’t participating in the latest health fad and exercise regime, like we’re told to do from just about every media outlet.
In my late teens my weight began to fluctuate, like one winter I spent in the UK, and worked next to a Marks & Spencers. Each lunch time the bakery aisle would hum a seductive, buttery call to me and I found warmth and comfort in their godly white chocolate cookies. Devouring a pack of 4 would happily quell the homesick blues. Kate Moss famously said “nothing tastes as good as being skinny feels”, from this statement it is obvious she has never eaten an M&S cookie fresh from the microwave. I soon realised that unless I fancied having to do the worm on the floor every morning to get into my jeans I best lose some weight, so I did. I started running and eating more human appropriate portions and viola, all was well in the waistline again. Then again when I was 21, my friend taught me that eating instant noodles everyday wasn’t exactly recommended in Women’s Health magazine. I got schooled on the crap food I was eating and the nutrition I was lacking. I had put on a few pounds again so I was happy to oblige to a new diet. After being taught a few culinary skills, I discovered how easy it was to cook fresh food and I started making everything from scratch(ish).
The pattern of fluctuation became common and almost seasonal. I would ditch the few miscellaneous pounds, they’d always find their way back to me (my stomach more accurately). I had even acquired a whole spectrum of dress sizes in my wardrobe so I was never met with no other option than quoting Regina George, in a “sweatpants are all that fit me right now” situation.
Then came a spontaneous key change in this familiar tune and I lost 60 pounds in the space of 8 months. A whirlwind of emotions and insecurities that subsided over a course of time all joined together and instead of sitting with them and dealing, I figured if I just changed absolutely everything about myself then everything would be fine
(after all that’s kind of the advice in most women’s magazines, that and how to be the perfect sex doll). I got obsessed with calories, weighing my food, working out for an hour in the morning, then going to college and work and coming home and intensively working out for another hour. Now there’s nothing wrong with that if that’s what you like to do. I would love to have the energy and stamina to adopt that regime again but I couldn’t possibly without the same crazed determination cheering me on. Especially since the only fuel I had to keep me going throughout these months was a bagel, a carefully weighed portion of Philadelphia light, one tomato, a banana, 2 rice cakes and cabbage soup every day. I lost my fucking mind- it must have been all that cabbage soup flooding my brain. I wouldn’t listen to any of my friends when they would broach the subject of ‘you’re losing your mind.’ My mind became a calculator where I couldn’t concentrate on anything but numbers. Bagel, 264 calories. 100grams of Salmon – 208 calories, 15g of Philadelphia light equals 24 calories so if I work out for one hour in the morning, one hour in the evening adding on my basic metabolic rate I’ll be in a deficit of X amount of calories a day so by the end of this week I’ll lose another however many pounds. It consumed me. Considering I suck at math and wouldn’t include even basic addition and subtraction as a strong suit, it’s an absolute wonder I managed to keep track of everything. I would break down leaving the gym and cry then go buy an ice cream to feel better but then make myself walk for 2 and a half hours and feel like a worthless piece of shit afterwards. And this went on. This loop. For months and months and months.
I wouldn’t go out with friends or do anything spontaneous that would breach my calculated, rigid routine. Not exactly the funnest person to be around, I know. I negotiated with the voice inside my head that would tell me I’m being mental and to get a grip and I would try to rationalize my behaviour. Whenever the voice of reason would scream at me all I’d have to do is do a quick Google search of thinspo and look at the thousands upon thousands of ‘skip dinner and wake up thinner’ or thigh gap posts. Or I wouldn’t have to go that far, I could just look at any women’s magazines or look at any TV show or look up on the street and see a bus drive by with a gigantic ad with partially naked women flaunting ‘perfection’, reminding me why I should be complacent to this routine. It was like there was a hamster wheel inside my head going round and round with numbers and there was no way to make it stop, the wheel just kept turning.
Then it stopped. I was way below my ideal weight, I never even imagined being that thin, 86 pounds (6.2 stone) from previously being around 140 (10 stone). There was nowhere else to go, nowhere left to run. As addicts hit rock bottom and realise there’s no way to keep the longevity in their habit, it’s literally make or break. You can keep going and give in completely to the insanity or break the habit. It’s not easy, it was accompanied with adverse reparations but the hamster wheel slowed down and paced back to a normal(ish) rhythm. I would love to be that thin now, well maybe not that thin, but skinny but I know (for me, at least) it comes with some big sacrifices. One of the positive things that came out of this was a knowledge of food that rivals a nutritionist. I went to the skinny bitches school of crazy nutrition and came out with a first class masters.
So life went on, I took my skinny foot off the gas driving me and my body straight to crazy town and shifted focus to other things. From depriving myself of food I became more appreciative of it, when I was eating good, wholesome nourishing food I was thankful and grateful and when I was eating a treat I savoured it even more, instead of savaging it all at once on a ‘cheat day’. I had a healthy relationship with food, not so much with my body as I’d get pretty pissed with myself for not maintaining my uber skinny status (even though I was still an 8-10 UK sizes). If I could travel through time, obv I’d do something useful like try to stop Hitler but I would definitely try to take the scenic route home to tell myself to cop the hell on and be more appreciative and confident.
I was eating well, I enjoyed exercising and then out of nowhere, I got acne, at 24! Having swanned through my teens getting the occasional spot here and there, I had a very blaze skincare regime, completely taking for granted my blemish free skin. At first it didn’t bother me but it got so bad my face hurt. I worked in the most beautiful bakery at the time (something I never could have done a couple of years previously) and treated all the cakes and pastries as a work of art – having a croissant a couple of times a week and not feeling like at any moment I would snap and try to eat everything in the shop all at once. The confectionaries and I had a pretty chill relationship. As a barista there, I drank more coffee than all the Friends characters in Central Perk put together. I had become a fiend to flat whites and as I had never drank milk much before, I figured it was this giving me spots I never had before. I became really conscious of it. It was all I could see when I looked in the mirror and assumed everyone else felt the same. For some reason most of us are our own worst critic – judge, jury, executioner, abusive boyfriend, mean teenage friend, rude person that elbows you on the train aka we’re pretty shitty on ourselves. As a solution, I began eliminating things from my diet, like dairy – and avoided anything processed.
Either eliminating some things, avoiding other foods or moving to the other side of the world but the pimples reduced and calmed down. As someone that reads ingredients lists on food like I’m reading a contract, I was then overwhelmed with a lot of products here that are chock full of glucose syrup, gmo’s, gluten and additives galore. My stomach would balloon after meals, I was tired and drained so I decided it must be the Michael Jackson of the food pyramid – gluten, you know its bad but yet you still don’t stop till you get enough.
I cut back on drinking, vetoed anything processed and would actually getting stressed on what chemicals may lurk within my food. Seeing most food as a key to cancer, I became afraid of food. The thought of consuming High Fructose Corn Syrup was enough to send me running for the hills to somewhere far, far away where Monsanto can’t get me. My fridge was full of vegetables and my cupboards boasted all the things those beautiful, tanned yogi women on Instagram tell you to eat, gluten free this, nuts, seeds, Apple cider drink this and you’ll be shiny and happy vinegar- everything I’m ‘supposed’ to eat. Unlike the last time where thoughts of food restrictions took over me and the repercussions were obvious, I wasn’t particularly losing any weight, on the contrary in fact, although I was eating all ‘the right foods’ and becoming increasingly more fearful of ‘bad food’.
Its easy to become afraid of food. According to most health sites absolutely everything is trying to kill us. We all have problems in life and guilt about eating shouldn’t be one of them. It’s intimidating when so many things are telling you give up everything and it can rob you of enjoyment of some of life’s delights. When I see all that ‘eat clean‘ fitspiration bullshit my initial response is ‘oh fuck off’. We know what we’re supposed to be eating and its our choice. There are a lot of articles disagreeing the everything in moderation theory and it makes me feel like shouting, ‘just fuck off!’. A moderate amount is fine. We don’t need a constant reminder of more things we should feel bad about it. People shouldn’t be made feel bad for having a few beers or whatever.I know I SHOULD be eating a salad or juicing or flipping a crossfire tyre or whatever but RELAX! Or how if I stopped eating everything except vegetables I’d be thin again and have clear skin my spots, like ‘no shit Sherlock’. I have my skinny bitch masters from being crazy, duh, I know this shit. I also think it’s so boring when someone decides to give you unwanted advice on what you should eat, or how most female aimed media outlets are page after page after page of articles on what we should eat. They all more or less say the same thing. We get it.
I snapped out of it a little when my mother visited and reminded me that eating a non-organic croissant from the local Starbucks will not in fact kill me or fill me with all the toxins associated with corporate mass consumerism and the food industry. That yes, the walls of supermarkets may be lined with GMO monsters and chemical ghouls to avoid but gluten is not thy enemy. Eating a sandwich should not send me into a thought pattern of self-punishment similar to that white haired dude in The Da Vinci Code whipping himself. I’ve started being more relaxed about eating, eating smaller portions of food that is more inclusive of things I was dodging for dear life (gluten, dairy etc) and have recently lost weight again. Right now I’m taking the casual approach to food choices, making educated decisions with some leeway. I have also started drinking milk in coffee and the wand of acne has waved again, I know I SHOULD stop but if it isn’t glaringly obvious from this post, I find it hard to break habits.
Earlier, as I sat and wrote this, in Starbucks, drinking my second milky coffee of the day, and feeling a little guilty about relapsing on my dairy habit, 6 Buddhist monks came in and sat beside me, each with a Venti cup of joe. I shit you not. This may be super ignorant but my first thought was are monks allowed drink coffee? Secondly, surely Buddhist monks shouldn’t support a company like Starbucks? Then realising I know feck all about monks and I’m probably being very ignorant, I put my phone close to my chest so no one could see and began typing “can monks drink….”, then I stopped typing. I realised I should shut up judging and let them have their coffee. Much like when I get some delicious food, I shouldn’t Google the ingredients each time to find out if its wrong or right, I should shut the hell up and enjoy what I have (and be grateful I have food in the first place), like these monks in Starbucks. It was all very synchronised, symbolic and surreal.
Now don’t get me wrong, I won’t be eating McDonalds anytime soon and I’ll eat organic when I can but I’m consciously not being a complete asshole with notions of food snobbery. As Chris Rock says;
“What do you mean red meat will kill you? Only in America will we say some bullshit like red meat will kill you. We got too much food in America. Too much food. What do you mean red meat will kill ya? People are starving all over the world. Don’t eat no red meat? No, don’t eat no green meat. If you’re one of the chosen few people on this earth lucky enough to get your hands on a steak, bite the shit out of it”
Being vegetarian,I won’t be taking his advice literally but the sentiment is there. Everything in moderation, appreciate what you got and more importantly, enjoy it. Saying that, I’ve still spent far too many thoughts today haggling with myself about what to have for dinner. Old habits die hard and the struggle is real, for some more than others.
Author: Shaunna Lee Lynch
About: I am an Irish writer, performer, avid day dreamer, generally enthusiastic, hip hop enthusiast,living in Hong Kong.