Recently, I was on Facebook when one of those popular e-cards going around was posted. It stated something to the effect of "Have you tried eating the 'not-shitty food' diet to lose weight? It really works!" And the reaction I had to it was a huge overreaction, because I got angry and felt judged, the way I do when nearly anything about food comes up these days. It doesn't matter if it's about the paleo diet, or if it's about counting calories, or if it's about how bad some foods are for you, or the horror of GMOs; I feel judged and upset, every single time.
I'm aware that none of the food talk going on around me in my life has anything to do with me. I'm also aware that some of the articles posted have valid, researched points about food and choosing food that's good for you. But it's not about what other people are saying about food. It's about my own reaction to it. It's about living as a person who has struggled with food for the majority of her life.
As a child, I was skinny. I could eat anything and never gain a pound, the way a lot of kids are. I had a fast metabolism and was proud of the fact that my ribs were visible and that my legs were like sticks. I started gaining weight when I hit high school, and then everything changed. I wouldn't go so far as to say I had an eating disorder, but I started to have very disordered thoughts about my body and about food.
I would skip lunch daily because I became obsessed with the idea of staying thin. While my friends ate their lunches, I'd get comments about how I refused to touch the lunch that I had packed to keep my parents from getting suspicious. Later, when I had spare periods after lunch, I would buy perogies, chips, anything unhealthy, at the cafeteria canteen with money I had stolen from my dad's change jar and gobble it in a dark corner of the library, feeling ashamed and sick to my stomach. I was so hungry, yet I felt so ashamed. The treats I was eating stopped being treats, and started being ways to punish myself for all the things I couldn't control in my life. And it was a complete 180 from the ideas I had at the beginning of the day. I knew that eating well was the way to stay healthy, but I wanted to stay thin to look good -- screw being healthy. Then the food choices I made were ones that would guarantee that I stayed unhealthy. It made no sense, yet I did it, every day.
I never spiraled down the path to bulimia, though I considered making myself sick to get rid of all the food I binged on in that library corner a few times. Instead, I just decided to stop eating. I was down to one meal a day, my skin pale and looking sick, when my friends and my pastor at church started to get concerned. We were on a mission trip in the States when my pastor noticed that I wasn't eating -- at all. It wasn't until he confronted me that I realized what I was doing to myself. It wasn't ever about being skinny. It was about trying to control the changes in my life and the shame I felt over the food choices I made.
We weren't allowed to eat a lot of sweets or "bad food" as children. This, in effect, was really great, because I was a healthy kid who chose fruits and vegetables over sweets and water over juice. The problem is, I started binging on unhealthy food and soda when I became an adult. I think I was always destined to be fat, just by nature of my genetic makeup, but I definitely sped up the health problems I have now by living on fries and pickles in my first year of university and then on a steady diet of pop, chips, and other unhealthy foods as I started working. Food became about convenience and about what I wanted to eat, not about what my body needed. It became a battle, every mealtime, knowing that I was choosing the wrong things but not caring, because I didn't see myself as worthy enough to care about.
I've struggled with depression and with shame when it comes to my body. I still am very uncomfortable eating anything in front of people I don't know, afraid they're going to judge me. When I get sick or have to have a medical procedure done, I get secretly excited that I'm going to lose weight. When I feel fat, I stop eating, sometimes for more than a day at a time before I slap myself out of the shame spiral I've fallen into. It's taken a lot for me to remember that I'm a worthy person, that I have to honour my body. And that brings me back to my original point.
I think I project my shame onto these food memes and articles and advice that go around. Being fat-positive is hard when you live with a body you're not completely comfortable with. I see the inner beauty I have. I think I'm beautiful on the outside, too. But sometimes the shame spiral is too much, and sometimes it comes out as anger towards our society that demands perfection. Sometimes it's not even anger at that -- sometimes it's anger at the fact that I still struggle daily with food. That even though I make a lot of good, healthy choices for my body now, I'm living with the choices I made for myself years ago in the form of health problems that are really debilitating at times. And that I know that a lot of the thoughts I have are narcissistic and even self-important. But it's hard to stop thinking about something that's shoved down your throat daily in the media. I know I don't measure up to society's ideals and it's hard sometimes. It's hard to turn away from that and learn to accept yourself. It's hard to learn how to start from scratch, eating healthy foods and moving your body so that you can be healthy. It's not about looks at all, yet for me, sometimes it is.
I'm learning to love myself. I'm learning not to see food as little hidden hand grenades, trying to destroy my confidence and health and worth in myself. I'm not perfect. I still have my days where I struggle. But in the end, I need to remember that it was never about food, or the way my body looks. It's about remembering that I don't have to punish myself for being less than perfect. It's about respecting my body and my health, because in the end, it doesn't matter how I look. It matters how I feel.
That's the lesson I'm still learning -- but I'm doing a pretty good job at trying.