Food and I have a love-hate relationship. I love it – it hates me – and then, after loving it, I hate myself.
I feel like I spend more and more time thinking about food. I’m either thinking about what I should eat to fill up and keep away a sugar low because I am now a diabetic, or what I should be eating because I’m eating something that is definitely not on anyone’s diet, unless it’s what NOT to eat. Lately, it’s as though I’m surrounded by people either telling me to just accept my body because curvy is beautiful, or that I should just join this group or diet plan or “cleanse” and I’ll feel better. There was a time, as a child, when I imagined that if only I was shaped like a Barbie doll – skinny with long legs, big boobs, tiny waist, long hair, blue eyes, never any pimples, perfect teeth (or so the little white strip between her perfect lips suggested) – that I would be surrounded by friends vying for my attention and “best friendship” and boys wooing me with roses and pleas of love and devotion. Sometimes I wonder if everyone is right – if the telemarketers and coaches and gyms and diet drugs and Dr. Atkinses and Jack LaLanes, and Richard Simmonses are right – if I could control my diet, my weight, my Self, then I would be whole and realize all of my life goals. Surely, if I could be skinny and run marathons and just CONTROL MYSELF, then I could rule the world!!!! But, then a cupcake will come sashaying by on Georgetown Cupcake’s Instagram site and I’m being led by the nose to the kitchen… blasted peanut butter and chocolate! You are my downfall!
I’m reminded of how often I’ve used food as therapy or even reward. When I’m feeling bad – I drown my feelings in chips and ice cream, among other foodstuffs. There was a time in my life, right after college, when I had a pretty bad experience and I drank a lot to deal with it, but it was never to the point of alcoholism and honestly, I knew that I needed help because of the amount of money I was spending on going out – so I asked for help and saw a counselor. She helped me through it at the time and though it still upsets me, I really haven’t ever turned to drugs or alcohol as an answer. Food and/or bad relationships have always been my “drug of choice.”
Growing up, just like most people, holidays were about, or at least partly about, food. Holidays had to be at my grandmother’s apartment, though I’m not sure why except that she was the matriarch and it was usually easier to just do what we’d always done. My grandmother and my great-aunts, Anne and Alice, and their cousin, Mary Alice, would get drunk on Canadian Club and Manhattans (that was Mary Alice – she was a total lightweight). The three Curran sisters (my grandmother and great-aunts) were always fairly sarcastic, but once they got to drinking, Grandmere and her “little” sister Alice moved beyond the norm to extra cutting and cruel remarks.
Auntie Alice was a serious bitch. She was short and round with a bobbed platinum helmet of hair. She would sit on Grandmere’s striped couch and call me over. Then she, and sometimes her sister Anne, would proceed to tell me that I would have to lose weight and try to be prettier like my sister if I ever wanted to attract a man and get married. Now, the reality that my great-aunt, in fact, both great-aunts and their cousin, had never married did not enter into my understanding that she was essentially full of it. At the time, I was just a little girl. I can see pictures of myself at that age – short curling blonde hair in a cap on my head, pale skin, round face, wide brown eyes, and usually smiling in any pictures that were taken (even with the questionable ‘70s wardrobe I was wearing). Here was my great-aunt, a woman who was supposed to love me because she was my family… and she made me feel so bad every single holiday and get-together that I hated her with a passion. Again – love hate.
It wasn’t like I could choose to opt out of the holidays, even though I hated to deal with the way people were evil to each other; however, the food was always amazing at my grandmother’s, so I soothed myself on the overindulgences we only got to partake in at her house. We had special treats like Ruffles chips and Helluva Good French onion dip, Pepperidge farm rolls fresh from the toaster, roast beef, whipped potatoes, green beans with real Land O’ Lakes butter, and Pepperidge Farm chocolate cake with homemade whipped cream. Going to my grandmother’s was both pleasure and pain – I had to endure my great-aunt, hear my grandmother and her sisters and cousin snipe and carp at each other, feel my family stiffen and suffer from comments that those old women would say over and over and over again, but the food was so good. I’d leave wrapped in a food coma to stuff my body full and numb me from the remarks that flew around the apartment for hours. For years and years – up until a year or so ago, the things Alice said played like a broken record in my mind whenever I started to judge myself – they were reinforcement that I was damaged and had been from childhood. In the last couple of years, I’ve started to forcibly disown them and to work on erasing them from my mind.
I think that we’re more conscious now about healthy food choices with kids. But, parents used what they could to motivate, and I was motivated by food – particularly sweets. When I aced one of my Regents tests in high school, I remember my mom buying me a cherry pie – I don’t remember who the baker was, though I think it was a place on Hoffman Street – and their cherry pies were amazing. But here was a pie just for me – and I’m pretty sure that I ate the whole damn thing in one night. It wasn’t all in one sitting, but close enough, right?
Once I could start driving, I shared a car with my father – my grandfather’s 1974 Chevy Nova. There were times when I would get fast food and first I would stash the bags below the car seats. Then, sick with shame, I’d search out places to get rid of the trash before I got home. I knew I was being sinful in eating McDonald’s Quarter Pounders and fries with a Coke, or a sundae from Friendly’s, among other junk. I didn’t want people to see me eating or even the detritus of my eating. It was hard enough dealing with my own guilt trips and judgement. It was, to me, somehow both therapy and addiction. Funny how that works, huh?
It filled me up – temporarily – when I was feeling lonely, hurt, scared, depressed – and then served to make me more depressed, lonely, etc. as I realized that I’d just helped to make myself more fat, more unlovable, more undesirable – to others as well as to myself. And in retaliation against the voices in my head – I’d eat some more.
My junior year of college, my father got me a car so that I could do field placements for my education courses. It also allowed me to work off campus. I got a job at an upscale Wegmans in DeWitt just down the road from school. My girlfriend Kim and I would sometimes go and get a fancy hot chocolate there at the coffee bar as a treat. It got so that I had a routine where I would buy these massive éclairs – eat one in the car on the way from work to the dorm and then another either in the parking lot, or, if the weather was cold enough, I’d leave it there ‘til the next day and eat it when I came back. I ballooned up in size that year. There aren’t many pictures of me – for which I’m thankful, honestly – but I remember not really recognizing myself. Remarkably enough, it was a job the following summer as a waitress at a beloved restaurant at home that actually helped me to lose weight – I both ran it off waiting tables and found that I didn’t focus on food when it was everywhere around me – I almost got to the point where I didn’t like to eat. Though I turned 21 that summer and got my calories through alcohol, I still went from a size 20 to a size 12/14. It was a dramatic change.
So this is a journey – I have friends who are big, like me, and have traded in their food addictions for walking or running or MMA. I need to do this for me. Yes, it’s healthier on so many levels. But, I most need to do it so that I can feel in control again. I don’t want to be afraid to go out to eat or like I have to bring my own special diet food with me everywhere, but I want to know that I won’t be throwing away all of my work with one meal. I want to be able to channel my bad feelings into something positive for a change.