Food and feelings are so intertwined, its hard to be in control of one without first dealing with the other.
Every culture I know has special foods for special occasions. From wedding cakes, to christening cakes to birthday cakes. Is there such a thing as a funeral cake? If there isn’t, I bet there used to be one in our culture but Tesco stopped selling them because they killed the mood of the weekly grocery shop.
Here in England we have so many celebrations and traditions and seasons connected with food its hard to get from one month to the next without smashing into one reason to overeat or another. Starting with the New Years day drinking and snogging, then most of January is spent eating up our Christmas chocs, leftover Stilton, pate and mince pies not forgetting those massive tins of chocolates we get given at the office party or buy because they’re a BOGOF and may come in handy but in fact we just nibble on relentlessly over the holiday season. Then its February and Valentines day (more food equals love). March brings Mothers day (breakfast in bed and a meal out because you deserve it), Easter (I love you, here’s a chocolate chicken) and Pancake day (I don’t know why but have a pancake). Then its summer with barbecues, picnics, ice lollies, beers, feel good summer foods. A lot of us mothers also have kids at home for the summer holidays who must either be handed over to a childminder and we miss them and feel bad for deserting them so we treat them, or they’re at home with us and heaven help us, we try but the little horrors are exhausting so we finally stop the mad itinerary of theme parks and days out and just plonk them in front of the telly with some refined sugar so mummy can have five bloody minutes to draw breath and possibly wash and shave an appendage so we can shoehorn ourselves into that ruddy bikini keep being told we need to don. Don’t get me started on that nightmare.
Then before you know it its çomfort food for the cooler months, Guy Fawkes, Halloween, trick or treating, and God help us, theres back to the food orgy that is Christmas. And if you have a large family you can add constant birthdays and anniversaries too.
Not only are there all the holidays to contend with, but there are our very specific emotional attachments we have with food. I myself unthinkingly put these onto my own children. Daddy and I are going out to the cinema, I feel guilty about having a enjoying myself without you, Ill bring you cinema sweets. You had a rubbish day at school, Ill make you your favourite supper, You don’t feel well, what food will make it better? Be good at the supermarket and you can choose a sweet. You wont get a pudding if you don’t clear your plate. If someone visits, I make a cake whether or not they’re on a diet. If someone dies, I take the bereaved food. If someone is sad I make tea and offer a biscuit. If someone is celebrating I buy champagne. As a human race we show love with food when our words cant express and our emotions are too big.
It’s a simple equation, I love you, let me show you with food, you reject my food, you reject me.
That’s the WHY. Now comes the dark cycle of food addiction. I’m sad, I need loving, food is love right? I eat it, I feel better for a while but the thing that made me sad is still there, unresolved so I need love/food again. I feel slightly disgusted with myself now as well but now I’m sad AND disappointed with myself, I need love/food again. But then I punish myself with food because I’m a weak, undisciplined twit. YES- food is used to punish too. It’s a really big ugly mess and there no way out of the terrible cycle. If only we could go cold turkey like drug addicts and alcoholics and just lock ourselves away from all temptation and regain control. Here’s the cold water. We can’t. We HAVE to eat. OR WE WILL DIE. But if you carry on eating you could die too.
I will never belittle the struggle undergone by substance abusers trying to give up but food is a substance, whats more, it’s a socially acceptable substance. Imagine how hard it would be to kick the heroin habit if you mother or husband gave you heroin to show love and support? Quite honestly you wouldnt stand a chance.
It never gets easier. I thought once I lost my weight I would suddenly have a ‘normal’ relationship with food. I lost ten stone and every single day is a struggle. Every morsel of food is a hard choice and must be analysed, every meal planned up to a week ahead so I can shop for it so I don’t have to go too often to the supermarket where I may be subject to impulse buying. I can quite honestly say I have swapped one messed up relationship with my food for another. Its not better, its only different but now I’m slim and physically healthy and so help me God I’m raising my kids to have a better relationship with food.
However, along my weight loss journey I have learnt some ways of dealing with the emotional monster inside.
Firstly, I am not a dog, I try not to reward myself with food. I used to go along to Slimming World, lose a couple of pounds and then feel I’d earned a treat for being a good girl all week. I’d stop off (along with half my class) at the kebab van or buy a bar of chocolate. I would eat it and then remember that now I’d have to burn all the calories I’d just eaten as well as the calories needed to lose another two pounds next week so I’d feel good enough and earn another treat. See the pattern? Finally I realised that this behaviour was just continuing the food-is-love connection And I began saving that 4 pound from the kebab van and buying myself a nail polish, or eyeshadow, or a magazine, or pair of earrings or a bubble bath and I would feel just as ‘treated’ AND smug because I’d made a good choice. My nail polish collection became a bit of a joke at my slimming group. I have dozens.
My hardest lesson was learnt during a very bad time when my son was first diagnosed with cancer. I remember sitting all alone, terrified behind the curtain surrounding hid empty hospital bed while he was undergoing his first of three massive brain surgeries. I had by that time already lost over eight stone and thought I’d knocked the emotional eating thing on the head. But for the eight hours he was in surgery, I ate. A lot of rubbish. At the end of the eight hours felt sick and out of control and I was still terrified and guess what? My son was still fighting for his life.
A friend of mine lost his aunt while trying to give up smoking. He was sad and stressed and trying to support his mum and family so he snuck off for a secret cigarette. Afterwards he called his Stop Smoking support worker who said something incredibly harsh but equally important. She asked my friend how his aunt was now? Still dead? What was achieved after the intial fifteen seconds of nicotine bliss? That was my friends last cigarette.
Im not as strong as he, I still screw up royally, fairly often in fact. But then I have to put it into context. Did i screw up or did I just do what any normal, non fat fighting person does regularly? Have a careful, balanced diet 90 percent of the time, enjoy something decadent then go back to the diet. Maybe I”m not on the diet anymore, maybe this is normal? Maybe thats my real problem.
Maybe I’ve been on this road so long I’ve arrived at my destination but missed the sign saying ‘Welcome to Normal’ population: YOU.