I once knew a woman who had a 120-pill-a-day addiction to Ford Pills. Yes, the type that make you have a poo. She was also into supposedly ‘natural’ things that made you poo, like grassy looking blocks of muck that you sectioned off and ate.
In amongst all of that eliminating worship was the dance around the food. It happened when anyone was preparing food, with her want to be involved. It raised its head again at the dinner table with lots of food appreciation monologues and the hockey game of pushing the meals into a kaleidoscope of different patterns yet never making it anywhere near the mouth.
Deep psychological illness? Totally. It was a blindly train wreck of ribs and no reality. And witnessing all of this, including the nearly dying part, left quite an effect on me. It gave me a very new outlook on food.
I remember going on a no sugar, no carbs, no dairy diet to help me better concentrate on my work (yes, that was the primary motivation). I read every label to check every ingredient. I was strict on every teensy morsel that went towards my lips. I didn’t cheat. It took me from a snug size 14 to a lithe and life-changed size 8 in four weeks. Yes. I didn’t believe it either. I was singing out loud in the change room at Myer when the size 10 jeans were way too big for me.
In those four weeks I was expected to graze a little, often. So I did. I prepared my meals in advance so I was never left hungry. And boy, when you are eating like this you are always famished. My snack regime was a fine art with main meals the size of my head but featuring mostly green stuff with a little bit of meat thrown in. There were no sugary drinks, not even juice. It was water all the way, sometimes with a teabag to help it along. It was bland land, ladies.
At the end of it, my mother told me I was too thin. Maybe I was but I was happy that clothes fitted me beautifully and there was nothing overflowing or poking out of anywhere. All slim and sleek. Most of all, my brain was clear and I was sleeping better. My effectiveness in my work was like light-speed. There was new interest from men who couldn’t have possibly dated my rotund bummed previous self, the shallow bastards they were. But there I was, all well, glowing and alive.
Yeah, the paradise was just not happening thought. During this time my focus was always on the food. I was being just like the one I described who was rail thin and dying. We had in common a relationship with food that was the front and centre, with most other things falling to the wayside.
Being that thin meant I had to not eat all of these things. Things I had previously loved. A lot. I had to follow the rules and prepare food in advance so I didn’t sneak in a packet of chips or, heaven forbid, a sandwich. I was ‘Miss No White Anything’. While I had my energy back I really didn’t have my life back. I was living a regime and frankly it made me self-absorbed and boring. And thin.
Yes, I am thinking about my energy levels again, along with my weight, as I near 50 where you can’t just move a few kilos as easy as before. But most of all I am thinking about my relationship with food and all the messages we get throughout our day (our bloody lifetimes!) about what we should and shouldn’t be putting into our bodies. As women, we get subtly bombarded through discussions around diets as much as via the imagery of fashion and what is considered beautiful or desirable within the media.
Our reality is we sometimes don’t think enough about we are actually doing as we feed ourselves. The abundance of foods in the Western world gives us a range of choice unequalled in modern civilisation. Somehow we still defer to what we know is bad for us and then punish ourselves with forms of ridiculous guilt as a result.
Maybe it’s about being more aware of our relationship with food. This is what I’ve been thinking about as a foodie, a proficient home cook and someone seeking health and wellbeing. Is it as simple as taking a pause before bringing the fork up from the plate or opening the fridge door and reaching in? Is it in the planning of our meals or lack of care as we grab something on the run because we’re famished?
My love of food extends further than its simple nourishing of the body to keep it alive. The celebration of people around a dinner table, engaged with the textures and taste of ingredients coming together to sing is an adrenaline rush all in itself. Putting aside the push to be thinner, looking hot in some outfit better suited to a drinking straw, when do step out of the routine to look at how well we feed ourselves? Or do we wait until we are sick, in chronic pain or uncomfortable with our weight?
Size 8 would be great again, in some ways. But somewhere in between, where there is a balance of the ultra-healthy, with the odd sneaky treat, would also be good. Obsession with anything usually sends things south. If you looked long and hard at the food you consume, how would you see your relationship? Respectful and kind or intimidating and harmful?
There are thousands of diets which can scream your name each day, but the proof is literally in the pudding. How you feel after a meal or a snack is the best indicator of what truly nourishes you. Maybe it’s here that we should begin our focus and commence any changes we should be having with our food. But let’s begin by at least giving it some thought, untainted by the latest diet fab or medical report. Just begin.