The Problem with Food

As I write this, I’m trying to sit through the very uncomfortable feeling of fullness that accompanies eating. Just trying to process the discomfort–which, in my case, is both physical and emotional–makes me realize that it’s not only been a while since I’ve tried to sit with these feelings, but it’s also been a while since I’ve blogged at all about my relationship with food, eating, and hunger.

Junk food copy

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I wish I could say the silence was because I had nothing to say. Sadly, though, that’s not the case. What’s more accurate is that I’ve had a lot to say, I’ve just been avoiding having to say any of it. Moreover, in avoiding saying it, I’ve avoided dealing with it. I’ve been working to maintain a healthy, balanced diet over the past few months, but I haven’t really succeeded. Instead, I’ve struggled off an on with feeling like I’m not eating too much, and then feeling like I’ve eaten far too much. Most of the time lately, I think I’ve been in the latter category. And that, I think, brings us full circle to where things stand right now.

About an hour ago, I had a late lunch: a bowl of penne pasta with vodka sauce. Nat brought it home for me after being out for a little bit, correctly predicting that in his absence, I hadn’t eaten. I’d had some pretzels (and what I consider a surfeit of junk food–a bagel with cream cheese for breakfast, and a salted caramel blondie, the last of a package of four Nat brought home on Friday). I wasn’t particularly hungry when I ate the pasta, and now I feel almost sick to my stomach as a result of eating it. I felt obligated to, though. And therein lies the problem with food, especially when you’re recovering from an eating disorder.

Food, I think it’s safe to say, is widely viewed as a means of comfort; it’s the centerpiece of family meals, a way to show sympathy in difficult situations (just think of how common it is to cook a casserole for a neighbor when someone in their family passes away), and a method by which people care for someone who might not be able to do the care-taking themselves. But seeing it in that context doesn’t make it any easier for me to want to have anything to do with it. And in fact, all it really does is add a level of complexity to the act of eating that I really just don’t need in my life. When I’m presented with a package of blondies because I had a long day at work, I’m grateful for the emotion that spurred the purchase. I can also appreciate the motivation behind coming home with ready-made pasta and a huge slice of red velvet cake. But I have a very hard time when I then have to deal with the fact that I’m meant to do something with these gifts (specifically: eat them). At times like these, I can’t help but feel burdened by a sense of obligation, guilt, and expectation. If I don’t eat the food that’s presented, I’m not only rejecting a present that’s been offered, I’m also caving into my illness.

Perhaps the hardest part of all of it is how difficult it is to explain to someone who doesn’t have similar feelings about food the reasons why I’d prefer not to have to deal with edible gifts, especially given how appreciated and accepted they are by others. How do you tell someone you don’t want a plate of cupcakes or cookies on your birthday, or that you’d prefer meeting for coffee instead of going out to dinner? When you’re in the minority, it can be really hard to express to people that what they consider a warm, friendly gesture has the potential to come off as somewhat uncomfortable or thoughtless to you. Obviously I don’t want to come off as ungrateful or accusatory, but it can be tiring enough when normal interactions with food are stressful. When you add the dimension of social obligation or expectation, the entire thing just becomes a mess.

I can’t help but wonder if there is a way to get people to understand that although I appreciate the thought, I would prefer not to come home to find a slice of cake waiting for me. Or is it possible that as someone with admittedly disordered behaviors and thoughts about food, I should be responsible for adjusting in such a way that makes gifts like these more welcome? When (or if) I figure it out, you will all be the first to know.

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  1. I cringed every time I got a food gift for Christmas, and this year I seemed to get a lot of them because all my coworkers obviously have to give to everyone on the team, so baking is pretty economical, easy, and works for both men and women. I was able to give a lot of stuff to my husband, but we still have chocolates and other food from the holidays around the house that I just don’t want. I can be pretty binge-prone too, and I like the occasional treat but I want to enjoy it, not gorge out on it.

    I hate to say it, but I actually regifted some of the packaged candy gifts. I gave them to friends who I thought would enjoy them or took them to parties. People act like regifting is a horrible thing to do, but I don’t think taking something to a party is really regifting, that’s just sharing the gift.

    Either way, a box of Ghirardelli isn’t exactly a personal gift anyway.

    A lady at my job got sick, and we found out she has cancer. We were going to make her a meal, but ended up getting her a spa gift card which I think was a better choice. That way she can treat herself, take time out for herself. And, it’s a local spa, so we’re supporting a small business. It’s probably a better gift for someone with cancer anyway, rather than food they will have to “deal” with or she might not even be able to handle with treatments.

    1. I’m with you–I like the occasional treat, but I want to eat something because I’m going to enjoy it. Too often, I end up eating it and regretting it, or feeling like I’ve binged or something. It just ends up being an unhappy experience instead of a happy one.

      Your comment makes me feel a lot better, knowing I’m not the only one who has a hard time with food gifts. It’s so hard because, like you point out, it’s a really easy go-to present for less-than-personal situations (like coworkers). I wish people would do more stuff like the spa gift card that you guys thought of (great idea!) or even a plant or something. But because most people really like getting baked goods, and enjoy them rather than dread them, it’s hard to explain to people that you don’t really want brownies or cookies. Regifting is a good way to deal with the problem, though. If someone else can enjoy something that you’re not going to use/eat, then I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it!

      1. Definitely. And I didn’t take anything homemade to a friend or party, just things like boxes of chocolate that weren’t personal. Anything homemade was pretty much shared between me and the family :).

  2. I was really caught up by your post today. I think anyone who’s struggled with food (and there are a LOT of us) knows how hard it is to deal with temptations, especially when they are the result of gestures by well-meaning family and friends.

    If the food is a very occasional gift, you can thank the person and then, like Amy suggested, regift it or just don’t eat it. But, what I finally realized during my own weight loss journey is that it’s best to simply be honest with those closest to you. If you are constantly being gifted with food from the same people, my way was to sit down with them and explain how the food makes you feel, how you react to it (by eating it ALL and then feeling bad), and then ask them to help you out by not giving you food next time (flowers are always nice). I find this last point is great because it’s like the person is helping you in the battle, giving them the feeling of being a partner in your quest for health and fitness.

    Best of luck to you and remember, you are not alone in your battle. All your readers are rooting for you too.

    Take care

  3. I’ve had a similar experience from the other (food addict/anxiety binger) side of things. Whenever I’m trying to keep my eating under control, I often find myself out with friends who insist I have a bite of whatever they’re eating, or just one drink, what can it hurt? It’s frustrating, and even if you explain that you’re trying to make some positive changes in your relationship with food, it inevitably is taken as a judgment on what THEY are eating.

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