My friend Scott De Freitas-Graff and I had an in depth conversation about food the other day; this story was inspired after he stated, "Society is demonizing al of our basic human rituals."
When I was a child, my 2 sisters and I spent the hour after school preparing food for our family's supper. One peeled the potatoes (yes, we ate potatoes or rice every night), one prepared the vegetables, and the other set the table; the meat was taken out of the freezer to thaw that morning. My mother and father came home from work and all that needed to be done was the actual cooking of the food. It was an efficient process as we worked as a team in order to get food on the table in a timely fashion in order. Meal-time created the space to enjoy conversation and the food we prepared together.
At this young age, I never questioned what we ate and, I liked almost everything that was set in front of me. I truly enjoyed food and, in particular, the meat or poultry portion of my meal; I always left it for the last, and savoured each bite. I took particular joy in eating meat or chicken that was served on the bone like chicken drum sticks, pork chops and steak; dipping it in the gravy was part of this experience. Dessert from Monday through Saturday was always fruit, and we had a sweet treat after church on Sundays from the local Mr. Donut store; my favourite was the 'long john' - a hot dog shaped pastry with whipped cream and chocolate in the middle. On Friday nights we received a salty snack measured out in a cereal bowl; my choice was either pretzels or Cheezies. We were also given a juice glass portion of pop; I chose orange soda and drank it slowly from a straw feeling the bubbles tickle my nose. This was the only time we were allowed to eat in front of the TV.
I was an active child and, at times, praised for being skinny. By the time I was a teenager, being skinny quickly became linked to one of my adult inner critic messages, "you are worthy if you are thin." At other times, I felt like being thin had negative connotations; I remember going to the doctor and being tested for the possibility of having a tape worm. A contradictory subconscious message surfaced, "you are not worthy if you are thin." As confusing as this was, and while moving into adulthood, along with being influenced by mass media, I soon determined which message was the more socially acceptable, and my mandate became being thin. Food became more calculated and a form of deprivation than an experience that fed my stomach and soul.
My mother and aunts were habitual dieters grasping onto the latest diet plan including Weight Watchers and Atkins. My older sister was genetically heavier, and I remember background conversations surrounding weight loss goals for her. In my 20's and 30's I 'fed' into the non-fat mindset; we were manipulated into believing this was a healthy way to eat. I had a high metabolism and being a great lover of food, my body could not adapt to the elimination of this essential food group. So, I ate too much of what I was told was good for me, and I used excessive exercise to balance it out. I managed to maintain a weight of 120 pounds until the birth of my second child when I gained 60 pounds through my pregnancy. I experienced nausea most of the time, and the only thing that made me feel better was greasy food like bacon and eggs. I chose to eat what my body craved because I think my body was so fat starved that it was screaming at me to "just eat already!!"
I was 34 years old when I had my daughter, and my programmed brain went on a quest to lose that excess weight and maintain the 120 pound magic number; this became a 20 year challenge with many u-turns in between. Besides during my pregnancies, my weight has been as high as 150 pounds after my hysterectomy at the age of 55 and as low at 115 when I was determined to shed the extra 30 pounds once I recovered from the surgery. Meals became something I did not enjoy anymore and dinner time became something to 'get done' instead of a time to connect and linger with those I love. The emphasis on food became deprivation and misery, rather than sustenance and pleasure. But I held strong like a warrior battling my greatest enemy I was determined to win. Being thin meant being worthy until my capacity to do so hit its peak.
Over the last 4 years, life presented me with many amazing gifts but, also many adversities intertwined with the good stuff. These created a tipping point that forced me to decide that I do not have the emotional or physical capacity to maintain the expectation I created over my lifetime to be a certain size. I came to the realization that I am unable to hold the time and energy space to give a shit about certain things like whether I am thin enough or not. There are so many sacred things and people in my life that I want to experience and pay attention to. I recognize that spending the time and energy I need devote to what I cherish requires releasing the pressure of unobtainable weight goals or unsustainable food restrictions; I am very clear that mealtime for me is a time to savour good food and devour meaningful conversation; I believe this was my mother's intention when she made the space of time at our dinner table so many years ago.
I understand the desire to believe that good health equals being a certain weight through the elimination of certain food groups. However, I have experienced the beyond emotional capacity that is telling me to "just enjoy your food already!!!" And so, for now I will be a happy size 'medium' as I let go of the inner stress that has manifested inside of me all these years from the perception that I needed to be skinny to be accepted by others, and more importantly, to be loved by me. I will still be a responsible health advocate while eating healthy food and walking with my dogs every day, but I will not skip my afternoon tea and cookie. Every evening, I will drink my glass of wine with my bowl of popcorn, and on Friday night, I will savour my homemade pizza with pretzels on top (I love the crunch!). When I have company, we will eat the sourdough bread - the entire loaf, and we will have the pasta and sauce that simmered on the stove all day long. The time has come for me to be freed of all the expectations I created to be anything or anyone other than what or who I am right now in this moment; small, medium or large, I am worthy.
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