This is an intensely personal thing to write about, and it’s something I usually avoid, because I absolutely believe that it’s no person’s — especially no fat person’s — obligation to disclose what they eat as a means of justifying their existence.
But because this blog is about nutrition, dieting, and normal eating, and because I’m positioning myself here as the “expert voice,” and setting something of an (anything but perfect) example — and not least of all, because I’ve grown gradually at ease with this space — I thought it might be useful for people to get a peek at some of the behaviours of a mostly-normal eater.
I say “mostly-normal” because I do have a history of disordered eating (which is distinct from a clinical eating disorder, but, I believe, falls along the same continuum), just as anyone who has ever dieted has a history of disordered eating. And there are still things I’m working on — I’m not perfect at feeding myself, and likely never will be.
But in the past eight or so years, I think I’ve come a fairly long way.
It occurred to me today that there are some things I do with food that, a few years ago, I would never have believed I would or could do, and which may prove interesting to people struggling to find a semblance of peace with food.
For instance, last night I went to a movie with my husband. Beforehand, we went out for drinks. My appetite has been very weak for the past few weeks, due to illness and side-effects of medication for that illness, and I’ve just not been very interested in eating. Whenever this happens, I find it mildly distressing, as I actually miss the pleasure of getting hungry and looking forward to food.
After drinking a beer, I felt a little hungry. I tend to get beer munchies. (In fact, I started rambling to Jeffrey about how they should serve beer to sick, malnourished patients in the hospital, if it weren’t for, you know, all the potential medical complications.)
I was excited to actually feel hungry again, so I ordered a cup of clam chowder. Jeffrey got onion rings, and I filched two of those as well, and was so pleased with the experience of not feeling indifferent to (or mildly nauseated by) food, that I bounced in my seat with happiness as I ate.
(Yeah. I do that sometimes.)
We next stopped at a drugstore to fulfill the obligatory tradition of buying verboten treats to sneak into the theatre. (I get a cheap thrill out of this, even if I’m not hungry.) I had a feeling that, once inside the theatre, I’d be jonesing for a snack, due to past associations if nothing else. I got Jr. Mints with M&Ms for backup.
(I should disclose right now that I really, really love candy. Like, a lot. A whole lot. This is sure to be a recurring theme on this blog. Consider yourself warned.)
We got to the movie theatre and the lobby was, of course, redolent of melted butter and toasty popcorn. It was lovely, but not very tempting — though I love hot, salty popcorn with my Jr. Mints and M&Ms, as salty + sweet + chocolate is one of the best flavour combinations OF ALL TIME (thank you, Kanye), my appetite just wasn’t up to popcorn, and I suddenly disliked the idea of getting my fingers greasy.
During the movie, I happily switched between Jr. Mints and M&Ms, reaching over frequently to throw some in Jeffrey’s open mouth.
As I ate the M&Ms, I discovered quite by accident that, for me, the absolutely ideal number to have in my mouth at once is three. Exactly three M&Ms. It allows the chocolatey flavour to spread evenly on all sides of my tongue, without being so overwhelming as to make my mouth feel sticky or dry, or to be laborious to chew and swallow.
Don’t ask me why I notice these things.
Partway through the movie and candy — maybe about 3/4 through both — I stopped. I put them in my purse. That was that.
I don’t know why I stopped when I did, exactly. As a person who previously had (and sometimes still has) a compulsion to eat candy until it’s gone, appetite be damned, I still find it mildly surprising when this happens. It was not an entirely conscious decision. I’d simply had enough — reached some kind of natural stopping-place, the end.
The movie finished and we walked home in the delightfully cold air, then slept till noon.
The next day, I had oatmeal for breakfast, and decided in the late afternoon to wander to a local coffee shop for some reading and thinking, as an excuse to put on proper clothes and get outside for a bit.The box of Jr. Mints were on the fireplace mantel, and I decided they would be a good accompaniment to coffee, so I took them with me.
After being greeted and teased by the barista, I sat and drank cappuccino and gradually ate Jr. Mints, one at a time, while alternately reading, highlighting, making notes and staring off into space.
Around 6pm, my prodigal appetite returned with a vengeance. My mouth kept having little fantasies of mashed potatoes, so I suddenly cleared the kitchen and set about making myself a meal out of the holiday ingredients that had gone unused during my illness.
I peeled and boiled a lot of potatoes. I chopped an onion, a pear, and an apple and sauteed them together in butter, to which I added salt, nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, cardamom and black pepper. I defrosted some pork tenderloins, salted them, rubbed them in cinnamon and allspice, and cooked them with the fruit. Then I made some classic American boxed stuffing.
When they were soft, Jeffrey’s strong arm helped me whip the potatoes into smooth, fluffy goodness with no lumps, and we sat down to a miniature holiday feast.
My hunger was so intense that, after I’d finished about 3/4 of my plate, I went back for pre-emptive seconds — more mashed potatoes, more stuffing, and a second piece of pork. But just a couple of bites later, I was done. That was it.
We shared the leftover M&Ms for dessert; I put my full plate in the fridge; I washed the dishes.
Three hours later I was ravenous again. I reheated the plate of food and ate half of it, with two glasses of orange juice.
It was the kind of hunger that only seems to come after a long period of not eating quite enough — the kind that still gnaws a bit even after your stomach is physically full. To me, it’s the hunger of depleted nutrient stores, not the simple daily, rumbling-stomach kind of hunger. It seems to come only after days of living primarily on cereal and toast, broth and gingerale.
I know tomorrow will most likely be different. Different foods will seem appealing, and I’ll eat them in different amounts. I may know again with stark certainty where to stop — or I may not.
If not, I will remain assured, as I did today, that my body will make up for it. That my appetite will eventually compensate for whatever mistakes or miscalculations I might make.
No matter what changes, I’ll remain relaxed. If I like food, if I don’t like food that particular day, I’ll be okay. I’ll know that another day will come when things will be different, but unchanged in one vital way — I’ll trust myself.
And I’ll prove worthy of that trust.
How goes it for you? If you feel like it, leave a snapshot of your eating in comments.