I am not very good at talking about food.
Despite the amount of time I have spent obsessing on the subject, and in spite of the leaps that I have taken in the ‘right’ direction; I still find myself a little touchy around the conversations that most people have on a daily basis –
“That looks nice” is rarely awarded a response; “what are you eating?” gets a swift brush off; and, the “what food do you like?” question is shrugged off, like a bad smell.
I tense up when people start eating; never say yes to a passing plate; and find it hard to share –
These are the lingering remnants of my anorexic head; the last, entrenched, habits that have become so ingrained I sometimes forget they’re there. This is the anorexic speak that warded off any food-related conversations; but has become a little unsocial, now that I’m trying to get well.
So, I am having to coach myself not to snap – or bite – or rudely walk away, when food is on the table (both literally and practically); and, I’m trying to break down the language – and build it up all over again, because it’s easy to get caught up in the wrong kind of speak; and, I’m working really hard to see if, despite the emotional baggage, it would be possible for me – and food – to behave a little bit more like friends….
Which, given the progress I’ve made so far, could well happen –
1. Treating it Nicely.
It has taken a while to get there, but I have now stopped burning my food. Or seeping it in vinegar. Or covering it in a shovelful of salt. This has been step 1 – no more sabotage. After years of defiantly arguing that “at least I’m eating”, I’m getting there, one condiment at a time. This is a good starting place if you’re going to be on better terms with food.
Food will always be hard, no matter how much it is disguised; and I think it was the abnormality of it all that got to me in the end – a frustration with the sheer amount of paraphernalia that was required to serve food that was indiscernible as food; and, the dawning realisation that the raised eyebrows and laborious processes didn’t make me feel any good.
Nor did sitting in front of a plate of burnt food.
A couple of years ago in rehab, I was encouraged to make my food look pretty. At the time, this seemed a futile exercise; a good-looking plate of food bore no correlation to the level of fear that it evoked, nor where it was likely to end up –
I am now beginning to understand the point of the exercise.
If I serve myself an unappealing plate of food, I am telling myself that I don’t deserve anything better. This feeds the anorexia, rather than feeding me. It also spurs the bulimia on to want something far more appealing.
If, on the other hand, my plate starts to look nice (and be prepared for a little internal resistance here), then I am starting to change the message about myself (even if I don’t believe it yet), and I am starting to change the eating experience.
We’re not talking masterpieces here; it’s just about putting it nicely on the plate and serving yourself, as you would serve a friend.
4. In Conversation.
The verbal friendship is still proving a bit of a sticking point for me but I’m guessing that it works on the same principle as the presentation: change the tune, help to re-programme the message.
Whether I like it or not, food related conversations are commonplace; and, whilst I will probably continue to avoid entering calorie related debates for a while, I would like to be able to say what I like and not freeze up the moment anyone mentions what’s on my plate.
As my current response is not making me feel particularly great, I am starting with polite and practiced reciprocation of the “what do you like” or “what are you cooking tonight” type. The next step will be to answer the question myself.
I am also trying to remember that, by making it a big deal, I’m probably prolonging a pretty normal conversation or, at least, one that is a very normal part of human interaction –
4. Food with Friends.
My relationship with food is intensely and possessively personal. Life doesn’t operate on those terms. With three meals a day on the cards and the desire to connect eventually winning out, sharing food with friends is an ongoing challenge – but something I’m determined to crack.
At first, I started small, with safe food and people I unquestionably trusted. Then, I moved onto eating the same stuff; and, recently, I’ve broken the barrier of cooking for other people which has been unexpectedly fun.
I have practiced variety and made myself try the difficult things, so that when I am sitting in a meeting, I don’t spend two hours analysing the sandwiches rather than listening to what’s going on; and, when I’m in a restaurant, I can see beyond the fear – and let myself enjoy what’s going on.