Why I Don’t Need Any More Food Rules

I don’t want to talk about eating any more.

My socialisation around eating is fucked up enough as it is, and already plenty difficult to navigate without adding new ethical and health-related concerns. I am aware of ethical and environmental factors in the food we (and I) eat, and I hope people don’t assume that because I often choose not to engage with those issues I am not clever enough to understand or caring enough to feel. And if you have new rules (or new un-rules) to teach me about how to eat correctly or healthily or whatever then you can fuck right off. The truth is, I have little enough emotional energy to think about what I eat as it is, without adding more layers of guilt, shame or restriction to my diet.

As a middle-class westerner, I don’t conceptualise eating as being a purely pragmatic exercise to fuel the body. Whether I “should” or “shouldn’t”, the reality is that for me and my family and my culture, eating is not just fuelling the body, it is linked with pleasure, luxury, comfort, celebration, family togetherness and recreation as well as sustenance. As a social creature, I cannot separate myself from those things with ease, even if I wanted to (and I don’t want to – I enjoy the pleasures and comfort of food ).

As a woman, I’ve been socialised to view food in a number of gendered ways, both as one of the languages with which I can show love and caring (as the women in my family do and did for their loved ones before me) and as something vaguely dangerous that I need to be careful about. Not only should women worry about how fattening their food might be, we should also be aware of how eating might make us look. As a woman I have learned, without being explicitly taught by anyone, really, that I should eat delicately and neatly, never take the last slice of cake, and say “no thank you” when offered food even if I want to eat it, especially if I’m trying to make a first impression.

As a fat person who has never been thin, even as a child, my socialisation around food is even more complicated than it is for thinner women or fat women who were thin when younger. I am twenty-seven years old and even though I’ve I have spent the last five years learning about and campaigning for fat acceptance, I have still spent more than half of my life on a diet of some kind. I have so many rules crammed into my head about food that I’m not sure I know which ones are sane and sensible and which ones are crazy, dangerous or just plain lies any more. I do know that negative calorie foods don’t exist, and that spicy foods don’t really help you lose weight (or that if either of those things do result in a calorie deficit, it’s so small as to be meaningless). I don’t know if sugar and fat are good for you or bad for you or both or neither. My way of dealing with this has been to dismiss them all and now I really don’t care. I don’t know if it’s right that I respond (internally) to an acquaintance’s repeated assertions that she’s “just GOT to lose weight” by side-eyeing all the high energy food she eats and scoffing to myself that if I were her I would have been at my goal weight years ago. Actually, I do know that’s not right, but I am pretty sure that I am “better at” losing weight than she is, even though it’s been a long time since I did it. I’m a fucking expert at losing weight. For years and years, even while studying for my degree, there was nothing I put more energy into.

And wow, would you look at that. I’m still fat. Actually I am fatter now than I ever was.

As a person with a history of eating disorders, my internalised ideas about food are still more messy and complex than those I’ve associated with the categories of “western middle class”, “woman” and “fat”. I have spent my entire adult life struggling with disordered eating of various kinds. I’ve engaged in most of the eating disorders I’ve ever heard of; some of them were mere exerimental dabblings and some of them I committed to with every fibre of my rapidly shrinking being. I learned (and sometimes made up) even more rules about how one should approach eating. I spent so much of my energy in my early twenties trying to deny my body’s urges regarding food that I no longer feel regular hunger or satiety; I don’t notice I am hungry until I am so ravenous I want to throw up, and I don’t notice I am full until I am so full I feel sick (I don’t always eat until I am that full, but I sometimes can without realising I am doing it). That is what comes of spending all of your days permanently hungry; you learn to ignore the messages your body is giving you, and then you forget how to pay attention to them again.

I realise that in the process of explaining why I don’t want to talk about eating, I have now spent about eight hundred words talking about it. But I just had to get that out there. I don’t want to talk about eating. I am sick of thinking about eating. I want to just eat and get on with my life, without having to justify it or discuss how to do it correctly ad nauseam with my every friend and acquaintance. Perhaps one day I will want to think about it more, and I can certainly say that I’m almost guaranteed to post about it here again someday.  I do get why people want to talk about it – it’s such an integral part of our lives that of course we’re all going to have opinions on the subject.

But I know how to eat. You put edible things in your mouth and chew and swallow. Right now, for me, everything else is just indigestible garnish.

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6 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Need Any More Food Rules

  1. I went through a whole stage of not wanting to talk about eating too. For many years. I was so sick of rules and standards and judgement and blah blah blah. I totally get how you feel, boy do I get it!

    I have however, moved on from that place. I want to talk about food and I want to talk about eating. But not in the sense of what is good/bad or how to do it or whatever other ethical, moral, philosophical sense. I want to talk about the pleasure of food, the ceremony of food, the taste, feel, scent, sight and sound of food. I want to be allowed to experience food without all that judgement and bargaining, and to discuss it with other people who experience it without judgement and bargaining. I want to reclaim food, the love and joy of food, the sometimes grossness and messiness of food.

    But yeah, I have TOTALLY been in the space you are in now.

    • Sarah says:

      Thanks Kath. I think I would like to be in a space one day where I can talk about those things and enjoy talking about them 🙂 This was a bit of an epiphany for me, though – I realised after a couple of weeks of feeling stressed and bombarded by these sorts of conversations that I’m just not resilient enough to sort through them properly. I just want it all to stop. So hopefully letting myself not think (or talk) about it for a while will help me get to a place where I can think and talk about it without the stress!

  2. I’m not trying to pretend that we have the same kinds of issues around food because as a thin woman who has always been thin, I don’t want to appropriate your experiences. But! I wanted to tell you that I liked your post because I’ve also recently given up my food rules. For some reason I’ve been very attached to having anxiety about food (whether there is too little or I am eating too much or of the wrong things – when the food scarcity of my childhood was resolved I made up reasons to deny food to myself) and I think the only way that I’ll ever be able to untangle everything, to be able to eat something I didn’t cook with my own hands and not be in terrible pain afterward, to not have panic attacks after I eat something impulsively, is to start with a clean slate.

    Go you! Good luck!

    • Sarah says:

      Thanks Elise! And good luck to you too 🙂 Food strikes me as being too important and too potentially wonderful to ruin with anxiety, but that stuff takes time to work through.

  3. whitealinta says:

    If you ever come back to wanting to talk about eating then I would love to discuss it with you. Particularly in the way that sleepydumpling has outlined. L laughs at me when I start waxing lyrical about the consistency of good porridge and why I don’t like the way my mother cooks rice but food, glorious food is something that makes my heart sing.

    • Sarah says:

      I always enjoy having those kinds of discussions with you (well, about things other than food, for the time being!) so I will definitely hit you up when I’m ready 😀

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