I eat my feelings, and maybe you do too

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I am the sort of person who thinks a lot about food. You might be able to tell. Most of my jokes are about biscuits, aren’t they? I maintain forever and always that a good biscuit joke sets most people at ease and, an additional benefit, encourages them to think more about biscuits.

Lately I’ve been wondering whether my relationship to food is as healthy as it could be. My goodness, food and I are complex, intertwined, weirdly co-dependent creatures. Here are a few things that are true for me (are any of them true for you too?):

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I am northern. My cooking tends to be on the heavy, meat-and-potatoes side of things. I like meat and potatoes best when it’s in a pie. DO NOT EVEN GET ME STARTED ON PIE.

I do not smoke, drink or take drugs, but I use chocolate ice cream in a way that resembles all of these things.

I like good food, whole food, expensive food…and down-and-dirty food, greasy food, delivered-to-your-door-in-a-damp-paper-bag food. I eat unhealthily often, and gleefully, but with a sad sense of grossness afterwards.

I tried counting calories once, and it bored the freaking pants off me. I would never, ever consider giving up dairy, wheat or meat unless I were actually dying. I mean, CHEESE.

I come from a family where our genes run small and skinny. I have a vastly skewed sense of ‘normal’ size and weight as a result. I place far, far too much emphasis on how much I weigh, rather than how I feel. If you ever asked me my weight, I could tell you and the number would be accurate to within 48 hours.

I would rather spend money eating out at a restaurant than buying almost anything else.

I don’t enjoy being pregnant, and I think maybe one of the reasons is that my body shape is out of my own control.

I often go days or weeks between fizzy drinks, but I have to close my eyes in intense appreciation after the first gulp of cold Coke. Every time.

I use food as reward and emotional salve: the times I’m eating for other reasons – exhaustion, boredom, stress, sadness – far outnumber the times I’m eating because I’m hungry. And by the way I talk about it (‘will some fruit snacks make you feel better?’), I think I encourage my children to do the same.

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Doesn’t that make me sound seriously unbalanced? I’m not, I promise. But this is hard: food is energy and health and a delight in its own right, a bringer-together of families and friends, delicious in its earthiness and physicality. You should love it, we say, but not the bad parts and not too much and not in a weird way. There has to be a line you can walk between ‘I like to eat’ and ‘I am unhealthily dependent on liking to eat, and use it to propel myself emotionally through the day’. I want to find that line. I think it would do me some good.

So I’ve been trying to make some changes around here – not so much in what we’re eating, but in how we eat it. These are not refined theories at all, and I’m really just feeling my way to some better habits. What do you think?

one,

I’m trying to be a little more aware of why I’m opening the  kitchen cupboard, and organising the continual grazing into structured meals and snack times. Ben & Jerry’s after the boys go to bed and before I start work? Reasonable. Ben & Jerry’s at 9.30am because drying my hair took less time than expected? Unreasonable.

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two,

I’m trying to eliminate the idea of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ eating (adults talking about ‘naughty’ food is a cringey bug-bear of mine), and consider instead what my body might need to take in, and how much it needs before it’s full. I can appreciate the iron in our beef lasagne and the vitamins in my salad…while also accepting that sometimes a whacking great burger and fries is exactly what I need, because it tastes nice and I enjoy it.

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three,

I’m trying to make our daily family meals more of an event, particularly dinner time. Flowers, place mats, fancy napkins and serving bowls, little side dishes to round out the main course…we usually saved these for guests, but why should we? I am a big believer in forging our family links around a dinner table. This is where the boys learn to talk about their day and listen to someone else’s. They need patience and social graces to make it through a meal. And I’ve noticed that when I make it feel a little more fancy, Henry is more excited to be there, and more inclined to raise his game.

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four,

I’m trying not to make quite so many jokes about biscuits. KIDDING, AS IF I WOULD EVER.

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I ate Ben & Jerry’s while writing this, and I can’t decide whether this is ironic or whether ice cream and blogging is a perfectly reasonable combination. But here’s to food in its proper place: on our plates, in our bellies, making us happy but not, somehow, needing to. I’ll clink our cheeseburgers together to that.

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6 thoughts on “I eat my feelings, and maybe you do too

  1. I love this post! I’ve been thinking along these same lines myself lately, and I think I’ll adopt some of your ideas! I tried twice recently to cut down on sweets (that means twice a day…) and each time I got sick. So I decided that instead of cutting anything out, I’d just eat MORE vegetables and fruits, and see what happens.

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    • This is a great idea! More of the good stuff rather than cutting out the less-good. Diets have always bored me to tears and I’ve never been able to stick to them. Likewise, I’d generally rather exercise more than eat less. Let me know if you notice a difference!

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  2. I think about food a lot! and can certainly relate to so many things in this post. I feel like I have a complex relationship with food but my goal this year is to simplify it…are you actually hungry? Yes or no! Haha. I always no how much I weigh, can get slightly obsessed with the numbers on the scales yet deep down I am very happy with how I look. It almost becomes a habit to just think about food and think about weight. Nobody ever understand why I hate being pregnant – the main and only reason is because my weight is out of my control…yet I consider myself a balanced person? Trying to eat nutrient rich foods and really understand what my body is actually hungry for. It’s fascinating xx Thanks for writing this! I’m glad somebody else thinks about food A LOT!

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    • I can say a big YES to all of this. I would love to simplify how I think about food. And yes, thinking about food and weight does become a habit. One thing I didn’t have room for in the post was that at the moment I feel more at peace with my body shape than I have done for a while – since having babies in the first place, really. My body feels like me. So why do I still care how much I weigh? Silly.

      I feel like we could talk about this all day :-)

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  3. Rachel O says:

    Loved this! This describes my relationship with food perfectly. ‘Healthier Eating’ has been on my mind a lot lately too. I am now a mother of five, my baby being 6 weeks old, and who has time to think about eating healthy?! Not me. Well yes I do but only to wish I had the energy and motivation to do something about it. Maybe I just could hire a personal chef? LOL Thanks for the perspective and the smiles. Its just what I needed! Here’s to trying to be healthier about food in a realistic way! =)

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  4. A couple if things I changed from my childhood was to leave the clean plate club. my kids eat till they are full and have desert if they saved a little room, I am all for letting the body know what and how much it wants. I do not offer food as a comfort another change is food is a good thing, a wonderful glorious yummy thing and mealtimes are happy relaxed fill your tummy and enjoy it, times.
    I comfort eat, not massively, mostly I just eat, eat but sometimes I do just get a load of yummy food and eat it as a comfort thing.
    I think it has it’s place too, in a mad world, in a life that has at times been unbearably painful I have never taken any drugs, medication and hardly ever drink alcohol. whatever gets you through the night sort of thing, you know.

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