Certainly, I am a fan of both conscious and healthy eating habits. But key to that is that “health” includes mental and emotional facets as well as a physical aspect, and dieting is all too often wrapped up in a rhetoric that doesn’t serve me.
I grew up in a household where both guilt (or Guilt, of the religious variety) and food policing (first mom-induced and then self-sustaining) were fundamentals. At its core, this food policing involved imbuing various foods with both moral qualities and powers of transfer. So some foods, like lettuce, were “good” while some foods, like chocolate pudding, were “bad.” Anyone could eat a “good” food because, hey, we can all use extra goodness (or moral superiority or bragging rights or whatever). But you had to be extra good (usually in the combination of exercise and being “skinny enough”) to “deserve” to eat a “bad” food in order to counteract its inherent badness, which it would ultimately transfer to the eater — usually in the form of larger clothing sizes.
As I hit puberty, parts of my body grew wider and fattier whether I liked it or not — and completely separately, I might add, from how “good” or “bad” I was in my teens. And I would unequivocally label my adolescent eating habits as unhealthy — not because of foods I did or didn’t eat, total calories consumed or unconsumed — but because I was primarily concerned with eating for appearances. My own physical appearance was a part of that. My mom had often told me I was developing the same “trouble spots” on my body that she had, I changed in the locker room for gym just like everybody else, and I was 110% terrified of being labeled by myself or by others as fat. Also included was my social appearance: I wanted to be seen eating the “right” foods, which were sometimes the “good foods” (carrot sticks, Diet Coke, nothing at all) of my childhood and — in the spirit of teenage rebellion — sometimes “bad foods” (tater tots, Twix bars, Mountain Dew) that had to be eaten with a sort of “fuck you, world!” attitude.
I was way good at “fuck you” on the outside; I was less good at it on the inside. There was no place in those years for eating for the pleasure of taste or even for eating for simple physical hunger. Even if I didn’t count calories, every mouthful had an emotional weight.
And here’s the kicker — At least among my social acquaintances and peers, I’d consider my relationship with food to be about average.
Average, as in, “in the middle of the bell curve.”
Maybe let that sink in a minute.
It’s only been in the last year or so that I’ve been able to love and accept myself enough to stop justifying my food choices to my moral compass — and I certainly don’t manage that every day. But eating because I personally enjoy it has become part of my skill set. I practice taking a little bit of that “fuck you, world!” and applying it to my insides.
Tonight, we’re having tacos, and in honor of the day, I bought sour cream. On one level, I’m intensely aware that sour cream = a metric buttload of extraneous calories and fat. Saturated fat. On another, I’m anticipating the cool, creamy tang that is the perfect complement to the jalapeno and green chile in the taco filling. And that is its own little piece of glory, right there at my kitchen table.