There’s a scene in the HBO documentary THIN where Polly, who is in treatment for anorexia and bulimia, can’t eat a piece of pizza. She just can’t do it.
It makes no sense to a rational person: it’s just food, why can’t she eat it? But to Polly, it’s not. It’s “poison.” It’s “fattening.” It’s “weakness.”
Her therapist asks her in a soft, soothing, low voice if she can’t maybe view it as, “A piece of bread, with some tomato sauce and cheese on top”?
Polly shudders. She can’t. She just can’t. And then she leaves the table.
I don’t understand this, personally. Unlike Polly, I can eat a slice of pizza or a cookie, and I do (ok, if the pizza is in NJ being the pizza snob that I am!).
I’m learning to ungroup/uncategorize foods to make life more enjoyable … it’s been a long process but I’m getting there. I don’t look at foods in such stark black and white terms anymore.
But although I’m several steps ahead of Polly in that often I will eat a cookie or what have you, there’s always a thought preceding it.
The thought itself isn’t so bad if it’s just a cautionary one … There’s nothing inherently wrong with thinking before eating (or spending money, etc); lots of women do: Do I genuinely want this because I’m still hungry or because it looks delicious?. They might eat it anyway even if they didn’t “need” it, and for many, no guilt ensues. It’s food. Pure and simple (and delicious).
Being an anxious person naturally, I’m hard-wired to have that first thought, and I’m ok with that, therapy has helped me be “ok” with it — and that initial thinking, truthfully, has helped me maintain my figure these past almost five years, give or take some pounds.
But with me (and I’m guessing other disordered eaters too) the thought goes a step further, a step deeper into murky territory: Am I eating mindlessly or emotionally, or because it honestly tastes delicious? Am I savoring it, or am I going to chew-and-spit it anyway?
And so sometimes I wonder if a cookie will ever be just that … a cookie, composed of flour, sugar, butter, eggs. Something to which I give nary a thought, and just eat, in moderation?
For those of us struggling with disordered eating or eating disorders, I can’t help but wonder, when is a cookie just a cookie?
I so greatly admire the healthy foodie blogs I read where the girls talk about what they eat. They never admonish themselves for their choices or deprive themselves of something they want to eat.
They genuinely have a good relationship with food; it’s just that: food. Fuel. And they seek pleasure in it. Their photographs tell the pictures (you can see many of them on my blogroll). They don’t chew-and-spit their food; they savor it.
Blog reader Lana commented not too long ago on my blog the following, which truly hit home:
“You know, it’s funny how much our society promotes a really black and white view of health. There are news articles in abundance that talk about “healthy foods” vs. “unhealthy foods”, and people will debate the finer points of nutrition while completely overlooking the bigger picture. It drives me batty! And I can totally see how the pro-Ana movement would get a foothold in our society, with such an enormous dichotomy in our view of health.
You know who I love? Nigella Lawson. She writes cookbooks, she’s got cooking shows from time to time. She’s voluptuous, gorgeous….and British. With that Britishness comes a distinct lack of all the things that make Americans so neurotic about foot. In her writing, you can tell she takes a joy in eating. She doesn’t divorce HEALTH from PLEASURE – nor does she soften the edges of classic recipes (alfredo, chocolate cake, baked ham) to make them more “healthy.”
Because there’s no such thing as one healthy food or one supremely unhealthy, evil food. There’s only life. Balance. A lifestyle based on exclusion is always going to be an unsatisfying one. Why do we have to focus on what we shouldn’t eat?
What if we all just gave up our collective American control issues and learned to enjoy eating again? What if we put the same love into preparing *delicious* vegetables as we put into scrutinizing the nutritional value of a plant, which vegetables were better at saving us from cancer, etc? If vegetables tasted *good*, wouldn’t we naturally eat more of them? (Like the French – hello paradox?) And if we ate more vegetables, wouldn’t we be healthier?
What if we all strove for balance instead of berating ourselves for what we were or weren’t doing “right”? What if nothing were forbidden, and you never approached a certain food with dread just because it was “good for you”?
I realize anorexia and other eating disorders are about control, and have less to do with food than with feelings. But I wonder if the media doesn’t exacerbate the problem by declaring some foods more morally acceptable than others.
Because when it comes down to it, every food has value. Even if it’s just for pleasure.”
Lana’s words resonated with me. Truly resonated. I hope you found wisdom in them, too.
And thank you, Lana, for helping me see that sometimes the sheer pleasure of enjoying the cookie far outweighs the deprivation of not having enjoyed it.
How about you? When did a cookie just become a cookie for you? Did it ever?