Food Shame & Bullying
I’ve always known I feel very uncomfortable eating with other people. I am very overweight, so I immediately think people are judging me whilst I eat, thinking:
“she shouldn’t be eating that”
or even worse
“fat pig”, “greedy guts”, “fatty”– names I was called at school- even though I was only slightly overweight back then.
Love for Food
My friends, who are very slim, enjoy what they eat so much! They have great enthusiasm for food! This confused me!! How can they love food so much, but be so slim?!
Just because they love food does not necessarily mean they eat lots. And they certainly don’t eat to soothe or comfort uncomfortable feelings- which I do a lot. I’m aware of it. I just haven’t changed it.
They have much more of a love and appreciation for fruit and vegetables and creative cooking, and eat a broad variety in their diet compared with me. But they also love desserts and chocolate and cakes!!
I think they eat in a much more conscious way than I do- enjoying every flavour and savouring each mouthful, or ‘mindful eating’.
Denial of Needs
I gulp down my food quickly! And it is only in the last few days that I realise how anxious I feel with food in my mouth, and the thoughts that are racing through my mind:
“Quick! Eat it before anyone sees!”
“This is so bad for me! It’s bad that I’m eating this! I am bad. I am shameful for wanting this!”
“I feel so disgusted with myself for needing food. I shouldn’t need it.”
The last statement shocked me. Of course I need food! But I was taught to ignore my needs; that having needs was not conducive to the family unit. It was more important to keep the family happily functioning than to have my own needs. To have my ‘difficult’ emotions was a no-no: no anger, no frustration, no disappointment. “Here- have a biscuit to keep you quiet”– that was a common line.
My parents had a strange relationship with food too. Dad ate for comfort, and would often eat chocolate in secret. Mum would hide chocolate and sweets for herself and sometimes we would accidently find them and take one- triggering guilt when eating “naughty food”. Of course hiding it in the first place gave it a certain power- it was special food, only Mum’s and it is shameful to be seen eating it. “We mustn’t eat it!” But there was always a bit of a thrill if we stole a chocolate! More unusual emotions around food!
Mum was always dieting too and was a regular at the local slimming group. She wasn’t even that overweight. So she yo-yoed up and down a stone or two.
As a child we would often have our eating habits remarked on by critical grandparents and our weight was very often commented on when we were first reunited, usually in a negative way. Even as a teenager when I restricted my diet a lot, I would have comments such as:
“Oh, you’re so beautifully slim now Rachel!’ So much gushing and overpraise. I felt like I was an animal on display at the zoo, that anybody could say whatever they liked about me. I was there to be commented on.
Instead of feeling happy to be praised I immediately would think:
“Does that mean I wasn’t great when I was overweight? Did my family not like me then?”
My beliefs evolved onto thinking people only liked me if I was slim. Reinforced by the taunting at school.
I honestly don’t know if I revolted at university, but I know I suddenly felt like a kid in a candy store-literally. I had money and freedom to buy whatever food I liked! I also had my first severe depressive episode, which was horrendous at the time. Sweet & chocolate binges made me feel slightly better, and made the suicidal and delusional thinking more bearable.
No More Broccoli!
But there was also no more broccoli, no more beans or salad!!! I would gulp these down too as a kid, as I didn’t particularly enjoy the taste, but knew it would please Mum if I ate them. So I’d chew them as little as possible to avoid the taste and swallow quickly.
I was anxious around healthy food, and anxious around unhealthy food!
So to meet people who genuinely love food and certainly are not ashamed of admitting it, seems so strange to me. Strange in a refreshing and enlightening way though. What would it feel like to enjoy eating so much and to feel good when doing it? To not feel anxious about what I would be “tempted’ to eat and about the shame I knew I would inevitably feel.
Can I do this? Can I change my beliefs about eating and actually enjoy it? I think I can!
New thoughts to consciously think whilst I eat:
“This food tastes so good. I love it!”
“This food doesn’t taste quite so good, but it has grown in the earth and is in itself a mini-miracle. It nourishes my body and helps me to feel energised”.
“It is essential that I eat. It is normal to want and need food, and feel hungry”.
I need to eat from genuine hunger too, not that horrible feeling of emptiness which creeps into my stomach so often- that void that I always feel so desperate to fill. What is that void anyway? Lack of self-love and compassion? Can I learn to soothe myself with compassionate thoughts?
This is where I need to start anyway. Learning that it is not shameful to eat!