The Shame of Food Love
Today’s post was submitted by a writer who is a friend of mine, Katie Cross. There are so many adjectives to describe her, I can hardly narrow it down. But I’ll try. She’s selfless, wicked-talented, supportive, generous, funny, approachable, kind, hard-working, adorable, and an award winning novelist. A friendship that seeded in the blogging world, bloomed when I was publishing my novel and she gave so much of her time to help me. We were able see each other in person this summer when she drove hours to meet me – just weeks before her due date – when my family vacationed in her home state. How cool is that? Katie is the real deal. She’s posted here before and we’re honored to have her back. –Beth
“I had a bad day. I need ice cream.”
Said every girl ever.
Except I said that a lot when I was a teenager. Like . . . way too much. And I remember one day in particular. It was a no-good-really-bad-day. I can’t remember why, but the epic grossness inside me was bad.
BAD, I say.
It just so happened that we had a brand new pint of BJ’s (Ben and Jerry’s for those of you not in-the-know) brownie chocolate something-something in the freezer. At ten o’clock that night I grabbed it, a spoon, plopped into a char in the kitchen, and proceeded to tell my mom and brother just how crappy my day had been while I popped spoonful after spoonful of creamy chocolate goodness in my 16-year-old mouth.
And then ate the whole. dang. thing.
I remember my brother just laughing about it, and me looking down at the empty container with a grudging sense of something that I later realized was shame. The sweet cream hadn’t erased my bad day, but the chunks of brownies had tasted good. I threw it away and holed up in my room to emote my bad emotions out with a book or something. The whole vent is hazy after the food leaves.
This was just the beginning of my food-related memories.
I grew up hearing I was ‘big boned’ and ‘thick’ or ‘muscular’. Everyone was just too nice to tell me to lay off the potato salad or Ruffles. My family is like the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding. We have a lot of people, are loud, have dark curly hair, and we love to eat. So when we got together?
It got crazy.
Grandma cooked Sunday dinners in our family, and man did she whip up a mean fried chicken platter. Grandpa always loved to add a little mashed potato to his butter, if you know what I mean. I had a single mom that worked three jobs to keep me and my brother clothed, which meant we spent summers roaming free, unsupervised. Sure, we went outside and played a lot. Softball. Baseball. Practice. Bike riding, you name it.
But I ate to make up for it.
Don’t Get Me Wrong.
I’m not here to say that food is bad: not at all. Nothing but love here for food! Obviously it has a huge role to play in the survival of our species or we wouldn’t love it so freaking much. But what I ate was not food.
It was sugar coated denial and anger and frustration and insecurity.
Most of all, it was shame.
Figuring It Out.
I’ll never forget the first time I realized that I ate because I felt. I’d never once considered that my emotions had anything to do with food. I was 21 or 22, working as an RN. My friend Stephanie, whom I hiked and exercised with all the time, walked up to my nurses station.
“I just had fun sized Snickers,” she said, holding the empty wrapper in one hand. She held another fun sized candy bar in the other. “And I still have one left. Before I even finished the first one, which I didn’t even enjoy, I was thinking about eating the next one.”
I lifted a puzzled eyebrow. So? I wanted to say. I do that all the time. “And?” I said slowly, trying to figure out her point. “What does that mean?”
She shot me an exasperated look. “I realized I’m not eating because I want the Snickers. I’m eating because I’m stressed. It’s horrible! I keep eating my feelings.”
She dropped the fun sized candy bar in front of me and walked away, not knowing she’d just started a chain reaction of thought in my brain that was doomed to ripple in my eternities forever.
For Eating’s Sake!
I thought of what Stephanie said for a long time—maybe a few months, okay?—without making any changes. I didn’t really get it at first. At least, that’s what I told myself. Now I know I didn’t want to understand. Christmas landed me with a bodybugg (remember those?) to try out because everyone at work swore by them. It forced me to not only pay attention to what I was eating, but how much. Stephanie’s Snicker bar disaster constantly rang through my head. Suddenly, I saw it for myself.
-14 hour shift with a few screaming kids that hated me? Sweet pork burrito from Cafe Rio.
-Dateless weekend by myself? NO! I didn’t care that I was alone while my friends went out. Who needed men anyway? Grocery store trip ending in lemon poppyseed cookies and a whole lot pre-packaged frozen foods.
-Night shift munchies and fatigue? Too keep me awake, of course. Fried potato wedges with melted cheese, bacon bits, and gobs of ketchup.
Do you see the ugly arithmetic I’d been avoiding? Emotions + Katie = Denial by Food
Change, Change, Change.
Stopping this awful process has been slow. I’d like to say it’s been steady, but I don’t know if I can or not. The best I can say is that it’s been integrated into who I am, just as much as the knee-jerk reaction of feeling emotions, must have food has been a part of my soul since childhood.
Keeping track of what I ate was my first step, and the eye opening shock of just how much I consumed worked well to quell my voracious emotional appetite. Forcing myself to ask, am I hungry? helped stop me from grabbing the extra bran muffin with my breakfast of oatmeal and fruit. But this process didn’t get better until I found help.
Like, emotional help.
For me (and this will not be true for all) I needed to face my demons. Open the closets. Face. My. Issues. It wasn’t until I started working with a professional therapist that I began to realize all that food I’d consumed had just been me piling stuff in front of my closet so I could hide the monsters inside. I didn’t want to face the emotions.
I didn’t want to feel.
“Of course I don’t want to admit how much it hurts,” I remember telling my therapist. Luckily, she ignored the implied duh in my tone. “Because it hurts.”
Wading through those food wrappers and confronting the monster sucked, quite honestly. But the most interesting thing happened once I did. The siren call of Cafe Rio faded. When I was hungry, I was actually hungry. After a bad day, my feet didn’t automatically go to the cafeteria. Oh, sure. I had days of wanting to binge on CPK BBQ chicken pizza (still do), but the force and power behind the emotions had faded.
I didn’t have to eat anymore.
The Eternity of Food Love.
I’d love to tell you that I don’t harbor a secret need to eat whenever ALL THE FEELZ attack me, but I won’t tell you that. It’s literally something in my head every day that I either brush into the back or face straight on.
Arby’s sounds so good right now. I’m pregnant, and miserable, so I have an excuse.
Husband is gone and I’m lonely, which means I can totally justify a stop for ice cream.
But I will say this: it’s gotten easier to say no. If I’m suddenly thinking of food, I know that I need to figure out why, process what I’m really thinking about, and then move on. That doesn’t mean I never treat myself *snorts with derisive laughter* but I have it under much greater control.
It’s me that controls the emotions now, which means it’s me that controls my life.
Katie Cross is a lover of cookies great and small. She also writes awesome stories like Bon Bons to Yoga Pants, a story of self acceptance, weight loss, and learning the true meaning of being healthy. If she’s not trail running in the mountains with her husband, she’s wasting time playing candy crush. You can bet on that. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and more for great food tips, dieting help, and funny memes that’ll make you bust your gut.