Friday, July 04, 2008

Food, unglorious food...Part 1

Recently, I’ve been tripping over bloggers, posts and comments which have been circling around body image: fat and weight and appearance and self-esteem and dieting and restricting (both male and female writers, I should add) and I thought to put my two cents out there having had this compulsion since just about toddler-hood.

Yes, I mean I’ve struggled with food issues all my life. Ever since I was four. Four was the age when I hid food for the first time. A half-eaten Fry’s Cream bar I put under my pillow. My brother was only a baby, too young to steal it, so it wasn’t about that. I was just afraid my parents might take it away from me. I still remember looking at the remains of the bar and wondering where a safe space might be. I knew the powerful sedative effect of chocolate even then. What is remarkable is that I needed this anaesthetic in my life at the age of four.

Through the years I’ve manifested all the facets of this food addiction. I’ve undereaten and overeaten, one year could see me one hundred pounds heavier than the year before, next year I would be one hundred pounds lighter. This yo-yoing has taken a huge toll on my body. Not to mention on my emotions and my self-esteem.

Food was an issue in my family and often treated as an enemy. My mother, who even after six children looked beautiful, was always ‘reducing’. If she gained a pound she would refer to it as the ‘agony’ and work very hard to lose it and be triumphant when she did. She always did.

My father yo-yo’d all his life, punishing himself periodically (usually in the spring) by walking grimly for miles and miles every day to lose the forty or fifty pounds he had packed on in the winter months while subsisting on a meagre bread allotment until it was gone. Excess weight to him was something to be despised and demeaned on anyone. His standard phrase on spying an overweight person was: “there, s/he goes, digging his grave with his teeth.”

When I was thirteen, my grandmother said to me that when she married at sixteen, her waist matched her age and that’s the way it should be until you were thirty and that was the reward, you could have a thirty-inch waist then for the rest of your life. I attempted to model myself on these matriarchal pearls of wisdom.

At sixteen I made sure I had a very tiny waist. It got a lot of attention from my family. Aunts and grandmothers were very proud of my accomplishment. I managed this by restricting food intake for the first time. I was quite tall for my time and more rounded than skinny in body build so this was a huge accomplishment.

Back then, I can never, ever remember accepting my body the way it was. I never remember liking my body. For instance, I always felt embarrassed about my bust and for years would wear this elastic contraption to flatten it. I did not want any form of sexual attention.

When I was twenty I was pushed very reluctantly into this beauty contest in Italy and I came second. It was only years and years later in looking at the photos of the event that I realized how really lovely I was. And I cried. I had no concept of that at the time. I had figured they were sorry for the Irish girl, the ragazza irlandese. I had paraded in this gorgeous dress thinking self-consciously that my stomach was too big. It wasn’t of course.

All the fat was in my head.

And that is the thing about food addiction and body perception. It has nothing to do with having food, not having food, not exercising, over-exercising, anorexia, bulimia, binging, gorging, purging, fasting. It is about the emotions, the obsession with the body.

There is the old saying for foodies: “it’s not about what you’re consuming, it’s what’s consuming you.”

And determining this was a journey unto itself. And to myself.

To be continued.

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Blogger laurie said...

you would not think that something as simple and universal and crucial as food would be such a complicated thing in our lives. but oh, it is. it is.

i was never pretty enough for a beauty pageant, but i look now at who i was when i was 20, 25, 30, 35, and i think, man, i was pretty! and slender! and i had no idea. i thought i was stocky, and frizzy, and plain.

this is an interesting post. i'm looking forward to more insights from you.

Sat Jul 05, 12:20:00 AM GMT-2:30  
Blogger Twilight said...

Fighting the flab has been a constant in my life too, WWW. From being a chubby child and teen, to discovering an iron will by my thirties, battering my size down to model proportions, living on a meagre diet. I probably did my bones a lot of harm.

I've learned better sense now, but still will not allow myself to go beyond a certain weight, I don't have to try too hard, partly because my brain is programmed by years of striving, and partly because we're practically vegetarian. I've acquired an aversion to meat, not from any principled stance, just general dislike of the idea of eating flesh.

Good topic, WWW! It's one that has caused much angst to so many people.

Sat Jul 05, 11:18:00 AM GMT-2:30  
Blogger goodbyetoallfat said...

I'm looking forward to your "part 2". This is a big issue with me as well (obviously) and one of the main things I blog about, but it is very interesting to read other people's thoughts and to find out so many times how other people felt the same, even when they were not fat (like when you entered the beauty pageant).

Sat Jul 05, 11:22:00 AM GMT-2:30  
Anonymous Nick said...

This obsession with body image and weight is something I've never understood, having always been thin and having never being able to eat more than I need. It's appalling that so many women feel under constant pressure to 'improve' their body, goaded by other women and the media. Why we can't all just accept our bodies as they are (unless they've swollen to life-threatening levels) I don't know.

Sat Jul 05, 03:41:00 PM GMT-2:30  
Blogger Old Fogey said...

WWW - there were two Fry's Cream Bars, weren't there - one was all white inside and mint flavoured. The other had chocolated covered multi coloured segments - strawberry, vanilla etc. I liked the latter best - but my mother loved the mint one. The other one that was irresistible was the Walnut Whip - a twirl of chocolate inside which was a single segment of walnut surrounded by this white gluey goo. I couldn't resist that either - nor my mother. Then there was chocolate Turkish Delight.... Oh,I could go on forever.

Sat Jul 05, 07:16:00 PM GMT-2:30  
Blogger Wisewebwoman said...

I know, all part of the not good enough, pretty enough, intelligent enough package. No validation because it might give one the swelled head!

Sat Jul 05, 09:40:00 PM GMT-2:30  
Blogger Wisewebwoman said...

I am so amazed at how many people are affected by this. I have overweight friends who battle with severe depression and are medicated which increases their weight, it is like a nightmare cycle.
I was a vegetarian for years, ethical vegetarian. I did not do well on it. Now I restrict to fish as much as I can.
I hesitated a lot about this post. Thanks for validating!

Sat Jul 05, 09:42:00 PM GMT-2:30  
Blogger Wisewebwoman said...

Dear Good:
I had to come clean on this as so many have written about it, including your good self. Food addiction is all in the head and diets are temporary fixes, as we well know. I still have trouble looking in mirrors as my perceptions are so distorted. that tells me a lot about it.

Sat Jul 05, 09:44:00 PM GMT-2:30  
Blogger Wisewebwoman said...

Not just women I should point out. Your post about that guy who died on the surgery table proved that!
it all boils down to self-esteem and how one feels about oneself. Obsession with the body covers up a whole pile of undealt with issues!

Sat Jul 05, 09:46:00 PM GMT-2:30  
Blogger Wisewebwoman said...

Yes I knew every single choccie bar by name and price. Also the bikkies. Not forgetting the 99s - did you have those in England?
Icecream cone with a Cadbury Flake stuck in it?

Sat Jul 05, 09:48:00 PM GMT-2:30  
Anonymous Nick said...

Indeed, men are increasingly going the same way. Very sad. Why have we all become so fixated on the appearance of our bodies instead of how they're working? Many people have already got to the point where they worry more about unruly hair than a collapsing liver.

Sun Jul 06, 06:50:00 AM GMT-2:30  
Blogger Wisewebwoman said...

Or bald heads, Nick. I've seen the most outrageous "plugs 'n rugs". Terrified of aging, of being outside of the norm in shape. Less and less focus on the 'inner'. I really believe that is why a lot of us blog. I know I get hungry (no pun!) for real conversation, so much of it is superficial...

Sun Jul 06, 11:48:00 AM GMT-2:30  
Blogger Orla Hegarty said...

My osteopath said that his business flourishes due to people eating gluten,tomatoes, potatoes, dairy, and too much meat and sugar. These items all aggravate our entire body system and should be eliminated or greatly reduced.

The 'food' guide perpetuates ill health.

I don't think it's about addiction at all (pure chocolate is excellent for you).

We have been fed a load of crap.

Literally and figuratively.

Your system was already knocked out of balance at 4 years of age after eating a steady irish diet of spuds and dairy (in abundance). Your instincts told you that chocolate was's the sugar and dairy fat that was the problem.

A 4 year old can not be an addict. Nature does not produce addicts. Egos do.


Sun Jul 06, 12:41:00 PM GMT-2:30  
Blogger Pondside said...

Good morning WWW - just having a good old catch up on your site. I loved your Canada day post - you hit on my two favorite places in this country - Cape Breton, my birthplace and Vancouver Island, my chosen home of the past 11 years.
Your food post really touched me. You describe a family attitude toward food that is similar to the one with which I grew up. A teeny mother, and two teeny sisters and a dad who never weighed an ounce more than he should have. I always felt huge. My mum was a great cook, and we dared not leave anything on our plates, but the disapproval of extra weight was the unspoken fear I lived with.
You're not going to believe this, but the word verification that I have to copy to post this comment is 'cuhfat'!!!! (and my real initial is "H")

Sun Jul 06, 04:15:00 PM GMT-2:30  
Blogger Wisewebwoman said...

Hi Orla:
Having read "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and its sequel I hear you. Unfortunately I was a lot older when these facts came to my attention. In my time dairy and spuds were the staples of the Irish diet with very little exposure to other foods.
And I would disagree with you on the addiction thing and cite you examples of crack babies who are addicted. It is a physical phenomenon driven by dependency. It is an irrational craving but can be irrestible to the addict.

Sun Jul 06, 05:26:00 PM GMT-2:30  
Blogger Wisewebwoman said...

Hello P:
From sea to shining sea we bridge the gap~!
Yes, my parents were tiny people too, my mother not quite touching five feet so at 5'8" I was a giant in Munchkinland.
And leaving food on the plate was a capital crime in my childhood. Loads of food and clean your plate and a horrific fear of being fat, the double whammy.
Oh the mixed messages!

Sun Jul 06, 05:30:00 PM GMT-2:30  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Finally I took the bull or the fat by the horns and dealt with it: I've lost over 50 lbs--I weigh about 175 now and I feel good and I'm 5' 10"--I still drink too much beer but the sweets are under control and I'm eating with few lapses for effect and enjoying it. I one day just made up my mind when the Doc told me I had to take Lipitor for cholesterol. That did it--one more damn pill and I dieted sensibly--took 15 mos to lose the weight but I've kept it off and will continue to do so. Lord I'm light on my feet again. ;-) It can be done.


Sun Jul 06, 07:09:00 PM GMT-2:30  

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