Sunday, April 25, 2010

Food, Glorious Food!

Today's ControverSunday Offerings!

I have food issues. I blame my mother. I'm hoping that someday, when I have a kid, she not only won't blame me for her food issues, she actually won't have any! (Wishful thinking, I know!)

Growing up, my mother put a huge emphasis on looks. I was taller than average and just plain bigger than average. It didn't help that all of my friends were smaller, petite, and delicate little things so that by comparison I was gargantuan. Looking back at pictures of myself I see that I was not fat-- I was very average sized-- but my friends were all arms and legs and twiggy like. This led to a LOT of self-loathing, especially when one considers that my mother was constantly putting me on a diet to get down to my impossible-to-achieve "ideal" weight.

My mother wasn't the only one-- my entire family would do things like taking cookies away from me, or not allowing me to eat between meals (even though my siblings were allowed free reign of the kitchen.) My dad once offered me $1000 to lose 50lbs in 4 months. In spite of eating practically nothing for those four months and working out 2-3 hours a day I only lost about 10lbs and gained a whole heap of self-loathing in the process.

My senior year of high-school I (accidentally) became anorexic. How could such a thing happen? Well, it had to do with my weird class schedule and the fact that the cafeteria wasn't open during any of my free hours. I only went to school from 7am-10:30am that year and then I spent the rest of the school day at a "high potential" program in the city. This meant that I would often go the entire day without eating anything until dinner and even that might only be a couple cookies and an apple.

I dropped 40lbs in 2 months and it was AWESOME. I suddenly became popular! Kids who had never wanted me in their "cool" group suddenly invited me to everything. I got the lead in the school play! Guys were telling me I was hot!...

Once I'd realized this was happening I decided to keep up the anorexia stuff a little longer. ONly, I found that was a lot harder than I thought it would be when I didn't have an insane schedule physically keeping me from eating. And so I turned to bulimia instead-- something I probably wouldn't have done had I not gotten so much societal approval because I lost a few pounds. I mean, *I* knew I hadn't changed inwardly, but somehow society found me SO much more acceptable and worthwhile when I was in a lower weight range. Shocker, I know.

Well, I fluctuated in college by quite a few pounds-- ranging from 170 (my low weight-- because I'm tall-ish, I actually look really good at this weight) to about 210, but mostly staying in the lower range. But I stayed in the lower range using a variety of unhealthy methods that I'll skim over here.

Then, I got out of college and couldn't find a job for a long time, and became stuck in a series of dead end jobs that caused me so uch stress I actually ended up in the hospital. During this time my weight shot up to 250lbs, which made me even MORE depressed, and which only made my family harp on me more.

In my family food=emotions. I'm sure this isn't too different from most families. So, with the usual cycle of good food vs. bad food, fad diets, body loathing, family & cultural pressure, feelings of worthlessness, binging/purging/more binging... I've had more than my fair share of food/body issues. (For me, food issues ARE body issues.)

Fortunately, about 3 years ago I started seeing a therapist. I am certainly not "cured" of my food issues...I still have bouts of binging... but it's MUCH MUCH MUCH less frequent than before. At the moment I actually have a massive amount of candy and ice cream in my house (2 of my favorite binge foods.) I just cleared out some stuff and I ended up throwing away a TON of Halloween/Christmas/Valentine's day candy. I also threw out about 2 cartons of ice cream that had been in the freezer so long they'd gotten that layer of frost on them. In the past this would NEVER have happened... (due in no small part to the fact that in my mother's estimation throwing away food is a sin.)

My weight is still much higher than I'd like it to be (though Jedi tells me about 300 times a day how hot he thinks I am, I still have a great deal of trouble believing it.) My weight no longer fluctuates the way that it did though and for all that I'm not denying myself any foods I find that I'm not gaining weight because I stop when I'm satisfied. Sometimes I'm satisfied with only a spoonful of ice-cream. In the past I wouldn't have been "satisfied" if I hadn't eaten the entire container.

What's the change? I think I got to the point where I realized my mother's issues are HER issues and I don't need to take them on. I also realized that I need to stop waiting for myself to be at a lower weight in order for me to start living my life. But the biggest thing is that I STOPPED CARING about food. What I eat or DON'T eat is no longer the center of my life.

Oh! The HOURS, DAYS, YEARS....!!! I spent worrying about what I should eat! What a WASTE! If only I could have that time and energy back, just think about what I might accomplish! And so I decided that I wasn't going to let food have power over my life. I was going to eat what I enjoy (in moderation) and fuck the rest. If people have an issue with me at my currently high--but not life-impeding--weight ... well, that says more about them than me.

I don't have a child yet, but I have thought long and hard about how to approach the "food issue" when I do.

I used to nanny for a family-- the mother of which is a writer who has actually written on food issues (and has been quoted extensively in the mommy-blogosphere this week on this very topic actually) and while I thought she was a little nutty in some respects (which is why I won't link to her blog at this point, but email me if you like and I'll point you in her direction.) I thought her approach to food was very sensible and I decided I would emulate it if/when I have children.

The rule at her house is this-- There is no food that is "off limits," -- but she makes sure that the CHOICES that are in the house are of the mostly-healthy variety. Additionally, food is never to be used as a reward or punishment.

How does this work in practice? Well... let's say that dinner is Turkey, carrots, brussel sprouts, rolls, and cupcakes. The children are NOT required to eat all their brussel sprouts or turkey or whatever in order to get the cupcake. They can eat as much or as little of everything that is for dinner. (However, they don't get to say-- "I want mac & cheese instead!") If all they want for dinner is the cupcake? Well, then, that's what they have for dinner. (She does, however, try to make it so that if dessert is a cupcake one day, the next day dessert is fruit or a yogurt... to balance it out.)

I said to my mother that this is what I would (hypothetically) do with my child as well, (I said this to her as she was force feeding my nephew a peanut butter & jelly sandwich --- which he "had" to finish before he could have his oreos... as though the PB&J is somehow vastly nutritionally superior. Ugh. I believe this only turns off a child's naturally self-regulating appetite and teaches them to eat past their fullness as well as teaching them that some foods are more desirable than others and more 'rewarding.' Bad, bad, bad all around! Yes, I'm judging!)

She responded by saying that this would NEVER work and that a child raised like that would be eating only chocolate and cupcakes. You can't give kids the choice! She said. WRONG, I believe.

And I've seen it in practice! This family I nannied for? All the kids were very normal healthy weights. I saw the kids on multiple occasions ask for an unhealthy treat only to lose interest in it a few moments later. I SWEAR to you that more than one time I had one of the kids ask for a donut... that kid would take two bites... and then ask for some carrots in the next breath.

The trouble with this method is how to enforce it when you're at someone else's house. My mother has already said she would force my kids to clean their plates before dessert (to which I replied, "Too bad you won't see your grandkids then!") But they will be at other people's houses at times and those people will have other rules. I don't think that's a MAJOR issue, but I do worry that those houses with other values will feed my kids Mt.Dew and Cheetos for dinner and then the moms will sit at the dinner table drinking slim-fast. Not a good message.

The other trouble with this is how to stop the ingrained script in my head (that sounds a lot like my mother's voice!) Even though I KNOW I want to use the above method at one point when I was babysitting my nieces I did the dreaded, "Do as I say or you'll go to bed with no supper!" speech! Eegads! Talk about using food as reward/punishment! How to stop that auto-reflex when I'm mad is something I really need to work on!

So, in conclusion, while I have no child-raising experience, I sure as hell have a lot of food issue/body issue experience, and I don't want my future child to go through that pain. This method seems to be the best one I've found to avoid replicating the issues my mother saddled me with.

Of course, that just means that my hypothetical future kid will end up with a whole host of OTHER issues... but that's a different post for a different day!


Anonymous said...

Aw, crap! I just posted with the wrong account. Here's what I said:

There's so much here I want to respond to...

First, it sucks that we went through nearly the same thing. I left out the part about my mother's role in it, because I don't really blame her, but really, when your 16-year-old drops 20 pounds in a month and you envy her? Yeah, not good.

As for your approach, I think it's going to be fine. We aren't there yet, obviously, but I'll have to make a mental note to come back to this. We were never "Clean Plate Club" people in our house, so that isn't a particular problem for me. If E keeps up his skinniness, though, it's going to be tough for me to say, yes, just eat the cupcake, or yes, just eat the carrots. I'll want him to eat the whole damn table.

And finally, as for other peoples' houses, I think that, in general, if it's just a friend's house, it'll be fine. I don't know about you, but I always considered my friends' houses weird/exotic. (Kool-Aid? Your mom makes Kool-Aid?) but I didn't expect anything to carry over to my house. Grandparents are the bigger problem here, I think, and how I'll handle that I don't yet know.

Thanks for participating; I hope you know that I appreciate it. Having a kid is not a requirement, and having you on board will hopefully encourage others without kids to join in :)

Allison said...

I like your point about never using food as a reward or a punishment. It's something that I never really thought about, but, as today was the first day I fed my kid solids, it's something I really want to try to evaluate and figure out as the months go on.

I went through similar things. It didn't help that my mom was and is about 70 lbs thinner than I am, and made comments to me and my sisters and did force us to eat everything on our plates. I suppose I "lucked out" in a way, as I escaped with only the self loathing instead of the persistent bulimia/anorexia that my sister has.

It's not easy, this untangling of food/desire/self/worthiness.

I also like not putting anything "off limits". I was the kid who binged on soda and candy at other kid's houses because it was so verboten.

Something She Dated said...

I really hope if you do have kids you stick to your (and not mom's) plan. My family (love em dearly) is the perfect example of good intentions gone awry.

Me: Grew up in a house where it was whole wheat bread (white! *gasp* never!)...fruit leathers not chips not potato...and all other yummy bad things banished. So you can imagine that every holiday/vacation where the rules changed...we went hog wild

And now at 300lbs. and 28 years I'm just *starting* to get a handle.

Cousins: Allowed to eat what ever they want. It used to be rumored that they ate only chocolate bars for an entire year (I'm sure an exaggeration but you get the point). And now? Slim, athletic and healthy...

Hypatia said...

Perpetua- I think you're right about other people's houses. Thanks also for the encouragement! I appreciate it! Sometimes I do feel weird not being a "mommy" blogger... but I guess I'm just a "Know it all" blogger instead!

Allison- I was also the kid who binged on crap at other people's houses. It annoys me when people don't get what a big deal this is (usually thin people!)

Something-- That's really interesting, isn't it? My step-siblings were the same way as your cousins. They had free reign of the kitchen that was always stocked with cookies and chips and candy, and they are STRING BEANS! My mom was fanatical about food-- we never had anything "good" in the house, and I had to ask permission to eat a lettuce leaf. And ... here I am! Whoo hoo.