Food, Glorious Food

A while back, The Rotund wrote a lovely post about being — fasten your hairnets — a fat woman who doesn’t like food. I loved that post, but I can’t say I relate to it.

In terms of my relationship to food, I fit every stereotype of the fat chick: I love to eat. And I love to eat high-fat, high-calorie foods, in addition to dozens of other kinds. Food gives me pleasure and alleviates pain. I use it as a drug sometimes. I eat myself sick sometimes. I order dessert when I’m already full sometimes. I often eat more than my boyfriend, who outweighs me by a significant amount. I eat fast, unless I consciously tell myself to slow down and savor it. (I’m obsessed with tapas and small plates restaurants these days, because they tend to make me slow down and enjoy the food more, without my having to think about it.) I eat more than I need to sometimes. I am fat in part because of the way I eat.

And the question of the day is, what’s wrong with any of that?

I got to thinking about all this the other day after reading the review of Barry Glassner’s book and this post at Every Woman Has an Eating Disorder, though it’s certainly not the first time I’ve thought about it. For most of my life, I just accepted that loving food was bad, immoral, undisciplined — you know the drill. Now that I’ve come to accept my body, I’ve also started to wonder why I should think there’s anything wrong with getting a mild buzz off of bacon. Why should I apologize for enjoying food any more than I do for enjoying sex? Eating is fun for me — maybe more fun for me than the average person, maybe not. I have no way of knowing. What I know is, it doesn’t harm anyone else, it doesn’t seem to be harming me so far, and I fucking like it. What’s not to love about something that fits that description?

Please also note that since I started thinking this way, I have started slowing down and enjoying my food more, even when I’m talking about an oversized burger and gigantic portion of fries, not tapas. Because, when I remove the guilt I used to feel for wanting such a meal, let alone ordering it, then it’s okay to let myself fucking taste it. And when I slow down enough to taste it, sometimes I even notice when I’m full and stop eating, because I don’t want to feel sick for the next hour and — what’s this? — I feel satisfied.

I’m not sure I knew what it was like to feel satisfied by food for about the first 28 years of my life. Especially when I was eating something everyone told me I should be ashamed of eating, my m.o. was to wolf it down and then sit around feeling disgusting, nauseated and self-loathing for a while. It’s actually hard for me to understand intellectually why I did that routinely for so long and still do it occasionally; the length of time spent in physical discomfort is way longer than the length of time I spend getting a rush from the food. Logically, I should have developed an aversion to eating that way, wouldn’t you think?

But I didn’t. There are a lot of possible reasons for that, and I make no pretensions to having a clue what the real one is. I’ll just say this: people don’t always avoid punishment when they believe they deserve it.

It’s a testament to the power of “good food/bad food” messages that food acceptance, if you will, came much later for me than fat acceptance. It was way easier to get my head around the idea that there’s nothing wrong with my body than it was to say, “You know, it’s really okay to eat cheesecake.” And I don’t think I’m alone in that. A lot of people, including me, came to fat acceptance via the concept of Health At Every Size, and the news that fat itself isn’t particularly dangerous — it’s poor nutrition and a sedentary lifestyle that cause health problems. That makes intuitive sense to a lot of us who don’t spend our lives on the couch eating Ho-Hos, and then, when you see all the science to back it up, it’s like, whoa!

Problem is, if that’s the only reason you’ve got to accept your own fat body and others’, you feel an obligation to demonstrate at every possible opportunity that you eat your veggies and work out — and are still fat. So then, if you skip the gym for a couple of days or eat something “bad,” you feel like you’ve failed as a healthy! fatty! Suddenly, you’re just an ugly stereotype again.

(And all that’s without even getting into the fact that some fat people do have unhealthy lifestyles, but they are still human beings who deserve respect and dignity every bit as much as anyone else. Judging people based on your impression of their health is absolute horseshit any way you slice it.)

The thing is, healthy people of all sizes eat burgers and fries and cheesecake. It’s just that no one stares at a thin person eating “bad” food and then goes home and blogs about how disgusting that was to watch, and how the obesity crisis is going to cause the fall of Western Civilization. No one looks into a thin person’s grocery cart and freaks out about the bags of chips and cans of soda. No one expects thin people to represent for People of Good Health with every single decision at every daily crossroads. The thinness serves as proof that you’re “taking care of yourself.”

Never mind that thin people can have exactly the same health risks as fat people, and being underweight is every bit as dangerous as being “morbidly obese.” All that matters is perception. If you’re thin, you’re healthy, period. If you’re fat, you’d better be ready to produce food logs and blood test results and multiple affidavits from medical professionals to prove you don’t lie in bed all day having extra-large pizzas delivered on the half-hour.

That can make it kinda hard to enjoy your food.

But it really is okay. It’s okay to love eating. It’s even okay to love eating food that fat people aren’t supposed to eat, ever. It’s okay to take sensual pleasure in, you know, a sensual pleasure. Fuel is not the only point of food any more than procreation is the only point of sex; if we agreed, as a culture, that it was all about fuel, we would certainly have given up eating and switched over to getting nutrition in pill form by now. We don’t do that because eating tasty food is fucking fun. We all know it, we just don’t all feel comfortable admitting it.

And that’s ridiculous. I am a fat woman, and I love to eat — and for the most part, those are two separate issues. One is about being the daughter of fat parents, who were the children of fat parents, etc. The other is about being human. Human beings, curiously enough, generally like food. And that is okay.

Posted in Fat

38 thoughts on “Food, Glorious Food

  1. My mother is a size 4, has always been thin. She absolutely lives for her trips to New York because of the food; where she lives there are hardly any decent places to eat. When she lived in places where there was decent food she was maybe slightly heavier — a 6, tops.

    I’d say we definitely have a double standard in this society wherein it’s OK for thin people to love to eat but not fat people. But our very economic structure depends upon us loving food and eating and drinking things we don’t critically “need.” If we all did eat only organic fruits and veggies and unadulterated whole grains and legumes, and drank only water and herbal tea, our economy would collapse. I sometimes think Mike Huckabee and Bill Clinton have wet dreams about every American going to Starbucks every day and buying a Venti Java Chip Frappucino with whipped cream, and then flushing them all down the toilets.

  2. I sometimes think Mike Huckabee and Bill Clinton have wet dreams about every American going to Starbucks every day and buying a Venti Java Chip Frappucino with whipped cream, and then flushing them all down the toilets.

    LOL

  3. Oh yes. Yes indeed.

    There’s nothing worse than it being Christmas dinner (substitute preferred holiday feast as appropriate) and someone’s carefully serving themselves tiny portions of turkey and having panic attacks over the gravy boat touching the peas and being “good”. That’s one of the things that shits me to tears about diet plans/”lifestyle changes” and tips on “healthy eating”. They’re full of advice that ruins the whole point of having a holiday feast. “Stick to one piece of fruit for dessert! Pie has calories and faaaaaaat and caaaaaaaaarbs OH NOS!!” Then the poor dieter has to cop a weird combination of praise and pity from the other folks at the table.

    I got a lot of dirty looks at the supermarket once when I had a basketful of candy and chips (I was sending a care package to someone), but I also get “Yeah, right, who are you kidding” looks when I have lentils and broccoli and fish in my basket.

    Ya can’t win … but I don’t really want to be competing against the food police anyway.

  4. Kate – I grew up in a household with a tall thin mother, a tall thin-with-an-eating-disorder sister, my short dad and me (ditto on the shortness). I watched my sister subsist on heads of shredded cabbage and strange little wrapped up cubes of chocolate appetite-suppressant and end up with digestive issues so bad that she was signed up for the “barium xray of the month” club. I was made to sit at the kitchen table staring at my calf’s hearts, etc. until the fat congealed on the plate and my head was on the table because my parents would not allow me to leave because I had not eaten it (I don’t know of any 5 year old who would…). So, saying my relationship with food is sort of colored by that experience of growing up in that sort of household is to put it mildly. I’ve seen my sister fret over and control every bite that goes into my niece’s mouth because of her frantic worry that my niece is going to end up “fat”. Her digestion is so screwed up that she has never been able to even HAVE a colonoscopy – and her idea of “being regular” is a bm once a week.
    And that is NO way to live. Food is good. I like food a lot. All kinds of food (no, that’s a lie – I still don’t like calf’s hearts and any other organ foods). My husband and I taught our three kids to cook and enjoy food and we grow a big garden every year. My son has called me from college with tales of dreams he’s having about rhubarb pie and chicken enchiladas (hey, when you have college food, home cooked is the stuff of dreams). Am I thin? Nope. Never have been. Do I worry about thin? Nope. I worry about ending up like my mom, with osteoporosis, falling and breaking my hip. I eat and work out so that I won’t end up like her in a nursing home. I worry a little bit about cancer of the bowel (my grandfather had it — twice) – so I eat lots of fresh fruit and veg and whole grains and drink a lot of water because…well, a clean colon is a much happier colon. But your colon won’t work if there is nothing in it – so eating good food is part of good health.
    But thin? Nah…no advantage to that at all.

  5. …that’s why Tiramisu was invented! It might “end up on your hips”, but it does a lap of honour across you clitoris beforehand….

  6. My mother was a ballet dancer, and had to stop dancing after having children. She decided to dance vicariously through me, so she started starving me at age 5 or 6, and i wasn’t even slightly fat by any sane person’s definition. Needless to say, this backfired. At meals she would give me tiny portions and deny me seconds. I was always hungry, and therefore always sneaking food.

    Needless to say, i had some guilt issues regarding food. If someone made any sort of comment at all about me eating, i would lose any appetite i had and feel nauseated. I felt guilty about eating anything, whether it was a cheeseburger and fries or a salad with no dressing or croutons. If it went into my mouth, i wanted to hide the fact that i put it there.

    I did manage to get over it; it wasn’t easy, but it was SO worth it! I took myself out (just me, no one else) to dinner to celebrate something (i forget what). I don’t normally eat large portions, but oh man: a full rack of ribs with french fries and apple cobbler with ice cream for dessert. I savoured every bite of that meal and smiled at the people who stared. I forget what the occasion was, but i was too happy to let someone else’s issues ruin my evening.

    These days i take a very tao approach to it: i eat when i’m hungry. I listen to what my body says about and with its cravings; if i’m craving meat i know i probably need iron or protein. If i’m craving bananas then i prolly need potassium, etc. Ever since i started doing that, i’ve felt so much better. I think a large part of the problem is that we’re told that our bodies lie to us, that we’re not to trust our own flesh. We’re taught to not listen. That’s when it gets unhealthy, IMO: when people stop listening to what their bodies are telling them it needs.

  7. “No one looks into a thin person’s grocery cart and freaks out about the bags of chips and cans of soda.”

    I just had to laugh at this. Most weeks I put my groceries on the belt with a little internal dialogue of, “see i eat healthy even though i’m fat, back off!!”

    But this week I got so self conscious when i realized it was all ice cream, chips, fried chix etc.

    I thought i was just being paranoid that anyone would notice.

  8. Hooray! I’m also a heavy woman who loves food – especially trying new cuisines. A while ago, I did a thought experiment of “imagine your perfect day”, and felt guilty/ashamed when I went into detail of every meal (even though those meals weren’t really all that “unhealthy” – except, of course, for the succulent dessert I planned for myself). For a while, I wondered if I that made me “obsessed” with food. Then I realized, I’m a foodie! I enjoy food, always have, and my quality of life is better than my friends who are incredibly picky about food. They will never have the experience of trying Ethiopian food or having sushi in a real Japanese bath house. Food is an experience to be enjoyed, and darnit, I’m going to enjoy it! :)

  9. Kate, I am so, so, so glad you posted this. Food is such a constant battle for me and reading about how much other people love it…. It inspires me to love it just a little bit myself. And that might be the healthiest realization I’ve had all day.

  10. Oh, honey, I wish you lived near me. I would love to teach you to love food. :)

    So glad it helped.

  11. Thanks for this, Kate. Next time I feel the need to hide in my food and rush through my meal, I’m going to remember what you said and take my time enjoying the experience instead of feeding my guilt over something that is-as you said-human nature.

  12. Doesn’t everyone get a buzz from bacon?

    I have long been of the opinion that there’s no point in prolonging one’s life if one isn’t going to enjoy it. I finally stopped apologizing for liking food and am good about stopping when I’ve had my fill. I, too, tend to eat less when I eat what I want, when I want.

    dolia, that Tiramisu comment cracked me up, thanks. Chocolate mousse pie does the same thing. I used to have a boyfriend who loved ordering it for me because he liked watching me get off on it in public. :)

    After all this talk about yummy food, I think that I’ll get Peking Duck for dinner…

  13. Kate217 said, “Doesn’t everyone get a buzz from bacon?”

    Oh my goodness, i get a buzz from smelling the stuff as it’s cooking. Just thinking about it… *drool*

    An old Tsalagi roommate of mine put it this way: “Food is life. To deny someone food is to deny them life.” He never let someone come over without offering them food. He would stop what he was doing to make you something if you said you were hungry, and would scowl questioningly at you if you refused. He was kinda pushy about it at times, but he always meant well. He also made fry-bread to die for.

    Now i’m all hungry.

  14. This is a great post, Kate–I have always loved food and felt for a long time that I had to apologize for it. I was never taught what healthy eating was, so I had to figure it out for myself, and doing that has made me learn more about what I find pleasurable about food, too. There are still days when I feel like I have to “make up” for eating ice cream or whatever by making sure the next meal is low-fat, but for the most part, I’ve silenced that voice. Which is a totally no-fun voice, because ice cream is awesome and needs no excuses.

  15. Oh man do I know where you’re coming from.

    I remember the first time I tried ecstasy (five or six years ago), the speediness of it suppressed my appetite, and I found it absolutely thrilling. I felt fantastic for obvious reasons, but I also loved the way I spent so much time not hungry, not mildly hungry, not even interested in eating food for the taste or the enjoyment. It was an interesting revelation because it came also with the knowledge that – wait a minute – it’s really fucked up to feel so trapped by my hunger, to be thinking about it all the time. I think it’s anxiety-related, kind of like when you hear that the stomach flu is going around, and your stomach starts to hurt, but it’s probably because you’re worrying about it so much. Now that I’ve gotten treatment for my depression, I’m learning and really enjoying the ability to know when I’m actually hungry, to not spend so much time worried about my hunger that I panic and eat whatever is close at hand, or panic and am unable to eat anything for a day.

    I too will eat for reasons other than plain hunger, and I think that maybe I do get some kind of charge out of it, because when I get sick and get around to eating something, it always makes me feel better, at least for a little while. And I guess I never felt very bad about the fact that I enjoy eating so much, but that I would risk getting fat for simple enjoyment.

  16. I too will eat for reasons other than plain hunger, and I think that maybe I do get some kind of charge out of it, because when I get sick and get around to eating something, it always makes me feel better, at least for a little while.

    Sara, I’ve had several experiences — including one two days ago — of feeling so sick to my stomach that eating is the last thing I want to do, then eating something and feeling ten times better. With everything from seasickness to mild food poisoning. Food definitely isn’t the enemy.

  17. This is an amazing post, not least because dolia’s tiramisu comment cracked my shit up. I’m much more on The Rotund’s end of things… I’m a real pain in the ass to feed, actually, because lots of things give me stomachaches and lots of things I don’t like, and I’ve only recently gotten over the desire to say “fuck it, I’ll eat tomorrow” if I’m having trouble finding something that sounds good. (Okay, I haven’t gotten over it, I just live with someone who insists that I eat something.) But I definitely had the reaction — typical of children on restrictive diets who have been made to feel ashamed about food — where I thought I had to get “bad” stuff into my gullet as fast as possible or someone would take it away. Although I don’t like most food, I am working on really appreciating the foods I do like, and I’m grateful that you wrote about that process so beautifully.

  18. I think it helps to love cooking – putting a lot of work and thought into your food gives you a chance to really think about what you like and what you think is interesting and how to make things happen. I’ve gotten to the point where I’m a total baking snob; I just don’t bother with storebought baked goods. I really, really enjoy eating and cooking and entertaining, and when eating is a social thing for me, I find it to be a lot more comfortable.

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  20. I realised, at a very tender age, that I would always love food more than I loved the idea/fantasy of being thin.

    Dolia, I’m thinking of preserving your tiramisu wisdom for posterity in a cross stitch sampler.

  21. I love this post! Thank you!

    I don’t always eat healthy, and yes I am fat. But we all have to eat. I enjoy a well made me. I make no bones about it. My husband makes a mean ribeye steak and oh yeah I love it, with the salad and the tiramisu and romance!

  22. The better I eat, the more I love food, and the more I love food, the better I eat. It is a very delicious and satisfying cycle. To pretty Rotund and others who have a hard time with Food, I hope that gets easier and more fun for you someday.

    (For all you tiramisu fans may I suggest that you try, if you haven’t already, a little zabaglione over fresh strawberries some fine summer evening in the near future. Direct hit to the g-spot, is what I’m saying.)

  23. Hello all

    I’m a big girl struggling to love myself because I’m fat. It’s something that has had me down for the past 2 years and posts like these make me well up and think I’m doing just fine but as soon as I step out the door it all goes to pot!

    I admire women like you Kate who can fee comfortable in themselves to write and talk this way, I’m a writer and would love to bring hope to the fat women out there but I can do no such thing as I myself have a problem with being fat – NOT for other women but on myself…

    Respect :)

  24. Jade, thanks for commenting. All I can tell you is, I totally know how you’re feeling, and accepting my body took me a looong time. It is possible, though. :)

  25. Eye opening post. I struggle with all of it, fat shame and food shame, SO much more than I let on! I am also damn unhealthy (or, a walking potential for being unhealthy) because I eat primarily the ‘bad’ foods, and I am way sedentary. Shame shame shame. I am always talking up the little bits of yoga I occasionally do so that people think better of me. Yikes!
    But please. Bacon is a given. And frozen Ring Dings. Two of my favorite food groups. And I will continue fighting for a wholly happy life; one in which I am more active, one that does not add to (and in fact, decreases) my shame pile, and one that continues to include food as pleasure factor.

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  28. I loved this entire post, and this is my favorite part:

    “(And all that’s without even getting into the fact that some fat people do have unhealthy lifestyles, but they are still human beings who deserve respect and dignity every bit as much as anyone else. Judging people based on your impression of their health is absolute horseshit any way you slice it.)”

    I love food. I’m on Weight Watchers but if I’m at a really nice restaurant, heck yeah I’m going to order the steak and gorgonzola fettucine with walnuts and cheesecake with seasonal fruit like I did last weekend. I’m also going to enjoy my Thanksgiving dinner and I’m going to have whatever I want to eat on my birthday. Food is a big source of pleasure in my life.

    “I Am That Girl Now” had a recent post about the issue of perception vs. reality, and the concept in our society that hard work must necessarily lead you to a goal and the fact that you are thin or rich or whatever is evidence that you have worked hard and therefore deserve what you have. I feel like this post and that one complement each other well. To me it’s all about other people feeling like they have the god-given right to decide when I have worked hard enough, when I am eating “properly,” or when I am good enough in general. There is way too much of that in our society.

  29. Kate,

    I’m a first-time reader of your blog, and can I just say that I want to hug you and cry? I’ve been struggling with my weight since I was about 12. This post is amazing, as is your post on food and guilt. It makes me feel like I just might be able to eat whatever the hell I want, when I want it… and not feel like a failure as a human being. Such a strange thought; I can eat what I want. Thanks for the hope. :o)

    /mushy

  30. Oh, thank you. I read this post, and I realized that you are absolutely right. I can’t tell you what a pleasure it is to see this written out and think “Yes, that’s exactly what I’ve been feeling, I just hadn’t gotten that far yet.”

    Over the past few months, I’ve been having this nagging feeling in the back of my head, whenever I’m at parties where chips and candy and sodas reign supreme. I’d look around and *gasp* everyone would be eating the Same Damn Things. Thin people, fat people, tall people, short people. And I’ve been wondering if I really do eat more of that stuff than other people, or if I’ve just been conditioned to *think* I do.

    One of my roommates, for instance, eats nothing but crap and exercises a few times a decade. She is, of course, naturally so skinny you can see her ribs. Even I eat better than she does.

    And I occassionally drag myself outdoors for a walk (Something I actually *want* to do more, unlike not eating cheesecake. Because I *love* cheesecake.)

    So thank you for saying exactly what I needed to hear.

    (I came over via your post at Shakesville, and I’m very interested in what you have to say, not only about this, but about the War on Obeisity, which never struck me as particularly evil until you made me think about it. Looking forward to more good posts!)

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