So, in comments on Sweet Machine’s stair post, Chartreuse said:
Note that everything that you wrote applies to food as well. I always used to think I did things like ate a WHOLE frozen pizza sometimes or a WHOLE bag of chips occasionally because I was fat … and then I found out from my thin friends that everybody does that sometimes.
and Juliafaye responded:
One of my fittest, most athletic friends is notorious for her appetite and her ability to inhale a huge bag of chips! In fact, I’d say on average that my thinner friends eat more than my fatter friends. Not trying to generalize in the other direction, just an observation!
I’ve mentioned before that I often eat more than Al, who outweighs me by quite a bit, but last night, we had baked potatoes for dinner (loaded down with fatty toppings, natch), and when I finished mine and said, “Now I want 10 more,*” he looked up from his half-eaten potato and said, “You finished yours?”
The shame was immediate.
I hadn’t been paying attention to how much he was eating — like a CRAZY PERSON, I just focused on enjoying my own food — and I totally figured he would A) be done at the same time as me, and B) have eaten just as much as me. When neither assumption turned out to be true, I couldn’t do anything to stop the flood of “Oh my God, I am such a fucking pig, and this is why I’m fat,” thoughts that instantly bombarded me. I even said out loud, “Well… that’s embarrassing.” Because I FINISHED A WHOLE POTATO. THE HORROR.
This is the kind of thing that can make intuitive eating so fucking much harder than dieting. That potato was exactly what I wanted for dinner. I enjoyed every bite, and at the end of it, I was satiated without being the least bit uncomfortably full. A total intuitive eating triumph — except for the part where I realized SOMEONE ELSE HADN’T EATEN EXACTLY AS MUCH AS I ATE, AND THERE WAS SOUR CREAM INVOLVED, SO I AM A HORRIBLE, GLUTTONOUS FATTY WHO HAS NO RIGHT TO PROMOTE HEALTH AT EVERY SIZE BECAUSE OBVIOUSLY MY ARTERIES WILL HAVE TURNED TO STONE BEFORE I’M 35.
Y’all, I have a friend who had WLS last year, and I have actually gone out to eat with her and caught myself thinking, “Wait a minute, she’s done already — why am I still hungry?” Oh, I don’t know, maybe because I don’t have a band choking off half my stomach that will cause me to barf immediately if I eat one bite too many? Ya think? I have gone out to eat with thinner friends and breathed a sigh of relief when they ordered a burger or a steak, so I didn’t have to get a salad. I have covered up my remaining food with a napkin when I wasn’t completely full, because I believed I should be completely full, and it would be humiliating to eat any more in front of other people.
All of that’s since becoming a fat acceptance blogger.
And last night, in my own home, with my own boyfriend, who would seriously have bacon with a side of bacon in a warm bacon dressing for dinner every fucking night if I didn’t insist on some variety, I was ashamed of myself for eating exactly what I wanted in a quantity that filled me up.
So in case anyone thought intuitive eating — or fat acceptance in general — came easily to me? Like the logic just clicked, and it was smooth sailing from there? And now I write my little blog posts every day from a position of having this food/body thing completely licked? (Uh, so to speak.) Yeah, no.
I have to remind myself of the shit I preach all the time. I have to make conscious decisions not to fall into old habits of guilt and self-flagellation all the time. That’s part of why I write this blog — as long as I’m posting about this stuff every day, it’s a lot easier to keep living it. (Now that this has become such a vibrant community, I even have thoughts like, “HEY! Knock that off! Thinking like that lets the shapelings down!”)
And one of the biggest things I have to keep reminding myself of is that eating until I’m full is not gluttony — even if what makes me full is twice a Jenny Craig portion! — and furthermore is not something only fat people do.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: learning to eat “normally” as a fat person is a minefield, when what we’ve been taught from the cradle is that “normal” people eat less than fat people, end of story. It’s even worse if you’ve dieted, ’cause for many of us, that was the first time we learned about “appropriate portion sizes.” Meat should be only as big as your fist! (Or a deck of cards, depending on who you ask.) Cheese should match the tip of your thumb! One half of a Lender’s bagel is a full serving of bagel, and a typical bakery bagel is MORE FOOD THAN AN ENTIRE FAMILY IN AFRICA EATS IN A WEEK. And, of course, a whole potato should be roughly as big as your fist again, or a computer mouse, or… something much smaller than the baking potatoes you usually find in grocery stores. Which is why it was so horrifying that I finished that whole potato, which was like TWO mice! Maybe two and a half!
Al and I were at Morton’s recently, and I ordered the smallest filet (10 oz.), ’cause I know (intellectually) any more steak than that will be wasted on me. When the food came and I took the first bite, I thought, “OMG, this is so fucking good, I want to order another one right now.” As it turned out — as always — 10 oz. was more than enough to fill me up, and nearly overfill me. But that was such a perfect example of the battle that’s always going on in my head. Because my first thought was, “Oh no, this isn’t gonna be enough; I’m gonna be disappointed” — the automatic deprivation mode that still frequently crops up when I eat something really tasty. And my second thought was, “THIS IS MORE THAN THREE TIMES A FULL SERVING OF MEAT! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?”
The reality is, on a typical night, about 8 oz. of steak (with a side and a couple glasses of wine) will leave me pleasantly full, totally satisfied, and not pukey. But remembering that reality — i.e., the lessons of my own body — is awfully fucking hard when I’ve got the devil on my shoulder saying, “You want to eat ALL THE STEAK IN THE WORLD, right now” and the angel saying, “About three bites of this is a full portion, piggy!” (Perhaps I’ve got the devil and angel in the wrong order there.)
Maybe 3 oz. of meat really does satisfy “normal” people, but it sure doesn’t satisfy me. (And in fact, I have never in my life seen that little meat appear to satisfy anyone, fat or thin, other than the aforementioned friend with a lap-band.) Cheese the size of my thumb? I HAVE REALLY SMALL HANDS, YOU GUYS! And also, I like cheese a lot. Ditto potatoes. I might not be able to eat a whole Morton’s-sized baked potato in one sitting, but I can sure as hell finish one in between that and one the size of a mouse. And shockingly, I can eat an entire bagel-shop bagel with cream cheese and not need to vomit! Can you believe it? The gluttony!
So what the fuck is normal? I spent a few years of my life eating according to those “appropriate portion sizes,” and yeah, I got used to it and didn’t feel like I was starving all the time, but I also took zero fucking joy from food and was always thinking about what I couldn’t have; I don’t want to live like that, as you might have gathered. And lord knows I’m well aware of the studies that say fat people, on average, don’t eat any more than thin people, and like everyone else, I’ve amassed reams of anecdotal evidence to suggest that the thin people I know eat quit a bit like I do — at least, when we eat together. Someone with a BMI of 19 really can put away a whole grilled cheese sandwich and some fries and be perfectly comfortable — I’ve seen it! And on other days, someone with, say, a BMI of 33.8 can eat half a piece of salmon and some broccoli and and be stuffed.
But this idea that I am always eating too much when I eat exactly what I want to eat still haunts me. So I have to remind myself that there is no normal. There’s only one way I can determine what an “appropriate” amount of food for me is: eat when I’m hungry, and stop when I’m full.
And you know, maybe the reason we don’t know what “normal” eating looks like is that so few people in this culture do that — especially in front of other people. You go out to eat with friends, and people either gorge themselves ’cause they rarely get yummy, professionally prepared food like that — then sit around talking about how disgustingly full they are, and how bad they were to eat so much — or pointedly eat a tiny amount, and then sit around talking about how really, that was plenty, and restaurant portion sizes are so ridiculous**! How often have you dined with other people and ended the night with everyone saying, “Wow, I got exactly what I wanted, and now I feel comfortably satisfied and very pleased with my decisions!” Maybe if that ever fucking happened, we could all get a better sense of what “normal” eating looks like.
Since we can’t, I will remind you all as I remind myself: there is no metric for determining what normal eating is. Sometimes, skinny people eat entire bags of chips. Sometimes, fat people fill up on very little. There is no evidence showing that fat people generally eat more than thin people. (If you have a binge/compulsive eating disorder, this doesn’t apply to you, so please don’t lecture me on how some fat people really DO eat crazy loads of food. Yes, some do — less than 5% of us. And while, as always, I don’t want to dismiss or exclude fat people with those eating disorders, I also don’t want there to be any confusion over whether eating like that is typical of fat people. It ain’t.) All human beings need and want food, and all human beings are programmed to think (to some degree or another) that fat and sugar taste good. Just like everyone breathes heavier, sweats, and pumps up their heart rate when they exercise, everyone eats. And damn near everyone sometimes overeats, accidentally or otherwise. And everyone prefers foods that taste good to them over foods that don’t.
Eating is normal. It is not a shameful activity that only fatties engage in.
Sadly, I do have to keep reminding myself of that.
*I was, in actuality, perfectly full, but the potato was really fucking good. See thoughts above about 10 oz. filet.
** Restaurant portion sizes ARE ridiculous, but that doesn’t mean you’re only a normal, healthy person if you leave 7/8 on your plate every time.