Food glorious food

27 Jan

This is one of those “I’m-going-to-have-to-press-‘send’-before-I-change-my-mind” posts. When I started this blog, I wanted to create a (cyber-)space of honest conversation about some of the things we find difficult to talk about, hence the title A Story Of Failure. I wanted to write stories of “failure” to help us all see that “success” isn’t all it’s wrapped up to be, to challenge the taboos that stop us talking about our own personal “failures”, to write honestly and, at times, vulnerably about my own failures, struggles and flaws.

It was, if I am honest, quite hard to press ‘send’ on the posts about depression – yet they have been the most viewed, which makes me feel it’s worth it… I am not interested in lots of “followers” but am interested in being able, in some small way, to encourage others and help you – the reader – feel less alone in your own life-struggles. All of which brings me on to today’s thoughts.

I am thinking about food. That life-necessity which we all need in order to live. That which we, in the West, tend to have an abundance of, while others around the world die due to its lack. Yet my thoughts today are not about famine of inequality, but instead about the oft-complicated relationship many of us seem to have with food.

I know I am not alone in finding “food” a complex issue. It’s somehow never been straightforward. A few years ago, I was very underweight – more to do with smoking than not wanting to eat, but I look back and realise I didn’t eat very much at all. As a teenager, I was slim yet constantly “on a diet”, constantly watching what I ate, constantly wanting to be thinner than I was. For a while, I was on a really restricted nutritionist-guided regime where most things were off the menu. And today, I face a different struggle. Somehow, in the last couple of years, food has been a friend and enemy, a voice in my ear, a battle to be conquered, a demon to be exorcised. Either I am “good” or I am “bad” (that should read “really bad”). Either I am in control or I am scarily out of control. And I fluctuate between these variables, day to day, week to week, month to month. Sometimes I am “on top of it”, eating healthily, not thinking about it too much, feeling good about myself too. Other times – often when I feel sad/stressed/overwhelmed – I just want to eat anything I can get my hands on. I want to eat away the pain and stress. I want to forget for a moment the anxieties and feel, for a fleeting moment, better. There – that is my confession.

And I know I am not the only one. I have chatted to too many friends to believe I am a one-off. Chatted to friends with similar battles, friends who struggle to eat enough, friends who strictly regulate all they eat (and so are not free either). Why are so many of us trapped in these cycles of self-damage, shame and loathing? Why do we – so privileged to live in a society where there is an abundance of food – end up becoming enslaved by our privilege? Why do we end up, so often, feeling like failures when it comes to food?s

I have been in supermarkets in Mozambique where the shelves are practically empty. I have spent many hours with streetkids who beg for food, who creatively find ways to feed themselves every day. I have seen “life without”, true poverty – yet still my logical self cannot always convince my emotional self to “get a grip”. For, if it were that easy, we could all rationalise our fears and flaws, and “get on with it”. But, as we know, life just ain’t set up to work like that. The human heart is not so easily coralled.

It’s so easy to judge those who face different struggles to ours. To judge the one who drinks too much/works too hard/spends too much or little time with their children/finds themselves facing mounting debts/battles with depression or suicidal thoughts. Easy to judge when we don’t understand, don’t try to understand. Easy to judge when we don’t know someone’s story, when we judge them by our own criteria and expect them to match up to our “standards”. It’s much harder to allow someone to be themselves, to share their darkest thoughts and feelings, and then still be there for them. Harder because it might complicate our own lives for a while, might feel like a burden, might challenge our own secret-keeping tendencies.

My battles with food have mostly been in secret. Yet I sense that – unless some of us are willing to talk about our struggles – we will all continue to live in darkness and fear, hiding our shame away and remaining captive to our struggles. I certainly do not have any easy answers (sometimes I wish I did, then I could apply them in my own life!), but I do have hopes – that others may join me in “outing” themselves (if and when then feel ready); that we can all be more honest about the pressures we face to look a certain way/behave a certain way/present ourselves a certain way; that there will be less secrets, less secret suffering, less judgment and more support.

Right – I need to press ‘send’ quickly, or this blogpost will simply remain yet another secret.

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