So, I went to watch Eat Pray Love yesterday. I read the book a few months ago (a gift from a friend) and then she took me to see the movie. It really got me thinking about food. About how many of us, women especially, are emotionally attached to food in some way.
Okay, I believe that for people, most of us, foodies at least, food is an emotional thing. Food is love. Emotional eating is okay, in the right context. That eating can be an emotional experience and furthermore, it should be.
Now, when I say that emotional eating is okay, I am not saying that if you have had a bad day that you should go drink an entire bottle of wine and eat a whole family sized bag of Cheetos. It is okay if you do; I am not judging, I am simply saying that is not what I mean by emotional eating. That is not an act of love towards yourself. I am talking about the way you feel when you eat something delicious that you or someone else has created and put in front of you out of love. Food, often times, is love. When I cook for my husband and I am in the kitchen running back and forth to taste this and check the texture of that, I am cooking him something that I hope will nourish him and make his taste buds happy and make him feel loved. When a friend is going through a terrible divorce or just lost a loved one, I invite him or her over for my Thai red curry shrimp or my chicken tagine with preserved olives and lemons. Because these foods are healthy and make you feel warmed and loved. There is an emotional response to eating something that someone took the time to make for you. Yet, in this case, emotional eating can be healthy.
My best friend in the world just broke up with her boyfriend. While I truly like her ex, I cannot say that he treated her well. What is left of my best friend is a girl who has lost the ability to love herself, who doesn’t even know if she wants to date again, who does not feel attractive or desirable. She is in therapy now and will hopefully work on these things. She laments the weight she feels she has gained while in the relationship. Weight that I feel has made her grow into a beautiful, curvy woman. But one thing she is doing right is partaking in emotional eating. Since she has moved into her own apartment she has been cooking delicious, comforting meals for herself (and me;). She cooked a delicious vegetarian Quiche with a wonderful salad and last night after the Eat Pray Love meltdown, she made me asparagus and mushroom risotto while I made my famous traditional Caesar salad. This Caesar salad was really introduced to me by my other best friend, Mark, so I am lying to you when I try to take credit for it. It is tangy, garlicy and rank with chunks of salty anchovy goodness. Her risotto was creamy, hot, slightly spicy with fresh cracked black pepper, salty with the fresh grated parmesan cheese and the asparagus and mushrooms added just the right amount of vegetables to add flavor to the dish and make it nourishing and healthy. When you nourish your body and feed yourself something healthy, you are loving yourself. This was love on a plate.
These dishes she has making are comforting and nourishing. Hot and flavorful. These are dishes she would have made for herself whether I was coming over or not. They are an act of love for herself and anyone she might have chosen to feed that night. Most of all, they are healthy dishes. That is difference I am talking about. Because eating a bag of Cheetos and a pint of ice cream all by yourself is fun and you shouldn’t be looked down on for it, but it is not an act of self-love.
Back to the movie. I really enjoyed it more than I thought I would. I loved the book. I was skeptical of Julia Roberts and her limited acting range. But I liked it. The scene that really twisted my heart up and put a lump in my throat for the rest of the day was the scene where she and her friend go to Naples to eat pizza. Her friend doesn’t want to eat the pizza because she claims she has gained weight. Never mind that her friend is skinny and gorgeous and so is Julia Roberts. Her friend still could not enjoy her pizza. Elizabeth Gilbert said something along the lines of this (and damned if I can find the quote anywhere so this is me paraphrasing):
She said that she was not interested in being obese but that she had lived most of her life waking up each morning and counting the calories of every little thing she had eaten the day. She said that this bit of self-hatred was something she took into the shower with her each morning. She also asked her friend if a guy had ever asked her to leave after seeing her naked. Because at that point who cared about a little muffin top. So she suggests that they finish their pizza (their pizza in freakin’ Naples) and then go buy some bigger pants.
I started bawling at this point because it is so true of most women that I know. We cannot allow ourselves to have a relationship with food without feeling bad or being judged or judging ourselves. I cannot bare it when people comment on what or how I am eating because I know, as a curvy woman, every single thing I put in my mouth is being judged by someone. How much of my life have I spent hating myself for eating and loving food? Most of it. Watching my mother diet only to be the first and ony woman in our family to have osteoporosis. Putting myself on a diet when I was ten. You can only imagine how miserable I was on a diet when I was already blooming into a bit of a foodie by that time. I already liked cooking. I loved good, imported cheeses and I was eating off the adult menu at every restaurant we ate at including the four or five start restaurants that did not have kid friendly menus and I loved it. No chicken strips or spaghettios for me!
After watching that scene I thought about my love for food and the fact that I had just started a freaking blog about food just a few days before. Then I remembered how my weight fluctuates with no rhyme or reason. I got down to a size two in college with no effort. I ate crap, drank like a fish, exercised sporadically at best, and did not have the time to watch what I ate. Then when I stopped drinking like a fish, started to eat healthy and exercise, I gain weight. I was fine with the weight until I realized that some people who I thought were friends were cracking jokes about me and my weight.
It should not have bothered me but it did. It hurt and devastated me actually and the sad thing is, I am pretty sure these people would find it amusing to know just how much this hurt me and the amount of emotional damage it did to me. I have beaten myself up and been severely depressed (off and on for the last couple of years). I have tried to put myself on strict diets. I have tried starving myself. I have looked at myself and screamed things like: “I hate you, you fat fucking piece of shit!” I have eschewed my cooking and my love of food and replaced it with things like turkey slices and lettuce and garbonzo beans.
That movie was therapeutic for me and I am sorry to say that because apparently feeling that this book or movie changed your life in someway makes you a douchebag, at least from what I have seen on the internet. But if you have lived a good part of your life hating yourself and paying attention to hateful people saying shitty things about the way you look, then maybe you need something life changing to make you snap out if it.
I love food and I love cooking. I love trying new types of cuisine and I am pretty sure I always will. I love cooking new things and share them with my friends. Does this new change of heart mean that when I find a lower fat alternative that doesn’t compromise the taste or nutritional value of a meal that I won’t use it? No. I want to be healthy. But it does mean that I am going to stop berating myself every time I eat a piece of bread. Because to feed myself is to love myself.
I went to Costa Rica a few months ago. Somewhere between the trip to Costa Rica and the weekend in New Orleans I lost about six or seven pounds. This was when I stopped dieting. People suggested it was because of how active I was in Costa Rica. If by active you mean all the laps I swam back and forth from the swim up bar and back to the main pool and back to the swim up bar and back to the main pool then yeah, I guess I was pretty active. And maybe you burn more calories when you have to swim with one hand while balancing a Mojito in the other one.
Or maybe it was the fact that I was enjoying myself and was not stressing over every little thing I put in my mouth. I was eating bread and cheese and drinking all day. But I came back six or seven pounds lighter. The food in Costa Rica was phenomenal, by the way and really deserves a blog post of its own.
I guess when I am trying to say is that it’s okay to eat. It is okay to feel an emotional attachment to food if it is in a way that is loving to yourself. Eat butter and cream and cheese. Eat fruit! It’s okay. Eat lots of veggies. Just don’t eat fake crap. Don’t eat Wow chips for fuck’s sake. They make be low-fat but they can (and there is a warning on the package) cause anal leakage.
I for one will continue to explore my love for food by eating ethnic food, whether or not it has (gasp) cream and butter in it. I will eat a slice of pizza on occasion. I will drink wine and eat good cheese. I will continue to be healthy and live a healthy life style and exercise but not because some hateful person called me a porker but because I am learning to love myself. I will also cut people out of my life who make comments like that to me or about me even if they are joking. It’s not really that funny to make a person feel bad about him or herself. I will stop surrounding myself with people who don’t make me feel beautiful inside and out. Because really, name calling, attacking the way a person looks or making a comment about someone’s weight makes you a douche. Plus it is always a freakin’ fatty who makes these comments anyway. And just because you do it on a public online forum without mentioning the person’s name you are attacking means you have FAILED in the kindness department, no matter what lies you tell yourself.
I have just made the most delicious, hardy red lentil Indian stew and I dropped a dollop of tasty and tangy Greek yogurt on top of it.
So ladies, be healthy, be good to yourself and PLEASE stop beating yourselves up for eating for God’s sake. Let’s make a concerted effort to stop each other when we catch each other being mean to ourselves or other women.
Most of all… EAT and enjoy your food!