Photo by VannaGocaraRupa

I can’t believe I’m saying this: I watched Oprah tonight, and it connected with me.

I can be sarcastic or silly about my usual opinions towards Oprah Winfrey’s TV talk show, but instead I need to write out my thoughts before I push them aside in favor of something more numbing, more comfortable. The show’s topic–our relationships with food and what it means on a deeper level–is a springboard into the deep end of a pool so uncomfortable for me that I threw away my bathing suit and drained the water. I don’t even want to go near this topic on a serious level because of how it makes me feel.

But I’m going to anyway.I consider this post just for me and my reflection, but I wanted it public in case someone else knows what this is like.

Tonight’s episode of Oprah featured author Geneen Roth and her newest book Women Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything. I know, I know–it says “God” and because of that I’m supposed to wail and snark about how silly that is. Well I say forget it! “God” as it is called in the title, is speaking about the deep awe in a “bigger life” and connection we feel that goes beyond the cares of our daily grind. And as a secular person, even I can get behind that. I know how it feels to be content in the moment, amazed, and fulfilled. That’s what Roth is calling “god”.

Women Food and God is about addressing the deeper reasons why women (and men) reach for food when they’re not hungry, and what those actions reveal about our core beliefs about ourselves. This is the topic I threw away a swimsuit to avoid.

My Relationship with Food

Right before I started on this post, I crumpled up some used fast food wrappers I’d left on my desk after dinner and stuffed a finished two litre bottle of Pepsi (the sugary kind which I don’t like, but I drank “for the team” to get it out of the house) in the recycling bin. This is a perfect illustration of my worst eating habits.

I enjoy tasty comfort foods. I more often than not choose processed foods over fresh made meals. Convenience is a tremendously high priority for me; My desired activities after work are spending time with my long distance boyfriend over Skype and relaxing at my computer or going out with a friend. Everything uncomfortable, responsible, stressful, or boring is avoided as much as possible. This includes taking the time to plan, shop for, prepare, and cook healthy meals. This also includes sleep, and so after getting ~5 hours a night, I wake up as late as I can get away with, run out the door, and never plan for how to take care of those distracting hunger pangs that hit me as soon as I get to the office. I swear they put crack cocaine in those sausage McGriddles at McDonalds. I won’t even tell you how often I’ve indulged in that unhealthy delight.

Food is what I use to fill myself: to fill the time with something to do; to fill the silence of boredom and loneliness with something satisfying and enjoyable; to fill up a figurative dam I use to hold back discomforts like anxiety, fear, self-criticism, and disappointment. People use a lot of things to fill those needs: work, alcohol, sex, shopping, exercise, religion, and a host of others. I eat for fun, too. I love going out with friends and having the atmosphere of a bustling restaurant and the delicious food magically appear before us. Conversations and connections happen around meals. Social activities revolve around eating together–even if it’s a snack in front of a movie or a coffee at Starbucks. Food is a bridge to something enjoyable for all of us, I think. That’s why I know I have the ability to abuse this good thing and turn it into an issue instead of a nourishing necessity.

How It Started

My parents never really taught me about balanced eating habits. My dad was healthy and slim and he ran every day, but he never spoke about those things with us in the way that inspired me to follow suit. I avoided discomfort, remember, and that most definitely includes exercise which brings asthma attacks, sweat, pain, and embarrassment.

My mother, on the other hand, has dealt with her own unhealthy relationship to food for years. I’ve watched her yo-yo a number of times, limit her diet in different ways, and seek god about how to fix it. Even with all of that, though, I never really learned how to nurture my body with food and cook it in a nutritious way for myself.

All of this made me the “fat girl” in school by default. The cycle just perpetuated itself: I would overeat, gain weight, feel bad about myself, eat, gain weight, hate myself…. You get the picture. I never felt cute, pretty, or lovable growing up. Typical adolescent issues, of course. But it always had to do with my weight. I was always surprised when a boy liked me, and I would do anything to keep him liking me. Anything.

I could go on about these other big topics in my life, but the relationship that illustrates it all is with food.

Thought Summary

I desperately want:

  • love and acceptance from everyone. Unrealistic, but it’s on the list.
  • a slim, fit body. I have been convinced this is what inspires love and acceptance.
  • joy and contentment, duh.
  • other loving, caring relationships in my life: I miss having deep friends; I want to be with my boyfriend long term; I want my family to adore me.
  • success in my dreams and goals. Hell, i just want to nail down what those are!
  • no fear, no worries, and no regrets.

How I can treat myself to get there:

  • I can start by realizing that I can’t run from difficult or uncomfortable feelings and situations. It won’t solve them, and I cause myself more pain when I eat to numb them or distract myself.
  • I must love and accept myself first. Being kind to myself instead of berating and insulting myself when I make mistakes, bad choices, or something goes wrong. What good would it do to insult someone who’s suffering? Exactly.
  • Give joy to get joy. I volunteered recently and it was so much fun! I want to keep giving and contributing, because that is when my heart feels the lightest.
  • Cultivate meaningful relationships based on love and encouragement. This means ditching poisonous people, being honest, and being proactive about making friendships.
  • Work on practical, nurturing ways to eat food. I can learn how to cook better. I can learn how to plan meals ahead. I can save money by not eating out which can go towards other important things.
  • Dunno yet! I’m working on figuring all this out. Maybe… just maybe I’ll be able to improve the inner me in order to work on the outer me.

I’m physically and mentally tired. My ideas are scattered out to sea somewhere. Frankly, I want to move on from this topic and I’m afraid I can’t articulate it how I wish. I’m going to publish this odd assortment of reflections and hope for the best!

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24 thoughts on “Food and My Fat Self”

PJ · May 13, 2010 at 11:52 am

Just wanted to let you know that I totally get it as I’m the same way. For us food fills the void that the things we want leaves. I spent 6 months in “relationship with food therapy” and it was very much like the things we heard on Oprah lately. I read another of Roth’s books called “When Food is Love” and it breaks it down even further. It’s a good read.

And you’re totally right on with your plan to get there. Love yourself first 🙂

    Godless Girl · May 13, 2010 at 12:09 pm

    May I ask how that food relationship is going since you invested that time and energy into improving it?

krissthesexyatheist · May 13, 2010 at 12:09 pm

One of the reasons I chose the moniker krissthesexyatheist was to redefine what sexy is. It’s not body shape/type/size it is a state of mind, confidence. Your goals/intentions are great and I think we all have issues with food and appearance stuff. good luck to you and keep the personal post coming.

thanks so much,

.-= krissthesexyatheist’s last blog ..More Thoughts on Filipino Politics =-.

    Godless Girl · May 13, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    I agree with you about confidence. I know that the most “attractive” I’ve ever been was when I was totally confident in myself and not caring what people thought. It’s magnetic when I see it in others, too.

    But btw, the photo of killer abs does nothing to redefine sexy! lol

Robin · May 13, 2010 at 12:33 pm

You sound a LOT like me. I always mean to go for walks after work but prefer to sit on the sofa and watch tv and be on the internet. I am impatient, anything that takes a long time I can never seem to do. So annoying. Also my parents taught me very little healthy eating growing up. I just learned this past summer my mom doesn’t consider water all that important. I suggested we get a couple gallons of water for the cabin we were staying in on vacation for the 6 people and she was like, why that much water?? I was like, haven’t you heard about the 8 glasses of water a day?
.-= Robin’s last blog ..By Example =-.

    Godless Girl · May 13, 2010 at 12:42 pm

    One thing I’m thankful for is how loving my mom was to me about how I looked even when I was a chubby kid. She could have encouraged me to exercise more and eat a bit better, but she never made me feel ugly or ashamed.

CV · May 13, 2010 at 12:34 pm

Do you watch the Biggest Loser? A lot of the people on that show, in order to get fit in healthy, first have to get emotionally and mentally fit and healthy. It is interesting to see the struggles they go through and how they start to feel better about themselves. Also, throughout the show they give a lot of tips on eating healthy, how to fit exercise into your day, etc. My mom is obsessed with the show, and while I don’t have a huge weight problem I always find the show inspiring me to work out more and eat better.

    Godless Girl · May 13, 2010 at 12:44 pm

    To be honest, I’ve avoided that show purposefully. I feel self-critical and guilty when I watch people working so hard to improve themselves and succeeding.
    This clearly ties in with my deeper issues about avoiding negative emotions and procrastinating.

Laura · May 13, 2010 at 12:39 pm

I have a massive sweet tooth. I’ve been trying to get that under control for years. I know how hard it can be. I do eat when I’m not hungry, but it’s not usually an emotional thing for me (sometimes it is). I have pcos, and with that comes insulin resistance. And that’s just me–there are other medical reasons people are addicted to food, though those are somewhat rare. Still, I think no book is complete without talking about medical reasons people eat when they aren’t hungry! Have you been checked for anything like that? (Not that it’s any of my business!)
.-= Laura’s last blog ..What Else Could Go Right? =-.

    Godless Girl · May 13, 2010 at 12:46 pm

    Thansk for sharing about how that works for you. It’s fine to ask me about that. I have had my thyroid checked, but I don’t know if I have PCOS (my mother has it though, but I don’t know if it’s genetic?).

      Roof Woofer · May 16, 2010 at 1:49 pm

      I’ve heard there’s a genetic component. You could talk to your mother about what her symptoms were like at your age, perhaps.

Not Guilty · May 13, 2010 at 1:03 pm

My entire life my mother was a health nut and rarely bought junk food. So when I went away to university, there was a wall of junk food and they just swiped my student card. No money, no signature, just FOOD! And I ate while reading, and I was reading most of the time. I have always hated the gym, so I never went regularly. And I put on 70lbs over 6 years. I had no problem cooking for myself, but my portion sizes were enormous. At a certain point, it doesn’t matter how healthy the food is. 1/2lb of mashed potatoes is gonna add weight. My mother harassed me about my eating and weight for years. So I would eat before dinner so that it appeared I ate less during. Then while I was cleaning up, I’d eat some more.

I am very Type A personality. I am a control freak. And yet I couldn’t control my eating. I started going to a counsellor and one of the first things we talked about was my inability to control my eating. I saw her 3 times and a switch flipped. She empowered me. She challenged my thinking. She helped me change my relationship with food.

I kept track of my food intake for 3 weeks ( I entered everything that went into my mouth for 3 weeks. And I saw where the calories were going and I started to change. I started aiming for the daily recommended amounts of fruits, vegetables, etc. I started aiming for the correct portion size. And here is the thing: I broke my ankle a year ago so badly that I can barely walk some days. I walked 15 min to school and 15 min home. Some days, I hobbled. On the days that my ankle hurt less, I would walk more (which is rare). In 3 months, I have lost 25lbs.

I have been single since I started putting on the weight. I always blamed my weight for the reason because if it wasn’t then that meant *I* was the problem, not just other vain people. Now I have a bigger problem finding out why I am single because I can’t blame the weight anymore. Losing weight was the easy part. Confronting everything else is the hard part.

You CAN do it. You just have to find the right motivation. It MUST be internal and it must be sincere. You will justify what you eat and how you look for as long as it takes for you to be motivated. Challenge your thinking and beliefs. And most importantly, do not diet. I am not dieting. I made a lifestyle change.

Not Guilty · May 13, 2010 at 1:07 pm

One thing I’ve also learned to deal with is being hungry. Being hungry is far less fun than being full. But I’ve adjusted such that I do not turn into uber bitch when I am hungry and I learn to deal with it. It gets easier as you train your body to need less food.

ymberlenis · May 13, 2010 at 1:16 pm

I wish I had something to say that would be helpful. I deeply appreciate your willingness to share this all, as it is clearly difficult for you to do. It takes moments like these to keep inspiring people.

You know the answers, you know the healthy things to work toward to help improve your relationship with food. And you know that knowing it doesn’t make it much easier. It takes such a huge strength of will. For me, that will has faltered lately, and reading your thoughts, so very, remarkably similar to thoughts I’ve written out so many times, has made a difference in my day, has jolted me back to a focus on health. Again.

It’s a conscious decision to change how you look at food, one that has to be made every minute of every day. After a lifetime of being trained one way, and learning to use food to comfort strong emotions, to celebrate victories, to socialize, to fill boredom, it is hard to know what else to use when these situations come back. I’ve tried to find several different things to do in lieu of eating, because when that urge hits for food (urge, not hunger), it’s very easy to talk myself out of instead, say, writing. But if that doesn’t fit the mood, I can keep my hands/mind busy with knitting or cleaning or walking.

Anyway, sorry to have rambled on here. You just really struck a chord with me, and I could probably write 10 pages more about why. Thank you for pouring your emotions/feelings/thoughts out and publishing them. I’ve written them myself so many times, but always need to hear these things to keep me (or to get me) moving forward.

madness_dreams · May 13, 2010 at 8:30 pm

I like your writing most of the time, but it doesn’t usually get to me the way this has. Honestly, to me you come off as largely confident, so it’s a whole different world listening to you when you are writing about something where you really don’t have any answers.

This had to have been hard to write, and painful to think about, but I’m glad you did. Personally, I don’t have major problems with my relationship with food, But a lot of what lies behind it, I fully understand. I understand the desire to just sit in front of the computer or tv in the evenings. I understand the insecurities, the self criticism, and the need to use distractions to drown them out. And I understand those subjects that just hurt so much to deal with/think about that you’d do anything to push them away.

I want to say something beyond “thank you” and “I understand how you feel,” though that is probably the most important feedback you’ll get on this post. I want to help, but I know how annoying people on the internet giving unsolicited advice can be, so feel free to ignore the rest of this if you want.

1. On the food thing, particularly the cooking part…. do you have any friends that like to cook? My family didn’t have the greatest of eating habits growing up, but I was fortunate to grow up around people that helped me learn to love cooking, and be at least decent at it. I have a good friend who didn’t get that… her father cooked, but he’s not really the type to reach out and share that with his kids. She’s always appreciated my cooking for that reason, but until recently I just accepted her compliments bashfully and moved on.

But at some point she visited while I was in the midst of expanding my repetoire of recipes (in an attempt to learn how to satisfy my picky boyfriend while also getting him to eat healthy), and I offered to teach her. I felt silly doing so, because I’m no master chef…. but really, cooking is easy, at least from a recipe. You just need some basic skills and the confidence to dive in.

Since that first time, cooking has become an incredibly gratifying part of our friendship. I don’t feel like I did much, but she’s now much less hesitant to try out new things on her own, and we even share recipes. It’s lovely, and if you ever have an opportunity to do something similar, I’d highly recommend it.

2. On being kind to yourself… I’m going to out myself here and say I’ve had a lot of therapy. Many of the things I had to deal with had nothing to do with this, but learning to not be so hard on myself was something I spent a lot of time on. Hell, something I’m still spending time on. And the one thing that helps, at least a little, to get me to go easier on myself, is pretending that whatever I’m berating myself for is something that someone I care about and try to take care of (like my younger sister) did. And then trying to consider how I would treat that person in that situation. It’s hard, because I always want to say “but, but… yea, I wouldn’t be mad at someone else, but I just KNOW that for ME it means that I’m stupid/lazy/pathetic/etc.” It’s easy to ruin the exercise by just coming up with reasons why the situation COULDN’T apply to the person you’re imagining. But if you try and resist doing that, it can be helpful.

anyhow, that’s about 10X as much babble as anyone should ever have to endure from me, so I’m done.

And again… thanks for writing this.

Meng Weng Wong · May 13, 2010 at 10:09 pm

Even born-again Atheists can remain influenced by religious scripting. One such script is: past the age of reason, your God-given free will means that all your successes and failures belong solely to you. And nowhere is this more apparent than in moralistic judgments about the overweight: they are guilty of Gluttony and of Sloth. Why don’t they lose weight? Because they don’t worship at the gym; because they are morally weak; they are sinners.

A different school of thought, which goes as far back as Brillat-Savarin and has recently been resurrected in the popular imagination by Atkins and in the scientific literature by Taubes, suggests that one can be as addicted to carbohydrates as to alcohol and to cocaine. Beating yourself up over an addiction may, in some moral frames of reference, be justified, but if the goal is to solve the problem, perpetuating the cycle of unhappiness doesn’t really help.

For more:

Limor · May 13, 2010 at 10:35 pm

I’ve dealt with disordered eating for most of my life. It’s too long of a story to go into details here, but what changed thing for me was simply accepting myself as I am. Easier said than done obviously. I also follow intuitive eating. This site has some good info

I also recommend reading “Rethinking Thin” by Gina Kolata and “Losing It” by Laura Fraser.

Hope that helps a little.
.-= Limor’s last blog ..I Love Betty White =-.

Tanewha · May 13, 2010 at 10:47 pm

Please get more sleep. Five hours is not enough. I always eat more when I’m tired and there is science to back this up.

Quaintly · May 14, 2010 at 1:13 am

My relationship with food is complicated because if I am not hungry I often forget to eat, sometimes not eating anything the whole day until 4pm when my stomach starts to rumble. On the other hand, if there is good food that I like, I overeat until I’m really full. If I’m stressed out, I’ll take myself to one of my favourite restaurants and order a nice (expensive!) meal. This sometimes not eating and sometimes overeating, coupled with lack of exercise, has also made me overweight. You’re lucky your mom hasn’t made you feel bad about your appearance… both my parents have made unkind comments about the way I look.

My dad is a physician so we ate healthily at home. We are Asians so we normally had rice for meals, and my mom would prepare 2 vegetable dishes and 1 meat dish. She would portion the food so everybody got just enough and there was no chance to overeat (“Everyone gets two pieces of chicken each!”). Also, we weren’t allowed to eat junk food or snacks between meals. Ice-cream was considered a treat.

Ever since I left home to go to uni, and then graduated and started working, I have been eating out all the time. Like you, I find cooking too much bother. If I were cooking for someone else I might do it, but since it’s just me I don’t feel like I want to make the effort (plus I hate washing dishes :p). In Malaysia it’s cheap to eat out, you can get all kinds of food any time of the day or night.

My dad told me that when eating out, I shouldn’t feel guilty about leaving food on the plate. He said that when you’re at home, of course you only give yourself the portion that you want to eat, but when you’re outside, they give you the standard. Ever since, I’ve been trying to eat smaller portions. It’s just a tiny lifestyle change but I think of it as one step forward.

You might also consider getting healthy but tasty things to munch on if you feel the need to eat at non-mealtimes. Rather than stopping yourself from eating anything at all (which might be very difficult) maybe get some fruit or nuts or something you like. *looks guiltily at my stash of chocolate*
.-= Quaintly’s last blog ..In exile =-.

Lauren · May 14, 2010 at 1:34 pm

I could have written this. Exact. Entry.

I live in Vancouver, which is apparently the fittest city in North America. Being even slightly overweight is unfuckingheard of. I had a thin dad, and an overweight mom who yo-yo dieted, starved, and bailed when I was 6. When she’d show up, she’d berate me for gaining weight, would bribe me to lose weight; I was NINE. My dad was absent, so I “cooked” for my brother and myself. I was NINE. I had no idea what I was doing.

By age 13 or 14, I was 180 pounds, but I was also 5’10”. I knew then that I was fat, that it was my eating and lack of exercise. But I had no friends, no family, and a whole lot of self loathing. Food was the only thing that made me happy, which resulted in me being even more miserable.

So I ended up 250 pounds by the time I graduated high school. When I was looking for a grad dress, I sat in the change room at a plus size store and cried my fucking eves out when I realised I was no longer a size 16, but closer to a 20. At 17 years old.

And then I stopped eating.

When I was 21, I lost 80 pounds in 4 months. When I was 22, I met my first boyfriend. I was still chubby, (size 11 or so) but he loved me. Even though he was thin. Even though, I thought, he could do so much better than my fat ass. And like you, I’d do *anything* to keep him. I thought if I lost him, I’d be alone forever. I was 22, and this was my FIRST boyfriend.

Which wasn’t true, of course. I have dated a lot of guys. I dated a model for chrissakes. Chubby Lauren with a 6’6″ *model*. But I STILL felt that he’d never love me if I was chubby. I *had* to lose weight to keep him. And after a year and a half, he dumped me. And it’s much easier to blame my weight than it is to think he just didn’t love *who I am as a person*.

After the breakup, I stopped eating. I lost 40 pounds in a month and a half. I destroyed my gallbladder and had to have it removed.

I weigh 150 pounds at 5’10” now; “normal”, apparently. And it is STILL a daily; hell, hourly, struggle. I still think I need to lose weight, be thinner and more toned to be loved, to be accepted, to have people treat me with respect. And some of that is true.

People treated me like garbage when I was heavy. I can’t even begin to tell you how massive the change in people’s attitudes were when I lost weight. All of a sudden I was visible and popular and “attractive” and deserving of respect. Not so when I was heavy, apparently.

And every morning I get on my scale with my eyes closed. And every morning I let out a huge sigh and open them. And if it has deviated even *slightly* from the day before, I think “ok, no food today”. It’s a sick thought process, but it’s my reality. And it probably always will be.

In the past when I was losing weight, I’d sabotage myself constantly. I’d get thisclose to my “goal”, and give up. I honestly think I am scared to be thin because I’m already scared and confused by the attention I get now with this extra 20 on me. I like my security blanket, and I like being able to blame my weight on why I get rejected by people, rather than some flaw in my personality.

I figure if I’m rejected because I’m chubby, that’s THEIR problem. If I’m thin and I get rejected, it’s because something is wrong with ME.

I’m sorry, I just wrote you a novel. Your post just hit so hard with everything I’ve gone through in my 29 years.

Andrew Hall · May 14, 2010 at 7:25 pm

I lost 40lbs in 5 years. What I did was focus on behaviors that I could easily control. I started working out for 15 minutes a day at home 9made myself a chart). That’s what I could handle. I made some progress and added some more time/exercises. Make small steps and then build. When you fail (everyone does) get back into the habit.

I’m not saying ignore all the insightful why stuff (why I eat, why I feel this way), but to focus on behaviors that are easier for you to control.
.-= Andrew Hall’s last blog ..Where Is Mohammed? – Part 2 =-.

Jeremiah · May 17, 2010 at 8:24 pm

Love the honesty here. I rarely hear people talk about food in this way. It would seem that my comfort and identity issues manifest themselves in different ways in my life… hmmm…
.-= Jeremiah’s last blog ..Jesus’ Journey to Jerusalem =-.

1minion · May 21, 2010 at 8:18 am

Clearly this is an issue for so many people and I could tell similar tales, like the time we were in a restaurant and my parents offered me $20 for every pound I could lose. I didn’t take them up on it because it was crass. Or the time Dad told me that Mom once wondered aloud how a kid as large as me could be hers (she’s always been tiny and fairly slim).

Nutrition wasn’t a big priority when I was growing up. I did a lot of food hiding, too, and binge eating. A trial of Weight Watchers did bring my weight down for a couple years but I didn’t have the desire or mind-set to keep at it. I didn’t grow up expecting to get a boyfriend or be married either, but I don’t know if that’s built into weight issues, or just the kind of person I happen to be. Maybe a mix.

Anywho, I get where you’re coming from. Every day I think, “I should lose weight” and every day I pick the convenience over the sensible eating, or eat more of what I made so I won’t have to deal with leftovers.

From a society perspective, I wonder what really started this problem, if it can be pointed to a specific point in time (creation of processed foods?) or if it’s just the result of so many things meant to make our lives easier and our asses fatter.
.-= 1minion’s last blog ..I don’t get biology enough to understand Synthia =-.

Mark Bryan · January 4, 2011 at 7:38 pm

This was very brave of you and I offer my support and thoughts. I myself never learned good eating habits. But I did find something that did work for me. It’s not a Diet it’s a Diata, which is Greek for way of living. It was introduced to me on The Food Network show Good Eats. See for yourself.

Part 1

Part 2

This is just a suggestion, I really took to it because it’s more about how and what you are supposed to eat instead of what you cant eat. Focusing on a can’t is negative and bound to never work. This may not be for everyone but I have lopped off 70lbs so far. Physically and mentally I couldn’t feel better. Again I offer my support we are connect on Twitter and I would be more than willing to talk to you about my experience and offer support in your endeavor. Best of luck


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