I have a confession to make. Today I ate a spicy chicken sandwich meal from Wendy's with a Coke. I ate the whole thing. It was fucking delicious. There are few things I love more on this earth than a spicy chicken sandwich from Wendy's. I dream about them. They are a part of me in a deep and passionate way that may be inappropriate.
I am certain you are asking yourself why I felt it necessary to share this with you. Who could possibly care enough about their lunch to write a blog post about it? I am not a food critic so it makes no sense. I may not be a food critic, but I AM an American woman over the age of 40. Self-loathing, shame, and body issues are in fact the glue that binds all my bits together. There you have it. I am letting you know that I ate fast food because of shame. I say I did it. You'll say it's ok. Then we will have a laugh and a deep breath and we will feel much better knowing we are not alone.
This cycle is infuriating and exhauting. I love food - like a lot - but I do not remember the last time I enjoyed it. I have gained a few pounds and whenever I gain weight those additional pounds bring with them a boisterous, serenading choir of body shame's greatest hits! Oldies like: "You dumb cow. Why aren't you more disciplined?" Or "Don't you know that for every pound you gain that's one less ounce of love you deserve?" And my personal favorite, "Stop eating you disgusting whore." My boisterous choir is not very nice. Also, they don't know how motivation works.
What's true for me is that when I am thin, I feel powerful. I feel worthy. And I feel like I'm in control of my life. I am no less powerful, worthy, or in control with 15-20 extra pounds but you try telling that to my stupid, boisterous choir. I so wish that at nearly 43 years old, I would have mastered this loving myself thing. I bought into this toxic positivity about my body for a really long time. Like I would just ignore my sadness and dark thoughts around food, pretend that I didn't struggle with all of this stuff, and pray to the god of "fake it till you make it" that one day I might wake-up to a brand new mind.
I also have a daughter and I made a commitment when she was born that I would never let her hear me talk about myself the way I grew-up hearing women talk about themselves. I did that. I am proud of that. She doesn't obsess about her body the way I do. Somehow that is little consolation because I am for sure convinced that in all of this successful mothering, I've fucked her up in a million other ways so I will refrain from patting myself on the back. I'm certain she's keeping a list for her therapist.
Life in the time of COVID means I have the privilege of spending unhealthy amounts of time sitting down, and staring at my own face on a Zoom screen. Yes, I could turn off the view that allows me to see my face but I hate the thought that the person I'm talking to can see my face and I can't. This has never bothered me in a conversation with a human in person but somehow having the option to stare into my own eyes while talking to someone else is an experience I did not realize I was missing in my life. See how much we are learning in 2020?!
Much like the experience of eating a damn spicy chicken sandwich, if I could just stare at myself lovingly and enjoy the moment it would be fine, weird and self-obsessed, but fine. But I can't just enjoy the thing I have to eviscerate myself in the process. "My face is too fat...my eyes are too wrinkly, my hair is too stupid, my skin isn't smooth, my teeth are yellow, my ears are weird." The endless cacophony of judgement, analysis, second-guessing, over-thinking from the boisterous choir is exhausting. The other day I did a Live and someone said I had pretty eyes. I immediately thought to myself, that the rest of my face looked so terrible the only nice thing they could say was about my eyes. It was a fleeting thought. I didn't spend hours wondering why they said that or picked that feature but I did think it.
I was talking to another brilliant person today about food and eating. She mentioned that sometimes it's a positive thing for us to indulge in the treat or junk food when we're feeling down because there is a neurochemical bump that happens when we eat something we enjoy. It's just that the way we have been socialized to think about food is that eating things we enjoy is a shameful act so it's almost as if we reverse the chemical bump immediately because of the thoughts we have about the food. It is a vicious cycle that many of us are unaware we fall into.
In certain types of behavior therapy individuals are encouraged to recognize that thoughts create feelings which influence behaviors which lead to thoughts that create feelings...behaviors...thoughts...feelings...behaviors. Forever. Breaking the cycle requires us to become aware of our thoughts and make an effort to challenge those thoughts, replace them with more accurate or positive thoughts, which lead to more positive emotions, and then result in healthier behaviors. See how easy that was? Problem solved. This is actually one of the most effective therapeutic interventions across the board for people who want to change a habit or manage mental health symptoms. I think I just assumed that one day it would get easier to remember to be aware of my thoughts all the time. Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hour rule falls apart under the microscope of mental wellbeing.
I don't want to be all darkness and despair here but I just really needed to tell you I ate a damn spicy chicken sandwich today and I felt like shit about it. I haven't eaten dairy in nearly 12 years. I have actively tried to stay away from gluten for the past 7 years but I occasionally have to throw digestive caution to the wind and inhale all of that spicy, crunchy, amazingness into my face. I grew-up in the 80's when diet culture was at its height and my mother weighed 110 lbs. I don't remember seeing her consume anything but coffee and cigarettes until I was 17 years old. My grandmother struggled with her weight to the other extreme and we bonded over food and shame around food, too. My best friend in middle school said I must have an eating disorder because only people with eating disorders talked about food as frequently as I did. She wasn't Jewish so she couldn't understand. But in the shadows I used to silently beat myself up for not being "strong enough" to have anorexia - because only weak people have to eat food. So there was definitely some unhealthy thinking happening in there.
It's a lifelong endeavor trying to untangle that programming, to release that boisterous choir from the recesses of my soul - or at least teach them some more uplifting tunes. I guess today I just didn't want to listen to them all alone.