I see a reoccurant theme in the support groups that I am a part of: dealing with stress, food and social eatings we have limited control over. I used to avoid social eatings a few years ago because I felt so much stress from “the unknown”. Now, that I look back and think of the extent that I went to avoid dealing with the “should I or shouldn’t I” of buffet tables only to end up overeating at home because I also felt left out and alone in making that decision: I think to myself—what was I thinking was going to come as a result of that “plan of action”? For me, it was increased social anxiety (after all I wasn’t honing my skills due to lack of practice) and yet another reason for stress-induced overeating.
Then, there was the next stage of evolution in my attempt to eat “normally” at social events. A few years ago I went to a Christmas party where there was several hundred people present. It was loud with the live music playing, the buffet tables were amazingly well-presented with an equally amazing array of foods from cold shrimp cocktail to every kind of cake and pastry under the sun. I decided to take a risk and accept the invitation, feeling very brave about that decision alone. I also decide that I am going to “practice”eating a little of everything and call it quits. That particular evening I was so tense about the “whole choice thing” and trying to figure out the calories in each little food item as I was standing over it in the buffet line that I really wasn’t very hungry. I mean, who would be? So, I underate. However, when I got home and I went “whew, TG that’s over!” I relaxed and, guess what, my natural appetite returns. I realize that “gosh, I guess I really am hungry”. So, I ended up making a sandwich or something because I had undereaten. Sometimes, more often than not, the sandwich turns into a bag of microwave popcorn followed by a bowl of cereal followed by…you get the picture. How did this all end up turning into a binge. I had a plan. I followed it. Where and how did it end up being a “failed” plan? While I am eating the third or fourth helping of whatever, I also muse back on the evening and I remember seeing a very wisp of a young woman who picked at her entree until she returns to her place with 5 different pieces of cakes and pastries. Not smidgens. Regular sized pieces. So, what is wrong with this picture? I never forgot that “picture” in my mind. Skinny chick sitting on her fiance’s lap snarfing down huge amounts of gooey desserts, licking her fingers and then when she catches my eye, she gives me a sheepish smile. How virtuous can I feel at that point with my two sugar cookies on my dessert plate? Or, the fact that I went home and ate 1000 calories on food that I half-enjoyed while thinking about “gee, if only..” I had eaten what I really wanted to eat while I was at the party.
Fast forward to a few weekends ago. Another party. Some of the same people as the first couple of parties. I know what kind of food is going to be there. I am poised and ready to conquer. Still, I am not entirely satisfied with how I dealt with this recent social event. As many of you know the “experts” tell someone who either has food issues or wishes to show some level of control over social eating is to first have a plan. So, I had my plan. I decided I was going to focus more on the people, the music and the overall ambience of the “party”. I met some friends, met some new acquaintances and began conversing. Party is starting out promising. The music and the live entertainment is engaging. I have a regular, not lite, beer. I am feeling warm and rosy inside and out. Next, there are some appetizers by strolling waiters. I was actually enjoying them and limiting myself to a few since I could tell they were highly salted. Then, suddenly, like a mass exodus everyone is in the buffet line. Oy! What’s a fat person to do? Although I was still feeling “in control” of myself (I could have walked a straight line), I was distinctly feeling hungry too.
To digress for a moment, I have been working really hard for some time on the “fat head” that I have developed along with my fat body. What’s a “fat head”? The mindset of a fat person. The behaviors that fat people develop along with the jiggly thighs and roll (or two) around the middle. That night, my “game plan” was to treat this just like any other “normal” person would treat this kind of situation. The problem with this kind of thinking is that not every person treats these situations the same or even the same each time confronted by this. The young woman that I mentioned above for example. That might be the only time she ever ate with such abandonment. She could be bulimic. She could have starved herself all day so she could have those “goodies”. She could have gone home and ran 10 miles to work out the calories. OR; she could have just had one of those kind of days where it looked good, it tasted good and she “allowed” herself the unadulterated pleasure of enjoying them.
Well, I wanted to do what she did. Sometimes, I do —in private, when I am alone or sometimes, if I really feel brave, when I am with my husband but rarely do I enjoy my food when I eat out. The only time that I do is when I am eating what “others” would consider healthy or “normal” sized portions. Boy, I can ravage a chef salad but I delicately pick at a piece of cheesecake. I will honestly say that I really don’t enjoy eating out as much as I like to eat out. Does that make sense? I just wish every restaurant that I like would deliver so that I could tear into the food with abandonment like I wish I could in public. I can’t. At least, not yet. In spite of my pre-planned strategy to do so including this particular evening.
Back to this recent party I attended. I also got in the buffet line along with everyone else. Where I could serve myself, one table wasn’t “manned”, I got the servings that I desired. Unfortunately, it was the plates, dinnerware and napkins table. Where the food was being served, the waiters served each of us “government regulated serving sizes”. You know, 1/2 cup of starch, 1 medium size roll, etc. Someone had educated these waiters prior to serving. All I could think of was ” quit being so stingy and fork it over!” Again, I had undereaten and I really was hungry. I had the alloted calories saved up so “dish it up”.
The food actually tasted good (done to my liking) but since it did taste so good I wanted more! My white plate underneath was visible between the food items. I had undereaten earlier in the day so I could eat with enjoyment instead of anxiety. However, it didn’t quite pan out that way. You know what stopped me? I told my DH later that had I gone back for seconds I would have felt that “people” would think, “Oh, yeah, we know why she has a weight issue” but when I watched thin, “normal-size” people snarf down huge portions with abandonment I thought who would really think that and if others do, how much do I care enough about what they think to prevent me from otherwise enjoying a well-prepared meal? A friend next to me returned for seconds and she did give me a guilty look but as she said, “It just tastes so good!” The thing is I didn’t go back for seconds. I wanted to. I could have fit the calories into my food plan that day. I felt that I had “earned” the right to do so but I didn’t. I stopped and I suffered silently.
All of this “food policing” is a direct result of what I perceive that you “normal” eaters think of me and “my kind”. It’s both self-discrimination and incrimination. Frankly, I am ashamed of my weight. I didn’t grow up expecting dessert at the end of every meal. I didn’t have ready access to a lot of food like I do today. I wish I could write out my life story on a card and hand it to people immediately so they would know that what they see today is not who I always was. God, I just want to be accepted and understood like every other person on this planet. The problem is that being fat and overweight is just not something we embrace as “acceptable”. After all, you can do something about it, right? We are told this over and over again. So, what’s wrong with you? So, don’t expect any sympathy from those of us who know how to control what we put in our mouths. Now, I understand why some overweight people become closet eaters and why we are also people-pleasers. I am and have been both. Add to the fact that now I also have a “fat head” that has it all figured out. Or so I think.
So, in conclusion, this is also something that I will be struggling with as I lose all of this extra weight: losing the “fat head”. This young woman I mentioned earlier was just enjoying one of life’s pleasures: really good tasting food. She doesn’t have a “fat head”. She might get a pimple out of the meal (that’s a myth, you know but we’d like to believe she got something out of it, right?) but I am sure that tomorrow she may undereat and just shrug it off, not even seeing the connection. Instead, if it were me, and it has been, I would be wailing to one of my fat friends about how unfair life is and why can’t I have my cake and eat it too?
Does all of this sound conflicted? If it does, that’s because it is. According to the “rules”, I will have to control and “police” my desire for pleasurable experiences when it comes to eating food so that, and ironically, supposedly when I am thin I now have the freedom, or at least the perceived “blessing”, to indulge because I may or may not have earned the right to do so. I didn’t make the “rules” but I know that if I want to be “accepted” I will have to follow them to one degree or another.
Side note: Back during the Civil War (recall “Gone With The Wind”), women of “delicacy” (read: refinement) would lightly snack before a ball so the courters would think these women could control this “base desire”: to eat with enjoyment (read: abandonment). After all, who would want a young miss for a Mrs. if she ate like a lumberjack. I mean, it would be embarassing for one thing and a real fiscal concern on another. The young courter might be thinking, “I don’t know if I can make enough grits to fill this belle up!”.
Historically, we have run hot and cold about body size. Right now, thin in still in. It shows self-control. It shows “success” in controling our basic desires. It shows collar bones and hollows above our hips. I am beginning to think that we admire people who are thin because we know just how difficult it is to exhibit that self-control day in and day out. I am sure that you may not believe that young thin woman ate what she ate that night but the truth is a lot stranger sometimes than the fiction we believe…about ourselves, about what a “normal” eater is and what a “fat head” thinks of all of this. Something tells me there is a Matrix out there when it comes to what we think “normal eaters” are and those of us who want so badly to be “one”. I’ll let you when I am there. It might surprise us all. I hope so. I still want to have seconds.