“So I Eat”: Understanding My (and maybe your own) Complicated Relationship With Food

girl in coffee shop

I eat.

I eat to suppress the loneliness that threatens to swallow me whole. And to numb the aching pains in my heart. I eat to maintain control of some area of my life when everything feels like a tornado.

And because it bring me a joy that overcomes all feelings of depression. So I eat… and eat eat.

I eat in spite of the times I look in the mirror that leave me feeling disgusting or disappointed with the reflection. No matter the end result, I eat.

My every moment…

I struggle to remember a time I didn’t feel loneliness. That gut wrenching feeling that sucks you down a dark hole filled with thoughts of self deprivation and discomfort. It’s comparable to that feeling you have when you have to walk all the way to your car at the edge of the lot in the dark.

You are hyper aware of every move you make. Fully conscious of the fact that you have no one to rely on in that moment. There is no one watching out for you or making sure that your mistakes don’t lead to demise. Palms sweating, heart racing, you fumble to get your keys into the lock. As soon as you get in, you let out a sigh of relief heavy with the tension of what could have happened.

This is my every moment.

I have always felt out of place or awkward around other people.  Many of my “friends” would say that I am an excellent chameleon. I’m able to change or adjust to get by with those around me. I can fake it just enough to get along with anyone.

But at the end of the day, I haven’t done enough to make a true connection. I’m your “work friend” or your “online pal,” but I don’t have the qualities that lead to hanging out outside of our shared location or that warrant conversations about deep topics.

I’m not the type of person that has a best friend or confidant. I’m missing that person or that connection that provides the sigh of relief at the end of the day.

I carry on through every aspect of life, just waiting to be seen. Waiting for someone to want to get close.

Palms sweating, heart racing, I listen to the keys fumble in the lock as someone returns home. Ready to pour out my soul, but when they are standing in front of me I revert to “how was your day” and “fine.”

So I eat.

The food becomes my friend as we create lasting memories together. We are able to share dark desires and light hearted moments together. It connects me to other people in a way I am unable to do comfortably.  Food pulls me out of the dark parking lot of life.

*FRAGILE: handle with care

Has your heart ever been broken in a way that you feel the ache with every breath you take?  The kind of heartbreak that dulls your senses to the point that life has lost every ounce of vibrancy that it once held.

Maybe my heart was injured the first time and it has become too fragile. I’m like your favorite toy that is held together with glue, but the slightest bump and it is shattered worse than before.

I remember the first time my heart was broken. A boyfriend with a mouth full of insults and hands full of aggression. You place so much faith in your first love. To know that your have poured your soul into the hands of another who doesn’t treat it like a gift… heart broken.

After that, I was too sensitive, easily manipulated, at risk. Many years of loved ones lost too soon, close family members taking their last breath, relationships destroyed. I’m all too aware of every shard that threatens to pierce through the wall I have built up to protect myself.

With all this pain, it is easy to forget what it means to be fully human.

So I eat.

Food helps to create sensations and feelings that I worked so hard to bury in all aspects of life. Each bitter morsel is an opportunity to feel all the anger, hurt, and resentment in a safe environment. Something sour or salty help to shock the system out of the numb and back into vibrant reality for just a moment. The sweet delicacy is a reminder of all the joy that once existed and is a glimpse into what life looks like without sorrow.

In control

Control comes in many forms.

Some people are able to control other people. They’re manipulative at their worst and charismatic at their best.

Some people are able to control themselves. They maintain a stoic presence in the face of overwhelming adversity. Nothing fazes them because they know who they are, or at least have the strength to be who they want to be.

Some people are able to control their surroundings. They seem to have a gift for organizing their lives in such a way that everything falls into place. There are plans and back up plans that convey a sense of calm.

I have none of these things, so I eat.

My life often feels like a huge storm of events that leave me feeling helpless or disoriented. I’m forever teetering on the edge of a cliff of emotion that threatens to destroy everything that I work toward. When you live with a mental illness that affects your reactions to things, the pressures of maintaining control leave you ending each day exhausted and frustrated.

Why did I react that way? Why couldn’t I get it right? Why can’t I just be normal?

Food is my normal. Eating is my control.

My relationships aren’t working or my son isn’t listening … chips can fix that. I hate how I react to bad news … I’ll have some cake. Plans fall apart and now nothing is working out … I can stop for a milkshake.

There is so much to control with food. You get to decide what to have, how to have it, how much to eat, when to stop, and whether it stays in you. No one takes those things away. It is so easy. So I eat.

“Remember when …”

Have you ever noticed that most of our best memories revolve around food?

My favorite experiences with my grandmother were when we would stay to visit. She would set my sister and I up at the table to decorate sugar cookies. Of course, she would always say that we shouldn’t eat any raw dough because “it will make you sick.”

Did that stop us? No!

We snuck in bites of the dough here and there and she pretended not to notice when the cookie sheet wasn’t full.

As a child, my family went out to eat every Sunday after church with my best friend’s family. It was always an exciting event deciding where we would eat and talking about our week throughout the meal. We enjoyed this time eating together to the very end.

I remember bringing them a pie when their mom was very close to passing. We were eating the pie when they had to run to the back room to say goodbye. Eating is what made that day palatable.

When my mom and dad would get into an argument, my dad used to take us to the grocery store. My mom was very frugal, so my dad’s revenge was to make an extravagant meal for dinner that night. I had so much fun seeing the irritation, love of my dad’s sense of humor, and eventual forgiveness flash across her face as we ate delectable crab legs.

When my husband proposed, he spent the entire evening preparing a seafood feast for us to enjoy. When my son was born, I ate more hospital pancakes than I care to admit.

Food is what ties every experience up into a pretty little bow.

We associate food with the hurt, laughter, anger, and love that we feel for others.

So I eat.

It helps me to remember all the joy in the world. I eat, just in case that moment will become the new best memory that I hold on to when I’m feeling lost. I eat.

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