Tuesday, October 17th 2017

Food for thought: My complicated relationship with eating

face plant

Like most women, I’ve had food “issues” throughout my life let’s dish!

BY CYNDI INGLE — One of my favorite photos from my carefree childhood shows me at four years of age doing a face plant into the white iced goodness of a delicious cake (pictured at right). This visual succulently sums up my relationship with food ever since.

In fact, most of my childhood snaps depict me either chowing down, cradling food before consuming it, or gazing greedily as a family member gorges on a scrumptious tidbit.

Food was a big deal in my early development as my wonderful grandmother enjoyed spoiling me with an assortment of cookies, cakes and candies. As my grandfather (a.k.a. “Boba”) – himself a short, stocky fellow, was prone to loudly proclaim, “we don’t want any skinny brats around here.” No worries on that account!

me and spoon

Since those early, blissful days of wanton gluttony (and bad haircuts, see photo to right), I’ve discovered that like most North American women, I’ve developed a few food and body “issues”. And now that I’m in older, even ads in my Oprah magazine (!) are telling me that I should be concerned not only about weight, but about wrinkles and other signs of aging.

At my height of 5’ 6”, my weight has fluctuated from 112 lbs. to a high of 145 lbs — but even at my lowest, I’ve never felt slim.

A pivotal moment occurred at age 13 while working at my parents’ auction business, appropriately at the “snack bar.” I was asked by a customer if I was pregnant because I sported a chubby belly. Aside from delightful opportunities for being a bulletin board for verbal abuse from perfect strangers, my snack-bar gig was the perfect chance to scarf down copious bags of salt-and-vinegar chips, to offset the anxiety I felt while trying to calculate correct change.

It was soon afterwards — when I started high school — that I embarked on my first diet. I had a reliable role model: my beautiful mother, who looked like Julianne Moore in that movie, Far from Heaven, was constantly dieting.

Back in the day, she popped an appetite suppressant with the now-ironic name, AYDS. I even consumed a few of the tiny, vile tasting squares myself.

Throughout high school and in my early 20’s my weight went up and down like a yo-yo. I probably wasn’t clinically into disorder zones of anorexia or bulimia, but I was borderline with both.

My methods included severely limiting and neurotically documenting my daily caloric intake, and chewing up food and spitting it out. During dieting bouts, daily weigh-ins were de rigueur.

Now I have a healthier attitude towards my weight, and body issues in general. My weight is around 125 lbs., but I don’t freak if it inches up a bit higher. I try to eat health-inducing foods like fruit, veggies, pasta, chicken, fish and rarely any red meat . . . all swished down with some fine wine.

If I do fall off the rails occasionally and get my glutton on with popcorn drowning in butter or a cheese fest of biblical proportions, I don’t panic. I know that sooner or later my body will get tired of fatty foods and will send out a cease and desist order.

dessert-smallI’ve finally realized that all the time, energy and money that women (and increasingly men) put into agonizing over “fixing” their weight and bodies are activities that deflect our attention from a fuller and happier presence and knowing of our own simple awareness and aliveness.

When I spend time worrying about my weight, this epiphany comes to me: I am split off from the development of my spirit or as this site calls it, “souls’ code and from caring about what is going on in the outside world (war in Iraq and Afghanistan, anyone?) Stepping out of obsessing about my physical shell helps me realize that I am not just the vessel that I inhabit.

I realize it’s extremely hard to circumvent the propaganda machine that is set up around weight and body image in North America, but it’s worth fighting the (unconscious) powers that be. There is a greater power in saying, “I accept my body as it is, it doesn’t need improvement, it just is.”

Psychoanalyst Susie Orbach brought this philosophy to a mass audience in the 70’s with her groundbreaking book, “Fat is a Feminist Issue.” Ultimately, our culture’s obsession with perfect bodies and maintaining youth — which takes our eyes off the larger prize — is everyone’s issue.

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13 Comments on “Food for thought: My complicated relationship with eating”

  1. That was a great read Cyndi! I bet a lot of women can relate to that issue. I know I did!

  2. This sensuous relationship with food reflects a wide spectrum of spiritual bandwidth, an openness. Not in mind, but in being.

    Thank you for sharing it, and inviting us to reflect on our own cathexion in food, and all sensuous fonts of form.

  3. love, love LOVE that article cyndi.

    you're wicked with words.

  4. I loved the food article, it really cracked me up, especially the pictures and the quote from Boba!! It really made me nostalgic for Nana's baked goodies too, her pies were from heaven and I think they set me up with a sweet tooth for life. The best thing was that you could eat as MUCH as you wanted!! That blew my mind. My record was 14 cookies at one sitting...That was probably on top of some other sugar I'd already consumed. . . good times :D

  5. I read your article and let me tell you...99% of it sounded just like me in my teen years! It's pretty crazy (& sad) how our society encourages such a dysfunctional relationship with food. I remember going for a doctor checkup when I was about 16 and had gained about 5 lbs, my female dr. said WOW, you've gained a TON of weight! and proceeded to tell me how thin she was at my age...

    Gee thanks lady!

    When you're a teenager every little comment like that sticks in your head and starts to effect you. From when I was 12 until I was about 19 I would classify myself as a dysfunctional eater and was always very obsessive and secretive about it.

    I finally got sick of always having food issues and preoccupations and bought a book called 'Overcoming Overeating.' It had all of this insight into how skewed our societal relationship with food is that really hit home for me (it's written by 2 women authors), and by the time I put the book down I was pretty much 'cured', seriously!

    In my 30s I can officially say I love food and I'm so grateful I got all of that wasted time over with so many years ago. Live and learn, it really is true! I'm sure you'll find that almost every woman who reads your article will be able to relate to it.

  6. Hi Cyndi,

    I suffer from anorexia and since recently also binging and purging, so I guess it's a mix. Anyways, I couldn't figure out how to comment on your article but I thought it was a great article. Your attitude towards your weight sounds just amazing and I really hope that I'm capable of getting to that point one day because right now I'm a total mess with my weight and food and everything. It’s so great that you realized that people always fixing their bodies like that just makes trying to be happy harder.

    It just feels like such a relief that someone else knows what i'm going through and i'm not the only one dealing with this. yeah that’s for sure its a really hard thing to fight!!! i will deft. let you know, if i need some help because i find it so helpful talking with people that get it, not the people that just read the books and attempt getting it but don't actually get it.

  7. Well Cyndi I'll just get in line here with all the others who can "relate" to your wonderfully written story. I was saying "ditto" so many time I got dizzy and then I just wanted some of that cake to make me feel better! LOL
    After my early years of being the "chubby girl" and then bouts of anorexia (before it had a name!...I'm dating myself) followed by my sister and I trying to use mustard to throw up (which thankfully didn't work), and countless cycles of restricting, exercising, and binging, I finally got help and found relative peace. I so agree that one of the ways out of the madness is to become conscious of what is being lost. There truly is NO time for our Spirit when all our energy is being siphoned away by body issues. The best prescription is to slowly and gently learn to rest in the simple deliciousness of being, but unfortunately when you're in the throes of it you can't get a whiff of "being". But you gotta start somewhere and like Laura said before me it "feels like such a relief that someone else knows what i’m going through and i’m not the only one dealing with this". Yes it does help for us to talk about these issues and offer hope to those who are even now struggling. So thanks for writing about a difficult topic and especially thank you for sharing your prescious pictures....I just loved em.

  8. you are most welcome rebecca and thanks for the supportive comments. almost every pix i have of myself from my childhood has food in it! food = love :)

    this article has opened a dialogue with some sisters who are suffering from deeply seated eating disorders and i hope that my experiences can help them in some small way. we've got to fight the power that says that all women need to look a certain way...men sure don't! what disturbs me are tv commericals and shows where the guy is clearly overweight and his woman is super slender. to me this over emphasis on appearance and weight is just a way to keep women "in their place"...and women do it to other women as well when we make assumptions based on people's appearance.

    at a recent anniversary party for my parents an old lady who knew me as a child came up and said, "you were quite chubby as a teenager." i felt like saying "what's your point, gee thanks for pointing that out." instead i pointed at my [overweight] parents and said..."you can see why." it just never stops!!

  9. For those of you who do not personally know Cyndi, trust me, this woman doesn't need to "fix" anything about herself, mentally or physically.
    Thanks for the great read Cyn. Like so many others, I found myself nodding in agreement. Unfortunately for me, now into my 50's, I still can't wake up and just "be". I can't be comfortable with myself. One thing I have stopped though is crazy yo-yo dieting. I am trying to be kinder to myself and more accepting of my flaws!

  10. Hey I just read your article...I'm 21 and can relate to everything you just said!!!!

    When I was little my Grandma used to feed me tons of food and I was praised for being such a 'good eater' then in the outside world the rule of thumb was the complete opposite!!!

    I'm struggling with bulimia at the moment but what you said about stepping out of the shell that is our body is really hit home... it made a lot of sense.... Thanks for a shining light in what's been a rubbish day for me!

    All the best.

  11. Couldn't we ALL write a book about this subject? And similar though our motivations might be, none of our stories would be the same. It's not just food--it's anything we can turn into a "friend" in the absence of being able to find the spiritual fulfillment we need. My best friend was sugar. If I didn't have it, I thought about it. If I had it, I binged. My god, it's a wonder my pancreas hasn't completely imploded....

    Being also in my 40s, my obsession has abated somewhat, but I'll still find myself repeating the same compulsive behaviors that just went round and round, but now, like you with your popcorn, Cyndi, I can indulge from time to time without feeling like I've totally stepped over the edge.

    I don't know that women will ever stop seeing themselves with a fun-house mirror perception, but I do believe that as we grow spiritually, we stop seeing our bodies in quite the same warped way.

  12. Cyndi,

    Thanks for your article and your perspective. Body image dysmorphia affects most of the female population of western/industrialized countries I suspect. As someone who has used and abused my body to the purpose of trying to achieve the 'perfect image', I can identify.

    But thanks to finally finding a spiritual path which feels right, I am learning, bit by bit, to accept my body as the vehicle of my soul as you expressed in your article. If we treat our bodies as the temple which our soul has chosen to inhabit in this lifetime, we do develop a bit more empathy both in how we treat our bodies and in learning to accept ourselves as we are in this moment. Developing compassion for both our physical bodies and the compulsive/obsessive egoic thoughts that drive us to self-abusive or self-denying eating behaviors.

    And as you also mentioned, a spiritual perspective can also help us develop a reverence for the nourishing of our bodies. Appreciation and gratitude toward all of the many hands and forces that cause that which becomes our food to grow and be transported and created then sheds a far different light on the way in which we choose to nourish ourselves and our bodies.

    Thank you for an enlightening and spiritual perspective on what most clinicians see as a disorder. Perhaps it is more a disconnection from our true selves and with everything around us.

  13. Hi Cyndi - LOVED this article - very honest and helpful too! Anyone interested in reading more should ask at their library for "Fat Politics" by J. Eric Oliver. Quite an eye opener!

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