I have been equal parts struggling and thriving with food-related issues since the New Year. Since long before that really, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot these past few months. On one hand, my workouts hit their stride. I find it easier to eat in the ways that my body needs and wants to be fueled without habit or resentment. I am less controlled by sugar and things I used to reach for at first stress. I have finally settled on a routine and supplements that work for me. I am trying to be gentle with myself and my choices while respecting what my body needs. I am mostly succeeding.
But still, I find myself falling into old habits sometimes. Skipping meals, having too much caffeine, not thinking things through. I realized a few months ago, staring at a menu for a Sunday brunch, that I never order the thing I want to order. Instead I order the “least bad” thing, regardless of whether it’s something I really want to eat or will enjoy. I realized that assigning moral values to foods made me feel crappy and immoral when I made what I deemed a wrong choice, a choice that wasn’t good enough. The ways I consumed foods that I wanted but considered bad were fast and hidden, dictated by shame.
In college, when we would try to make it through the whole day without eating, before drinking at night, we all pretended not to be hungry. Usually our bodies betrayed us, stomachs grumbling, heads spinning, but we never acknowledged it. Some collective suffering pact we had made so we could maintain the social value we thought was most important. When we did eat, we ate in our dorm rooms away from everyone else. Sneaking to the school store to buy or steal something we knew we would be judged for eating in front of friends. We judged ourselves and each other so harshly back then.
Before I pledged there was a rumor that the sororities would draw on pledge bodies in marker, telling them the parts of them that were wrong. Where they needed to lose weight, where they were disgusting. It was a rumor, thank god, one that feels beyond awful now, but back then I hoped it was true. I hoped for some collective external shaming force strong enough to make me comply. Strong enough to make me perfect. I was always hungry, and I thought this meant I was broken, an imposter while the other girls could survive on next to nothing. I hated myself for being bad at starving. Hated my body for wanting to survive. But my body is stubborn. It’s resilient. And that has saved my life so many times.
I ate in secret, drowning in shame and self-hatred. And as much as I respect my body and what it can do now, not all of that is gone. Sometimes, I still hate myself for craving things. Still find myself thinking sometimes that it’s a moral failing, though I know, intellectually, that that’s not true. I’m trying to give myself the space to order the food just because I want it. Without feeling like it’s something I have to earn first. Sometimes that happens. I’m trying to stop myself from explaining myself to the waiter, of feeling like I need to explain myself to anyone. It’s proving harder to break that it sounds.
I’m saying this because I feel like I’m not supposed to say it. I thought that by now, a year and a half sober and 30 years old I should have made peace with all the various parts of myself. I am finding out that time doesn’t matter as much as I thought it did. That you can’t expect to time your way out of things, or read your way out of things. That there’s more to this than the intellectual piece. That a lifetime of messaging about how my body should look and be is not so easily escapable. That sometimes just getting popcorn at the movies will feel like a radical act, and I have to be okay with that. That the fact that running feels like freedom rather than punishment now gets to count as a win. But I’m working on it. It’s working on me. And I think that for now, that counts.