You are how you eat

Well, kind of. The blog Noshtopia posted an interesting question the other day: Does Your Relationship With Food Reflect Your Relationship With Yourself? As I read through Stephanie's blog post, I realized that my eating disorder was focused on the food, yes, but it reverberated throughout my life.

Right now, at where I am in my recovery, I would say that I'm anxious and cautious around food. I hesitate. I hold back. I worry the food might somehow "hurt" me. I don't trust food or myself around it. I still want to not need food--although I am able to follow through on my meal plan even when unsupervised. At the bakery, people have started to learn that I typically turn down samples. The little nibbles that others take for granted, well, I don't. I'm still afraid, still nervous, still have that freaky, hyper need for control. Food overwhelms me. And the more I think about it, the more I realize that this really does reflect how I feel about myself and my life. I am very hesitant and anxious about many things, not just food. In conversations and interactions with others, I hold back. I worry how something might hurt me. I don't trust others very easily, and I definitely don't trust myself (hence the uber-rigid following of the meal plan). I feel, ultimately, rather needy.

At the height of my eating disorder, I hated food, I hated life, and I hated myself. I was terrified of everything. I withdrew from everyone and just totally shut down. I stopped eating. I stopped living.

It's hard to really separate the two, those two things we refer to as eating and living. Obviously, life involves quite a bit more than eating. But how we eat says a lot about how we live: what we value, how we like to spend our time. Your food doesn't define you- a steady diet of Taco Bell doesn't make you a bad person. Enjoying and relishing this steady diet of Taco Bell is different that being afraid to eat at any place besides Taco Bell.

When I think of myself in more meta terms, I use adjectives like quirky, curious, funny, shy. Before the eating disorder arrived, you could see these (in some sense) in how I approached food. In high school, a friend suggested we try a Thai restaurant for lunch. Thai was pretty exotic for my small-ish suburban town, but I was curious and agreed. I kept my order very tame, but I enjoyed trying new cuisine. And really, that was me. I need a lot of encouragement to try new things and to put myself out there, but I'm also rather curious. Many times, some of my best ideas have stemmed from the thought, "I wonder what would happen if..." Okay, some of my worst ideas have also stemmed from that thought, but still. I dragged my parents to a Vietnamese place in my new town after reading a restaurant review. Without the review, I probably never would have gone. But we went and had fun. I didn't try anything exotic, but I liked my selection and what more could you ask for.

So these "meta" terms for myself are also now ways in which I want to approach fixing my style of eating. For me, balancing my natural curiosity with my similarly natural tendency to prefer the familiar is probably going to take the most work. I easily fall into eating ruts, just as my life easily falls into ruts and habits. I like tooling around in the kitchen and throwing stuff in a pan and seeing what happens. I prefer to work with a recipe, but I can improvise as needed.

As goes the food, as goes my life.

How does your relationship with food reflect your relationship with yourself and your life?

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Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh--I'm at a loss for words at how much I related to this post and how much it resonated with me. And, yes, food and ED crap is in so much of life but I'm honestly glad that I'm aware of this b/c it makes me want to do something to change it.

Cathy (UK) said...

You asked:

"How does your relationship with food reflect your relationship with yourself and your life?"

I would say "a lot". However, I have always had an uncomfortable relationship with food, long before anorexia nervosa (AN) kicked in at age 11 yrs. As a small child I would consume only warm milk, boiled eggs, bread and a particular make of chocolate cookie. When I started school I took one look at the school dinners provided and refused to eat any of them for fear that they would make me throw up. However, I ate a wider range of foods at home, and although thin, was not dangerously underweight.

At age 11 yrs, my anxiety around everything (mainly change) hit hard and I developed depression. I felt my life was 'out of control'. I started to over-exercise and to restrict food, and then became obsessed with counting every calorie consumed and expended. This was not because I wanted or needed to lose weight, but because it made me feel more in control of my life and my anxiety. I lost weight rapidly through 'over-regulation' of my diet and exercise and was diagnosed with AN - because I denied the seriousness of my very low weight.

I am now largely recovered from AN, but I still have 'eating issues' that are unrelated to weight control. I don't especially enjoy food and hate feeling full. I have OCD-related fear of contamination and so I am very selective about what I eat and where it comes from because I fear the consumption of contaminated food that may make me ill. As soon as I have eaten I have the urge to clean my teeth to get rid of the taste of food. Somehow that makes me feel less 'contaminated'. I carry my own (wrapped) cutlery around in my bag because I fear contamination from cutlery in restaurants.

So, in summary, my eating/food fears restrict my life, but if I am honest with myself and others, this is partly because I fear life that is spontaneous and unpredictable. Perhaps my OCD rituals also relate to my inherent fear of change and loss of control (of my anxiety and my life).

Anonymous said...

The way you related to food sounds a lot like the way you related to people...

"I'm still afraid, still nervous, still have that freaky, hyper need for control. ______ overwhelms me.... I feel, ultimately, rather needy."

I only make this observation because your description of how you related to food resonates so much with me... and it helped me to come to realize this conclusion within myself.

Thank you for your honest and insight.

Carolyn said...

Yes yes yes. My relationship with food is a good analogy for how handle "life." I worry a lot, I avoid situations and food that makes me nervous. When things get overwhelming, I want to avoid both.At times I have wanted to never partake of either again (food or life).
I'm what I would consider half-relapsed right now, but stabilising and on the right mental track. That is, in both life and eating, I see my issues and am working to stop either from getting worse. I'm handling my anxiety and ADHD with meds, and I'm handling my food issues by being honest with myself and maintaining my weight.

I think that this post was right on.

Sarah said...

"How does your relationship with food reflect your relationship with yourself and your life?"

I also would say a lot. When I am deep in my obsession with food, there is no room for anything else in my life. My life becomes small and constrained, and I become constrained as well.

Kim said...

I've always thought food is a powerful metaphor for self-concept and lifestyle. I'm pretty cautious with food. Like life, I like my food to be planned and predictable and certain. I don't like spontaneity, I hate surprises, and I don't want someone else to be in control. I also tend to get in ruts. I have very, very long phases. Eventually, I get bored and move on to a new phase, but I'm not someone who has something different for lunch every single day, though I've tried this as a little challenge. It was fine, but more mental work. I tend to be a particular, impatient, stubborn person in general, and my attitude toward food is similar. I've noticed that as I've eased up on myself lately and felt more confident and trusting in life, I'm not so Hitler about food. It is very reflective for me. You could pretty much watch my dietary activities to guess my mental state ;)

Libby said...

thank you.

Angela E. Gambrel Lackey said...

My relationship with food sucks right now; I try to avoid eating as much as possible.

I asked my doctor once how he could tell if I was restricting or not before I say a word; after all, I'm never weighed there. He said my whole demeanor changes when I'm restricting. I thought about that, and have to agree - I'm more withdrawn and less interested in anything. I basically hide through using the computer and I try to avoid do anything I absolutely don't have to do. I would run away from myself if I could. I purposely plan one thing I have to do each day just so I won't hide in the house and under the covers.

When my relationship with food is better; i.e. I'm eating at least minimally to function and not feel like crap, I'm a totally different person. I'm social, I go out with friends and to the movies, I take walks, I read all kinds of books, through myself into projects, etc. And frankly I'm a nicer person.

Carrie Arnold said...


You, my dear, are most welcome.


I thought Dr. S was clairvoyant and that's how he knew everything... :) Seriously, his ability to "read" me kind of freaked me out a bit.

Angela E. Gambrel Lackey said...


I know what you mean about reading you! It can be disconcerting! That's one reason why I promised never to lie to him and to always answer any question honestly - I figured it would be pointless (plus I do try to be an honest person.)

Stephanie Quilao said...

Hi Carrie! Thank you so much for the link. Glad you found the post thought provoking and helpful. It is indeed a very good question to ask, and that day with that healer of mine was pivotal in helping me recover from my ED.

While looking at my relationship between food and myself, the next step was to look at the relationship between my body and myself. Yes, the two were separate (in my head) and yet again similar themes. We then worked on getting all three, body, food, and myself all on the same page. It's taken a long time but in the end it was worth it and I've grown so much. Blogging was key in that journey. Thank you for sharing your honesty and insight! This is real life and the way we heal is by learning to be in presence with the issues we are challenged with.

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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nour·ish: (v); to sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to cherish, foster, keep alive; to strengthen, build up, or promote


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