Bad at food.

I’m getting bad at food again. Lately I’ve been adding breakfast and lunch to my daily to-do list — partly because checking things off makes me feel productive even if it’s things I’d be doing anyway, but mostly because if it’s not on my to-do list looking like an official task, I won’t eat. I’ll rationalize it that I’m not hungry or I forgot or I was too busy or there’s nothing good in the fridge or I just don’t feel like eating. But if it’s not on the to-do list, daring my perfectionist nature to leave it un-crossed-off, I won’t eat until it’s dinnertime and I am reeling and grouchy.

Even cooking dinner is getting harder to manage these days, these school-free days when my schedule is wide-open and I have the luxury of time to cook actual meals. Even so I’ve abandoned meal planning, and half the time when Aaron comes home from work and asks, gently, if I’ve figured out anything for dinner, I’ll say, Oh right, dinner, sorry, as if the fact that my family wants to eat again — what, every evening? — has caught me off guard. So we’ll fix the kids peanut butter sandwiches or spaghetti with sauce from a jar, and Aaron will forage for something else to eat after the boys go to bed, and I will just — not. (And then, come midnight my family is asleep and I am ravenous, standing in the kitchen in the ratty t-shirt that is my summertime nightgown, eating fistfuls of cereal out of the box.)

I am coming detached from my body again. This hard-won presence in my body, stretching myself all the way into my fingers and toes, inhabiting myself — it’s slipping, and I am fading like a ghost. I am losing interest in food, sleep, sex — spending my days and my nights curved into the me-shaped spot on the sofa, disappearing into the internet, pulling out of the physical realm.


Later this summer, I am going to Florida with my family — Aaron and the boys, and my parents and brothers and sister. And I am anxious. Not about traveling with the kids — we’re finally past the constant vigilance of the potty-training years, and we have a travel DVD player for the unbearable flat stretches of interstate in southern Ohio and middle Tennessee — but about being on the beach with my family-of-origin family. I have grown into a self-assurance in my everyday life in this fat body of mine, an easy self-possession that has not been easy to find; but nowadays I am not held back by the size and shape of my body except in those one-off situations that are anxious-making for anyone — doctor’s visits, school reunions, mammograms.

But put me with my parents, my brothers and sister — all thin, toned, long-limbed and lean — and the old patterns are upon me at once: the shame, the sense of hulking hugeness, the judgments I imagine they’re thinking. With my father I become the ten-year-old standing on the bathroom scale, charting each morning’s weight on a line graph on the inside of the cabinet door, a line graph that only ever goes up. I am the girl listening to his catalog of judgments about the women we see at the park — Do you hear that sound when she walks? That’s the sound of her thighs rubbing together. But she’s doing the right thing, out here, walking it off. I can hear the conspiratorially quiet voice he used to describe the flaws of the women around us, just above a whisper, so that only I would hear — he didn’t want them to hear him and feel ashamed; he only wanted me to learn. I can so easily imagine what that murmur would sound like, describing my body, counting my sins.

I can so easily imagine what my brothers are saying behind my back — Flabby Abi, one of those childhood nicknames based more on what rhymes (a lot of words rhyme with Abi — you’d be surprised), a nickname that stuck only because they saw how it stung. When I am around my family now, I have to fight every second against the voices in my head that I imagine are theirs. I have to do battle not to police every bite of food I eat, everything I wear, every drop of sweat or gasping breath that might indict my body as sickly, morbidly obese.

And later this summer I will not only be with my family, but with my family on the beach, wearing a bathing suit.

So it’s little wonder I’m anxious — waking in the morning with my teeth clenched shut and my jaw aching, depending too much on the glass or three of wine after the kids are in bed. And it’s little wonder my jerkbrain is reverting to dieting, food-denying behavior.

My jerkbrain is smarter these days; as I’ve adapted to its lies, it has adapted too. So now instead of openly saying, You are so fat, stop eating, fatty, it wraps the lie in distractions, cloaks it in the little falsehoods about not being hungry, the forgetting to plan meals — pulls me out of my body so I won’t notice the hunger, the discontentment, the shaking. (And all these conversations that have been happening in the progressive-faith-writer blogosphere lately, about modesty and swimsuits and smokin’ hot wives, are only feeding the jerkbrain, reminding it that the male gaze is always, always there, watching, judging. These are important conversations, but I need to step back from them for a while, because they are seeping into my skin.)

I can see what’s happening. I know what you’re up to, jerkbrain. But besides the stopgap measures like putting breakfast and lunch on my to-do list, I don’t know how to make it stop.


12 thoughts on “Bad at food.

  1. Abi, I feel like I have an even better understanding of your inner battles now. What your father whispered to you was cruel and downright abusive. I am so angry for you, but I suspect you wouldn’t want me to be. Alas, I still am.

    1. Thanks Erin. I hesitate to call it cruel, as he was well-intentioned — he sincerely thinks being fat is this life-ruining death sentence, and he didn’t want that for me — but incredibly damaging nonetheless.

  2. so…
    I just want to give you a hug. I’m not really a hugger, but…that’s what I want to do.
    And say you aren’t alone…as I came online, munching on a handful of dry froot loops and sipping on my lukewarm can of Coke in lieu of lunch. Sigh.
    Food is hard. Family is hard.You aren’t alone.
    My kids now sometimes ask, “hey, mom, are we foraging tonight?”…yergh. peace in this summer…and thank you for writing

    1. Thanks, Internet hugs gladly accepted. 🙂 For real, I expected to have things together more (with food, planning, life in general) once I hit my thirties. Glad I’m not alone.

  3. I hope calling out the jerk brain here in public helps — it doesn’t have quite the same power over you as when you’re working to keep it hushed up. Jerk brain don’t like light.

  4. I agree with Natalie’s comment above. It’s harder for your brain to abuse you if it’s being dragged out into the open. *hug* I discovered your blog today. I went through pages and pages of it. You’re awesome. Just incredibly fantastically awesome. I’m linking to it. 🙂

    Your father made the same comments that mine made about random strangers. Still makes, and my fear isn’t for myself but for my s/o who is twice-and-some the size of me. I fear family’s judgements. There are all of these memories of things that were said, and I know, I KNOW that they’re still being said after he and I leave. “He’s very nice, but…” It’s frustrating and horrible, and I don’t know how to fix it other than to remind myself and him that their thoughts don’t matter nearly as much as what we think of each other. Breathe in, breathe out, love more.

    1. I love this comment, and I’m terribly sorry you’re experiencing that kind of family stress as well. I wish I knew how to manage those kinds of comments — setting good boundaries, I guess, and spending the bulk of your time with safe people who value you and your s/o.

      Thanks for reading – its nice to meet you. 🙂

  5. Hi Abi, I always love to read your writing even when its hard and painful. Maybe even especially when it deals with hard and painful topics. I am trying to do better at being kind to myself, and after months of avoiding the kitchen, today I made a menu, made a list, clipped coupons, went shopping and scrubbed out the refrigerator. It was really hard for me and it took a long time. I think it will be worth it though. I am tired of the foraging and guilt feelings all the time. I hate that my kids are so grateful when I do cook. (I mean I am glad they are grateful, but they are surprised grateful). I want to be back doing what I believe is my job. Your post helped me with that. Sometimes we just have to accept life where we are. Thank you for being real.

  6. I never struggled with “forgetting to eat” until I was deep into size acceptance. I never thought that it could be the brain’s newest method of convincing my body it didn’t need food. Thanks for sharing your story, I need to consider that possibility in my life. I’ve been assuming it’s the result of “intuitive eating” and my body just not being hungry at prescribed meal times – which it could be for me, but it’s good to be aware of another possibility.

    prayers that the family trip is better than anticipated. It’s so hard to be your “evolved self” around the people who’ve known you forever.

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