A Difficult Relationship with Food

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I’m far too old to have an eating disorder, yet this is my truth, my reality.  Decades ago, before I began to deprive myself and eventually starve myself, I truly loved food. In fact, in my family, we all adored food. Nightly, my mother prepared fresh, multi-course, homemade dinners: meatloaves glazed with richly seasoned tomato sauce; thick pieces of meat simmered in a creamy brown sauce laden with carrots and potatoes; leg of lamb accompanied by mint jelly and macaroni and cheese. Desserts were plentiful and always available (parfaits, cake, cookies, and everything Sara Lee), yet even as a young girl, I preferred seconds of meat to desserts. Thus, while I didn’t eat as many sweets as I could have, I had the ability to pack my enjoyment away in the form of entire pizzas, multiple pieces of chicken, huge hamburgers, and anything that was rich, dense, and chewy.

I had a huge appetite and despite the calories, I was not fat in the “multiple rolls sense,” but I was quite chubby. My stored calories were evenly distributed: my arms, thighs, face, and stomach were round and full. I soon acknowledged the differences between most of the girls with whom I went to school. Their skinny legs and arms and tiny waists required them to constantly pull up their pants or wear a belt. I needed to do neither but felt disappointed and terribly victimized that they seemed to eat as much as I did, if not more, yet remained stick-thin. My two best friends represented the yin and yang of my existence: skinny Lori and full-figured Michelle.

When I was still playing with my baby dolls, around the age of 10, my mother began serious talks with me about my weight, most likely wanting to ease the burden that I, as a young female, would have as a result of carrying around excessive pounds into puberty. “You should watch it,” were her code words for: You are getting fat and you need to stop eating so much. Her devastating power over my young life, coupled with my determination of perfectionism and my strong will, all created the perfect storm for my eventual anorexia by the age of 13. I did everything with conviction, so in my starving, I learned to appreciate my hunger pains and self-denial became my natural response to the meals I had once enjoyed. My mother frantically pleaded with me to eat, so at first I learned to eat around her. I deprived myself of food all day so that I could eat the minimum while sitting at the dinner table. Then, the next day, all day, I starved again.

As I continued to refuse food, my body reacted: my periods stopped for almost two years and I frequently fainted. With desperation, my mother took me to her gynecologist just so her doctor could remind me that my eating issues were “destroying my parents.” Guilt, along with my parents’ own “therapy” of nightly forced feedings of eight Oreo cookies and a glass of milk with weigh-ins, eventually slowed my acts of starvation. I complied with this regimen because my desire to please my mother actually superseded my desire to lose more weight.

Today, even though I do not have a weight problem, my mind remembers and believes otherwise. What I see in front of the mirror are long-ago images of a chunky Barbara. I must continually remind myself that those days are long gone. I am a pleasant size with a blessing of good health that allows me to splurge now and then and eat the foods of which I deprived myself so long ago, yet doing so continues to be a challenge. However, I do not hide my body within folds of purchased material in the form of loose-fitting pants and shirts. I wear the size I should, which itself is quite difficult to acknowledge. I also hide my eating difficulties fairly well. Those close to me know that I eat healthily and those extremely close to me understand that the limited choices I allow myself reflect someone who still battles their food demons.

While my starvation days are long gone, during times of high stress and sadness, they become my default position. I work very hard to squelch the inner voice that substitutes nourishment for hunger pains. Today, I am much more gentle and kind to myself. In my awareness and acceptance, I have come to enjoy life more fully and appreciate my difficult journey toward wholeness one spoonful and one day at a time.

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About Author

Barbara Jaffe is the author of "When Will I Be Good Enough: A Replacement Child’s Journey to Healing" (Lisa Hagan Books ISBN 978-0-9974699-9-8, January 2017). She completed her B.A. M.A., and her doctorate from UCLA. Dr. Jaffe is a tenured professor of English at a community college in Southern California. A fourth generation San Franciscan native, she has spent her adult life living in Los Angeles with her husband, three sons, two grandchildren, and her very sweet poodle/bichon, Emma.

1 Comment

  1. Thank you for sharing your story. It resonated with me and reminds me of the tragic influence adults have over us at a young age. While I have healed my own eating issues, this brings back those early years of sensitivity and confusion. I wish and pray that women and mothers everywhere can emphasize the message of self-acceptance and self-love and guide young females away from the media which falsely portrays and perpetrates images of beauty and weight as a female’s main values. My hope is that soon there will be a generation free of eating disorders for both females and males. And that each person will be nourished by love and the belief that they are inherently worthy simply by being.

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