image credit: Virgie Tovar via Instagram
Hi, my name is Virgie and I’m a fat girl who loves food.
As I was writing about weight restoration two weeks ago, I realized I wanted to talk more about the hard road back to my relationship to food.
For years I was obsessed with food, but not in a cute way. I was terrified. Food wasn’t axiomatically harmless or pleasurable or fun. It was dangerous. It could ruin my day. It often did. I felt I had to exercise absolute control over each bite or something really bad could happen. Ironically, dieting fuels food obsession, but does not encourage a loving, pleasure-based or even neutral relationship to food.
Certainly during my years of restricting I thought about food more than I thought about most things.
How much exercise to "work" if off?
Was it worth it?
Was I good or bad if I had this many bites rather than that many?
How long could I chew one single mouthful of banana?
How can anyone think so negatively about something so amazing? Diet culture encourages us to project all of our fears and dissatisfaction onto food, and thereby imagine we can exercise control over these feelings my exercising control over our appetites.
But guess what? It’s not food that’s making you afraid and dissatisfied! It’s living under patriarchy, girl.
I, like many fat people, was taught that my relationship with food could make or break my access to love and acceptance. I believed that if I could control what went into my mouth, I could guarantee that I would become thin. Even though the data suggests otherwise, it’s hard to let go of the fantasy that you can control your fate with your fork.
Before I learned about fatphobia, my childhood relationship to food was based on hunger and the pursuit of pleasure, but with newfound diet rules those days were gone. It's amazing how being afraid can change the way food tastes, your appetite, and your ability to access the good-feeling chemicals that your body releases when you eat.
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As I was preparing to write this essay I sat down at my little breakfast nook with greek yogurt, decorated with orange blossom honey and olive oil. The honey is viscous as it pours out, and in order to stop the stream I run my index finger along the lip of the container and lick the runoff. It tastes floral and sweet, and I always smile because trying to get honey to stop coming out of any container feels a little bit like a game or maybe like I’m Winnie the Pooh.
After years of fear, I now nibble on maple bacon donuts, snack on brie, and noisily slurp capellini. I get whipped cream on my espresso beverages, ask for butter with my toast, dip strawberries in chocolate, lick the cakespoon, put cream cheese and lox on my bagel, add sauerkraut to sausage, put peanut butter on my pancakes, add maple syrup into my yogurt, enjoy chicken tikka masala and steak tacos and tuna tartare and dip asparagus spears into chipotle mayo. I put half and half in my medium roast coffee, and use my finger tips to mop up the crumbs from blueberry pound cake. I stick my fingers into glorious jars of Nutella, use my hands to eat barbeque brisket, pop the whole yolks of perfectly poached eggs in my mouth, lift bowls of ramen to my lips. Coconut cream mochi and capers and dill, nutmeg, cloves, turmeric, and edible flowers.
It was a long road back to these magical moments.
Food is a human necessity, a human right. Certainly food activists like Raj Patel would take it a step further and say that delicious food, in particular, is a human right. Food is one of the oldest and most integral ways to connect with and nourish our bodies, and yet it’s one of the most fraught relationships I’ve ever had. Why did it take me so long to get back to challah French toast and rosemary chicken?
Even after I stopped dieting, it took a long time to fall in love with food again. Diet culture had damaged my connection to this life-sustaining entity, but the body and the spirit are incredibly resilient. I gave myself full permission to indulge in whatever I desired, and each bite became a roadmap back to my hunger and my capacity for pleasure.
It has taken years of intention, practice, patience, deep breathing, pep talks in the mirror and sometimes even meditation, and I still fight the food demons. I practice compassion and radical acceptance of the moments when the fear returns. All of my food trauma is not safely in my rearview mirror, unfortunately. I’m trying to heal while still being bombarded with food moralizing messages everywhere I go — from casual conversations I overhear while I’m waiting to order coffee to Pandora ads.
I can’t opt out of this culture, but each time that I choose what I want I know I’m one step closer to the freedom I crave.