Unwrapping Food

I write about food on here frequently, but I rarely talk about my relationship with food. Like many people, mine is dynamic and I'm working on peeling back the layers to better understand that relationship. I often feel like food is an aspect of my life that I'm blindly figuring out, yet I know it has such a direct impact on my health and everyday life. I feel like figuring all that out will help me find a better balance.

For as long as I remember, food has been my enemy. This isn't in an eating disorder way, instead, food and I don't agree. As a child, apparently I couldn't be taken out of the house until I was like 2 years old because I was a projectile vomiter, Exorcist-style. I was born with a dairy allergy and I don't think I ever grew out of it. Like any kid, I loved sweets, candy and ice cream but all of this made me feel sick. I hated pizza, something no one could understand, and it was because of how sick and uncomfortable it made me feel. I didn't know this was abnormal; I thought everyone felt this way after they ate. 

Around age 10, my relationship and identity with food took another turn. A direct family member decided I only should eat salads for lunch and told me I was getting fat. I was only allowed to eat the amount and types of food they determined were okay. Again, I didn't know this was abnormal; I thought everyone went through this. So on top of food not making me feel good, I felt like it was naughty.

At 16, I was diagnosed with crohn's disease and spent the next ~10 years off and on prednisone fiarly regularly. I fluctuated from underweight to the steroid moonface. Another defining moment was when that same person told me that I was so fat that I was starting to embarrass the family. 

Above left: I'm the middle kid. This is about the age when I was told I needed to eat salads and learn to hold my stomach in at all times because I was getting fat. Above center and right: Junior year in high school and around the time I was told I was an embarrassment to be seen with because I was so fat. I think I probably weigh about the same today as I did then.

By 23, I was diagnosed with celiacs disease and since then a whole host of other autoimmune conditions and food allergies. Eating feels like walking through a minefield. Will it make me feel good or will it leave me feeling awful, sick and lethargic? Mix that with the ingrained belief that not eating is the best option and my relationship with food is a bit dynamic on a good day and a near nightmarish challenge on a bad day. I've never had a true eating disorder or had my own personal motivations/demons to be the skinniest person in the room; instead, I kept getting told by an outside source that my goals should be to be the skinniest version of me possible.

And I've been the skinniest version of me. Typically, it occurs when I'm having a flare-up, running a low-grade fever for weeks and/or not being able to eat much. I've been at points in my life where I've had to work to gain weight. And guess what, I didn't like it. I had no energy and I didn't feel good. I have no desire to be that person. Yet when I've been there, I get told I have the most amazing arms ever and I should work to try and keep those. All these inputs somehow get scrambled and leave me confused about how to make good food choices. Or make choices that don't leave me feeling guilty.

For me, my aim is to be the strongest version of me, definitely not the skinniest. I want the version of me that has energy to tackle the day, feels good after I eat something (without pain or regret) and moves on to the next thing. Coming to Belgium has helped a lot. Over the past five years, I've taken the time to prioritize enjoying nice meals and sipping good drinks. I deal with the flares and I haven't gained any real weight, despite the fact that I let myself eat all the foods I was raised to think were off-limits and bad. I do try to avoid my food allergies and prioritize keeping my crohn's calm above basically everything else.

Do I have it all figured out? No. Do I have a tendency to always think I should eat as little as possible? Yes. But I'm slowing shedding that part of me. I still battle the voice in my head that tells me I shouldn't eat or that less is always better. Living in Belgium has helped immensely and I'm slowly getting to the point where simply feeding myself healthy, real food when my body is hungry and indulging occasionally are what guide me. That and just being happy. Above all, I just want a relationship with food that is calm.