Food and Punishment

Our relationship to food could be simple. As my grandfather liked to tell me, “You want to work, you need to eat.” I spent a lot of time on my grandparents’ farms, where food was work, livelihood, and community.  We gathered eggs, planted, weeded, harvested, butchered, milked, hulled, peeled, and stored food together. I was witness to (and begrudging active in) the wonderful process of bread from start to finish. While applesauce, herbs, onions, turnips and potatoes would last the whole winter, the strawberries and raspberries disappeared early – especially when when us kids were old enough to pick them by ourselves. Eating the food was something you did so you could continue growing it.
My dad studied nutrition at University (as well as other things – he is a Renaissance style genius) and we spent much time playing at his health food store, so we learned about nutrients early. Food was science. It was the childhood glee of killing potato bugs. My grandmother reciting poetry while we worked in the garden or kitchen. It was as ubiquitous as air.
Then, puberty happened and my skinny body stopped being so skinny.  I didn’t like the new shape.  I became hyper-aware of the fat-shaming culture I had always lived in but felt immune too.  Food was still a necessity but now it was dangerous.  I heard the girls around me share tips on how to eat less and exercise more.  My cousin would point at overweight women and say “that’s you in a few years!” and I knew this was a terrible fate.  At 5 foot 6 and 125 lbs (168 cm, 55 kg) I felt like a globular walrus.
Food was fuel, unless I was mad at myself.  Then it was punishment.  I would force myself to eat a bowl of cookie dough, or half a chocolate zucchini cake and with each bite I would say “I’m ugly, I deserve to be fat”.   Not eating sweets was a sign of strength and hope, so overeating them was the appropriate punishment.
A different cousin came to live with me.  Instead of fretting about her body, she loved it.  She loved food too, and we would walk across town even through -40 C on candy runs.  She wore clothes that appreciated her impressive cleavage and encouraged me to borrow her clothes.   (This sometimes had unfortunate results.)  br />After years of seeing food as a way to police my worth as a person and a necessary evil, I still struggle with seeing food as anything but a tool for survival. It is easier to see it as a formula – so many fats, carbs, proteins, vitamins and minerals to plug in every day. I’m free(er) of the impulse to punish myself by indulging or withholding food, and now I can work on learning to enjoy it.

7 thoughts on “Food and Punishment

  1. ... Zoe ~ says:

    Prairie? Are you saying you were shamed for being “fat” at 5’6″ & 125 lbs? And that you saw yourself as fat?

  2. prairienymph says:

    Umm yes. :p Although there were really only two other people besides myself called me or parts of me fat. I think it was mostly because I had been 5’4″ and 75 lbs at the start of the year that I felt huge.

  3. ... Zoe ~ says:

    I’m 5’7″ or well thanks to age & osteoporosis 5′ 61/2″ now and at my heaviest after nursing school I weighed 135 lbs and there is no way I could ever imagine anyone calling me fat. Most of my adult life I’ve been in the low 120’s and it’s interesting to me that some of the same body image/health issues my “over-weight” friends have experienced are similar to mine and that always shocked them.

  4. prairienymph says:

    I had pretty strong body dysmorphia plus I was comparing my already distorted view of myself to cousins who were around 90 lbs.
    Do you feel freer of some of the body image/health issues now compared to when you were younger?

    • ... Zoe ~ says:

      For sure! There is something about aging that just takes away the stress of primping and posing for the world. That sounds dramatic I know but honestly, when I look back I wonder what all the fuss was about. Of course, I’m rather low on estrogen now so its no wonder I don’t really care what I look like. 🙂

  5. prairienymph says:

    I’m definitely less insecure now than I was in my teens and twenties, but I’d credit experience and good relationships over loss of hormones 🙂

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