I have decided, in this my 34th vintage, to learn how to eat. Much like Jon Snow in general (you will be pleased to know I recently both discovered and completed Game of Thrones), I know nothing on the subject. It is often expected that I would as I am in the ‘yoga and wellness’ category, and to some extent I do. But beyond ‘vegetables good, lard not so much’, I really do not. What I do carry with me is a highly disordered eating pattern that has only gotten worse with age.
The issues I have experienced around eating surprisingly do not come from my background dancing. At aged 4/5 I was given a ‘large’ leotard, and thus I ascribed the ‘fat dancer’ I identity to myself. Even before I had had the opportunity to fully form as a child, I knew there was no hope for me as a dancer, so what did it matter what I ate. I realise that this is also highly problematic but for me it just is what it is.
No no, dance didn’t give me hang ups. Hospitality did.
Before I carry on, I would like to state that these are my experiences, endemic of toxic traits within the industry that are hopefully declining. Not every company is like this...but unfortunately some of the places I worked were.
A seductive sneakiness formed around eating. Food was not to be touched. Food was not for you. It was for the guests. So we became masters of hiding it. Many of us have hidden roast dinners, cakes, chips etc on high shelves and in cupboards so as not to get caught with the good stuff. And when you cannot get anything out of the kitchen, we became astute at making passable snacks using only the drinks garnishes and the bread bin.
Food was also currency, something to barter with. Slip someone a drink, get a salad. Flirt with a chef, they’ll sneak you something good. Door hosts eat steak every day, but that’s ok because they’re pretty or another creepy reason. There is something very medieval about flirting with people in exchange for a sticky toffee pudding. But that is what had to be done. Don’t hate the players, hate the game.
And the game is based on a competitive masochism.
Hungry? How long have you been here? Is that all? I have been here twice as long and I have not even been to the toilet yet. You haven’t earned your break. Take 5 minutes for a smoke. Have a coffee. Keep going.
Knowing that I was not 'meant' to have food, a great deal of shame arose around being hungry or craving it. Like I was failing. Even when I did have a meal, I would randomly leave something or take a very small portion so as not to admit my weakness. An ex of mine described watching me eat as 'like watching someone have an argument with themselves'. But it was not just in front of people, I would do it alone too, just to show the inner critic that I could.
All of this binds into a sinister unwritten undercurrent already running through Western society - do as much as you can on as little fuel as possible. That is commendable. Particularly women. Go smash that 12hr day and intense workout on 800 cals hun!
One particularly dark and busy Christmas period, where I think I ate one meal in the whole month and the rest of the time lived off olives and cucumber slices. I was deeply unhappy and exceptionally malnourished, but I was doing it, what all the big boys did, working on empty, a husk built only for the distribution of Porn Star Martinis.
I highly doubt it was the intention of individuals to give me hang ups about eating. But it happens. It seeped into my psyche; I still sometimes find myself listing my output and trying to figure out if it has ‘been long enough’ before I eat. Sometimes a meal feels weird when I could go just take little snacks throughout the day like I used to. My compulsion to do this was compounded in black and white back in January 2019 – I signed up to a course on burnout, and was required to keep a food diary for 2 weeks. In a week where I taught 20/25 classes my diet consisted of cereal bars and steamed broccoli.
Drizzled on top of this anxiety trifle has been the insta-food trends that are highly visible in my corner of the internet. As someone who works in the aforementioned wafty ‘yoga and wellness’ sphere, the diets shown to me involve mainly fasting, juicing or very low calories and small meals. Green juice for glory basically. And while I understand the benefits of these practices and really love my juicer, across the board I see very little by the way of ‘food positive’ or chewing.
Over the past few years, my healing process has led to me address a lot of my negative learned core beliefs. The most prevalent was that I don’t matter. My experience, my feelings, my appetite, none of that matters, especially in comparison to the needs of others. Pairing this belief with the self-flagellating that took place in the restaurants I worked in was a recipe for disaster. But having recently completed two very busy retreats where my energy levels were consistently high, the difference was obvious – I was eating 3 balanced and nutritious meals daily. Where my old answer to a lack of energy would be ‘gotta push, gotta workout, gotta DO’, I am finally open to the fact that eating is not cheating.
So this is my quest – to balance my output to my input and feel WELL. The first few months of the year I felt awful, and I do not need to. I am taking responsibility for my health and it is a big mood.
As a disliker of maths and getting things wrong, the concept of counting macros/steps/calories et al is simply loathsome to me. I am edging in week by week; last week it was to up my protein intake, this week I have popped strava on my phone and got a fitbit-esque watch thing so I can see how what kind of energy I am burning. Turns out, it is quite a lot, who knew!
The essence of this little ramble, is that I want to share with you that it is ok not to know, or to be a bit rubbish at something. There is no power in ‘yeah, I’m fine’ when you are not. But ‘I’m not ok’ or ‘I don’t know’ - there is movement there. But first you have to admit that you don't know...scary stuff but I believe in you <3
And it is OK to want thing, especially if they are sandwiches. You are human, that's what we do.
Thank you for reading, if you have anything to share please comment or message me, I love to hear from you xoxo
The best things happen on the other side of discomfort – Brene Brown
Picture is of me consuming everything possible in Antigua, Guatemala, because it was delicious