I have read enough self-help books, Huffington Post articles, and (most recently) Facebook memes to know that good relationships can sometimes evolve into toxic relationships. When you find yourself in this kind of relationship, you make the smart decision and you end it. Then you console yourself that evening with a bottle of wine and forge ahead on the path of making new, healthy relationships.
Toxic relationships are rarely salvageable. Anyone who's been in one will probably admit to trying to "make it work" but in time, a break must occur if the person really wants to be healthy.
But what if the toxic relationship you have is with food? It's not like you can completely cut food out of your life if you want to keep on, well, living.
Five months ago I came to the realization that my relationship with food had become unhealthy. As a lover, writer, and photographer of all things food, this was insanely difficult to admit. Literally everything I love, everything that gives me joy, somehow revolves around food; every endearing childhood memory, every dish and utensil in my kitchen, the ever-expanding stack of cookbooks, the meticulously planned road trips in search of new culinary adventures, the mild celebrity chef stalking ...
Every free moment I have is caught up in my obsession with food. How can something that feels so right end up being something that is actually hurting me? I'll be honest - it's a question I've been avoiding for many years that I've finally had to face. When I looked at my situation head-on, I realized the fault was not with food. The fault was NOT with food which could only mean one thing: in this toxic relationship, I was the bad guy.
As a perfectionist, this literally sucked balls to admit. I expect a lot of myself (as well as others, often unfairly) and over the past 30 years or so, I've really been letting myself down.
Food has never once, in our entire relationship, abused me, but I have most certainly abused it. Gradually, when I became aware that I was a bit more reserved than most kids around me, I stopped asking food to meet my physical needs as a growing child and DEMANDED it satiate some deeper hunger I had for the interpersonal communications I was either afraid or unwilling to make.
Most kids looked forward to recess in elementary school. I remember looking forward to lunch. Fridays were the best because that was hamburger day at the cafeteria. I always brought my lunch from home and made sure to pack extra special goodies my mom had home-baked because I knew they were trade-worthy. My peers seemed to like me for it and I got to eat two or three hamburgers. It was a win-win! No, no, you guys head on out to the playground, I'm just going to sit here in quiet solitude "enjoying" my bland, tasteless burgers.
I've often wondered what the opposite of a social butterfly would be called. An anti-social potato bug perhaps? That sums up how I felt growing up. While others spread their pretty, interesting wings, reaching out to each other, I curled inward and rolled my introverted self into a safe ball alone with my thoughts.
Unable to get outside of my own head, I held friendships at arm's length, let potential relationships pass me by, and consoled myself and my lack of social grace with the comforts of food. You never had to make small-talk with food.
Of course I finally grew up and learned to deal with my introverted nature in a way that enabled me to function in the real world, but by then my relationship with food was seriously flawed. When real-life issues became too difficult to deal with, I turned to food to feel good again. That worked for a very long time until I decided (quite recently, honestly) I wanted to be part of the world again. It was a struggle to overcome my urge to withdraw and my tendency to shy away, but on top of that, my weight had ballooned way out of proportion and I was even more embarrassed to be around people.
I must pause here to say that not a single friend or family member has ever spoken negatively or made me feel badly about my weight. For their love and support I will always be grateful, but if you're alive in the world today, you understand there is still some underlying mandate that the thin and beautiful rule the world. That is changing, and I'm excited to see that it is changing, but I've dealt with the effects of it my entire life.
And so five months ago I set about trying to figure out how to salvage this toxic relationship. I couldn't give up on food. I needed it not only to survive psychically, but emotionally. I wondered if there was a way for us to break up but still be friends. After five months of research, I decided there was and elected to have a gastric-sleeve procedure performed on my dearest body part: my tummy. As I type, I'm seven days post-op and feeling ... optimistic.
I have not eaten solid food for nine days. I am on a liquid-slash-pureed food diet for the next two weeks while my tiny little tummy heals. When I first shared my decision with my closest acquaintances, I was surprised at the number of people who offered their condolences on the end of my food blog. They expressed sorrow that I would no longer be able to share my food travels. Did these well-meaning individuals think that having bariatric surgery meant you stopped eating, or that you could not eat well?
I had to reassure them that on the contrary, the blog would very much continue, as would my love of food. I will continue to read, write, cook and travel my way to new and exciting culinary adventures. Food has been on my side this entire time - perhaps it's time for me to return the favor.