Food has always been an issue for me. It’s my best friend and my enemy all wrapped up in one. I don’t remember when it first started. We didn’t have much junk food at home, there was no such thing as a ‘treat’ cupboard. In fact, we only had fizzy pop for special occasions, and we rarely went out to eat. No, it wasn’t some Oliver Twist existence, but my parents wanted me to be healthy so didn’t spoil me with junk and naughty food. I’m obviously a rebel, because despite their efforts, I remember sneakily mixing up butter and sugar while they were out to make my own buttercream snack. Not because I particularly loved it, but because it was stuff they wouldn’t notice was missing.
When I went away to boarding school, it was great. Fried breakfasts, toast at break time, lunches and dinners of several courses, and then there was the chip shop and local shop to fill up on all sorts of sugary and fatty nonsense. ‘Bumper buns’ were a favourite – custard-filled doughnuts with icing on top. And only 35p. A greedy girl’s dream! The only saving grace of university was lack of funds, which meant the cash went on calorific pints INSTEAD of fattening food, rather than having both.
It was only in my early 20s that I started to freak out. Thus ensued some serious dieting. I’d always done lots of exercise, but finally managed to control my portions using Weightwatchers. No wine, no pudding, one of those picky people who isn’t much fun to eat out with because they’re too busy asking for sauces on the side, no chips, and then ogling everyone else’s food with a tear in their eye for the whole meal. I was skinny, but sad.
And so we get to my late 20s and early 30s. From this blog and my various social media accounts, you can be forgiven for thinking that all I do is eat. That every meal is made up of deliciousness and calories, no pudding is turned down, and life is one long journey from restaurant to restaurant. Alas, if only. The point of this post is to explain that while food is my obsession, I’ve kind of learned to control it. Don’t get me wrong, I spend a LOT of time thinking, dreaming, talking, planning and writing about food. I spend a fair bit of time eating it too, but at this stage in my life, I’ve learned a bit of balance. And balance, when it comes to food, is something I think is so very important these days, yet sadly lacking.
The recent story about Eloise Parry struck a nerve. She knew she had a problem, and still her toxic relationship with food and her own weight killed her. She’s not the only one, and there are other stories we’ll probably never hear about women who have struggled – for a plethora of reasons that are a whole different post (actually probably a book) – to find that balance. I know I did. No, I wasn’t diagnosed with an eating disorder, like the one in 250 women and one in 2,000 men that the NHS estimates will experience anorexia nervosa at some point. In fact, according to charity Anorexia and Bulimia Care, more 1.6 million people in the UK are estimated to be directly affected by eating disorders.
I think I was one of the lucky ones that escaped being among that number, but looking back, it seems clear that someone who whipped up butter and sugar together on the sly just to eat when they weren’t even hungry has got a few issues. As does someone who becomes wracked with guilt for having a pudding at a restaurant. Neither of these are the person I want to be, and it’s a constant effort to try to stay somewhere in the middle. I am by no means suggesting that an eating disorder is conquered purely by just ‘trying not to have one’, but nowadays it is not a simple case of either having or not having a problem with food. It’s a sliding scale that so many of us are on.
I suppose what I’m trying to say is it’s okay to find it difficult. But equally, there are no easy solutions. The foodie news I follow is littered with superlatives, while my Facebook feed is bombarded by adverts for miracle solutions – tablets, shakes and detox diets that apparently mean it’s okay to eat whatever you like until you get to the point that you then get rid of it all. What an unhealthy juxtaposition. And so the cycle starts. I struggle to see how different these kind of ‘answers’ are to a bulimic who binges then purges. Because there’s still no balance. There’s no hard work in trying to work out when you’re treating yourself and that’s ok, and when those ‘treats’ become all too regular. And it is hard. Some might say it’s still a sign of a bit of an unhealthy relationship with food when you constantly analyse yourself and whether you think you should be eating something. But for me, that’s better than yo yo’ing between crash diets and binges.
I love food. I call myself a foodie and most of my friends and family would agree with that description. But what you guys don’t see (and perhaps what I should show you more) is all the other stuff that balances that out. The 6am gym sessions four or five times a week, the yoghurt and berry breakfasts, and the salad and fish lunches. While it may look like it’s all restaurant dinners and three-course meals, it’s not. Because something’s got to give. And that’s what balance is about – a bit of moderation. Knowing when enough is enough, but also knowing yourself well enough to know what makes you happy.
And for me, while food does that pretty well, it can also do the opposite. Which is why I’ll always spare a thought for those who struggle to find balance, for whom food is more foe than friend. And it’s in their name that I think we should all try to remember that balance is important, more so than ever in a world that encourages the extreme.
And so, on this blog you can expect to see a bit more of both sides. Some of the food I eat that is unladen in fat and sugars, and is the balance to all the yummy, scrummy indulgent stuff I tell you about. Because it’s important. We can’t have it all, but perhaps we can have a little bit of a lot.