Help! I Need A Food Tribe

Foodwise, I’ve lost my tribe, and I’m wandering in a vast, lonely wilderness with a bag of snacks that no one will share with me. (Except my children who would as soon murder me as share them so I hide my snacks from them.)  Trying to keep track of who’s off sugar, who’s avoiding gluten and who’s gone raw foodist is like trying to keep track of my children’s favorite toy– the ground is ever shifting and the stakes are high. 

After years of extreme and rigid eating (think: cabbage, mozzarella cheese and milk every morning for three straight years), I have found my spiritual home in moderation.  Once I got into recovery for my eating disorder, it still took the better part of a decade not to be a full-out freak about food.  A few of my old friends enjoy reminiscing about the days that I would carry a can of tuna fish to a restaurant because… well, at the time I thought I was doing it to “follow my food plan,” but really I was scared to death of not controlling my food.  I wasn’t, however, scared of embarrassing everyone around me by popping open a can of chicken of the sea while everyone else supped on falafel or steak frites.  (Have you ever brought your own can opener and canned meat on a date? Not exactly an aphrodisiac, people.)

A long time ago, I came to terms with the fact that I had used up all my privileges to engage in eating trends.  But now I am feeling like that one child who actually was left behind as everyone else forges a new identity as “paleo” or “vegan” or “nondairy” or “sort of that Crossfit diet but not quite as extreme.”

I’ve asked myself if I am jealous that other people can dabble where I can’t.  The answer: hell yes.   But like an alcoholic who knows she can no longer drink alcohol socially, I know in my marrow that dipping into something extreme or restrictive will trip a trigger in me and I will lose my hard-won battle to be mostly serene about food. 

(I will note Jeff and I are experimenting with more plant-based dinners, but I recently made some pumpkin thing that was so inedible that I was craving chicken wings smothered in ground beef for weeks.)

What I find most upsetting is that I don’t really know anyone who is serene about food.  Everyone’s sure she is eating wrong– too much of this and too little of that.  And who the hell can follow the “advice” out there, which is confusing and scary?  Unless I can figure out how to grow my own food on my fourth floor balcony in downtown Chicago, I have to trust someone else to do that for me.  And I don’t have free time to suss this all out; in my free time– those precious 15 minutes per week– I want to play with my kids, write, and read books for pleasure (not to confirm the 800 ways I am going to die of cancer before the next lunar eclipse).

What I remember and miss about being engaged in a way of eating that was counter-cultural is that it created community.  In my tuna-in-my-purse-days, I knew everyone who ate like I did, and we had a bond.  It was a glue that was thicker than blood.  Now I am only glued to the handful of people who are left who don’t engage in the other sects of eating.  The catchall group.  The “and everyone else” group.  And I guess that’s fine, but it still feels lonely and unspecial.  And ooooh, sweet buttercream on a fudgey chocolate muffin, I sure like feeling special.   It also feels lazy because everyone else is working so damn hard around food, and I just don’t have the bandwidth to pick up a new hobby right now.

So, I’ll soldier on with the only barometer that works for me.  Is there tuna in my purse? No? Then I am doing just fine around food.


34 thoughts on “Help! I Need A Food Tribe

  1. I have so much to say on this topic . . . and nothing at all. I get it. I relate and I have no f**cking clue what I’m doing or what tomorrow will look like. I may end up like one of those “special” folks again avoiding this or that. I feel sad on many levels at the thought . . . and for today . . . I’m acting as if all is well and following the directions I’ve been given. Truth be told, all is well today. Am I willing to stay there without needing to agonize about the future or past? Hard. Very hard. Love you and all you do and say.

    • For me, I am in touch with wanting to be special and perfect around food, which is old business and probably not likely to be successful. Maybe I can just be me and to hell with all the rest. It’s too hard to figure out something as thorny as food. I support what all my loved one’s need to do. I’m just struggling with what I need to do these days, and I am pretty sure the answer is “if it ain’t broke, no fixy.”

  2. When I was pregnant I had but one food rule…if I thought it would stay down, I ate it. (Amidst scowls, stares and judgment.)

    I won’t claim to have a super-healthy rationship with food, but I can’t get on any of those food-movement bandwagons because I don’t really like to be told I can’t have something.

    But I also try not to get in the way of those on another path…we all get to decide for ourselves.

    My cats would have enjoyed you in the tuna days.

    • Yes. Bingo. I’ve tried a few diets (vegan, carb-restricted) and ultimately, I bucked all of them for that very reason… I didn’t like having choices eliminated.

      The best I’ve been able to do is to learn to cook well, to try to avoid refined and processed foods– but nope, I usually punk out a bit like Larry Groce’s “Junk Food Junkie” (yep, it’s a real song, check it out)

  3. I can’t claim a super-healthy relationship with food, but I don’t think much about it (which is probably horrifying I know). I have never done a fad or been a vegan or anything. I just kind of eat what I need to fuel me through a day.

    By the way, given what you’ve said here I can’t tell you how impressed I am thinking about all the times we ate together this summer that I never got a sense of anxiety or stress around it. I’m way impressed.

  4. I’ll be your food tribe! A few years ago in the midst of a weight watchers fueled food frenzy it dawned on me that it doesn’t have to be like that. I don’t have to obsess about food – what to eat, whether to eat, when to eat. Instead I can just eat like a human being, trying to make decent choices most of the time, and exercising for the times when my choices are less than good. I turned mostly serene too, and judging by my mid-day snack of cheez-its and an apple, learned how to create a kind of balance. I’ll share your snacks!

  5. I’m either on a strict diet of some kind and doing really well, or totally eating whatever the heck I want. I fear that I will never reach that final resting place where I am totally 100% OK just eating. This is where I think the feeding tube diet sounds kind of nice.

  6. I totally relate to this. I basically live on beef and cheese while feeling like a giant asshole for not setting a better example for my daughter…I’m really happy for you that a) you’re feeling sane around food, and b) you’re not popping cans of tuna in public. To me, that’s way more than enough. You’ve won. And you have a novel to write. Food fads can suck it. You’re awesome – XO

  7. I blame the following entirely on a Catholic upbringing:
    I need to feel that something in life is very challenging, else I fear I’m doing something horribly wrong and bad and gratuitously selfish. If I’m comfortable, I feel guilty and I intentionally make my own life difficult.
    When life is challenging, I eat whatever I want. Often, I eat a lot of what tastes and feels good at great detriment to my physical well being. Because struggle is not made better by deprivation.
    Then, when life slows down just a touch, or I feel any stabilizing, I turn on myself and demand that I give up whatever felt good before. Ate a lot of cookies because a friend was dying? No sugar or packaged food for a month. Had too much ice cream because life feels futile and you’ll never amount to anything? No sugar or dairy for two months.
    Call it penance. I make rules because rules are comforting. I crave discomfort just slightly less than I crave gummy coke bottles. And therefore, I’m one of *those* special people. Who create boundaries and make food something other than what it should be.
    It’s the nuns’ fault, I’m sure.

  8. I admire and appreciate how courageously you tell us about your former eating problems. I have a terrible relationship with food, in that I eat way too much of it, and use it as an emotional crutch that just feeds my depression because I can add my appearance and my lack of control of food to all the other things in my life that don’t live up to expectations.

    Also, I can totally relate to being in the “catch-all” group, although mine wasn’t related to food (although, oddly enough, I always thought of us as the “leftovers” group). I went to a very small high school – 200 kids covered grades 8-12 – and there were the cool kids, and the leftovers. As long as you weren’t cool, you were a leftover, whether it was because of your scholastic standing, your religion, your opinions – it didn’t really matter that we had nothing in common with each other than not being cool. We were the leftovers.

  9. I am in your tribe… a constantly recovering food obsessed diet lunatic. i’ve found the way that reasonably works for me, although it generally includes too much ice cream and i’ve generally forgiven myself that. and i have to say, i know three women who really and truly are normal about food and body image and themselves and can just eat and be normal. they fascinate me.

  10. You had me at chicken wings …
    I try to follow the 80/20 rule – healthy eating 80% of the time drizzled with 20% indulgence. Some days are better (meaning >20%!) than others 😉

  11. Thank you for your remarks about a past eating disorder. It helps us “no category but still not the healthiest of eaters” realize that we could go off in a bad direction a bit too far. Congrats on being healthy with food again.

  12. I totally get you! I had a over bearing, mean mother who constantly had “The Fat” scared into me! I spent a major part of my lifetime worried about weight! So much happier now!! No tuna in my purse, instead saltine crackers, apple slices and water for years.

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