An Email Conversation About Food
Because we spend perhaps a bit too much time thinking about it. And is that a problem?
On Wed, Nov 11, 2015 at 5:32 PM, Leandra Medine wrote:
Can I ask you a weird question, which will either really hit home or seem really ridiculous depending on which side of the spectrum you sway: how much time do you spend thinking about food?
On Nov 11, 2015, at 5:45 PM, Amelia Diamond wrote:
I go through phases. Sometimes my life feels so all-consuming that food is my last thought. I rarely “forget to eat,” but I do “forget” to *think* about it.
In college, I used to think about food a lot. Probably too much because I was always on a diet to lose weight. Things like, “Oh crap, how am I supposed to go to dinner with my friends tonight? What will I eat? Should I eat? Do I eat before so that I don’t eat at dinner, and if I do that, do I risk getting hungry at dinner then eating TWO dinners?”
That made me feel insane. I hate thinking about food in that way. The only way I like to think about food is, “What do I need, and what do I want?”
On Thu, Nov 12, 2015 at 12:21 PM, Leandra Medine wrote:
I’m so with you. I do think about it a lot. Sometimes so much that by the time I’m actually eating, the food is underwhelming. Ultimately, I feel lucky that don’t have the time to think about it more, but I could absolutely see myself falling down a rabbit hole if I had a few more hours in the day. The thing is, I sometimes wonder if that makes me a disordered eater, you know?
I think this is another one of those topics that doesn’t really get spoken about honestly enough or through enough lenses and it somehow seems taboo to mention food hang-ups without immediately being diagnosed as something. My understanding is that everyone — EVERYONE — has a particular relationship with food, so I guess I just wonder what’s okay to say and what’s not.
On Nov 12, 2015, at 3:40 PM, Amelia Diamond wrote:
I think everyone has a relationship with food, too — even if you think you don’t. If you’re an “eat to live” person as opposed to “live to eat,” that’s still a relationship. It’s crazy how psychological eating is. What I cannot say is if everyone has a difficult relationship with food, but I can generalize and say that almost everyone I know either currently has or has had a personal food-related hurdle to cross. That’s ranged from the mild peanut allergy to serious, doctor-diagnosed disorders.
But you’re right. It’s hard to talk about. I’ve also heard that it’s a hard topic to write about from a publisher’s standpoint, because reading about it can teach, trigger or encourage disordered eating.
What seems to be talked about less is the gray area you mention. The slightly disordered thinking as opposed to the clinical disorder. It seems pretty prevalent in our industry: everyone’s always on a juice cleanse, a fad diet, we’re always commenting on one another’s weight. (“You look great! What have you been doing?” implies, “You look skinny! What’s your secret?”)
Where does a diet or a new fitness regiment end and a problem begin?
I can kind of answer that for myself with the word “obsession.” When it begins to control your life as opposed to guide certain decisions (avoiding dinners with friends altogether versus packing a healthful, homemade lunch).
But even that’s too simple. I know we’re talking just you and me but the fact that we might publish this convo is making me edit my own thoughts a bit, which proves your point: we don’t really know what’s okay to say and what’s not okay. What do you think is not okay?
On Thu, Nov 12, 2015 at 4:16 PM, Leandra Medine wrote:
I’m not sure. I started seeing an acupuncturist who specializes in fertility and I mentioned to her that my eating behavior is unusual because I’m kind of afraid of putting on weight/try to avoid grains and sugar as a result. It was refreshing to say it so matter of factly without feeling like I was being accused of a clinical disorder. Specifically because I have an incredibly hard time with deprivation, as in: I can’t do it. So I might want to avoid grains in my mind, but in action, I’m not great at it. Mostly, the reason I brought this up is because I’m thinking there’s a gray area between problem and not that is maybe “underserved” from a conversational perspective.
On Thu, Nov 12, 2015 at 4:38 PM, Amelia Diamond wrote:
I wonder if that gray area is underserved because of this: we talk about talking about things (ha ha) as a means to normalize them, take away the shame and create a supportive environment. But maybe fear surrounds “normalizing” food-weirdness talk because it could possibly come off as encouraging unhealthy, disordered behavior.
Goal: make everyone feel understood and not alone. “This is normal. It sucks. I go through this too. Nothing wrong with the way you’re thinking,” which translates to a release in anxiety and societal pressure and all the things that come with this territory.
Fear: “This is normal. It’s good. Nothing wrong with the way you’re thinking.” — which translates into someone getting worse, or not getting the help they need…
I DON’T KNOW THIS IS VERY HARD TO TALK ABOUT without sounding like a self-righteous know-it-all, an overly concerned mom or “like you have a problem” !!!!
Let’s say your daughter came home and told you, “I don’t want dinner. I’m fat.” How would you react?
On Thu, Nov 12, 2015 at 5:21 PM, Leandra Medine wrote:
I would not say, “No you’re not!!!!! You sound crazy!!!!!” because that devalidates someone’s feelings. And I know that when I tell my husband I feel ugly and he says I look beautiful what I’d prefer is for him to be like, “So take a shower and do your hair.” Agree with my plight and offer a solution! So maybe I’d start with, “Why do you think you’re fat? Are you unhappy with what you see in the mirror? Are you comparing yourself to someone at school?” It’s important for kids, I think, to learn early on that comparison is a fast track to misery. Then I might say, “You can’t not eat because we need food to survive, so that’s not really a choice. What is a choice is what you choose to eat, so if you want, we can talk about which foods won’t make you feel “fat” and which ones might.” (Like cake, which will be her favorite if she is anything like her mother.)
Maybe that’s terrible advice, I don’t know, but I do think you bring up a really good and important point about this convo — the goal is definitely not to mitigate-without-solving unhealthy behavior. What I’m getting at is more trying to figure out whether we blow our habits out of proportion because shame comes into play.
Of course, everyone experiences food differently so it’s stupid to assume that what I think isn’t completely tailored to the way my mind works, but I do also feel pretty confident in my own sense of self-awareness. I know (for the most part) when I have an issue and when I don’t, but I’m a little stumped with food stuff, though I do know that when I bring it up, my understanding is that many other (mostly) women experience similar tendencies. Comments like, “I’m being good tonight,” or “You had a stomach virus, I’m so jealous!” seem to indicate a very real flaw in our relationships with food. I guess I’m just wondering whether the flaw is palpable enough to even bother “overcoming” or if it should just be relegated to…Circumstance About the Way Women Feel.
On Thu, Nov 12, 2015 at 5:41 PM, Amelia Diamond wrote:
“…Trying to figure out whether we blow our habits out of proportion because shame comes in play.” — that’s so interesting. Definitely. Right? Hanging around people who chide you for bringing up real thoughts that come into your mind (You: I feel fat, I want to lose weight; Them: you’re crazy, don’t talk like that, you sound like a nut) really could make you feel like…whoa, I am crazy.
Then there’s the opposite where you’re surrounded by people who all say the same thing i.e., “I’m being good tonight,” like you mentioned — so you feel NOT crazy.
There’s no great way to gauge your own standing, even if you are super self-aware, like you said. It’s such a murky area. We know when we’re feeling stressed or burned out or sad because those are causes of something else we can pinpoint, like work or a relationship. But when we have to assess a problem with ourselves, that’s always so much harder. Everything thinks they’re “fine.”
That whole overcoming the flaw in our relationships with food thing…it’s very tied to societal standards. We’re weird about food because it affects the way we look. And we can also be weird about food because of antiquated things we were taught (pressure to clean your plate, that certain foods are “bad”) so it’s almost like to overcome the flaw we’d have to hit rewind and wipe our memories… And then you read something like “French Women Don’t Get Fat” and it’s because they not only have self-control, but exercise everything in moderation.
If Americans don’t do moderation well then maybe that’s why we also assume we have a problem!
On Thu, Nov 12, 2015 at 6:09 PM, Leandra Medine wrote:
I find that I mostly become hung up about food when everything else in my life seems out of control. It’s pretty textbook, but specifically with the pregnancy thing, I keep thinking that maybe if I eat really REALLY healthy fats and just like, zero sugar and don’t consume alcohol, it will change the outcome of my issue (which is rooted in the fact that I’m not getting periods).
Same thing when my dad was sick with colon cancer — I literally ate raw food for six months because I read in a book that your colon doesn’t have to work to digest raw food. It was the most literal way to internalize a near-tragedy.
Anyway, I don’t have a solution. I don’t even know if what we’re talking about makes sense, but I would love to have a larger conversation with THE PEOPLE about food and eating because I’m curious about their opinions. What are you thinking?
On Thu, Nov 12, 2015 at 6:26 PM, Amelia Diamond wrote:
I tend to operate in extremes, so either I’m being REALLY HEALTHY, or I’m YOLO-ing. Monday through Friday day: a food saint. Friday night through Sunday, a frat bro. Then I repent on Monday onward and the cycle goes on. If I’m emotionally stressed, I can’t eat. If I’m work-stressed, I’m mad at anyone who isn’t a doughnut. But I guess I’ve always assumed all of that was normal. Ish. Normal as in — I don’t have a problem.
What you’ve really made me think about are things like: what is a problem when everything exists on a gray sliding scale? Who’s to say what is/isn’t? Is that a doctor’s job? Your parent’s job? As an adult: your job?
Can you learn to not be weird about food? Or do you just accept it…because it’s normal…and then talk about it…
Did we go in a circle?
Photographed by Krista Anna Lewis