Eating Normally

Published March 18, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

Continuing on from the topic of Fat Folk and Food, I’d like to talk some more about the whole minefield of eating when you’re a fat person.  We’ve talked about how other people perceive and treat fat folk around the subject of food, but how about how we treat ourselves?

Just as a bit of a background, I’ve been on every diet you can pretty much think of, including some I’ve made up myself at the time, thinking it made sense to me.  I also now identify as in recovery from an eating disorder, as the more I learn, the more I realise that the behaviour I exhibited over about 20 years of my life was definitely disordered eating.  I was a starvation fan, followed by bouts of purging.  Between that and eating weird shit (or weird combinations), food was always a fucked up thing for me.

About four years ago, I somehow stumbled across www.normaleating.com and a light went on in my head when I read about the principals of removing the emotion from food and eating, and learning to just eat because as a living creature, I require food.

Over the past few years, I’ve done a lot more reading about the subject, on to intuitive eating and of course health at any size.  I have been working to train myself that I don’t have to have a terrible guilt/hate relationship with food, and that if I just stop and listen to my body, it tells me what I need.

When it needs red meat, it tells me so (I suffer anaemia).  When it needs leafy green vegetables or lots of potassium or magnesium for example, it tells me.  When I need some chocolate it tells me too.  I am learning that if I give it some of what it asks for without agonising over it, or punishing myself, then it only asks for as much as it needs, until it realises it needs something else.

That’s not to say that I totally get it right, that I’m “cured” of all the disordered eating.  I still have times when I feel guilty just for eating anything, when I get self conscious about what other people think about me when I am in public and am eating, times when I wake in the night thinking “Oh God, if I just give up *insert food here* maybe it will make a difference.”  I still find myself denying myself food when I feel bad about myself.

But I think now I’ve learnt to recognise it for what it is.  It’s shitty self esteem, depression and self consciousness that makes me think like this, not the food.  Food is not good or bad, it’s just food.  It has no moral value.  Food is what fuels our body and we must eat.

Since I have been learning to eat normally, I’m noticing a few things.  I’ve become a major food snob!  I am very lucky in that I have a good income and good quality food available to me.  I realise a lot of people don’t have that, in fact there were times in my life where I didn’t have that.  But now that I do, and I’ve been learning to eat in a normal, sensible way, I have discovered that the thought of eating a lot of the cheap, quick fix things that I used to crave so desperately when I was eating disorderly really grosses me out.

A prime example is chocolate.  Oh in my starvation years, I would dream of chocolate.  I would think about it all the time while I was on an exercise binge, I would torture myself with visions of chocolate in my head.  I would cut pictures of chocolate out of magazines, I would buy things shaped like chocolate and that smell like chocolate.  I was such a bitch to myself with denying myself chocolate, but torturing myself with thoughts and images of it all the time.

Consequently, when I DID allow myself to have chocolate, I would eat ANY old chocolate.  I tended to buy really cheap chocolate, generic brands and mass produced stuff.

I have noticed that now I have told myself I can have chocolate any time I want it, I rarely think about it.  From time to time I think “Damn I’d like some chocolate.” so I go and get some.  And I have noticed that I have become a massive snob about it.  I turn my nose up at the cheap stuff.  I won’t even touch Cadbury any more, it’s horrible.  Lindt is the only chocolate I will buy from the supermarket, but I far prefer the hand made stuff from the markets or one of the boutique stores.  It just tastes so much better, and consequently you get twice the chocolate  happy buzz from the same amount, because it’s not full of vegetable filler and cheap ingredients.

But it’s the same with everything.  I’ve stopped shopping in supermarkets for most of my food.  I now shop at my local farmers markets (it’s cheaper anyway) and have farmers co-op fruit and veges delivered to my house (also WAY cheaper than the supermarkets).  I buy meat that has a name, because it comes from a local farm, cheese from a cheesemaker, eggs from an egg farmer.

Do you know what?  It tastes a million times better than the supermarket stuff and you feel so much more satisfied and nourished after eating something made from decent produce.  Not to mention that eating food without pesticides, colouring, additives and without being gassed or irradiated to make it ripen quickly is far better for me than all the crap you get from the supermarket.

Did I mention the taste?  Seriously, go buy a banana from your local supermarket, then one from a farmers market, and eat the farmers market one first, and taste the supermarket one.  I bet you will throw the latter in the bin.  If you don’t like bananas, try it with anything else.  I hated apples until I tried one from a farmers markets.  HOLY CRAP!  It tastes like happiness!

I really think I have had to re-train myself to actually taste again.

I’ve gone from someone who lived on Healthy Choice or Lean Cuisine “meals” (or should I say reconstituted slop)  to someone who buys bucketloads of fresh fruit and vegetables, high quality meat, cheese and eggs, and prefers to dine out at places that use these ingredients.

That’s not to say I don’t love Maccas chips (McDonald’s fries for those of you outside of Australia) or pizza from time to time, but for every day eating, I much prefer produce that is local, fresh and free of all the chemical junk.  It doesn’t have to be wholly organic, just direct from a farm is far less polluted than the supermarket stuff, believe me.

The funny thing is, the minute I slip into the guilt and denial mode again, what do I dream about?  Cheap chocolate and junk food!  So it’s quite a simple equation for me to remember:

Don’t eat properly = crave rubbishy food.  Either starvation or shit food makes me feel shit.

Eat good quality food when I’m hungry = happy tastebuds, sated appetite, healthy body, clear skin and eyes, and yes, even a happier wallet.

31 comments on “Eating Normally

  • This is an interesting perspective–of why you ate too much and of your dieting. Good food definitely tastes better, but many people will still complain that it’s too expensive or that they don’t have access to a farner’s market like you do. But if we eat in smaller quantities, we will spend less. If we cut out the “rubbish” as you call it, our food bill won’t be so much!

    • Ummm… you clearly didn’t read this post properly did you?

      a) I was talking about how I practiced starvation and food denial … not overeating

      b) I mentioned that locally produced food is CHEAPER. Healthy Choice meals and Lean Cuisines are far, far more expensive than locally produced food, which is available even if there are no farmers markets.

      c) I said that I WANTED rubbish food when I was eating disordered, not that I actually ate it.

      d) It is impossible to eat smaller quantities when you have a starvation eating disorder.

      Please refrain from commenting unless you’ve actually read what I am saying.

      • I generally agree with everything you’ve said but would argue that locally-grown food is not always cheaper. Our farmers’ markets are FAR more expensive than the grocery store (I live in Seattle, USA).

        Otherwise I absolutely agree with this post. I’ve become a far choosier person when it comes to eating, now that I don’t have to settle for the nasty diet-friendly stuff.

        • I didn’t realise that Heidi. I can only really speak for Australia, and we’re probably spoiled for choice compared to a lot of other places because we have such a varied climate across the country, we can grow something of everything. Plus we don’t have all the food subsidisations that exist in the US, like corn etc. Also we don’t have them shut down in winter.

          I found a farmers co-op via the internet that delivers to my home. For $35 (including delivery) I got a fruit and vegetable box that contained:

          1 whole pumpkin
          1 head of lettuce
          A capsicum
          2kg of potatoes
          5 large carrots
          2 whole corn cobs
          1 zucchini
          1kg tomatoes
          2 sweet potatoes
          250gm of beans
          6 large onions
          6 apples
          5 bananas
          500gm grapes
          5 plums

          I think I’m missing some things, I’m doing it from memory. If I took $35 to the supermarket, I wouldn’t get half of that. I wouldn’t get a third. If I was buying Lean Cuisines or any other pre-prepared diet food (which were my staple before I found normal eating) I would probably only get 5 meals. Yet with that box of fruit and vegetables, if I add a loaf of bread, a litre of milk, some rice, my requisite yoghurt, some cheese and some eggs (say another $30 worth of food in total) I can eat all week for $65. And if I want to add meat to that, which I don’t every meal, I could say another $20 would get me plenty for the week.

          To buy a weeks groceries of either diet foods or junk would cost me over $120 per week easily.

      • I agree about the price – although it’s not going to be the same for everyone everywhere. Lately I’ve been craving exotic and expensive fruits at the markets (cherries, mangos, stonefruit) and buying occasional really good quality cheese from farmers. I still struggle with spending that much money on one food item, but when I remind myself that a chocolate bar would cost $2-3, spending $2 on a handful of cherries, or $3 on a mango is easier to justify! And if a piece of steak would cost $8, then what’s wrong with spending $8 on a piece of cheese or $5 on a punnet of berries instead? (Not that I don’t buy chocolate or meat if I decide I would prefer it, of course!) But the point is that I’m learning I don’t always have to buy the absolute cheapest option in each food category: sometimes the expensive option in one category (e.g. fruit) can be a similarly-priced substitute for the cheap option of another category (e.g. candy).

        I know everyone’s circumstances are different, though. When I was a student, I couldn’t have afforded the $2 chocolate bar or $8 steak either! I spent a long time eating little other than lentils and pasta because you could fill up for only a few cents. So spending more on high quality food is new for me.

        • You know, one of the things that I really noticed is that if you work out the cost per weight, plus the cost per how filling the item actually is, the fast stuff usually comes out more expensive.

          And I remember those days of poverty so well. Rice, white bread, noodles… all dirt cheap and tasty, but in hindsight, I remember being sick all the time because I wasn’t getting all the nutrients I needed.

  • I don’t think of it as removing emotions so much as removing ideology, i.e. that of calorie manipulation or good/bad food, or healthy eating, etc

    For me the real problem is not emotions, but negative thinking and fear of food.

    I like the way you say it here;

    learning to just eat because as a living creature, I require food.

    I’d say were re-learning.

    If you look at a baby, it just eats when it’s hungry and stops when it’s had enough. That’s how we’re born.

    It’s when we’re persuaded out of our birthright-along with self esteem based on ourself, not our weight- and try to control weight through eating that the problems begin.

    Above all, I think of normal eating-which I prefer to intuitive- is about getting out of the way of your eating, trusting it to work for you. (with initial support when you’re recovering from disordered eating).

    When we do this, as you are finding, it starts to serve you, as it’s designed to.

    Compared to before, when you ended up running around after it. That’s the real choice, rapport with it, or being dragged along by it.

    I’m so glad that you are finding your way out of all the trauma you’ve been through and I’m rooting for your full recovery.

    • I figure you can call it whatever you will (I know we all approach it slightly differently) but the whole basic idea of eating for nourishment is something that runs through it all the way. Nourishment of the body and the soul.

      For me, learning not to overanalyse it is the big thing. I did enough of that when I was disordered. Now it’s all about that feeling of nourishment.

  • This is a really inspiring post. It’s heartening to know that our bodies really do know what’s good for them- and I feel that whenever I’m on a road trip and have to look through a gas station to try to find something to eat- no matter how hungry I am, I know that I won’t be satisfied by any of the hyper-salty or hyper-sugared shelf-stable “food” they offer.
    I feel like this concept has a lot of parallels to the issue I’m focusing on lately, too. If I can listen to myself, and don’t repress myself, I’ll know what I really want. And it’ll be better for me.
    Congratulations on breaking out of the disordered eating cycles. No small feat!

    • Thanks piefromscratch (great username!) I can’t say I’ve completely broken free of those disordered eating cycles, but I shake them off a lot quicker when they turn up these days than I used to, and I must admit they don’t turn up as often. I kick their butt a lot more effectively than I ever used to.

      Petrol stations are getting better here in Australia. They’re not offering the highest quality produce, but at least they’re offering fruit, sandwiches, sometimes even salads. I know I can often get a chicken and cheese sandwich or a banana if I’m desperate.

  • Sadly I have to wait until July for our Farmers Market to start up again. Maybe I’ll get into canning when it does that way I have yummy produce all year round.

    But I’ve had this problem. Until recently, after I was diagnosed with PCOS I always felt horrible when I wanted pasta or bread. I’d start thinking, “Well my body doesn’t use sugars properly so I shouldn’t eat them at all.” But now that I’m trying to ignore what other people tell me and listen to what my body is telling me I’ve found that I’m not craving it like I used to. And my mother never let me get into an ‘eating disorder’ as in starving myself, or any of the fad diets, but I still wasn’t eating as normally as I should. And I still don’t it’s something I’m struggling with.

    • Yes I forget that we don’t have to worry about the seasonal thing in Australia – there’s something available all year round for us.

      Oh yes, the old “carbs are evil” bullshit. The more I denied myself carbs, the more they would dance in my head, taunting me, begging me to eat them. It was bloody torture. Now I let myself have them whenever I want them… and I have discovered the joys of all those dense breads that fill your tummy and are full of good things like fruits, nuts, herbs, grains, etc. I don’t want white bread or potatoes, I want olive bread with rye or fruit and nut bread. The good stuff!

      • I love beautiful bread too (and going back to my comment about me being a tosser :D), if I can’t have great bread, then I won’t eat it at all. Not cos carbs are evil (though I had that mindset for a long time), but because dull, airy bread is evil heh heh heh. Give me substance and texture and fabulous ingredients. However, I LOVE my potato. Cooked in so many different ways, different spuds…they are my true love🙂 I cannot forsake thee!

        • I love a spud too. I’ll eat ’em boiled with just a little salt.

          I remember my doctor telling me once that she’d rather me eat a spud like that (or baked) than to eat white bread. It’s out of the ground as nature intended, she once said!

          • There’s a very good Australian book by David Oakenfull that was published by Choice Magazine called ‘All About Bread’. It’s out of print, but it’s a very good read about the particulars of the Australian bread industry, how to make various breads (including gluten-free varieties), and a lot of details about health and nutritional aspects of various types of bread. It’s worth tracking down if you’re in Australia.

            We don’t have a bakery near our home, so it means a drive for fresh bread. So we use a bread machine to make a French style white loaf. I wouldn’t knock white bread: think of it as a canvas for a painting. Sometimes you don’t want an obtrusive or textured background. Bread that is light and soft was once for the wealthy alone; it only became shameful though ubiquity.

            Freshness is the key. The crust becomes soft within hours of cooking, no matter what. If you’re in Australia I’d recommend the Baker’s Delight chain of stores over other hot bread shops, because they make the bread mixes on the premises rather than using pre-mixes. And Australian country bakers are often of very high standard (the Larousse says that Oz country bakers are world class), so you’ll rarely be disappointed there.

            • Again, I’m spoiled by farmers markets, so I get hand made, low processed bread for very low prices. My current favourite is made by a local cheesemaker, it’s olive and rye or her fruit bread with figs and apricots and almonds. She makes it all by hand, plopped on a baking tray and baked in her wood fired oven. It’s so dense and rich, I love it.

              White bread simply leaves me cold unless it’s made into toast. I find it flavourless and lacking substance.

              Told you I’ve become a snob!

  • Australian food is produced the way American food was maybe thirty years or forty years ago. Because the country is dry and the soil mostly poor, we don’t use any of the intensive production methods common in the US or even Europe. And we have lots of corner butchers and small markets (usually aimed at the needs of various immigrant communities) that are much cheaper than supermarkets, if you have access to them. We don’t really have anything like Wholefoods here, except in the poshest of neighbourhoods, while in the US they are often the only source of fresh stuff (although Wal-Mart is supposedly doing a good job).

    At the moment it’s tomato season here, so we’ve bought about forty kilograms of fresh vine-ripened sauce tomatoes which we’re in the process of making into ketchup and chutney and pasta sauce. Because they’re in season, and grown locally, and there’s a large Italian population in Melbourne, the tomatoes are selling for less than a dollar a kilogram.

    I believe in the dead opposite of what Michael Pollan says about paying more for food. If it’s in season it’ll be cheap – basic supply and demand economics – and it’ll taste better because it’s fresher. So if you look for what’s going cheap, it’ll probably be good as well.

    But that is presuming you have access (I do almost all my food shopping at wholesalers). And Australia is much better for that sort of stuff than probably anywhere else.

    • Oh, and I should add that because of the small population and the economies of scale, processed food is more expensive in Australia than fresh food by a quite considerable margin. So it can be a little confusing for Australians to read about fresh food politics and just think it’s a clear win-win situation. In the US it’s a bit more complicated.

      And we don’t use corn syrup as a swetener either, or get super large portions of food in restaurants (which is an economy of scale thing too), yet we all put on the same extra kilos back in the day (and got taller and smarter). So blamimg that stuff for the ‘obesity epidemic’ is just geographical ignorance.

      • Corn syrup is evil, evil stuff. Three months in the US and my gut protested the whole time. A friend sent me a great cartoon strip of a guy sitting in a doctor’s office and the doctor is saying “No Mr Smith, you don’t have bowel cancer, it’s just the corn syrup. We put it in everything, you’ll get used to it eventually.”

      • Corn syrup’s not terribly different chemically to honey, so I think any health risks attributed to it are more about the uses it is put to than anything about the corn syrup itself (and most of the things it’s blamed for are just as much problems in places where it isn’t used). It’s not very sweet normally, so they do process it a bit, but since sugar from cane is cheap in Australia and tastes better, there’s no reason to use it locally in fizzy drinks.

        Still, it’s very useful for cooking. Just a tiny bit stops other sugars from recrystallising when they cool, which is great for all sorts of things. And it caramelises nicely; I basted last Xmas’s turkey with corn syrup and it browned up nicely.

      • Well, I won’t go into the detail of what corn syrup did to my gut when I was in the US. Let’s just say it wasn’t pretty.

    • Yes, I can’t pretend to know much about the availability of foods in America, I have been there but you know, holiday food is different to every day food!

      I can only write from a perspective of myself – Australian, urban, employed and sub-tropic zone.

      • Actually if you buy fresh local fruits and veggies at your farmers market at the right times they’re really really cheap. The problem in the US is that depending on where you are you’re farmers market might only run for a few months out of the year. After that you’re stuck with store bought produce that normally is shipped in from places like California or Florida who have really long growing seasons. Or from other countries entirely.

        I remember my mom bought something like 5-10 pounds of fresh asparagus last year at her farmers market in Iowa. I was so jealous! And oh the tomatoes!! *sighs* Really really really need to get in the habit of getting up early on Saturdays and go downtown when our farmers market starts in July. Though I don’t know what I’ll find, our climate is so dry up here farming is rather….touchy.

        And speaking of bread that reminds me…I need to find other bread recipes to try and get some raisins!!😄

      • Even here you’re wiser to buy the stuff that is in season, though we can get pretty much everything year ’round. It’s just better quality and lasts longer.

  • I echo the sentiment the natural stuff is more expensive… But it evens out. Last summer hubby and I got 5 bushels of canning tomatoes for about $12 a bushel. We spent all day canning them and have like a year’s supply of salsa, tomato sauce and chili sauce. It was an ouch all at once, but in the long run it’s cheaper.

    We also go in on a side of beef every so often and at $1.50 or whatever it was a pound plus the butcher’s fee, it’s a lot cheaper than hamburger at the store. And we’re getting good steaks, roasts, you name it.

    We are lucky enough to be in an area where I can go one road over and buy a dozen eggs that were laid that morning. We are surrounded by mennonites (amish) who sell their produce from their own gardens. But being in Canada, we have a short growing season of maybe 4-5 months, we rely on imported veggies in the winter months. THAT’S what I don’t like. So if we can get this canning/preserving thing down pact, we’ll have locally grown veggies that never saw the back of a transport truck year round🙂 Great entry, sleepydumpling

  • I have to say that here in Canada local produce and anything organic is quite a bit more expensive than bigbox supermarkets. We are certainly fairly tightly limited in this climate even though I live in balmy British Columbia. I buy local when I can though, and am fortunate that I can afford it right now. One example would be an organic roasting chicken vs. factory farmed chicken (yuk). An organic chicken here costs 3 to 4 times more than the mass produced chicken. I buy organic however, not only for the health of myself, but the farm I buy from is also SPCA certified humane. The difference in taste is unbelievable!

      • LOL, they’re just randomly generated ones. If you go to Gravatar and put avatars in there, they should show up on all WordPress blogs.

    • I am beginning to realise just how lucky we are in Australia to have access to such inexpensive, high quality produce.

      • Free health care and education too…

        My partner went to China to research a book, and at one point she asked a local journalist what was the best thing about the changes in China since the end of the millenium. He said it was being able to afford to eat meat. When he was young, he grew up almost entirely living on bread and rice, but now almost everyone can afford to eat some meat regularly.

        So when people talk about this food being poison and that food as being ‘artificially cheap’ I tend to think about the people who live in places where having any choice in what you eat is an unthinkable luxury. In the west we all eat pretty darn well.

  • The douchebag troll has been removed folks, and blocked as well.

    They won’t be able to post again.

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