Sometimes I daydream. Yesterday, as my stomach began to growl and I started to regret bringing a small Quorn stir-fry for lunch, I thought about what would happen if I called Burger King and asked if they’d deliver to my desk. Sure, they’d say “Sorry, we don’t do delivery”, but, I thought, what if I was really rich, and could proclaim: “I will pay you precisely £500 if you bring me my Chicken Royale, Jimmy”? Jimmy would say “Yikes! I’m on my way,” and a greasy burger (with lots of accompanying fries) would be sitting in front of me within the hour.
(I imagined myself as a junk-food-loving, post-Christmas-ghost Scrooge for a second there, and Jimmy as a young American teen who wanted to earn an extra bob or two by fetching my giant turkey on Christmas morn’. BUT WE DIGRESS.)
As always, burgers turned to weighing scales in my brain and I started to think about food and what it means for me. I wondered what would happen if my work friends and I met something green and extraterrestrial in the car park and it asked in an earnest but puzzled voice: “What is…food?”. How would we explain it?
I pictured my response: “So, it’s…stuff that you eat. You can eat just the right amount or not enough or too much, and sometimes you might become larger or smaller because of that. We’re not very nice to the larger people. Sometimes we’re not very nice to the smaller people, either. You can eat things that are good for you or things that are bad for you but the choice is yours, really.”
If I was the alien-from-the-carpark in this situation, I would be confused.
Because it is confusing. We have such a messy relationship when it comes to what we put in our mouth. It’s not about just sustinence. It’s a winding labyrinth of emotional issues and tears and inches and mirrors.
I’m lazy when it comes to food but I’m also oddly involved with it because I’m always aware of how many calories it provides me with and (usually) the fact that I didn’t need as many as I chose to take. For whatever reason, I don’t really think of food as nutrition – as what will benefit me long-term or help my blood pressure or take care of my brain. I think of it as ‘what tastes nice’ and ‘what doesn’t taste nice’ alongside ‘what makes me fat’ and ‘what might make me thinner’, which is not only fairly superficial but also quite sad.
Call me dramatic but when it comes down to it, I find food – and everything it brings with it – often has the potential to be one of the most oddly stressful parts of my life. I over-eat at meals yet cry the next day when I look at my thighs. I have days where I struggle to leave the house because the fat around my hips crawls over the top of my jeans and I begin to wonder whether I’m actually worthy of anyone’s time. I start diets but never stick to them when I realise they’re not something I’m going to want to keep up forever and decide there’s no point.
The thing is, I’m not ‘overweight’ by anyone’s standards, but I still find myself bawling in front of the mirror approximately once a month when I stand sideways on, survey my stomach from all angles and think of the bread and cheese and chocolate that must have contributed to its ever-expanding size. Sometimes I think I’d feel differently if I ate more vegetables, but whenever I buy any they sit at the back of the fridge, forgotten, until they start to shrivel. I’m aware of how pathetic and self-defeating this all sounds.
I quite like it when people compare human bodies to cars. Not in a Rihanna’s Shut Up and Drive kind of a way (I don’t want to handle what’s under your hood) – I mean when people compare food to fuel. It’s kind of cheesy and probably overdone but I still think it’s the simplest, kindest way I can possibly view eating – if I think of my body as a little car that needs fuel/food to be able to run. I don’t know if there’s an analogy for a really sugary version of petrol with lots of saturated fats involved, BUT IF THERE WAS then I guess I would not want to give that to my car. It’d feel sad. It wouldn’t work as well. You know?
But it’s hard to keep up with buying this good fuel. I find that I am constantly torn between ‘life’s too short to put bad stuff into your body’ and ‘life’s too short to refuse cake when someone offers it to you’, and I guess it’s ideal to be somewhere in the middle but that’s a rare find. As humans, we CAN have more exciting versions of food – versions we eat for enjoyment and look forward to. Going out for meals is one of my favourite things to do and I know I’d struggle to sit in Pizza Express and order a salad, or swing by Giraffe and have a superfood bowl (sorry Giraffe, they do look good but I find it physically impossible to ignore a burger on the menu). I sometimes wonder if I’d even enjoy eating out if the food I ate at my chosen restaurant didn’t use up my daily calorie allowance in one sitting.
It’s not the worst thing in the world. It’s good to eat for fun, to an extent – and I definitely don’t want to be a serial calorie-counter or beat myself up for having a Rolo yoghurt – but sometimes I wonder if I’d be a little happier if my options were more fuel than fun. More basic and old-skool. Maybe if I grew all my food in a little greenhouse in the bottom of the garden. Maybe if I saw it grow and appreciated how it could benefit my body, rather than just how it tasted and how much of a creepy thrill (and later anti-climax) I got when I ordered it from Papa John’s.
Maybe that’s where I’m going wrong. I often wonder how my body copes with all of the sugar and processed crap I tend to shovel into it. Am I fair to my body? Do I expect too much from it? I’m not sure. If I’ve had a bad day I treat myself to unhealthy food because I’m tired or grumpy and I feel like I need a ‘lift’, but a good day will inevitably end up involving unhealthy food too, as some kind of weird, well-meaning reward. It’d make a whole lot more sense to view kale as a treat, but there we are. Sorry, alien. I don’t know what to tell you.