How can I eat normally?

I grew up with a bizarre set of family rules about nutrition. Now I'd just like to eat regular food

Topics: Since You Asked, Food, Eating, Eating Disorders,

How can I eat normally? (Credit: Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Cary,

I’ve read your column for years and have finally decided to come to you for advice on an issue that’s very painful for me.

I am 32 now. During my childhood and adolescence, my parents had very maladjusted approaches to food and eating. For my father, this is a kind description of his food madness. A few years ago, he ate nothing but soybean flour mixed with water to form gruel for every meal. This sort of obsession with a type of food (if you could call it that) is completely normal for him, and has been happening most of my life. My mother was simply weight-obsessed — she used diet pills and constantly denied herself food, even though she never weighed more than 140 pounds. She didn’t deny me food, but constantly made comments about the fact that I should eat less, and denied herself dinner most nights while watching me eat. When we went out, she would binge on food and desserts because she “loved food,” and then feel great shame and regret for it later.

My parents divorced when I was 3, and I spent one day a week with my father from when I was 7 until I was 18. During those days with him, my food was severely restricted. One piece of pizza for dinner. One slice of bread for breakfast. Often my father would forget to eat, and there would be no food in the house, so I would likewise go hungry. He would get angry and mock me if I ever asked for food. His motivation (and my mother’s — who did feed me normal meals) was generally to restrict my food so I wouldn’t become overweight. This was perplexing to me since I was never an overweight child to begin with, and they were both stick-thin.

You Might Also Like

When I went to college and started to make my own food choices, my weight ballooned to 220 pounds, and over the years it has bounced back and forth between 170 and 250 pounds. My relationship to food is completely broken. From my parents I learned that it was always better not to eat, and I also developed a terrible certainty that I should eat until I was overstuffed, as the food could be taken away from me at any moment.

What I most desperately need your advice on, Cary, is how to deal with the emotional impacts of this history. This set of commandments and fears has been a part of me for so long that my ability to feel emotions around food is deadened. How can I heal myself?  How can I forgive my parents for their flaws and beliefs? How can I learn that the need to eat is not shameful?

This is even more important now because I am pregnant with my first child. I can think of no horror greater than to pass these anxieties and fears on to another innocent mind. I need to find some way out of this cage of food messages, but it feels impenetrable to me.

Any advice you have would be most welcome.

Caught in a Food Web

Dear Caught in a Food Web,

If I were you I would find others who have learned to eat normally and do what they do.

Begin today. Read about normal eating. Read more about normal eating. Read even more about normal eating and get to know some people who are like you and watch what they do. Do what they do. Follow them around. Form relationships with them. Stick close to them.

You might also find a psychotherapist with experience in this area and begin working in that way.

I’m confident that you can change. It may not happen fast but we humans do seem to be able to change our habitual feelings and behaviors in regard to an astonishing array of behaviors and emotions. So it seems reasonable to assume that you can change yours in regard to food.

But you have to do it. It takes action. It might be tempting to simply read about what others have done but my experience has been that reading and thinking about things is rarely enough to change behavior.

So spring into action. Find people who have grown up with unusual teachings about eating and learn how they came to eat normally. Find out what they did. Contact them. Begin to change.

I wish you luck. I feel confident that you can do this. You do not have to live the rest of your life with painful and distorted feelings about food. It will take time but you can change.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>