Dear friends, I don’t want to hear about your diet

Introductory note:  I wrote this post several years ago, long before I had a blog on which to post it.  The gluten-free craze was peaking and a significant number of my friends and relatives were regularly preaching about the “evils” of wheat.  That’s since died down, but new fads are always popping up.  For instance, one of my college friends is currently busy trying to sell us all some kind of abdominal plastic wrap thing that promises to shave inches off our waists overnight. 

This post was also written before I became a mother.  Over those last few years, my body image has been in flux.  Pregnancy, birth, postpartum recovery, and breastfeeding have changed my relationship with my body in ways that are hard to describe, some good, some bad.  Time alone has lessened some of my triggers, but what I wrote in this old piece remains true.

TRIGGER WARNING for discussion of eating disorders.


I don’t want to hear about your diet.

I could write a whole post about the total lack of legitimate science behind your gluten-free Paleo vegan juice cleanse.  But you would just repeat the talking points you heard on Dr. Phil and point me toward a blog with “nature” in the title, and I’d roll my eyes for your apparent lack of critical thinking skills, and you’d walk away thinking I was being a jerk, probably more secure in the superiority of your diet than before I started.  So this is not that post.

Because even if your favorite new diet works for you—and if it means you’re eating less white bread and fewer candy bars, it probably will, at least for a while—I don’t want to hear about it.

Because I’m much, much better at dieting than you are.

For five years as a teenager, I dieted, and I dieted well.  Much too well, in fact.  I lost the baby fat I’d set out to lose and just kept going.  If the number on the scale didn’t go down, it was a bad day.

For those five years, I thought about food all the time.  I would go to bed at night thinking about the next morning’s breakfast, and then I’d spend all morning at school waiting for lunch, which I wouldn’t let myself eat until the very last moment.  And when I wasn’t thinking about food, I was thinking about exercise.  If I couldn’t run when I’d planned, I became horribly anxious.  My willingness to do chores dramatically increased, because every time I took out the trash I burned a few more calories.

If you knew me, you might not have realized I was such a good dieter.  After all, you saw me eat.  I did eat: I ate because my parents made me and I ate because deep down, I knew that to eat nothing at all was to reach a point where something really was wrong.  If I was eating, I could tell myself that I was just being “healthy.”  That I was just trying to make sure I didn’t gain any weight.

(A side effect of this was that in later years, when I had accepted that this wasn’t OK and was trying to get help, the therapist didn’t believe me when I presented her with my weekly food journal.  She thought I must be lying, that I must have eaten less if I was as bad as I otherwise appeared.  In fairness, I had lied about food—or at least exaggerated the amount I was eating—to my parents over the years.  But I had gone to a therapist of my own free will and had no motivation to lie.  Being told you eat a lot for an anorexic is… off-putting.)

I am better now.  With the help of family, friends, and pharmaceuticals, I went on a different kind of diet to gain back the weight I so desperately needed.  And slowly, gradually, I stopped being on any “diet” at all.  Today, I don’t need to have my meals planned in advance.  I can go out with friends and get an appetizer, an entrée, and a dessert.  I can snack on potato chips and not hate myself.

But anorexia is like the traditional conception of alcoholism: you never completely get over it.  And unlike recovering alcoholics, who can resolve to never drink again, recovering anorexics can neither resolve to never eat again nor resolve to eat everything they ever want (since gallons of ice cream every day aren’t healthy either).  One-third of women who have been anorexic will relapse.  I still have days when I’m sure that I’m fat;  I can feed my body and feel its strength, but I do not love it, and I am not sure that I ever will.

So please, friend, stop trying to preach your diet to me.  If you have found something that works for you, if you have lost a few pounds healthily and are feeling great, then I am happy for you.  You don’t need to walk on eggshells about it—just as a recovering alcoholic must learn to deal with other people’s drinking, so I must accept that other people diet in ways that can be OK for them.  But you wouldn’t push drinks on a newly-sober friend or try to tell her the health benefits of alcohol.  So don’t keep telling me about the diet you saw on TV / read about in someone’s book / heard from a friend / found on a blog.

And pause just for a moment before posting the latest fad on social media, because I am not alone.  Roughly 1 in 100 women in the United States will suffer from anorexia during their lifetime.  Several more of those 100 will have bulimia, and even more will face illnesses lumped into the category “eating disorder not otherwise specified.”  Men, too, although at lower rates.  If you have 300 Facebook friends, chances are that 10–20 of them have struggled with serious eating-related illness.  Countless more are doubtless caught, at a harmful but less dangerous level, in our culture’s pressure to be skinny.

Even if you genuinely believe that you’re just applying the principles of healthy eating and that you’ve now achieved some level of superior health, please don’t evangelize.  Human beings are individuals, and what is healthy for you is not always healthy for me.

Thank you, my friends.  Be well.

The fear of judgment continues

Hi, my name is Crazy Grad Mama, and I’m an insecure parent

My latest mommy-guilt paranoia is about the food we pack for daycare.  We’ve taken an adventurous but lackadaisical approach to introducing solid food, one that’s based on offering Little Boy spoonfuls of leftover spaghetti, bites of avocado, crusts of PB&J, and even a small sliver of pizza.  At the time Little Boy started daycare, he’d been regularly eating one solid meal per day at dinnertime and was just starting on the concept of lunch.  I figured sending him one bowlful of something for lunch (plus plenty of Cheerios for snack time) would be plenty to begin with.  Applesauce one day, yogurt the next, maybe some puréed peas – I could handle this.

Except that after about a week, we were informed that he needed more food.  It’s his teachers’ job to give us feedback on this, of course, but there are a range of approaches to saying, “Hey, you need to pack more food because your kid is getting hungry in the afternoon,” and, well, they didn’t really hit the right one.  Cue me feeling like a crappy parent.

This also means coming up with twice as many packable baby meals per week.  But there’s a reason I’m not usually the family cook, and that reason is the fact that I can barely muster up the mental energy to care about cooking (much less meal planning) on a regular basis.

Half of Little Boy’s current easy-prep menu turns out to be unsuitable for packing – avocados and bananas turn brown, peanut butter is an allergy no-no.  He’s not far enough along in the art of self-feeding to assume that he’ll eat large quantities of finger food (indeed, his teachers report that he mostly plays with the Cheerios), so the random small bits of adult food we provide at home won’t be much good for satiating his hunger at daycare.

It’s starting to annoy my husband a little, I think.  The increasingly desperate look on my face when I realize that we’re going to have to send Little Boy with yogurt and applesauce again.  “His teachers are going to think we’re terrible parents,” I say.  “We can’t send him with the same thing every day.”

Someday, I might look back on these times and laugh that I was so worried about something that seems so irrelevant in the long run.  It’s not like I’m sending my kid to daycare with fried Twinkies and Pepsi.  And it’s such an easy issue to solve, once we hit a weekend when I’m not feeling quite so sick.  Fruits and vegetables are readily boiled / steamed / baked and puréed once you have them on hand.

The underlying insecurity, however, is not so easy to solve.  I have a tendency to assume that people are thinking the worst, especially when it comes to my mothering.  (For instance, I used to close the windows when Little Boy did tummy time, because he protested the indignity so strenuously that I worried others would hear the crying and be concerned.)  Right now, it really matters to me that the daycare teachers think well of us.  I don’t need to be the best at this, but I don’t want to be laughably far behind.

Obvious food labels

Me, reading package: “‘Tea is a Gluten Free Beverage.’ [yes, it was capitalized like that]  Well, yeah, it’s tea… are there any beverages that aren’t gluten-free?”

Husband: “Uh…”

“I guess if you put non-dairy creamer in coffee that would maybe have glu-”

“Beer.”

“Oh yeah.  Beer.  Definitely beer.”

As you can tell, we don’t do ingredient-avoidance diets.  Or drink beer.  (Wine, on the other hand…)

Really obvious labeling on food tends to amuse me.  At least “Gluten Free Beverage” could perhaps represent some kind of standard, indicating that the company was committed to avoiding cross-contamination to ensure that those with celiac disease could safely enjoy its product.  I’m pretty sure that’s not the case, though.  More likely they’re just pointing out tea’s natural lack of gluten as an advertisement.

I’ve seen this sort of thing before.  Extra-virgin olive oil with a shiny “Zero Carbs!” sticker.  Marshmallows that proudly proclaim they are Fat Free!  (Like every other marshmallow on the shelf.)  Aligning yourself with the latest food fad is a good way to make your product look healthier than the competition without actually doing anything different.

But my favorite superfluous food label has nothing to do with health fads and everything to do with not wanting to be sued.  Or maybe just mass production.

At some point when I was roughly middle-school-aged, my mother purchased a large tub of peanuts at the grocery store.  It was a transparent plastic container, about as wide as a dinner plate and several inches tall, clearly containing uncountable numbers of shelled peanuts.  Across the top, in block letters, the label warned, “May contain traces of peanuts.”