You are not what you eat

There is a weird thing that we do as people who eat stuff, and that is assign moral value to food. I have no doubt that everyone reading this has used language like ‘bad’, ‘naughty’, ‘guilty pleasure’, or ‘cheat meal’ when referring to something they’ve eaten. We’ve probably also all said something like ‘Oh man, I was really bad yesterday and had fish and chips for dinner’, or ‘You are so good, having a salad for lunch’. That’s because it’s a short leap between labelling food in a negative way, and labelling ourselves in the same way because we eat that food. I’m aware that they’re only words, but words have power, and the way we talk about what goes into our bodies affects the way we think about them. The more we imbue food with shameful and negative connotations, the easier it is to feel the same way about ourselves when we eat it.

Most adults understand what healthy and unhealthy mean – and somewhere, we transmuted those into meaning ‘good/bad’, and ‘clean/dirty’. And the more we’ve done that, the more we’ve accepted that we are good or bad, clean or dirty, depending on the food we eat. Somewhere along the line, we have also convinced ourselves that the ‘bad’ foods make us bigger, and the ‘good’ foods make us smaller. If the bad foods make us big then being big must be bad, and if the good foods make us small, then being small must be good. It’s a false equivalency, and it’s an insidious and persistent lie that diet culture sells us: that our bodies are a reflection of our morality. And it’s fucking bullshit. Just to be clear here, I have no interest in what anyone eats, or what size anyone is – eat salad every day of your life, or consider donuts a food group, whatever works for you – but remember that what you eat doesn’t determine your worth. Your moral value depends on many things, but the ratio of Snickers bars to kale smoothies you’ve ingested in your lifetime is not one of them. Eat the fucking cake. Drink the fucking coconut water. Enjoy the chips or the chickpeas, but know that your food choices don’t make you better or worse than anyone else.

There is a similar narrative which tells us that ‘food is fuel’ – existing to help us get those gains, lose that tummy, grow that ass, and that’s fine. But food is more than just fuel. And we have to let ourselves be OK with that. Food is fuel, but it’s also celebration, comfort, enjoyment, togetherness, nostalgia, and sometimes, the only thing that’ll get you through a fucking rough hangover.

(I know that most people who read this know me personally. And those who know me personally know that I am not a slim woman. I am not now, and I never have been. Chances are I never will be. I know that some of those people who know me personally will read this and have thoughts like “LOL she’s just talking shit because she’s fat, maybe she should try eating less bad food every week trololololol”. I won’t label food, but I will label those people ‘bags of shit’)

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The Weight.

Usually, when people ask ‘how are you?’, the answer comes pretty naturally – ‘oh I’m fine, thanks, how are you?’. Because whether you’re happy, sad, tired, hungry, worried or stressed, ‘fine’ implies that you’re coping. You might be vaguely homicidal, but you’re handling it. And usually, when I say I’m fine, it’s because I am. But sometimes, when I hear ‘how are you?’, my mind goes blank because sometimes, I am not fine.

I would like to preface the rest of this with three points:

1. I do my very best not to complain about single motherhood (to most people anyway. Some probably wish I’d shut the fuck up). I try not to mention that I am tired all the time. That I cannot pee in peace, or finish a meal without interruption, that there are tantrums in my household almost daily. And not always from the two year old. I try not to mention the times that I have been told no one will date a single mother, and the times that, against my better judgement, I have believed that (my better judgement is pretty solid though, and always comes raging back soon enough to remind me that I don’t actually give a fuck – even if it is true). I try not to mention how lonely and isolated I sometimes feel. I try not to mention the desperate, all-encompassing, constant anxiety I feel about raising a daughter in this world. By myself. And I try really hard not to mention that sometimes, I feel like I am doing a shitty job.

2. I know that I am lucky. I know that some people would kill to have children, and for whatever reason, it hasn’t happened for them. I know that I am lucky my daughter is here, and that she is healthy. I am lucky that we have a place to live, food to eat, people who love us, and time to spend together. I know it could be worse. I know I don’t have a monopoly on the parenthood struggle, but that perspective is not always easy to keep.

3. I love my child. With everything that I have, and everything that I am. I love her so much that the thought of not being able to keep her safe and protected forever makes me feel physically sick.

All that being said, I don’t know many single mothers. I know even fewer who have small children. And I know even fewer than that (if any) who don’t ever have the respite of another parent taking their child for a week, or a weekend, or even a day. So I don’t know who to say this stuff to. That is not to say my child and I don’t have time apart, we do. I go to work, and she is not there. Sometimes I will have a night out, or a weekend away, and she is not there. But even when she is not there, I feel the weight of responsibility – is she behaving? Will she sleep OK? Is she actually just a nuisance? – I feel this deeply and acutely, no matter where I am, no matter who I’m with (or who she’s with, for that matter), and no matter how many vodka sodas I’ve had. I am it for my daughter. And sometimes that is too fucking much.

People say to me, quite often, that they don’t know how I do it. The short answer is ‘because I have to’. The longer, more complicated answer is ‘I don’t know either. Because sometimes, I don’t think I am doing it. I feel like I am failing. Failing myself as a woman, and failing my daughter as a mother. Sometimes I wonder how I will make it through the day without imploding with unexpressed anxiety, self-doubt, rage and fear. Sometimes I feel like a fraud because, like I mentioned above, what do I really have to be down about?’. I know people mean well, and I wholeheartedly appreciate the sentiment, but sometimes I really don’t know how I do it either.

Sometimes though, I am surprised by some external reminder of how it is only inside my head that I feel these things; that maybe, despite feeling exhausted and overlooked and useless and anxious, that is not what comes through. A friend whose opinion I respect a lot told me recently that he likes the way I’m raising my kid. That I’m killing it (the raising part, not the actual child). Being a parent isn’t often about external validation, but sometimes it is nice to hear. And sometimes, when it might feel like you’re drowning under the weight of it all, it’s a very welcome lifeline.

Anyway. Enough about me. How are you?