Happy Valentine’s Day: (Celebrating) Love In The Time of Fat
Saint Francis And The SowThe bud stands for all things, even for those things that don’t flower, for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing; though sometimes it is necessary to reteach a thing its loveliness, to put a hand on its brow of the flower and retell it in words and in touch it is lovely until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing; as Saint Francis put his hand on the creased forehead of the sow, and told her in words and in touch blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow began remembering all down her thick length, from the earthen snout all the way through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail, from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine down through the great broken heart to the blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them: the long, perfect loveliness of sow. © 1980 by Galway Kinnell
Yes, sometimes it is necessary to reteach a thing its loveliness.
This Valentine’s day, I’m celebrating myself.
This year, I am re-teaching myself my loveliness.
I am embracing me in a passionate and wholesome way – #1 on my list of resolutions and something I should have done a lonnnnnnnnnnnng time ago but am glad I am doing now.
I can’t remember when I fell out of love with myself. I suspect though that right about the time I became ‘fat’, I stopped seeing myself as me.
What I do know is that 17 weeks ago, one hot sunny morning, being driven to work, I realized that my heart felt odd. Broken. As though shattered in pieces that could never be put together, restored. My eyes watered, tiny drops threatening to bead down cheeks. I sniffed them back, coughed to clear my throat and continued with life.
Unsure of what to do.
I wanted to ‘fix’ it but I wasn’t sure how.
A few weeks later, I picked up a book ‘Women, Food and God’ by Geneen Roth. I cast my mind back to how the book came into my possession.
It was one evening in The Netherlands. I must have been daydreaming, eating, cooking….perhaps even doing all three at the same time when my phone rang, its shrillness jerking me out of my reverie.
It was my mother.
The conversation ended with her telling me about the book and imploring me to get two copies, which I did. They arrived and were promptly packed up with all our moving stuff…..not once did I turn a page. Never did I imagine it would be my salvation. Literally.
The whole point of the book is the idea that how we treat food reveals everything…..
Brown cardboard fatigue came and went. Loneliness waxed stronger and I hated home. My country. I wanted to pack my bags and run away, far away from here. To some desert island where peace and love would embrace me so tight, I would beg to be let go.
I don’t know what prompted me to open up the book in early December but when I did, I stopped hard in my tracks. I had to stop running. Geneen raised a wall, a concrete wall I could no longer ignore – confront your emotions, understand you, why you eat, don’t fall for the scourge of diets and above all, love yourself. She also mentioned the dreaded word – fat.
It occurred to me then, from Geneen that there was hope for my heart and I.
In one section of the book, she talks about looking in the mirror and wanting to cut off parts of your body. I was stunned. For that very morning, I’d stood in front of the mirror and declared myself perfect….but for the overhang around my midriff and belly, the pounds of flesh that no enemy had come to collect. Yet. If I could rid myself of the dreaded flesh, happiness would arrive on my doorstep, glue in hand to mend the broken heart and all in life would be well.
Geneen said not. She let me know that if you’re not happy fat, the same issues will persist slim.
The core? Love. First love thyself…..and then all the rest will follow.
Geneen Roth implores us to love ourselves.
She doesn’t ask how we eat…..she asks why. She makes you ask why.
Why am I punishing myself – stuffing my face till I feel sick or not eating a thing? What do I think I have done wrong? Why do I want to obliterate me? What is the purpose? Why am I doing what I’m doing?
She shows me I’m not living on borrowed time or in rented space.
She shows me the truth about me – that there’s room enough for me on this universe and I am worthy of my own love.
She stretches out her hand and heart, without lists of don’ts and dos. She implores me to love me.
That shocked the hell out of me. For twenty-odd years, I’ve not treated myself with true kindness – yes I’ve ‘kept’ myself but I haven’t ever consciously loved me. All of me. The totality. I’ve admired my writing, patted my smooth (ish) face, been proud of my achievements and all but I’ve hated my legs.
My double chin.
My fat arms.
Height and love for flat shoes.
But life has gone on…..
….and so have I.
I’ve eaten uncontrollably, cooked myself into a stupor and used food as a drug.
Don’t get me wrong, food means A lot to me – and I will always love food, but not in the way I used to, where it quelled my anger and frustrations about myself, where I ran to it for comfort, where I abandoned all mental capacity and allowed moving gums determine my future.
Food and I are in this together…. forever. That’s established. I love food – its history, its evolution, recipes. What has changed is that food and eating no longer crack a whip, domineering over me.
This doesn’t mean I don’t have cravings anymore. What it means is that I no longer have to eat a whole cake, standing to satisfy them. It means I am satisfied with smaller bites that I eat with love and care…and don’t push down my throat with Olympian guts. It means I can calmly walk by pastries in gleaming glass displays and not want to give the cashier a bear hug.
It means I genuinely enjoy what I eat now. Its no longer a tick box exercise to see how many exotic things I can rack up in one day.
It means no more eating stuff I hate either….stuff I don’t enjoy just because I want to ‘lose’ weight. So when I have bowls of olive green broccoli soup in the deep freezer, it is because I enjoy broccoli soup. And though I love lentils, I don’t want to have them 6 times a week to up my protein/lower my carbs to get slim.
What exactly is that? What does that mean to me? Its taking me a few long years to realize that yes I’ve spoilt myself and everything to do with my food addiction…..but taken care of me? Cared for the person I am…..not often. I’ve nurtured my mind by reading, pleased my eyes and hands with crafts, made friends, lost friends, loved husband and children…..but in all of this a big chunk of me has been absent – Loving me.
It never featured. And why should it have anyway?
I now understand that until I confront the entire gamut of my emotions, accept them headlong, without fear……I will always be in ‘bondage’.
And so now, I am rejoicing in me – in my current height, weight, and BMI (body mass index). In my ability to be me – human. I no longer need to shield myself behind baggy dresses, and loose jeans
though you won’t catch me in hot mini skirts either :-)! I no longer think new friends and old ones too will judge me and my stretch marks and find me wanting.
So am I still fat? I’d say not. Am I at my ideal weight? Haven’t weighed myself in months but if my clothes are anything to go by, I’d say….I’ve dropped a dress size and am on my way to being down 2 dress sizes. Would I like to lose more weight? Yes.
What have I done to get here, to get where I am – eating with freedom?
I read the book. And took away a vital lesson – learn to recognise your belly’s signals. I’d forgotten that hunger and thirst signals are different – now I inquire first, take a moment’s pause and check with my body before I fill my mouth.
Now I eat…when I’m hungry. Go for walks, swim and have NO fear of eating anything, because the mystique, intrigue, allure of food is gone. Now I savour each mouthful, each bite is enjoyed and most of all, I eat less.
I have always hated the feeling of fullness, it made me cry once. So now I stop eating before I feel full, knowing I only start to get the signs 5 or 10 minutes after.
Will I be whole as a result of losing weight? Yes, I will be. Not just from being slimmer, but having the ability to handle my thoughts and emotions!
But I must say, I don’t care so much about how much weight I’ve lost. What I am thankful for is I’ve lost the ‘fear’ of food. Of that slice of apple tart. Meringue pie. All those strange dishes that have stared at me, eyes blazing and announced they were here to do ruin. Do me evil. The scourge of ‘diets’ is forever gone, the chains of bondage broken. That is the victory.
Do I still have flesh I wish to obliterate – hell yes. Though where there was a sack, there is now a pouch….I’d still like for it to pack its bags and leave. But I wouldn’t be rushing to get lipo or a tuck….anytime soon.
But do I smile at me, appreciate me more when I look in the mirror? YES. Resoundingly so.
A few years ago, my dear friend, M taught me a life lesson which I can only summarise as: Don’t seek affirmation, seek confirmation. Don’t look to others to ‘affirm’ that you are good and intelligent and all the other things we somehow deeply know we are.
Believe it first and let others confirm that which you have first personally affirmed.Daily I remind myself that I am who I am That I love me for who I am And I wouldn’t trade one moment of my sufferings Or joys For anything Because through them I have learnt To find meaning and courage Through them I have realized my role in the matter That without love, nothing works Nothing matters Nothing is important I love the courage with which I tackle new recipes Unknown ingredients like slimy Octopus And prickly artichokes I love how short I am, all the better to walk under doorways I love how smart I am, I can be 🙂 I love how friendly I am, how loving and kind I love how I seek meaning and purpose I love how affectionate I am How my passions fill my head and heart I love my eyes, my nose, my mouth I would change that region around my midriff…but I love how I won’t go there Won’t have that discussion I love that I acknowledge the pain I feel When I feel it I love me Not as much as the whole wide world But I’m working on it Loving myself a little everyday…. I say to my friends ‘Don’t accept the unacceptable’ Not loving me copiously In abundance….is unacceptable I won’t accept it And so one step at a time One kind act a minute I am treating my heart and soul with kindness Pampering me Love will rule the day
“You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” ~ Buddha
Another great learning? Will power doesn’t grow. For many years I’ve ‘banked’ will power – struggled to control myself and up my resistance to things. And now I get it, its nothing to do with will power and everything to do with understanding, with ‘getting it’, with the ‘awareness’.
And the liberation that comes with knowing that hunger won’t kill me…..neither will brokenness. That love can heal everything. Every hurt, every pain, every tear. That love is a magical thing. That freedom is totally awesome. Totally life-changing.
Don’t get me wrong, I am incredibly proud of myself but what is most fundamental is that all the will power in the world will not change how fat or slim you are – only understanding WHY can do that.
And that’s why Geneen Roth is in my hall of fame.
So this Valentine’s day, I am celebrating myself…..and thanking God for Geneen.
On Women, food and God, “This is a hugely important work, a life-changer, one that will free untold women from the tyranny of fear and hopelessness around their bodies. Beautifully written, a joy to read, rich in both revelation and great humor.” — Anne Lamott, author of Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith
Passionate about food in its entirety – cooking, eating, dreaming, writing and photographing it.
‘Traveller, by plate’, using foodways – the social, cultural and economic practices relating to the production and consumption of food to explore Nigerian cuisine & the world for ‘food is more than eating’.