When she baked pies, my mother always saved a small piece of pie crust dough just for me. She’d put it into a small aluminum foil pan (the size of a single pot pie). She’d brush it with melted butter and sprinkle it with cinnamon sugar. She’d bake it with the regular pies, pulling it out a bit early so it didn’t burn.
Crisco and white flour. Butter, sugar and cinnamon. I can’t imagine eating something like that now; I’m much more health-conscious in middle age than I was as a child. But I thought about those warm slivers of buttery, cinnamon-y goodness this morning, as I toasted a two-day old bran muffin for breakfast. On a whim, I slathered some (zero grams trans fat) canola oil margarine on the warm pieces, then sprinkled some cinnamon sugar on top.
And I wondered when — and why — the joy of eating my childhood treat was ruined for me.
I wondered again this afternoon, when I listened to multimedia journalist Vicki Louk Balint’s podcast interview with Dena Cabrera, Psy.D., a psychologist at Remuda Ranch, which specializes in the treatment of eating disorders.
At some point in the lives of many girls and young women, food stops being a source of pleasure, comfort and joy. It becomes the enemy. It becomes the reason nothing else goes right in life. It contributes to self-loathing, insatiable perfectionism, anxiety and fear. And for some women, it stays that way, to one degree or another, for years. Even decades.
I was one of those young women. From the moment an elementary school classmate remarked that “you have big legs” I became self-conscious about my weight. Food became a source of shame and guilt. Enjoying it was something that I (as a person with “big legs”) was not entitled to experience.
When I got to high school, I refused to eat in public. I never ate lunch at school. I didn’t touch the food at parties. At home, I nibbled at meals. But when I was alone, I slammed down the food. It got worse when I went to college. One of my roommate would go for days without eating and then, when it became too much, she’d drag me out with her for fast-food binges. At one point in my young adult life I weighed 40 pounds more than I do now. (A self-fulfilled prophecy: my legs really were big.)
As the other stresses of adolescence waned and I found fulfillment in work and lasting relationships, my life — and my weight — stabilized. I was lucky to avoid the devastating effects of an eating disorder. But for more than 10 years, I definitely had disordered eating. So I recognized myself in many of the comments Cabrera made during her interview with Vicki.
I didn’t have a daughter, so I can only imagine how tricky it is to navigate food issues as the parent of a young girl. I’m just glad there is help, and hope, for those who find themselves in the throes of destructive eating habits.
Listen to Vicki’s interview. Hear Cabrera describe the “hostile environment” that awaits young women attempting to recover from eating disorders. Think about the message you are sending every time you say, “I feel fat.” And every once in awhile, eat something just for the sheer joy of it.