Day 18

Me Against the Tortilla Bowl.

What role does food play in your life?

 

I’m going to just go there. Come on. I haven’t visited a hot topic in a while.

So, here it is.

Food.

Yep, that’s right.

Food.

We all have a relationship with it…kind of like a family member. We bring her in, sit her down and spend a lot of time with her. Sometimes she is entertaining, at other times she is comforting and then there are other times when she is all business, satisfying our hunger and strengthening our bodies.

Our relationship with her is often rooted in the “filters” those around us used,  when we were young.  For girls and women the relationship between food, fat, beauty and self-worth is incredibly powerful and connected through a context, that while completely made-up, feels very real…especially during that vulnerable period we call adolescence.   As a matter of fact, in one study, the number one fear for 81 percent of 10 year old girls was “getting fat.”

That’s right. It’s not nuclear war, death or global warming. It’s getting fat. (And might I add, ironically that we are, as everyone knows, dealing with an obesity crisis.  Interesting how that which we fear the most, rather than being removed by our fear, might actually attract it.  I’m jusssss sayin’.)

My first peek into an awareness of how food can be so deeply entrenched in my psyche and the filters through which I have viewed the world occurred when I was 26. I was training for my first triathlon. I became increasingly concerned with what food I put into my body. The caloric count, number of carbohydrates, fat grams and protein amounts I ingested were an important part of my training regimen. To be honest with you, I wasn’t a whole lot of fun to be around.

I was eating out with friends at a Mexican restaurant and per my usual and much disciplined self, ordered the salad. “Would you like that in a bowl or a tortilla shell?”

I rolled my eyes. “Dang. You mean I have to decide. Why don’t you decide for me?”

“Tortilla, of course!” the waitress responded.

I devoured that salad. I was hungry. Training for an endurance event like the Ironman requires a lot of fuel and RE-fuel after an intense series of run, bike and swim workouts.

And there I was, at meal’s end, up against the ropes…it was me versus the tortilla bowl. Our boxing gloves were on and the fight was fueling up. Who would win? I backed into the corner of my mind and tried to pretend it wasn’t there. But it just kept taking those visual jabs at me.

A left first, next a hard right and then I caved. I broke off a small piece. I ate it. It was good. So I broke off another piece. I ate that one too and I’ll be darned. It was good too! I ate that entire bowl, in teen tiny bits and pieces.

By the time I was done, there was nothing left but the oily wax paper on the plate beneath. My plate was empty, my stomach was full, and the shame was initially unbearable. Her voice was whiny, shallow and judgmental. My food/shame filter fully in “download mode”, spoke very clearly. “Molly, you were doing so well…at least until you got to that bowl. How could you? Is this in line with your training program? Is it? Molly, I’m asking you? Is it? IS IT?”

And in that moment…a little light bulb went off. I realized, as simple as this sounds, that the Molly who walked into the restaurant is no different from the Molly who just finished that darn bowl. I am strong, athletic, articulate and funny. I am kind, caring and compassionate. Whether the tortilla bowl is in or out of my belly has absolutely NO effect on who I am…you know that deep spirit of me, the one that is always, forever and being. The food I put into my mouth doesn’t define who I am. I am undefinable, wordless and nothing…until I decide that I am.  For a brief and incredibly beautiful moment, I was able to step back and observe the stinkin’ tortilla bowl for what it was…a tortilla bowl.

I’ll admit I’m a little embarrassed to be sharing this moment with you. I’ll also admit that I’m 50 now and had plenty of time to develop a “functional” relationship with food, but it can all still be very, very complicated. Most of the time it’s healthy, but sometimes when I’m stressed, tired, or anxious I may reach for those boxing gloves again and go a few rounds with myself. And if I’m really honest about it, to suggest that it can sometimes have a kind of power over me…well…makes me feel shallow, hollow and a little silly for admitting it. Talking about it is a bit like being caught right out of the shower. Somehow owning up to how we view food reveals something about our vulnerabilities, bared there for all to see.

And I guess, if we have to come completely clean, we’ve gotta also take a pretty hard look at how we judge other people based on how their bodies show up in the world.  Am I not only using the beauty/weight/food filter to harshly judge myself, but also others?  Ewww.  It’s kind of hard to turn it around.

And yet, as I write to you now, and take this brief and beautiful moment, to examine the truly ridiculous and downright outrageous cultural belief that somehow our appearance is a measure of our worth to the world…well it simply makes me laugh out loud.  Yep, right here, right now, I am letting go a LAUGH OUT LOUD kind of chuckle.
Now…certainly there is some providence found in nurturing our bodies in such a way that they flourish and can serve as a healthy vessel for the spirit housed within, but certainly our worth, power and contribution to the world cannot be solely measured by a number on a scale or whether we show up as “culturally beautiful or not.”  Have you really ever pondered the craziness of such a notion?” REALLY THOUGHT ABOUT IT?  It’s crazy…yes…and simply put, it does NOT make sense  🙂
Believe me; I’ve had my share of issues. (Who hasn’t?) As many of you know, my numero uno challenge was alcohol…but food, exercise, relationships…they’ve all sat down for dinner with me on occasion, to test, challenge and, at times, shake me into confronting my own feelings of self-worth and where my real power comes from. 

These days, Tortilla bowls, Reese’s peanut butter cups and my Marjohn’s pastries all have a place in the Molly Barker “food for life” pyramid. So too does moderate exercise, veggies,daily hugs, plenty of water, fresh fruit, lots of laughter, my best try at 8 hours of sleep and love. Yep, that’s right love is on that pyramid, right there at the top!

It’s all connected to my living a healthy, honest, forgiving, evolving and full life.

What role does food play in your life and how has it changed over the years?  Why do you think we all buy into this belief that  our beauty (and weight) are somehow a measure of our worth to the world and/or a conduit to happiness.

And to see the fact cited here and other ones as it relates to our behaviors around food, check out this website:

http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/uploads/file/in-the-news/NEDA-In-the-News-Fact-Sheet%282%29.pdf

Also to be a part of changing perspectives and eliminating this particular filter check out my good friend Caitlin Boyle’s amazing project.  She is creating a beauty revolution one sticky note at a time at http://www.operationbeautiful.com.  Her work will rock you to your core…so simple and so powerful…both captured in one small action.

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3 Responses to Day 18

  1. Jaime says:

    So true….it wasn’t until last year that I realized food wasn’t “good” or “bad”, it was fuel. And I couldn’t train for a triathlon if I was restricting calories or not eating peanut butter because it was “fattening.” I made the decision to feed my body so I could become *strong*, and not thin. Being seen as strong and capable is more important to me now than being thin, and I wish more women felt the same way. As recently as two years ago, I wouldn’t even put milk in my coffee because it was just “extra” calories. And now, I even drink non-diet juices and drinks, something I never would have thought I’d do (silly, but true). I see how much I missed out on – enjoying, REALLY enjoying meals with family, not being able to play tennis because i didn’t have the energy, my hair was thin and lackluster – and realize how it’s impacted my life. I’m lucky and thankful that I was able to return to health, but I think society and the “beauty myth” have really done a number on our concepts of beauty.

  2. Jo says:

    Oh yeah. I understand this struggle too well. My struggle with food started at about the age of 12. I’m sure there were many contributing issues. One problem was I saw my mother who struggled with her weight and had many health problems and I never wanted to be like that. Another problem was that I truly believed that being thin equalled being beautiful. The summer before my 8th grade year I barely ate a thing because I weighed 98 lbs and did NOT want to reach 100 lbs. I had no understanding of being healthy or working on becoming a beautiful person on the inside. I struggled with food, calories, being thin all through high school. Even most of my adult life, I have unfortunately measured my beauty and self-worth by that number on the scale and the view in the bathroom mirror.
    The world today is all about instant gratification, over indulgence, and outward, superficial appearances. All the fast food places, and the enormous portions served at other resturants, all the junk food packaged and placed right at eye level for our children in the stores. None of this promotes healthy eating practices. We don’t hear about many diets out there that teach about nutrition and food as a fuel for our bodies. We do hear plenty of adds for the magic pills or lotions or medical procedures.
    A few years ago when I started exercising and running and really feeling healthy, it was such a relief. I believe that moderation is the key. Yes, we need to eat healthy foods in healthy portions but we also can have our Klondike bar or brownie every so often. Even with exersice – a little each day goes a long way. Also when you take the focus off the external picture of your body, you get to know and enjoy that inner beauty not only within yourself but all those around you. I am grateful to know many beautiful people.
    So I say “Thank you!” to you and everyone else who are teaching young girls to be healthy and to strive to be beautiful people on the inside.

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