Saturday, September 5, 2009

Permission to Eat

This day is pretty close to Nirvana for me: I am watching my beloved Missouri Tigers (I'm an alum) battle their hated foes the Illini in the Arch Rivalry game and later I will watch my St. Louis Cardinals attempt to take the Pittsburgh Pirates to the mat for the second time in two days.

I got my love of (and head for) sports from my father. It was the only thing we could agree upon and do together without strife, especially as adults. I can't say we were like oil and water; more, I would say we were like two positive poles on a pair of magnets – so much alike, we couldn't comfortably stay pushed together.

Of course, like most men of his generation, my dad really wanted a son to whom he could pass on all his man-lore. And, of course, I wanted to be that son because I so craved his attention. So I watched sports and played sports. The most excited I ever saw my dad was when I quarterbacked the winning team in the powder puff football game my high school sponsored.

So now, my dad has passed away, but my love of sports remains. My father also played a significant role in shaping my relationship with food. Now, I take full responsibility for the choices I've made that have brought me to this impasse. That being acknowledged, it's also important to understand the factors that influenced my choices and relationship with food. My dad is just one of many.

I don't really remember a time that I was not "on a diet" or worrying about going on a diet. My parents were both obsessed with food in their individual ways and, inevitably perhaps, so was I. My mother was perpetually "watching her weight," so the only treats in the house belonged to my father. If I wanted to eat a piece of pie or a scoop of ice cream, I had to ask his permission. To be fair, he always said "yes," but usually had some pointed, snide weight- or size-based observation to offer along with his acquiescence. And his food kingdom extended beyond the realm of sweets; he also held sway over regular bread (as opposed to "diet" bread), mashed potatoes, popcorn, mixed nuts, and even sliced cheese and lunchmeat. If we had fried chicken for Sunday dinner (sort of a family tradition) the breast belonged to him. I ate mostly thighs and drumsticks, which are the parts kids are supposed to like, but, oh, how I coveted that breast!

Is it any wonder all my comfort food now is the stuff that was "Daddy's food" when I was a kid? And that I grew up believing that a big part of being an adult meant that you could eat the food you wanted?

So, for me, two big cords in the Gordian knot that is my relationship with food are Deprivation and Permission. I cannot contemplate restricting myself in any way without causing my inner child to freak out, which triggers compulsive eating. So, how to not feel deprived? I believe the key to changing my relationship with food is Permission.

I was a pack-plus-a-day smoker from about 1971 until 1983 (bear with me; this does relate). I never fretted about smoking the way I fretted about food. I smoked, I liked it, I felt no need to quit. Then I got sick in the summer of 1983. I got too sick to smoke. By the time I recovered, I hadn't had a cigarette for about two weeks. When I felt better, the first thing I wanted was a cigarette, but I decided to see how long I could go without a cigarette. I never lit up another.

Central to my success when I quit smoking was this: I gave myself permission to smoke. If the craving got to be too much, I could have a cigarette. It was always my choice and because I truly did give myself permission to smoke, I didn't feel deprived.

I haven't been able to achieve that same mental place as regards food, but I believe this: giving myself permission to eat what I please and then feeling secure enough in that permission to not act on it is the sword that will cut that Gordian knot and free me from my compulsive eating.

This is plenty for me to think about. More later . . .


  1. Being somewhat a member of the same gene pool and a daughter of a man from the same generation, let me say...I totally understand. My parents were both consumed with dieting~ Dad by necessity as a diabetic and Mom because she suffered from an eating disorder. I had to sneak snack foods at my friend's house because if I ate it at mine, I was rediculed and warned of all kinds of dire possibilities.

    As a young girl I didn't realize it was my Dad's fear for my health that made him so cruel, but I believed it was fault-finding and a lack of love or acceptance. Whatever the origin of reason, I started to eat compulsively because it made me feel good. Firstly, I'm sure it was a matter of rebellion. Later, it became a comfort-seeking compulsion. As the pounds crept on, it was a full-blown addiction. Like some people with cigarettes, alcohol, pain pills, crack or sex I have the WORST time controlling this. I will follow your blog, please keep it going. :)