My first memories of comfort eating
Oh seriously GUH. Blergh and ugh. I have had the most weird crazy couple of days where I feel this sense of being completely overwhelmed. You know the feeling – when you feel that there is simply too much going on all at once so you feel the need to comfort eat and self-nurture.
It took me many years to work out that I do indeed comfort eat. I remember the first time I had a conscious realisation of the fact that I had just comfort-eaten. I awoke from a very bad nightmare (I am occasionally conscious in the astral, so I experience nightmares in a very emotional way) and I woke up and went to the fridge.
In the fridge was a bowl of homemade risotto. My mother taught me how to make really good risotto – and the secret is that you don’t leave it alone for a second. You “must watch your risotto” mum would say. Replace the lid frequently so the liquid is absorbed and stand over it – nurturing it into being. These recipes that say you can ‘set and forget’ or even ‘bake’ your risotto – total crap. You cannot bake risotto. If you put your risotto into the oven then it no longer becomes risotto.
But I digress.
So – when I woke up from this nightmare I felt very anxious. I was living alone (as I usually have throughout my adult life) and I felt afraid. What do you do if you wake up afraid when you live alone? For those of you that have never lived alone – I beg you to ponder that question for just a sec.
It’s awful waking up alone and afraid. But we will all have to do it eventually. One way to cope is to eat.
I went to the fridge and seized upon the risotto. Hearing it up furtively in the microwave, I waited for 3 or 4 minutes to eat my steaming reward. One, two, three spoonfuls went into my waiting mouth – but I was not hungry. Sure, there was a pit of emptiness in my stomach – there was a large, gaping hole – but there was no need for food, there was no need for nutrition – my ‘gaping hole’ that needed filling was comfort, was fear, was isolation.
And food, the ultimate comforter, provided this to me that night – and indeed – on many nights before and since.
We no longer eat for sustenance. We no longer eat for survival. Sure, in reality, we eat for both those reasons, but they would make up only a portion, a sample, of our true reasons for eating.
As a woman, as a kind-of-attractive woman, I fear food…always have…food was cited as the enemy from a very early age. As grandmas are often famous for, my granny was a fabulous cook. I remember seeing her, she would have been in her late 50s, me a child of 5 or 6 – and she was eating cold cream cheese spread on a half English muffin. This was after she’d spent hours (literally hours) cooking an enormous feast for the whole family consisting of ravioli, Italian pork sausages, gnocchi, minestrone, cucumber salad and probably some sort of fancy Italian cake for dessert.
“Why are you eating that, Grandma?” I asked, “Because that looks disgusting.”
Truth be told, cold cream cheese on a half English muffin does look disgusting – and “un-food-like”, especially to an honest 6 year old. I thought, “Why would my grandmother torture herself with this sub-standard fake food when she has spent so long cooking this beautiful meal for the rest of us?”
What can I say?
It wasn’t until years later when I meditated upon my own issues with food that I had some sort of recollection of this particular memory. Weird and bizarre at the time, this was one of the first markers in my life where I remember that “food was evil”, “food was forbidden for some” and that some people got “good food” and some people got “bad food”. And the funny thing was, my grandmother was not fat. To me, to a child, she was simply “grandmother shaped” and I didn’t think of her as fat or thin at all.