What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
I work in a chocolate factory. When I tell people what I do for a living, most react with delight and envy. I’m often asked if there are any rogue Oompa Loompas lurking around. Many women add something like, “I’d get so fat if I worked there!” or “That’d be so dangerous for me!” While I do spend my days writing about, talking about, and yes, eating chocolate, it’s hardly dangerous. My office smells like brownies. I’m surrounded by genuinely kind people making fair trade, organic chocolate. You could do a hell of a lot worse.
My professional career has always centered around food. I’ve run social media campaigns, forecasted trends, and talked incessantly about how and what we eat. I should have the thesaurus.com page for “delicious” bookmarked. Basically, I spend a lot of time thinking about food in a culture that both worships and demonizes it.
The notion that a particular food is inherently “bad” is ridiculous to me. After all, even kale will mess up your thyroid when consumed in excess. In my family, food is love. I learned to cook from stained copies of the Moosewood Cookbook, Silver Palate, and Fanny Farmer. My parents taught me to nourish and savor. That said, we are a naturally sturdy people. I’m pretty sure I could put a down payment on my first home with the amount of money we’ve collectively given to Weight Watchers since the late 70s. My mom signed me up at the age of 16, and each Wednesday after school we’d both weigh in at the Eastham, Massachusetts Elks Lodge. Both victories and defeats were celebrated with cookie bars on the car ride home.
Weight Watchers was followed by Atkins which was followed by juice cleanses and eventually a decision to be okay with and thankful for my body. By my late twenties, I had learned to block out the external voices, or at least turn down the volume. After all, the only thing worse than being on a cleanse is listening to someone talk about being on a cleanse.
Kate Moss was famously quoted as saying “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels,” but let me tell you, so many things taste better than skinny. A morning latte made with whole milk, for example. A warm twice-baked almond croissant, chicharones, dark chocolate with sea salt, pork dumplings, a giant steak salad with blue cheese, a slice of pizza at 2 am, a dry vodka martini with a twist. But skinny isn’t a taste. It’s a feeling. From what I gather, skinny is supposed to feel like your dream job, a compliment from a stranger, telling someone you love them for the first time, or an IV drip of morphine and sunshine. All of this, of course, is total bullshit. Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself.
My newfound peace agreement with my body was challenged last summer when, after a particularly intense flare up of Crohn’s Disease, I was prescribed massive doses of steroids and gained over 50 pounds in five months. Then I got engaged and every wedding planning timeline on the internet told me just when I should begin my fitness routine. The voices I had worked so hard to mute got louder.
I love the family I’ve built with my fiancé and our dog. I’m passionate about my job. After surgery, herbs, and intense weekly acupuncture treatments, my health is stable for the first time in a year. All this should add up to me feeling pretty damn skinny. The problem is that I’m kinda fat.
When women in the food industry talk about how they’ve reached “body bliss” in perky trend pieces, they often cite nixing weigh ins, relishing each meal, or falling in love with walking. These articles are about as helpful as a thousand celebrities posing in bikinis on the covers of tabloids celebrating their post-baby bodies. That is to say, none of this really helps when you’re eating a thousand additional calories a day all in the name of work.
A friend of mine who makes amazing ice cream for a living has said that her job has become a comforting excuse for her weight. The saying “never trust a skinny chef” has now shifted to “never trust a skinny foodie.” On the flipside, I also know women who work out for hours each morning to battle the professional sips and bites that inevitably arrive later in the day. I strap on my Fitbit and hope for the best.
As a woman, I am conscious of apologizing for the space I take up on this earth. I remind my friends that they are smart and gorgeous. Alone, I snap selfies to see if the steroid bloat has left my face yet. I catch myself counting how many photos of food I’ve posted in a week.
The Instagram account @youdidnoteatthat features regrams of thin, trendy bloggers posing with lush meals and sweets, food hovering just beyond their lips. Donuts are props. Macarons are fetishized. You can’t have your cake and eat it too, but you can pose with it on Instagram and keep the myth alive. There has to be a balance in there somewhere. No one ever gained 50 pounds from eating a single macaron. Right?
I am trying to let the weight of my body ground me. Sometimes that means eating kale (in moderation) and taking a walk. Sometimes that means eating ganache serenading the dog. I remind myself that food is for nourishing and savoring. And that a slice of pizza and 2am is delicious. I could do a hell of a lot worse.