My grandmother kept a blue tin box of Danish butter cookies in the pantry. It didn’t matter the day, time or time of year.
Every time I went to visit her, she would take out a glass plate and the box of cookies.
“Eat, child. You’re very skinny,” she told me.
As I grew older, I realized that THAT was her way of telling me I LOVE YOU.
Food still has the power to substitute words, questions, relationships, and silences. In fact, how we relate to food has a lot to do with how we relate to everything else in our lives.
I was never particularly bony. Quite the contrary. I had wide hips and a belly during my childhood and adolescence. At home they called me “affectionately” “the chubby one”.
For much of that time and until I was almost 30 years old, I let the scales and the size of my hips measure my self-esteem and my worth.
In a few days it will be Christmas.
The tables will be filled with food and the trees with gifts.
For a few days eating, cooking, giving and receiving gifts will be the ways to tell each other “I love you”. We will not need deep questions, dialogue or looking into each other’s eyes.
And yet fattening is still a “disgrace”. Something that needs to be controlled and purged. Corrected and moulded. In adults and also in children. Isn’t that a contradiction?
I soon learned that if I ate everything on the plate I got the love and happiness of my parents. I felt loved. But when I got fat, my family’s reproaches and restrictions filled my head. I felt guilty and imperfect.
“Thin girls look better. Clothes fit better. When you get fat you look like a pear,” they told me.
My mother, who often sewed clothes for me, used to measure my body with a tape measure from time to time.
And I, a growing girl, prayed that these measurements would be the same or smaller than the previous ones.
Then she would still love me and I would be worthy to receive her love.
When those measurements increased, they put me on a diet for a while. And I accepted it as a token of their love. I needed “control”.
Little by little I became disconnected from my self-respect. I gained weight and lost weight. I felt guilty about eating and not knowing how to vomit, like other girls in my situation did.
Until one day I started to lose weight, to lose weight and to lose weight without almost realizing it.
I touched my bony hips as if they weren’t mine. I saw my breasts getting smaller. I noticed the bones of my shoulders protrude through my blouses …
I went down about 3 sizes in a matter of a few months. The recipe? I got myself into a toxic relationship.
The first thing he did when we started dating was to design a diet for me. He had just met me and was already trying to change me.
When all your life you’ve learned that food is the language of love and that those who love you try to control your weight because you need “control,” it was easy to think he did that because he loved me.
I put so much on the relationship, on being appropriate and loved that I forgot myself. I forgot to feed my body and soul. I forgot who I was, what I liked, what dreams I had.
Finally, despite being thinner than ever, he decided to end our relationship. “You’re too thin”, he said.
I was a little girl who loved to move her body. Running, dancing, riding a tricycle, skating, cartwheeling, jumping, hiking…
At some point in my life, through the more or less conscious messages from around me, I learned that having good health and a body full of energy and in full growth was not enough. I was not perfect.
And as long as I wasn’t perfect, I wasn’t worthy of love.
And the love I didn’t receive turned into binge eating or fasting.
And I left my self-esteem and self-care in the hands of others.
Until one day, when I was almost 30 years old, exhausted by that inner struggle to destroy and underestimate me, something clicked on me.
I began to look at myself with curiosity every time I had the urge to eat without hunger. I began to eat without judgments. To observe myself inside. To ask myself questions. I allowed myself to feel, to cry, to be “imperfect”. I began to love myself as I was. And something wonderful happened.
My body started talking to me. With a very subtle voice at first that increased in intensity the more attention I paid to it.
My body began to tell me what I needed to be nourished, healthy, strong. It also began to reject foods that it would not digest well. And I regained the feeling of hunger and the pleasure of cooking for myself. And eating without guilt or remorse.
I began to trust myself and my inner wisdom. And I was happy.
Still at 46, my mother keeps scolding me if I leave food on the plate. I know it’s her way of saying “I LOVE YOU and I CARE FOR YOU. The guilt and judgments are gone. And I’m the one who decides how much and what to eat.
Eating may be the best of pleasures or the greatest of hells.
May this Christmas our family tables fill our hearts of emotions and words. And of rich food and healthy stomachs.
And not the other way around.
“There is no food that can satisfy the emotional hunger of being loved by your parents as you are.
This is the story of a real person, who was born and lives in a real and perfect body. And that from childhood she learned that she had to change in order to get the love of others.
Transmitting to our children that we love and accept them as they are will create in them protective barriers against toxic relationships, self-destructive behaviors and low self-esteem.
And for this, knowing, loving and accepting ourselves as we are is fundamental. Because they learn not only from our words, but also from our behaviours, emotions and attitudes.