First off, I apologise. This isn’t really an article, it is more an explanation of some of the side effects of my complex relationship with food, and the problems that can come about from it (If I were into hashtags it would be #firstworldproblems). It is aimed more at the people that I know, and who I spend a lot of time with. I’m not trying to be accusational, as a lot of these triggering behaviours would, amongst most other people, not be a problem. Perhaps there are others out there with complex relationships with food who can relate to these things.
Earlier today, whilst sat in the waiting room for my counselling appointment, my mind began to wander to the question of making my issues more tolerable for those around me. I know that I can be hard to be around sometimes. It’s not that I am sitting in a bubble of ‘FUCK YOU’, just waiting to explode at people who do wrong, but sometimes it can feel that way. When triggered, I can go into a state of anxiety and agitation that, although not necessarily someone else’s fault, can make me feel very angry with them, and then very upset with myself for having had those feelings. I thought it might be best to put out a list of things that trigger me with relation to food and eating.
To reiterate, this isn’t intended to be a list of criticisms aimed at anybody in particular… well, unless you’re a repeat offender who knows these things already.
1) Surprising me with food
I need a run up to food. I need a moment to take in the food situation and make my decision about what, when and how much food I eat. I plan in my head what I will eat for the day, and any changes to that plan require processing time to readjust my eating itinerary. To put food in front of me without prior warning is a nice gesture, but it triggers my anxiety. It makes me panic. It takes away my sense of control. Whether it is a bar of chocolate or a sandwich or a whole meal, unexpectedly putting food in front of me and expecting me to just eat it will upset me hugely. If you want to offer something, that is fine; the decision will then be mine, but to give with the expectation for me to eat, is not.
2) Seasoning/Flavouring my food
I’m not talking about a little salt in the pot while it cooks, I’m talking about when it is ready to eat, don’t go putting sauces or flavourings on it without my supervision or permission. This is also a pretty big trigger. Once more it takes the element of control away from me which sets off my anxiety. Please, please, please ALWAYS ask. NEVER ASSUME!
3) Taking my food
The food that is on my plate is the amount that I have decided to eat. DO NOT help yourself to food off of my plate. If you want something, please ask. I don’t care who you are, if you do not ask, you can get anything from a stern rebuttal to a fork in the hand. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
4) Lecturing me about willpower
I am fully aware of my level of willpower and how stretched it is the vast majority of the time. No one but me is in a position to know exactly what is, and what isn’t working properly in my own head. I do not want to hear your opinion of how my head works because you do not know. Unless you are a qualified therapist, or someone with experience of the exact same issues that I have, then your opinion, no matter how fervently you believe otherwise, is guesswork at best . Some days I will shake it off, but others you will be told firmly what do do with your opinions.
5) Ignoring me when I ask for help
Okay, it may be a bit of a tired cliché but if I ask you to take something away from me because I feel I’m spiralling towards a binge, or my self-control is slipping, then please do. Please don’t roll your eyes or say ‘have some willpower’… If I had the willpower to stop I wouldn’t be asking for help, would I?
6) Leaving me alone with food
I know this isn’t 100% possible, but I struggle when I am alone with food. It is when I am cooking in a kitchen full of food, that I most vulnerable to binge. If I am cooking, please keep me company or at least check in on me regularly to distract me… especially if it is you I am cooking for.
7) Wasting food
Seriously, there’s people starving because they don’t have access to enough food, and others buying too much and throwing half of it away. A little forward planning reduces waste. On a personal note however, seeing food being wasted or left triggers my anxiety. I’m not sure why it does, but it does.
8) Interfering with my cooking
If I am cooking then ‘I’ am cooking. Don’t come in nibbling at the veg I’ve chopped, tasting what’s in the pot, adding seasoning or sauces, or swiping food when I am plating up. If the food is in my control, then it is in my control until I give it to you. You want to nibble on a bit of carrot or taste a spoonful of whatever I am cooking, then ask.
9) Not waiting for me before you start to eat
Aside from basic manners, I find it upsetting to finally sit down to eat to find that everyone else is already halfway through their food. It throws off my internal eating clock and pushes me to rush my food which triggers sense memories of binging. It can lead me to feeling physically sick and wanting to purge.
10) Expecting me to cook
I love to cook… most of the time. Some days I just cannot face it. Don’t get the arse with me if I can’t face it.
11) Eating in public
Sometimes I can, sometimes I can’t. I don’t mean to be awkward, but there are times I just can’t sit in front of people I don’t know and put food in my face. These moods can also shift suddenly. I’m not trying to be a pain in the hole for you, these things are just as much of a headfuck for me.
12) Challenging me on my eating
Seriously, if you think I am binging or going too far, don’t chastise me or try to shame me for it. Remarks like ‘Haven’t you had enough?’ or ‘you’re packing it away tonight’ don’t help. Instead just quietly ask me if I’m okay and if I need some help stopping. That would be much more appreciated.
13) Challenging me on my choices
I am about 95% Vegetarian, with the remaining 5% taken up by seafood (That’s about once a week to once a fortnight). I choose not to eat meat. I don’t lecture those who do. If you have a chip on your shoulder about people not eating meat, then please keep it to yourself. Whilst most triggers upset me, this one makes me angry. There is no call for it. It gives me a greater sense of control over what I eat so undermining that control isn’t always going to be taken in good humour.
14) Debating the validity of the trigger
It doesn’t matter how much you protest or try to debunk my trigger, if you’ve triggered me then you’ve triggered me. I can appreciate that you didn’t realise you did it, or that it was an accident and I am not accusing you of any deliberate intention to upset or provoke me. However, standing there and trying to invalidate my feelings about something is NOT going to remedy the situation. Please don’t try to make me feel shittier about it, in order to make yourself feel better about upsetting me.
Yes, right now I can be a headfuck and a half sometimes, but I appreciate the efforts to just avoid these triggers, and I hope you know that if I have had a negative reaction to you in the past because of these things, then it is not personal. I am in the process of receiving treatment for my issues with a referral to the eating disorder specialists and a probable appointment for the end of next month, or the beginning of October. I ask if you cannot be actively supportive, to just be cool and not give me any grief over these things.