We’ve all been there.
And by “there” I mean depressed as hell standing on a scale, pinching and prodding at thighs, munching on rice cakes and dreaming about burgers.
I use to think this was a normal girl activity, something all females did and sometimes did together. What I have since come to realize is that while these activities happen, they are not and should not be considered “normal”.
I am guilty, as I’m sure we all are, of partaking in these things; however, as I’ve aged, my relationship with food has matured and developed into something better than I ever could have imagined.
I first stepped foot into a dance studio when I was 2 years old, and over the next 14 years, I was continually surrounded by binging and purging and calorie counts.
A teacher first told me I was fat when I was only 7 years-old, and I remember running to my mom’s car and crying for ages. At 14 years-old, instructors were telling us to cut back on carbs and to diet before performances.
I remember watching girls pass out on the floor, sneak meals in the bathrooms, and call their mothers crying, begging to leave rehearsal. Behind the literal curtain of our world was more self-hatred and pressure to be perfect than I have ever experienced in daily life.
Food, something that should have been fuel for our bodies, was shown in this crass and unkind light. It was displayed as something that would make you fat, something that would make you unhappy and unattractive.
By the time I was old enough to realize these things were wrong, I was already unknowingly participating in self hatred whenever I wished something about my body was different.
Thanks to my Italian roots, not eating has simply never been an option in my house.
There was a week I remember well… I decided not to eat because I didn’t want to be “fat” on stage for an upcoming performance. I ended up fainting backstage during the dress rehearsal. That was the day I realized I had to cut the studio out of my life, despite my love for it, in order to safeguard my own health.
Food has always been such a big part of my family’s culture, and it took some deep internal reflection (and a lot of spaghetti and hugs) to make me see what food could really do for me. Every family get together, every dish I helped my Italian grandparents make, and every extra meatball plopped on my plate healed me in ways I didn’t think were possible.
I started to remember that food wasn’t wrong, it wasn’t some crazy ex-boyfriend I needed to duck and cover from. Food was love; it was my Nana singing opera in the kitchen, it was my dad teaching me family recipes, and it was learning to accept the body I was given in a whole new light.
Today, food is still a big part of my life and some of my most precious memories have taken place around a table.
When I think about food now, I think about all of the giggly cookie dough fights I’ve had with my girls, all of the meals made in dorm kitchens, and all of the countless weird food journeys I’ve made with my fellow foodies.
Life is about more than judging yourself for being human; it is about the memories you make as you fill yourself both physically and emotionally. Loving yourself isn’t always easy, trust me I know, but food has taught me so much more than what is nutritionally healthy for me.
It has allowed me to regain the esteem that was buried by a dance world obsessed with “perfection.” Every balanced meal I eat reminds me to love the skin I am in as well as the food I am lucky enough to have.
Food can be your best friend, and it can be your worst enemy.
Every time we as women, and we as people, define ourselves by someone else’s idea of perfect (be it the media’s idea or a dance teacher’s ideal) we neglect to focus on the important things about our personal relationships with food; we forget the passion in preparing a meal, we forget the pride of feeding those we care about, we forget the memories food can help you forge. A relationship with food, and a good one at that, is one of the most potent and powerful things you can do for yourself; loving your body and feeding it well allows your soul to find deeper meaning in this crazy little thing we call life.
The trick is to realize there is more than the calorie content behind a meal; there is love, and every single person deserves that. Remember to to build something beautiful with the things you put into your body, and in turn you will be able to build beautiful things.
If you are struggling, allow food and your loved ones to remind you that eating is an experience, your tongue doesn’t have over 10,000 taste buds to be satisfied with lemon water. And as always, in the words of our homeboy JBeibs, remember to love yourself.