Most relationships begin with conversation shared over food. Coffee shops and restaurants are popular first date spots, and for a good reason. The first formal get-together would probably be a lot more awkward if neither person had nothing to busy themselves with—whether it's slowly sipping a latte or taking small bites of fro-yo when there's a lull in the conversation.
When I first began dating, the idea of eating in front of a guy I was interested in was a source of anxiety for me. My history of suffering from anorexia nervosa had left me extremely uncomfortable with social eating of any kind, especially with love interests. The eating disorder had instilled the idea in my brain that eating in front of anyone except family or close friends would make people perceive me as 'fat' or 'unattractive.'
After judging and punishing myself for my eating habits for so long, I began to believe that others would be critical of how I ate as well. So, sophomore year of high school, on my first coffee date ever, I didn't even drink coffee. I simply sat and chatted with my date as he cheerfully savored every last sip and bite of whipped cream of a Frappuccino. I knew that if I had joined him and ordered one too, I would only be thinking of what he thought of me. What if I showed my enjoyment? A Frappuccino is so high in fat and calories, he would likely think I was unhealthy and make bad assumptions about me.
Being insecure about food only heightened my other insecurities during relationships. I was still insecure about my body, and never felt entirely close or comfortable with anyone.
Even in early stages of talking to guys, I was often reluctant to even mention that I liked or had recently eaten certain foods. This fear was perpetuated by the fact that some thought it was hilarious to make jokes like "you're such a fatty" if I ever mentioned I was eating something like ice cream. Jokes like that mimicked what the eating disorder had always told me, and made me fear eating on dates even more. I still remember the very first time I ate in front of a boy on a so-called date in the eighth grade, when I was still in outpatient treatment. We were on a school trip to a theme park, and I ate only a soft pretzel, which was difficult enough. Then the boy turned to me and said, "Now, you better run around the park to burn those calories."
Eating seems like such a simple thing, so I always thought my insecurity wouldn't be much of a problem. However, once years passed and I finally started dating someone with whom I was able to completely and unabashedly share my passion for food, I realized that my insecurity had caused me to miss out on the chance to form strong, close, honest bonds with the guys that I dated. Now, sharing recipes (and our failed attempts at making them), compiling never-ending lists of restaurants we have to hit up on future dates, and even openly expressing our concerns about our own eating habits, all seems normal to me.
Food and romance is always paired together: Valentine's Day is centered around chocolate. Iconic romantic movie scenes such as the Italian dinner scene in Lady and the Tramp are about two lovers sharing a meal. Decadent desserts and homemade meals are used to win people over. I once thought such a concept was so wrong and unhealthy. Now I see why a shared love of food can actually benefit a relationship, and not just when it comes to picking a place for date night.
Some guys express that they like girls who can 'eat.' And by that they usually mean they want a girl who can chow down on a burger and fries any given time, yet never gains weight. Obviously, that isn't a realistic expectation for most of us. And if someone criticizes your eating habits, it's hard not to feel insecure. But when someone respects your dietary choices and shares their love of food with you no matter how different your eating habits may be, it is so much easier to feel comfortable and be yourself.
My current boyfriend understands my tumultuous history with food and recognizes how far I've come to be the girl I am today, one who often seems most interested in planning which restaurants we are going to next (he jokes that I'm using him for ice cream and pizza, and I'm not ashamed to joke about it too). Since he's so supportive and expresses how proud he is of me for completely reshaping my relationship with food, I don't feel insecure about food or my body around him
Food shaming and body shaming often go hand in hand, and if your partner engages in either, it can be damaging to you and the relationship, no matter how trivial it may seem. That's why my current, often food-centered, relationship has worked so well for me; I am able to openly and confidently express my hunger, my cravings, my joy over food, without being judged or disregarded.
When he checks in on me, asks me what I've eaten, and offers to bring or make food for me next time he sees me, I see it as one of the most loving and caring gestures. During the worst parts of my eating disorder, I despised it when anyone tried to police my eating habits or offered me food, because I saw food and anyone pushing me to eat it as the enemy. Now, it only makes me feel a stronger connection and gives me the feeling that I am genuinely cared for. There's even been studies done that show that actions like sharing food or feeding each other show intimacy and indicate closer relationships between people.
Now, most studies relating to food and love usually have to do with aphrodisiacs and how sex is better when you eat well. However, I find that passion for food connects people and strengthens their bond simply because it is just a necessary, universal, sometimes intimate experience that allows you to be adventurous and even allows you to express yourself at times.
Food is such a large, positive aspect of my life today, and honestly, everything is much better now that I can share that part of me honestly and comfortably without fear of judgement. My eating habits and cravings are never criticized, and I never feel ashamed of eating and talking about food. My guy is even okay with sharing vegan pizza and a pint of non-dairy Ben & Jerry's with me (and this is a dude whose favorite food is goat curry).
If you've had any struggles with food, whether it be an eating disorder or an autoimmune disease, I hope finding someone who is supportive of any of your dietary needs and choices is among one of your relationship goals. We all have to eat, so why not make an exciting, bonding experience out of it?Try new things, introduce your partner to new foods, cook with them, do everything you can to make dining an enjoyable, shared experience. After all, everything tastes sweeter when you're in love.