stories

The Joy of Change or, How I Learned to Love Food Again

left: original artwork, right: the tea towel itself (creased, stained and used)
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“Maybe I still haven’t become me. I don’t know how you tell for sure when you finally have.”
- Emily M. Danforth, The Miseducation of Cameron Post

For as long as I can remember, I have struggled with anxiety. To find some way of coping, I have always sought comfort and solace in routine. Inevitably, this trickled down to food and meals: I needed to know what I was eating for dinner in advance, I liked to know that I had a takeaway to look forward to at the weekend, a bottle of cheap white wine waiting in the fridge most nights, a hunk of chocolate to eat before bed.
But, around a year ago, it started to become clear that the routine I had rigidly followed for as long as I could remember was no longer making me happy. 
In fact, it was making me desperately sad.

Food has, and will always be, one of my life’s greatest pleasures. Like so many, I turn to it in times of joy, sadness, boredom, and celebration.

It has been exceptionally hard for me to come to terms with the fact that food was the source of my unhappiness because, for years, I had successfully convinced myself that it was not. I have always loved food and my life has (and will always be) centred around it. My teens and most of my twenties did not turn out how I expected them to, and I experienced long periods of debilitating anxiety and depression. I always used food to cope with those feelings - to numb those jagged edges of life that frightened and overwhelmed me. I had accepted the fact that struggling with anxiety and OCD meant that things were probably very much fixed for me, and it was unlikely that I would ever be able to change that. It has been such an enormous thrill finding out that, in fact, I can. And I have.

Food has, and will always be, one of my life’s greatest pleasures. Like so many, I turn to it in times of joy, sadness, boredom, and celebration.
I am not someone that eats to live but, rather, someone that lives to eat. However, over the last year or so, I have had to ask myself difficult questions about my relationship with food. I have had to come to terms with the fact that though I might have spent years thinking everything was fine and normal - that wasn’t ever really the case.

I feel that I need to be honest and tell you that things probably would have stayed the same had my body not started to feel as if it were crumbling. It is always simpler to ignore the glaring problem in front of you rather than face it head on. It is a difficult balance to strike - I love food and always will - but deep down, I think I always knew that my relationship with food was an unhealthy one.

A routine blood test flagged some problems and I soon learned that I was on the brink of some nasty health problems. In a split second, or at least that is what it felt like, I did the hard thing. The thing that I knew I had to do. I stopped drinking alcohol and overhauled everything else in my life that I had spent such a long time ignoring.

I will always turn to food in hard moments as well as joyous ones, but the difference now is that I know that I still must face those moments.

I am lucky to live in the countryside, but I had not really walked outside of the gardensince we moved here ten years ago. I was embarrassed about my fitness and that others would see me red and sweaty and struggling. When we first moved here, one simple walk down to the local pub left me sitting in tears on a bench because I just couldn’t carry on. After that, I just never went out for walks. I spent a long time not exercising at all - I just felt that because it was hard, it wasn’t worth it.
Learning from the blood tests and a chat with my GP that my body wasn’t coping meant that I just couldn’t ignore things any longer. And I wanted to live a life out of the shadows. I wanted more adventure and stories and memories. I wanted to breathe in fresh air and feel on top of the world. I wanted to be able to still enjoy food, but not have it rule my life in the way it always had done before.

Over a year on, I am happy in a way that I never have been before. I wish I hadn’t waited so long to be brave, but perhaps the waiting and the hidden wanting has made it all the sweeter. Walking through grassy fields and up hills and deep into ancient woodland; embarrassingly at times has left me close to tears. I never knew I could feel joy like this. Sometimes it makes me ache that it has taken this long to feel something akin to total and utter happiness. I have been given back my life, and I intend to live it in the ways I have always dreamt of. I came out last year and living that truth has made me feel braver in creating a more beautiful and whole life for myself.

I think that the best thing to come out of this is that I haven’t lost my love of food. If anything, I find so much more pleasure in all of it. I’m not numbing my feelings by escaping into food, so now when I eat a plate of buttered toast, dunk a chocolate digestive into a cup of tea or curl up with a bowl of something sweet whilst watching The Great British Bake Off, I can just enjoy it as it is. Like so many of us, I will always turn to food in hard moments as well as joyous ones, but the difference now is that I know that I still must face those moments. I have learnt that food won’t ever take that part away.

It is easy to keep things as they are – any kind of change is new and scary and overwhelming. But I have learnt that change can also be liberating, thrilling, and exciting. How wonderful it is to learn that we are never finished growing, learning, and changing. I am not the same person as I was a year ago - who knows who I’ll be or what my life will look like in ten years’ time? There is such joy in that realisation.

We’re also often taught to be happy with how things are – I used to tell myself that “things could be worse.” And it’s true, things can always be worse. But I like to think, now, that things can be better, too. It is okay if you want more out of life: more joy, more fun, more love. Finding it isn’t always as hard as you think.