What does it even blimmin' mean to be healthy? Sod if I know. I just finished eating a bowl of chips and Tararua Onion Dip on my own at 6:30pm while I write this at work.
I was always very fortunate in that I had plenty to eat growing up. I wasn't a chubby child, but I sort of had a pokey out stomach which I remember thinking I'd like to be flat even when I was young. Our neighbours were always very slim, as they ran around in the garden a lot but when it came to meal times they had a slice of heat-and-eat-pizza and a white bread roll and water. My mum always jokes about how I would want to stay for dinner at their place and then see, when I got home, that my own family had had roast chicken, and be devastated.
Eating, eating disorders and disordered eating?
While I personally was never subject to an eating disorder, I had friends who did at high school. Growing up, I've often thought about disordered eating a lot, and that there are many shades of grey in between, rather than the black and white, 'Anorexia' and 'Bulimia' When I was 9 I read the book 'Girls Under Pressure' by Jacqueline Wilson (having been a big fan of hers), and was introduced to a very wise fictional story about anorexia and its impact on your happiness. I believe the messages in this book stuck with me through difficult times growing up. I understood that an eating disorder was partly fueled by wanting to be thin but mainly through unhappiness and a desire for control. I remember on the early days of going online being fascinated by Pro-Ana websites and reading the writing people put on it. I think it was the psychological strain manifested in a physical form that interested me, as of course I too felt the usual anxieties and stresses of being a teenager, particularly because I didn't always have an easy time with friends.
I wasn't super sporty so I didn't go on McDonald's binges as a teen, like others I knew, knowing I could burn it off later. I always did a sport, more or less, right up until the seventh form, but I tended to be in the lowest grade. I do remember staring at my puppy fat and wishing I could be svelte like the girls in Teen Vogue or Seventeen Magazine (I didn't really read Girlfriend or Dolly for long, as they tended to bore me, and Cosmopolitan always seemed a bit weird and off to me, with its excessive instructions on sexual acts).
The thing was, despite how negative I felt about things in life, I always connected food to love and my loving family. A chocolate caramel slice would be a treat at the end of the school day from Gipps Street Deli. We'd eat my mother's homemade muffins until we begged her to stop making them. When I was hungover as a teen, all I wanted to eat was baguette and fresh Moore Wilson's orange juice until my headache cleared. I don't think I had the ability to perform an act of hate against my family or myself, so brutal that I would stop eating. Because even when I was annoyed at them, or angry, I loved them - and could usually be wooed from my bedroom by a plate of hot spaghetti bolognese.
All About My Mother?
A key reason I feel I also don't think I dieted or behaved in an extreme way towards food for most of my life growing up was that my mother never dieted. Helen (my mum) always loved food, always cooked food at home, and made the kitchen a warm and inviting place. She has always believed in butter, even before it became fashionable to do so, and we didn't have a microwave until I was 15 (and we always had just one TV and no SKY or gaming console - for which we were not grateful for). Mum would never have touched a Jenny Craig meal or done Weight Watchers and didn't even drink skim milk (I had to bring it into the house when trying to slim a little for my seventh form ball). Her practical, English, toad-in-the-hole attitude kept us in our place and with a cup of Breakfast Tea (no sugar). For my school ball, I saw a dietitian, Sarah (partner of Shepherd Elliot of Ti Kouka and Shepherd Restaurant) because I had a certain dress I wanted to wear which was a bit tight. She simply suggested a balanced meal, three times a day, two snacks with protein and I began walking from Karori into my school in Thorndon.
Apart from my mother, reading the somewhat revolutionary at the time anti-diet book by Mireille Guiliano 'French Women Don't Get Fat' and the french philosophy of food and life gave me a wonderful grounding in food and a sensible approach when it came to eating. Savouring real food made sense, treating your plate as a sensory experience. I also loved to drift away on her annecdotes about life in America and France, and found them a great comfort to read and re-read over the years.
Of bad boyfriends, food and control
There was a period in my life when I did verge on an eating disorder. It was when I was around twenty-one or twenty-two when I was with he-who-shall-not-be-named aka my emotionally abusive first boyfriend. He was obsessed with controlling me so I began to control my diet and exercise. I started following a strict regime and was obsessed with getting down to 62kg (I started at 70kg or 72kg) which I hadn't been since I was about 12 years old. I went to Habit, the gym, and really focused on getting fit. When I told my trainer I wanted to tone up and lose weight, after an initial slow start the year before, he laughed and asked if I had broken up with my boyfriend. "Girls try to lose weight before they go on holiday or if they break up with an ex," he said in his thick Scottish accent. What he ignorantly didn't know is that there is another time girls try to lose weight. When they are desperately unhappy and need to regain control.
When I friend from University commented that I looked like 'an Ethiopian' after coming back from holiday, I was pleased. However, the real tell was when I showed my best friend Maria a notebook where in line with what my ex-thought was a good use of energy I had made a weekly plan of what I would wear each day and draw it out. "That's when I knew something was wrong" she has said to me since.
The raw vegan phase (?!)
A year or so later I decided I wanted to become a raw food vegan (I'd been reading blogs about that kind of lifestyle for a while...I consider that in 2011 - 2012 I caught the front end of the clean eating wave before it was even called 'clean eating'). I watched endless YouTube about it and got books out from the library. While I did learn about what tamarind was and how smoothies are awesome, after a month of trying to eat a mainly raw food diet, I collapsed on my flatmate's couch, dreaming of scrambled eggs and knew I couldn't continue. Again, Maria, the voice of reason pointed out that eating wall to wall fruit every day probably wasn't doing me the world of good. Sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. As they say, moderation is key.
How I found 'balance'
These days, I am focused on keeping a balance and eating at home as much as possible. One reason that food is only a limited component of this blog is that I don't want to eat out every night. Rich foods can make you feel sick and bloated, and while it is fun as a treat, you just feel horrible after too long and beg for scrambled egg on toast. Like my mother, I love plain, noble foods, like French Onion Soup, roast lamb, potatoes, pasta, fruit, vegetables and fish the most. This is 100% unsponsored but a MASSIVE help in finding my way to achieving this balance is when I first collaborated with Auckland based Foodbox NZ last year. They deliver a full box of fresh food to our door every fortnight and it has kept Matt and I out of the supermarket and cooking and eating more whole foods on a consistent basis. If it isn't in the house, you can't eat a massive bag of Shapes which happened to be on special for $2 each. I liked it so much we've been getting it ever since (I do have a discount code right now for a mystery free gift of $15 when you sign up and order your first box - bung in 'Residents22' at the checkout. It is valid until 28 Feb 2018).
Despite the fact that obviously what you eat plays a big part in food, emotions are the centre of what I came to discover about myself through what is on my plate (or lack thereof). I am a much happier person that I was in my early twenties, a girl still finding her way in the world and constantly heartbroken over a boy or friend. It took time to find my feet, but I now firmly think I have. These days, I have a job I like, a boyfriend I love and a blog with which I am able to express creativity. I have a good relationship with my family, and I don't party as much at the ripe old age of 28. But most of all, I like who I am, heavy or slim. I also know the right people to surround myself with. In fact, there are few more wonderful things than curling up with Netflix at my parent's house with a large bowl of Mums butter chicken.
While once I might have seen food as a tricky minefield, now I know that a cinnamon roll can be just as important as a nutritious dinner..in moderation of course. I listen to how my body feels and whether it is craving a green smoothie or some chocolate. I try to practice yoga regularly - partly for my body and mostly for my mind. I am a size 10 - 12 and have accepted that getting hung up on a label is a sad way to live. If my clothes become too tight, then I know its time to slow down. I accept my bum isn't a perfect peach and I don't envy those who have one. I like mine. I rarely ever weigh myself. Walking around Wellington is my regime. There is calm in my life and in my perspective on food.
There is no right or wrong way, one size fits all, way to look at food. A healthy diet is as unique as you are. Only you can find what is right for you. But personally for me, going back to basics has always been where I feel most comfortable. Home cooked, fresh food, with a focus on seasonal ingredients. Maybe I'll start adding recipes to this blog, based on what I know works best. So in conclusion, I just want to say thank you to food for getting me through the hard and hungry times. It is a privilege and a joy to eat - and to eat at home is always just, if not more joyful, as eating at one of the wonderful places in our city. Nothing can beat something as simple as the classic millenial delicay of avocado on toast.