Oh, GIRL. I'm NOT about to write a smug article about my oh-so-healthy relationship with food. Because I'm screwed up about food. I'm as f*cked up about food as the next Chanel-bag-wearing, heavily-fragranced, freshly-blow-dried, Upper-East-Side 20-something.
Food has been a loaded subject for me ever since that first pimple appeared on my sweaty forehead in adolescence.
"Hey Zara, want to know a secret?" Melissa*, the only naturally platinum blonde friend I've ever had to date, softly whispered to me during a lunch break in the seventh grade.
She peered at me with vacant, pale gray eyes and leaned in so close that her breath tickled the little hairs on the back of my neck. "If you really want to be skinny, like REALLY skinny, just eat ONE apple with a little Sweet n' Low sprinkled on top for lunch. Every. Single. Day."
"Really?" I asked, wide-eyed and laser-focused.
She nodded with the weariness of an over-the-hill divorcée as she pulled a Granny Smith apple from her Lisa Frank backpack and wistfully sunk her teeth into it. She looked old for 12-years-old. Diet anxiety is aging.
"Mary* is really going to get FAT if she keeps eating all those peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, you know," she said.
I looked over at Mary. Mary was a pretty, brunette middle school athlete who secretly smoked her older brother's stolen cigarettes whenever her parents fought. I knew this because she had confided in me at a sleepover birthday party. She was just a little bit smaller than me.
F*CK. If she was fat, I was a house.
Well, I guess it's time to live off apples and fake sugar, I thought to myself as I tossed my bagel (and my last semblance of normalcy) into the trash.
I lived off apples and fake sugar for the next several years. Until the tenth grade, when I learned fruit was off-limits from a new girl in school: a whip-smart, charming academic we'll call Allie.*
"Hey Allie, do you want me to make us a plate of cheese and crackers?" I earnestly asked, taking in the sight of her soft, porcelain skin set off by dramatic, royal blue eyes. I couldn't tell if I wanted Allie or wanted to be Allie (the plight of the sexually confused baby dyke).
She was perched on my parent's kitchen counter and frantically swinging her legs up and down like a cranked-up speed freak. "Zara, I can eat the cheese, but NOT the crackers. I don't eat crackers, babe. I don't eat carbs. Not even fruit."
"Fruit has carbs?" I asked, incredulous.
"Dr. Atkins, babe, says fruit is carbs and carbs are the enemy."
She jumped off the counter, her skinny body not making a sound as it gracefully landed on the tile floors. She grabbed my hand and looked me dead in the eye. I felt a shiver go down my spine.
"I'll tell you all about Atkins. It will change your life, babe." She shook my shoulders and kissed me on the cheek.
That was 14 years ago, and I still can't look at a banana without hearing Allie's raspy voice purring "48 grams of carbs in that, Zara. Are you SURE you want to eat that?"
As I aged out of high school, food remained the star of conversation.
"Ew, my roommate just told me that her TRAINER told her that CHICKEN makes you bloated!" a bitchy 20-year-old ginger squealed from the backseat of loaded car. There were six of us sandwiched in together, a collective train-wreck of adult kids en route to Coachella.
The girls collectively screamed: "Chicken?!" Chicken was supposed to be our safe place. And now it was the cause of the dreaded bloat? Oh, honey, say it ain't so! (*dramatically bats lashes*)
"So in the morning, I drink a raw smoothie with chia seeds. Sometimes, I'll have a small handful of almonds after lunch, then for actual lunch I'll eat grass fed meat ..." another friend named Piper* droned on when I told her that her skin looked "glowy."
"I swear by the Paleo diet!" yet another friend Lauren* shrieked when I invited her to dinner at an Italian restaurant one night.
"I'm a die-hard Atkins girl. I won't even eat the cake at my wedding," my friend Sarah* still claims to this day.
"I'm on the BLAH diet."
"I like the BLAH BLAH BLAH diet because it's not really a DIET, it's a LIFESTYLE."
BLAH. BLAH. BLAH. I'm tired of talking about food. I'm tired of hearing you talk about food. I'm tired of hearing myself talk about what the f*ck I ate this morning. I'm tired of asking you about your diet and what you DO to maintain your visible abs.
The voices in my head are even sick of talking about food. Surely there is more to life than calories, carbs, sugars, body weight, fat, muscle, ketosis, and gluten?
I mean, obviously there is more to life. But the amount of energy we disperse into these conversations is astounding. And I'm not pointing fingers. This rant is as much to myself as it is to the girl who Instagrams her kale salads 20 times a day. I might act coy and pretend to be above it, but trust me, behind closed doors I'm secretly messaging my co-workers and asking them what the f*ck they're getting for lunch, like it's any of my f*cking business.
All this endless discussion about food has sucked the joy out of one of the most primal, enjoyable, rawly human life necessities. And since I love to eat, that's sad.
But with all the fad diets that have been thrown in my face my entire life, there is hardly anything I can eat anymore without the all-consuming fear that it's either going to give me cancer or make me fat.
Am I the only one who grows anxious when food talk starts? Am I the only one who can feel my body start to expand when the perfect girl with the perfect body starts talking about how she needs to go on the "master cleanse"?
Food is supposed to be the life force, not the mortal enemy. The fear of food has made food feel like a dirty drug. Natural hunger pangs feel like shameful drug cravings. Only unlike drugs, you can't quit food.
You can quit the drink. You can quit the cigs. You can quit the pills. You can't quit food. You can just micromanage the sh*t out of it and never be freed of the death grip hold over you.
And I see it in almost every single girl I know. Why do we always have to tell everyone when we eat a goddamn cupcake, like we deserve a shiny gold medal for being so "reckless"? We update our Facebook statuses with "OMG. I ATE AN ENTIRE SLICE OF CAKE. I'm OUT OF CONTROL. HELP!"
When did consuming a small dose of sugar deem us "out of control?" Shouldn't "out of control" be something more interesting or dangerous, like getting wasted at 5 am in the slums of New York City by yourself? Isn't "out of control" spiraling into the dark vortex of a toxic relationship? Isn't "out of control" f*cking without a condom when you're not on the pill?
Or, we do the opposite of call it "out of control." We go to SUCH DRASTIC measures to LET YOU KNOW THAT WE ARE OK with eating the goddamn sugary, sweet, succulent, triggering cupcake. "I ATE A CUPCAKE AND I'M OK WITH IT! F*CK YOU!"
Who are we trying to prove?
The sad thing is most of us do want you to keep talking about what you eat. Because we're so f*cked up, we want to either know you're f*cked up with us, or imagine that you're perfect and that we someday we could be, too.
But you know what? Not only is the whole charade unhealthy and damaging and disordered, it's boring. This food obsession has made us a generation of deeply boring young women. We only have so much space in our lives. Do we really want to fill those beautiful, vast empty spaces with discussion and obsession with d-i-e-t?
What if we freed ourselves instead? What if those spaces were filled with something else? Like art, music, culture, friendship, sex, politics, comedy -- whatever! There's got to be something more interesting than the vacant emptiness of diet.
I don't want to hear you talk about your diet anymore. I don't want to hear myself talk about my diet anymore. I'm hungry to talk about something else!
I want to be able to listen to my body and feed it whatever the hell it craves. My body is much more receptive to my primal needs than my brain, but I've drowned out the sounds of my wise body telling me what it wants and needs.
Because I've been too busy listening to everyone else. But from now on, I'm going to try and close my eyes and shut out your diet talk. And start listening to my own body.
* Name has been changed.