8 years together, but we have spent most of it apart.
A stolen few minutes on a lunchtime phone call, weary-eyed FaceTimes at the end of a long day, romantic Skype dinners for four: me, him, a noisy laptop fan and a faltering wifi connection.
But we were happy. We made it work.
And come the end of six long weeks apart, his eyes meet mine, finally unpixelated, finally without the screen as our middleman, finally we meet again in airport arrivals. The short drive home from Gatwick to the flat seems longer than the 600 miles travelled in flight now that we’re back together. I stumble in yawning, it’s 1am already and I am so ready to fall asleep next to the man I love.
Until I see it.
There it is.
I suppose it’ll happen to all of us at one point or another. Doesn’t make it any easier, though. I know my boyfriend isn’t proud of what he did. He said it was just curiosity that pushed him into it. He said he just wanted to try something new. He said it didn’t mean anything.
I can’t help but wonder if my absence has something to do with it to. I am angry, but I blame myself. Would it have happened if I’d been around to distract him? To tell him not to do it? To stop it?
My eyes, which were practically closing from exhaustion, open in wide-eyed disbelief.
‘Are you fucking kidding me?’
I wait for an answer. He cracks a wry smile.
‘No, but, are you actually playing with me? Have you left this out here so I would be forced to address it? Jesus, Beau. I can’t believe you’.
His smile fades.
‘This literally goes against everything I stand for, everything I thought you understood’.
‘Oh, come on Caitlin. It’s not a big deal’
But to me, it is a big deal. I feel betrayed. I feel duped. I feel cheated.
Yep, you guessed it, my boyfriend bought meal replacement shakes.
For those of you who aren’t au fait with current food trends or (GOD FORBID) actually enjoy chewing, the product in question is a 'nutritionally complete' powder that one mixes with water to form a drink that you consume in lieu of a meal. This one in particular claims to be super cost-effective, environmentally friendly and key to a balanced diet. Sounds pretty harmless, right?
And really, it probably is. I know I’m being irrational in my dislike of it and subsequent disgust that my main man actually bought into it. I'd rolled my eyes so far into the back of my own head when Beau had first mentioned it a few months beforehand that I was sure he knew I wasn't a huge fan of the idea- I thought it was a waste of money, a fad and potentially a little insidious- for reasons I'll get into later.
But let's be a bit more rational in our evaluation (yes, this is me, ya gal CM, attempting to be rational. I dunno, blame it on the solstice or summin). Firstly, I get that it’s convenient- it's one's own prerogative to prioritise time as and how they see fit and if you don't luv cramming leftovers into a lunchbox for the next day at work, a meal replacement shake might be a pretty easy alternative. And secondly maybe if you are watching your pennies, then this product might present a cost-effective way of eating. Or thirdly if you're super into lessening your environmental impact, the fact that this powder is both vegan and comes in minimal packaging really might appeal.
So more power to you if, for any of those three reasons, a meal replacement presents a convenient solution to a problem. But mainly, more power to you if you can genuinely maintain a healthy relationship with food and also regularly consume meal replacement drinks. Me being me, of course, that was my main sticking point when Beau pitched this product to me: that what with its 'nutritionally complete' strapline and, ya know, fact that it does seem a bit like a sexy SlimFast shake, it seems like it might be intended for dieting. He argued that it absolutely wasn't and, at least, for him, it isn't. But seeing as the product's website claims that a reason we need this powdered-food is the fact that Britain's communal waistline is expanding, I can't help but think that other people might be using it for just that reason: weight loss. I know that personally, I might feel slightly deprived if I had swigged back a shake at lunch rather than having a salad. And that is what dieting is: deprivation, not just in a physical sense of not putting the humous and falafel wrap you really fancy into your mouth, but also in the emotional sense of telling yourself that you are not allowed to eat that humous and falafel wrap. Both forms of deprivation, I think. There's nothing wrong with wanting to make healthy food choices, of course, but I'm a real believer that these decisions should come from a place of self-care and not self-control: I've never once thought, 'I'm going to really be good to my body today and forgo chewing', whereas one might think 'I'm going to be really good to my body today and I will eat some delicious, nutrient dense food and it will be tasty and make me feel great'. I don't think punishing yourself is a good way of going about creating a positive relationship with food: guilt and shame are not good motivators for lasting, consistent change.
And even if it definitely isn't intended as a diet product, I can't help but wonder if this type of product feeds into our food anxiety. I fear that it makes food clinical. I fear that it enforces the idea that if we aren't eating totally nutritionally complete food, we're doing it wrong. I fear that it implies that we can’t trust our bodies to tell us what to eat and that they are biologically hardwired for it to trick us into eating only salted-caramel brownies and stuffed crust pizzas. I'm also pretty convinced on the idea that nutrition is about so much more than what you eat and the nutrients you consume- it's about how you eat (ie. without anxiety, without judgement, without rules), the relationship you have with food, and really, dare I say it, pleasure. I understand, of course, that biologically, food is fuel for our bodies, but then doesn't eating have to involve some form of pleasure so, you know, we actually eat? I think there is no shame in deriving pleasure from eating. There is no shame in enjoying your food. Food has no moral grounding- there’s no purity or goodness in forcing yourself to eat an undressed salad if you fancy a sarnie. St. Peter doesn't let you into Heaven any quicker if you spent your life avoiding E numbers, nor does Satan have a fast-pass scheme to Hell for those who regularly ate all-butter croissants. It would seem that now society is cool with sex being a thing, we need something else to feel guilty and shamed about. Food has long been linked to puritanism: let's not forget that the American graham cracker and the 'Graham diet' was born out of the idea of an American preacher that life should involve minimal pleasure, food included. And with food shame and 'guilt-free' food and 'cheat days' rife on Insta and in water-cooler conversations, we seem to be having a revival of that.
But then again, as I always say, shouldn't we just eat what we want?
I think so.
So if you want to, and it genuinely doesn't have a negative effect on your relationship with food and your body, slurp away. It just isn't for me. And I don't want those I love, or anyone really, to feel deprived or like they need to go on a diet.
But I'm still so torn on the topic.
What are your views? I would be SO interested to hear. Go on! Chuck a comment in the box! Prove to my Mum that it isn't just her reading!
Also my boyfriend is great and I love him and I promptly apologised for being mean. Promise. BYE.