Food n Friends
When I was first jumped off the diet train, I thought a lot about what an intuitive, ‘normal’, ‘competent’ relationship to food and eating might look like.
I just wanted to be chill around food. I didn’t want to overthink and overcomplicate the process. I wanted to eat stuff that would nourish my body and stuff that I enjoyed (Maltesers, nachos and frozen yoghurt with 4 different toppings included). In the Intuitive Eating world, the example of a child, their decisions untainted by food rules and fad diets, is often used as the model of a 'competent', or 'intuitive eater': they eat what they like, they eat a variety of foods, they eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full. Cute as he is, I didn’t want to put someone like my 4 year old nephew on this pedestal because sometimes he sings songs about bogeys and went through a phase of shouting ‘I LOVE EGGS’ whenever a camera was pointed in his direction, so forgive me for not wanting to follow all his examples. I wanted to envisage someone I could relate to, someone my age, someone like me, someone floating their way through this world of food shame and the pressure to eat clean on a sleigh made of croissants, humous and ice cream pulled by an army of Lindt bunnies. Where the bloody hell were they?
And then all of a sudden it hit me: one of my best pals, Deev.
Deev is, to me, a fully competent eater.
Deev doesn't mind me saying that she loves food. Deev and I talk about food a lot. A request that I think I’ve made to every new acquaintance since I moved to Spain is to name their top 3 forms of potato (CRUCIAL SIDECAR INFO: mine are no. 3 mashed, no. 2 roasted and numero uno, the humble hashbrown, you?), an icebreaker developed by Deev. Deev invites you for breakfast, for coffee and cake dates, for Turkish feasts and cheese n wine nights. For my lil’ pal Deev, food is fun, food is friends, food is an integral part of festivities but equally, food is fuel. She eats what she wants and she eats what makes her feel good.
I remember when I first stopped dieting and was like BUT HOW HOW HOW WILL I KNOW HOW TO EAT NOW? I did a lot of ‘field research’ AKA asking everyone I knew the exact details of what they ate every day.
When I asked Deev, she ran down her normal day-to-day diet and, to my surprise, it included carbs, snacks at regular intervals, fruit, veg, sugar and a hearty home-cooked dinner. I remember like it was yesterday when Deev said, ‘For lunch, I don’t tend to have anything too carby because…’
CUT TO my mind instantly starting some kind of weird Who Wants to be A Diet-Millionaire game. The answer to why Deev didn’t eat loadsa carbs at lunch was obviously going to be one of the following:
A) You aren’t allowed to have carbs at every meal.
B) Carbs are evil (have u ever read a women’s magazine??).
C) Carbs make you put on weight by the truckload.
D) Carbs are slowly tearing apart the fabric of society as we know it.
And to my surprise it was actually super secret bonus option E: ‘Because I don’t want to be too sleepy in the afternoons’.
Dumb as it sounds, it was honestly one of the first times it hit me that you can make choices of food based on how they make you feel, rather than how they might potentially make your body look. Deev knows how food makes her feel and she bases her decisions on that. Pretty bloody great, no?
It is also a fact universally acknowledged that if you ever have dinner with my pal, she will leave what is affectionately known amongst my pals as a ‘Deevey-sized portion’. Deev is the shortest in our Lady Fam and her leftovers seemed to correlate directly with her stature. Be it a few extra bites of a bagel, a coupla grains of rice or half a biscuit, it’s a trope in our friendship group that Deev always leaves what would seem a negligible amount of food on the plate. But I think she does that because she eats intuitively: she eats when she’s hungry, she stops when she’s full. There’s no need to eat those few extra morsels of tikka masala because she’s already satisfied. She can eat again when she’s hungry again.
But there’s such a beautiful balance to this, too. I’ve seen Deev leave a measly teaspoonful of couscous on her plate but I’ve also seen her undo her jeans at the table after a dinner involving too much Camembert, without the caveat of ‘making up for it’ the next day at the gym. For me, that is also a normal part of eating: sometimes it means leaving that ‘Deevey-sized portion’ and sometimes it means overindulging if that melted cheese and baguette is calling your name.
I discussed all this with Deevey, cos as we know, everyone’s relationship to food is personal and private, and certainly in my case, not always what people show outwardly, and she agreed with what I summed her up as (we’ve been best pals for 13 years, she would’ve told me if not). I think it’s important to note that I use Deev as my model for normal eating in the sense that I would like to emulate the way in which she eats, not what she eats. As I’ve said before, when it comes to nutrition, we should only be following advice of evidence-based science, something which Deev, fab as she is, is not versed in. Deev eats what makes her, as an individual, feel good- and that’s exactly the kind of eating I want to do. For Deev, personally, that means nothing too heavy at lunch, but for someone else, or for me, that might mean lunch is their biggest meal. Equally, it doesn’t mean following her mouthful-for-mouthful when we eat together and eating the exact quantity she does- that wouldn’t be honouring my body and my individual, biological needs. It means doing what’s best for you. That’s the beauty of being a competent eater, you do what feels good and you make the rules. It means eating brownies when you want them. It means having a salad when you want it. It means honouring your hunger and fullness and not judging yourself when you don’t. It means using food as a point of connection and celebration and nutrition.
And most importantly, it means always asking people to name their top three forms of potato.