Friday, 26 December 2008

Is being a self conscious eater a girl thing?

This is a topic I've mulled over for a while, well before I started the blog. I am a healthy eater. I am also a small girl. Skinny, even. I was not always this way. In high school, I was curvy (not fat, not even chubby, but round) and in college I definitely inched up to chubby in my freshman year. In my sophomore year, I moved out of the dorms, returned to cooking for myself as I had in highs school and my weight returned to my high school weight. All through this time I liked the way I looked and I didn't pay much attention to what I ate.  Senior year of college, I decided I wanted to get healthier. 

I am grateful that I never experienced the difficulties with self esteem and body image that many women have. That is not to say there weren't parts of me I didn't like, but I never really dwelled on it. I definitely had a couple of stupid health phases  that senior year, including the three months where I refused to eat any fat whatsoever.  I think I ate my weight in baby carrots :( 

When I moved to France, I began to pay much more attention to what I ate, simply because it was part of the culture there.  Then I began dating a European, who really showed me the importance of caring about what you eat. And I became that girl. The healthy eater. The person who orders dressing on the side and always gets chicken or fish. The girl who never orders dessert and avoids the bread basket and pasta dishes.

I lost weight, that layer of roundness I had been carrying since high school. And I loved it and I still do. I feel lean and satisfied. So why is it that I still feel uncomfortable sometimes eating in public? The holidays are one of those concentrated times when I am reminded of how differently I eat. I know in the office when I say no to egg nog and cider and the cookie exchange and the candy jar that there are co workers looking at me and wondering what kind of eating disorder I have. Lest I come off as totally paranoid, I have had co workers tell me how 'concerned' they are about my eating habits. 

My frustration comes from the fact that I allow these comments to bother me. I don't feel like I should have to explain why I don't want to eat something. And to get to the title of the post, I know several health conscious men at work who also refuse these foods and I'm pretty sure no one says boo to them. But is that the case because I'm female and people feel more open to make unwelcome comments or because I somehow give off a vibe that I am receptive to them? I don't think I project the same kind of 'this is the way I do things and if you don't like it, screw you' vibe a lot of men do when I communicate. As is supposedly stereotypically female, I don't want to offend, and so I try to soften my refusals with body language, tone, etc. Unfortunately, my behaviour seems to facilitate the vicious cycle of comment/irritation. 

I just don't know how to respond in the case where someone says 'oh, you're being so good' while they eat candies or cake. Or when they say 'go ahead, you're thin, you can eat this.' Or when someone says I am too rigid, or too thin. It's like someone telling you you're in denial--it's a lose-lose situation. 

Unless someone asks me directly, I actively avoid talking about what I eat and don't eat. Of course, my friends don't care (it's actually a running joke for them, whenever we go out to eat they'll say 'don't worry, they have great salads at this place') and my family and SO are very accepting. None of them try to push anything unhealthy on me 'in my best interest.' In fact, anyone who has known me for a long period knows I have maintained the weight I am at for 6 years now and I take very good care of myself.  

And yet, even now, when I've been eating like this for years, with all the support I have, these outside, insensitive observations by near strangers still get to me. I'm not sure why I care so much about what these people think. And worse, I find myself doing things to make myself look more 'normal', like ordering a dessert I don't want or eating the bread that comes with my cheese plate. Now, obviously it's not the end of the world if I do eat a cookie. But I should eat the cookie because I WANT the cookie, not to please someone else. 

I want to have a guy's attitude. I want to project that confidence in my choices. It's definitely going to be a New Year's resolution/goal for me in 2009: to worry about me first, and not what other people think of me. 


April said...

Dude, wow, this is sooooo, so true.

I totally know what you mean. Remember how my friend spread rumours in the office that I was anorexic when I started CRON?


This so resonates with me that I need to write about it myself. But now I'm on my way out to go shopping with my in-laws... and to get lunch at a place that has great salads! My partner's mother has lost 50 pounds following blog advice, so she's very into eating healthy. And clothes shopping!

Love your blog!


Cave Cooking said...

Thanks! I have always admired your blog :) You have definitely been one of my inspirations.

I think you can identify with the fact that it is hard, as a feminist, to critique women in this way. But at the same time, I do feel like some women do police other women in a way they do not police men vis-a-vis food.

Anna said...

I'm the opposite (and female - at 47, I have a hard time calling myself a girl). When my food paradigm shifted, I didn't hide it at all. If someone notices and remarks (positively, negatively, inquisitively, doesn't matter), I share freely (sometimes too freely!). I guess I've always been somewhat of a contrarian, too, and I quite comfortable about "not running with the pack". I don't exactly run alone, but perhaps sort of near the pack.

My husband is more like you. He doesn't want to stand out from the crowd while eating in public.