This week in therapy we discussed hunger, feeding patterns and childhood experiences of food. A packed session.
I talked about long family walks with the odd square of chocolate to stave off starvation and the single packet of crisps between us three girls whilst my parents downed a pint or two. It’s one of the few childhood memories we three siblings agree on.
Equally at home we weren’t allowed to eat before dinner, especially at the weekend because we would all eat together and that meant we all had to be hungry together. Being hungry an hour before dinner was just tough and waiting was good discipline. My father could ignore his hunger all day if he was busy so we should all be able to do so.
We didn’t munch between meals of course. We sometimes had crisps and nuts but only as part of a formal aperitif and certainly not to spoil your dinner and absolutely never just for fun.
My mother said she had to give us potatoes at every meal until I was 7 because she couldn’t afford to fill us all up otherwise. I remember spaghetti as a treat and a once in a blue moon real performance when my father would cook chips in the deep fat fryer. My mother cooked well and I don’t remember any of us ever making a fuss about not liking what was on the table. If it didn’t appeal, you just ate more quickly.
Mealtimes were supposed to be a social occasion although I rarely remember my two sister sitting down companionably together as they were more likely to rip each others throats out when teenagers. Once mealtimes became my parents and I, they would do the crossword and I was therefore permitted to read a book at the table, which I did most thankfully.
So mealtimes were often this formal affair with polite conversation or silence a must, with an incentive therefore to eat quickly and disappear, after of course asking to be excused. Starving children in Africa were dragged out if plates weren’t cleaned, along with the effort my mother would put into cooking and my father into earning the money required to put food on the table. We were supposed to be grateful and, by and large we were.
My thoughts around childhood eating have often focused on the drama surrounding food, on the way mealtimes and food were an emotional replacement or symbol of love and the way I hated the fuss.
It was only as I said all this that I realised that I also hated being hungry and having to wait for food. We joke now about the odd square of chocolate each on a long walk (it was about a square per hour) but at the time it wasn’t funny and thirst was never addressed. No water bottles in our household.
So when it came to describing my eating patterns today, what I found myself saying, as a complete revelation to myself, was that I was a pre-emptive eater rather than an emotional one. I have been thinking that I over eat for comfort, as an emotional replacement for support lacking in my life. But no, I will often eat not when I’m hungry, but when I can. I like having lunch in peace and therefore will make a point of eating it before children get home, even if I’m not really hungry. Although part of me tells me I should want lunch before half past three, sometimes it’s very definitely about eating what I want on my own without any interference.
It’s not just for the convenience though. In terms of trying to honour my hunger, as Intuitive Eating suggests, I have gone the complete opposite of my parents and am eating as soon as the thought of food crosses my mind, taking that as hunger that can’t and shouldn’t be allowed to grow. Whilst not wanting to wait to eat until the designated meal time, there is such a thing as waiting to be properly hungry when a meal will be better appreciated. I have lost the ability to make sense of hunger and this leads to my homework for the week.