Friday, October 21, 2011
Food and Fear
On the day I got the diagnosis, I walked home from the doctor’s office, a distance of a couple of miles. At the first Starbuck’s, I stopped and had coffee and a blueberry scone. About a half-mile later, I saw a sign advertising two slices of pizza and a soft drink for five bucks so I stopped there too and ate while watching the traffic flow by and thinking lugubrious thoughts. A mile later, I decided it was time for another scone and more coffee, so I did that. Then I went to the local food store and loaded up on black and white cookies.
In the last 21 days my food intake has gone haywire. For the past couple of years, I’ve been aware of diabetes, cholesterol and high blood pressure, and I’ve gone out of my way to eat in a more healthy fashion. No white flour, sugar, white rice, bread or butter and a very limited carbohydrate intake with more meals comprising high protein. I’ve become an expert at making pretty damned good egg-white omelets, cooking black beans, and eating yogurt.
Then came the first operation three weeks ago, and my eating has been going downhill ever since. It’s a struggle to stay away from the 350 calories scones, from dark chocolate, from pasta; I have totally fallen off the food wagon, scarfing down eggs and potatoes, and other victuals not good for me. Lately, I waken at three in the morning to have a slice of cheese. I’ve discovered my propensity to assuage fears with food.
There’s no genius involved here; food and fear are intimately linked, as are food and pleasure. If, in the developed world, we no longer have a fear of being without sustenance, it is only because food has become available and cheap enough to be affordable by all. In poorer nations, fear of starvation is very real and I doubt that populations as a whole gorge themselves to the point of illness.
We use food to feel better, to celebrate life and death, to mark holidays, to show our neighbors that we are well-off. We use it to shield ourselves from life’s unpleasantness—how bad can things be if we have a full stomach?—and, in an ultimate show of wealth, we waste it in abundance. We are addicted to the sensual pleasure food represents; we dote on the not-so-subtle mixture of salt, sugar and fat, and are brought to a gustatory paradise when all three are present at the same time.
We eat, we snack, we eat more. There is no time of day free of food for many of us, and our national obesity rate bears testimony that we are a country of food addicts.
As soon as I got home from the doctor’s office, I got sick. Whether from fear or nausea, my body refused to accept the 1500-or-so calories I tried to stuff in it, but over the past three weeks it has slowly and surely been willing to accept more bad food in small increments. This is dangerous. This is how relapses begin and take hold, by nurturing the belief that I can control a nasty substance if I ingest it only in small quantities. This goes for food, alcohol, nicotine, or, if I were addicted to gambling, just one hand of poker.
So it’s time to get back on the wagon. There’s really never a valid excuse for relapsing, though any addict can think of a thousand worthwhile reasons.
Ill health is a poor one.