I could feel the women’s jaws clench in unison as the pizza man walked across the room. The scent of sauce and cheese, usually a smell of comfort, hung like a harbinger of doom as the kids took their seats at the table.
“I was really good yesterday. I had a hamburger, without the bun. But I did eat a few of the French fries.”
“I haven’t had pizza in months. It’s been so long that the just the smell makes me sick to my stomach. It’s so weird how my body can’t even stomach the thought of unhealthy food anymore.”
“I’ll have just a half piece of cake. With two forks. Sharron and I are going to split it.”
Women wear their ability to talk about their eating habits like Michelin Stars. The more restrictive the diet, the more prestigious. As the product of a family of chronic dieters I am no stranger to this ritual. My husband and I both have stories about the various “Zero Point” recipes our mothers served us as children, as well as our own personal issues surrounding food. I get it. Not a day goes by that I don’t struggle with these things myself.
Recently I have found that the song and dance surrounding nutrition has gotten particularly insidious. Diets have been rebranded as ways to be “healthy”, and doing what is “best for your family”. People, mothers especially, are being made to feel like there is something wrong with them if they aren’t on board with the latest health and eating trends.
You’re Paleo? Well my husband and I are doing a Whole 30. Whole 30? We did that last month and felt so great we cut out sugar for good. Well, have you seen What the Health? We did, and now we don’t eat sugar, dairy, or meat. Plant based is really what is best for your family.
To be clear, I have absolutely no problem with how people choose to approach food. You want to eat lettuce and bone broth for every meal? Pour me a bowl and let’s talk about life! You want to eat hot dogs, and mac and cheese until you turn orange? I can’t wait for the invite! What bothers me is when we try to use these sensitive topics as a way to either project an image of control in our lives, or use them to make ourselves feel better than other people.
Not only have I participated in these types of conversations, but I have initiated many of them! In the trenches of motherhood, I feel like I am failing at some point, every single day. Often the thought process is that if I can show how much self-control and discipline I have with food in public, I can feign control everywhere else.
Confession time, ladies and gentlemen. I might say no to the piece of pizza at your kid’s party, but the chances that I have a frozen pizza and a glass of wine waiting at home are pretty high. Oh, and my husband and I are playing chicken over who’s turn it is to take out the trash. So, although I might forego that Pinterest worthy birthday cake you provided, I am also figuring out new and innovative ways to crush milk cartons so they fit into the overflowing trash bag. Don’t even get me started on my kids. I could do an entire year of Whole30’s, but it wouldn’t keep my children from taking their clothes off and using my back yard as their outhouse.
We have the unique opportunity to make life a little easier for one another. Our access to community, both online and in the real world is unprecedented. Unfortunately, we take that for granted by curating our lives and in an attempt to push away the hard. If we don’t allow ourselves the freedom to rest in our authenticity, we are setting our children up for lives of disappointments and irrational expectations. It’s time to hold each other accountable for inauthenticity, and create a space in which we are free to be open in our struggles.
This isn’t going to be easy. I am probably going to need reminders most of all. Yet, it is so important for us to be a light for others in this dark and scary world. Life is hard enough already, without any help from us. Therefore, I beg you. For the love of all that is holy, when given the opportunity, eat the darn birthday cake.