A very small cake, on which the words EAT ME were beautifully marked in currants

It was all very well to say ‘Drink me’, but the wise little Alice was not going to do that in a hurry.  ‘No, I’ll look first,’ she said, ‘and see whether it’s marked ‘poison’ or not’; for she had read several nice little histories about children who had got burnt, and eaten up by wild beasts and other unpleasant things, all because they would not remember the simple rules their friends had taught them: such as, that a red-hot poker will burn you if you hold it too long; and that if you cut your finger very deeply with a knife, it usually bleeds; and she had never forgotten that, if you drink much from a bottle marked ‘poison’, it is almost certain to disagree with you sooner or later.

No such compunction when she encounters the cake, though, you’ll notice.  Little Alice just gobbles it up.  No poison here, although it does make her grow inconveniently large, as cake is wont to do.


The thing about giving up alcohol is that it’s very simple.  It’s not at all easy.  But it’s simple.  The KPIs are very straightforward: have you tipped alcoholic liquid down your throat today, yes/no.  And that is hard at first, to tick the ‘no’ box, and then easier, and then easier.  I’m three months in now, which is no time at all but does mean that on a day to day basis, staying sober is now easy.

So I decided the time was right to tackle the food issue.  I thought this was going to be easy.  I’ve never had a food issue; no eating disorders, no addictive behaviours that I know about, just a tendency towards snacking, being a bit lazy and always being 10 pounds or so over where I wanted to be.  You know.  Bog standard normal.  I enjoy cooking, I enjoy eating, I care about the quality of my food but I resist fads; it’s all sunshine and rainbows over here in Eating Land.

Except that suddenly, it’s not.

Turns out that actually I don’t really know how to eat properly.  I don’t know how hungry one should be when dieting.  I’m good at being hungry, when I’m not hungover or drunk.  In the past, when I dieted, I would always allocate in a generous calorie allowance for wine (or points, or colours, or whatever the hell scheme someone had most recently combined with a two-book publishing deal) which means that I was eating maybe 700, 800 calories a day.  Last year I did the 5:2 diet for a while, which I also turned out to be very good at; except that of course it required two alcohol-free nights a week, so that only lasted for about three months.

Being hungry is not an issue. Eating properly without anxiety, is.  As it turns out.

When I first stopped drinking, I was terrified that I would Do It Wrong.  If I didn’t allow myself enough treats, I’d slip.  If I didn’t blog every day, I’d slip.  Did I have to examine my inner self, or was it fine if I just didn’t?  It took a while to realise that if I wasn’t drinking, then I was doing fine. But of course, you can’t just stop eating food.  And to eat beautifully healthy, clean, organic whole-foods takes time and effort I don’t have.  So I’m calorie counting, which is an inexact science at the best of times, and here is what is happening:

I am significantly under-eating on at least a couple of days a week (800 calories or so) which is very satisfying in one way but then also I worry that I will throw myself into ‘starvation mode’ whatever that really is, and eventually put it all back on and more, and then DIE OF FAT

I am often not eating until dinnertime because the idea of deciding what to eat gives me anxiety, because what if I get it wrong and IMMEDIATELY DIE OF FAT

On days where I do eat to my calorie goal, which is a whole 1300, I start feeling guilty and anxious that I’m about to lose control and if I eat 1300 calories today then what’s to stop me eating 1800 calories tomorrow and then 2500 the day after until I DIE OF FAT

Now, some of this is not quite as irrational as it sounds.  For one thing, diets are scientifically proven not to work (I feel like everybody knows this, but here’s a link if you need convincing).  For another, I’ve watched my mother spend her entire adult life, post-thirty, on one diet after another to the point where she now eats basically green salad and exercises daily, as well as eschews caffeine, alcohol, dairy, gluten, animal products and joy, and is obese – exactly the cause and effect that I worry about.

But the other aspect of it is, I guess, that I’m rolling all my failed diets up in a little ball along with my failed attempts at moderation.

Because a diet is always moderation by another name; whether you’re giving up a food group (“I’ll only drink beer!”) or limiting intake every day (“two glasses a night is my limit”), you can’t give up food altogether so you have to moderate. I have no reason to think that I can’t moderate food.  And if I get it wrong, well, so what  I’m not going to drive in a blacked-out state, scream abuse at my husband, drop my baby, lose my job, sustain permanent fatal liver damage.  I’m just going to have tighter waistbands.  Logically, this is misplaced anxiety.

Logically, in fact, I shouldn’t diet.  I should just examine my eating habits and try and eat clean and trust my body. But just as there’s a satisfaction in pouring a glass of wine for LH and not having one myself, there’s a satisfaction in not eating.  Augusten Burroughs says, in Dry,that if he can’t have alcohol then going without everything else is easy.  And after all, if I can’t drink, I might as well try and be thin.

I don’t really have a point, or an epiphany here.  I think it’s a new journey.


11 thoughts on “A very small cake, on which the words EAT ME were beautifully marked in currants

  1. firstly this is OBVIOUSLY a barrel of bloody worms so if anything I say is THE CRASSEST THING YOU HAVE EVER HEARD I apologise in advance. and not in that way that people say “I’m not racist, but…” I hope.

    finding our peace with food is hard. really hard. because it is always there and because we can’t just cut it out. and because distinguishing between physical and emotional hunger is a skill many of us missed out on because we were behind the door with a sneaky gin and tonic 😦

    those extra ten pounds have been a false focus for me for much of my adult life. if I had spent as much time thinking about my relationships with others or my career or even learning a language I would be Professor of the Liberal Arts at the University of Florence right now. so much wasted effort. but then if I hadn’t put in the effort I might be the size of a baby elephant today, who knows? so, swings and roundabouts.

    and that feeling of control when denying yourself food, oh I know that siren call. that rabbit hole down which it is all too easy to disppear.

    please, be careful. be kind to yourself, above all. because we are precious human beings who deserve to be able to nourish ourselves.

    and this is nearly a blog post in itself so will draw to a close but as a last thought, if you haven’t already seen Lily Myer’s performance of ‘Shrinking Women’ then I highly recommend it as a view on mothers and food : http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2014/01/13/shrinking-women-poem

    • Oh quite right! I took a week to write what is a basically uninteresting post because of the worm factor. My feeling right now is that I’m learning the ropes, just like with sobriety, and hopefully when I get to a ‘safer’ space (like, when I’m nearer the weight where I spent most of my adult life while not dieting, which is not a particularly thin weight, don’t worry) I can feel safer in developing a better set of habits.

      There is so much here that I want to explore, actually. I can feel some feminist synthesis about food and alcohol and suppression of self coming on.

      • firstly: phew. secondly: quite agree that if alcohol is the elephant in the room then food can be the Shetland pony we only notice when the elephant is gone…

        would enjoy reading further thoughts from you on this when you have fermented them a bit!

  2. Stopping drinking is easy. Staying stopped is the tough part 🙂

    Control is part of the not eating thing. A sense of being on top of it. Many of us, when we stop the boozing, sometimes drift into other unhealthy habits / behaviours. I wrote recently about my thoughts about food / getting skinny. So it is normal to transfer stuff to other substances or ways of thinking. I think what you said about just trusting and being mindful and eating properly / healthy is wise. We start to get into other problems when we play with our food 🙂

  3. I think in early days (which three months still is) then not to swat it too much, enjoy your food, there’s plenty of time to worry about that later, just be proud you are not having a drink today! x

  4. I can understand your feelings here… I’ve never had problems with overeating before, but have been finding a tendency to sugar binge since quitting drinking. And the few extra pounds that I thought would fall away with quitting have, if anything, increased. I didn’t quit to lose weight, but am finding myself anxious and a bit obsessive about it. I never used to weigh myself before, now I do all the time! Wish I could just try to eat healthily and be a bit more relaxed about it. Thanks for the post 🙂 And thanks Prim for the poem link – amazing! xx

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