Sunday, 19 May 2013

Eating disorder

"Almost no one has a normal relationship with food" - Lionel Shriver*

How very true that is. When I was young, people had breakfast, dinner and supper, and that was it. They might have had the odd biscuit or slice of cake in between whiles. Nowadays we all have different eating habits. Snacks, sandwiches, full meals, binges. Who knows what I'm eating or what you're eating? The old routines have vanished.

Likewise, when I was small, people mostly just ate what was put in front of them. They weren't especially faddy or particular. But now everyone has their personal likes and dislikes, not to mention allergies and medical problems, and providing meals that cater for all tastes is increasingly difficult.

Again, when I was a kid it was rare for people to eat in the street; it was considered vulgar and improper. Maybe a bag of chips or an ice cream. Anything else had to be eaten indoors. But today people eat absolutely anywhere, regardless of the mess, the smell or the sheer amount they're eating.

And now there are also the huge numbers of people who're anorexic, or bulimic, or grossly overweight, and whose eating habits are even more out of line.

Is it a good thing or a bad thing that the way we eat has become so individual and so unpredictable? Does it encourage unhealthy obsessions and fetishes that are screwing us up? Or does it mean people are free to follow their own bodily needs and not other people's?

Lionel Shriver faced the same dilemma as she watched her brother Greg get heavier and heavier but was powerless to stop him. By the time he died from respiratory failure at 55, he was about 400 pounds. Lionel herself is small and skinny and eats only one meal a day.

So when do we treat someone's eating habits as a personal matter we shouldn't comment on, and when do we say it's a health issue that needs urgent attention? It's a very tricky question.

*Lionel Shriver - American author of "Big Brother", "We Need To Talk About Kevin", "The Post Birthday World" and "So Much for That"


  1. My goodness..I remember my mother telling me off for eating something in the street.... Only sweets were allowed.....
    Chris still thinks its uncouth to scoff in public

  2. I wonder if the whole eating in public thing was a polite way of not rubbing poverty in peoples' faces. People who could afford to eat not showing it off in front of people who were struggling?

    I think people need to loosen up a bit about food.

    Implementing dietary regimes that goes against a person's metabolism, creating so many rules and regulations about it.

    Eat what you genuinely want, when you want it and when you're satisfied, stop.

    Learning to hear what your body is saying, rather than creating all this angst and phobias will build far better 'relationships' with food.

  3. John: I must admit I still don't feel comfortable eating anything substantial in the street. A chocolate bar or bag of crisps maybe. Or I might eat a sandwich in the park.

    Roses: I agree, you should just eat what you need and stop when you feel full. Most popular diets are very artificial and usually don't work. And that's an intriguing idea about not wanting to expose poverty.

  4. I think you're too kind, Roses, I suspect that eating in the street originally meant you bought street food, so had neither kitchen nor cook! So not to do so meant you were a cut above.

  5. Z: An interesting counter-theory. I have no idea which of you is right....

  6. I'd go with what Z said.

    In Trinidad, it wasn't considered rude. Given the yummy street food on offer, it's just as well.

  7. Roses: Funny how something that's seen as totally vulgar in one society is seen as quite normal in another.

  8. It was frowned upon to eat in the street, when I was young, I remember a nun ticking me off for eating an orange in the street!

    All our regular meals - breakfast, dinner and tea - were taken together around the family table. Beverages such as tea, and in later years coffee, punctuated the day and came with homemade cake or biscuits. Why am I not grossly overweight?

  9. Grannymar: Goodness yes, eating an orange in the street is super-sinful!

    I think it wasn't so much what we ate that kept us skinny in those days, it was also the constant exercise - playing in the street rather than updating our Facebook page.

  10. Self control seems to be lacking in many areas of life, and food is just one of them.

    Do you like Shriver's works? I really enjoyed The Post Birthday World, but the book about Kevin was so disturbing, I had to quit reading after the first few chapters.

  11. Wonderful street food is now everywhere in NYC, and people eat everywhere. But I remember eating street food when I was little too, so I guess I never experienced that fresco dining! :-)

    I think what Roses said was very sensible indeed.

  12. There! You have just made me feel very guilty about my today's post!

  13. Bijoux: You're right about the general lack of self-control. It's positively scary at times!

    I love Lionel Shriver's books. Kevin was the one that made her famous. I did read it all the way through, though as you say it's a disturbing read. She doesn't flinch from describing people as they are, not as we would like them to be.

  14. Leah: I guess NYC has always been relaxed about street eating. When I think of New York, I always think of someone in the street munching a massive burger!

    Which bit was that? About eating what you want and stopping when you're full?

  15. Ramana: Oh no, you can't blame me for your guilt, that's entirely your concern! I must say that lasagna looks totally delicious, even if it did have a very generous helping of cheese!

  16. It was certainly different when we were growing up. We ate was put in front of us - except broad beans. Except summer I argued with my gran who insisted I'd never tried them, that I had every year, and still didn't like them. I think food probably has too much of an influence on most of us, either too much or too little.

  17. Liz: Why try to force a child to eat broad beans when she plainly doesn't like them? Pointless.

  18. I don't think we've got any business body-policing others, Nick. This is why food addiction stats have gone through the roof (one only has to look at any magazine or rags like Daily Mail).

    If someone has eating issues they always know it and they will get help (or not) if they feel it necessary.

    As to street-meat, we can all speak from privilege but some have no choice: no money, no home or one that is punitive or abusive, etc., or it is all they can afford.


  19. www: Not sure food-addiction is due to body-policing. Isn't it a bit more complicated than that? What about cravings for salt and sugar, for example? Or the need for "comfort food"? There are any number of factors.

  20. Oh my God, I found "We need to Talk about Kevin" an absolutely horrifying read.

    I think it makes sense to be attentive to when you are actually hungry, eat what and when you want and try to eat foods that are good for you most of the time. However, while I don't care if someone eats something in the street, I wish people would refrain from eating noisily in public and also not eat strong smelling things in enclosed public places like airplanes and so on. It's just rude.

  21. Agent......I'm glad I wasn't alone in being traumatized by that book! I made the mistake of just skipping to the end and that was even worse!

  22. Agent: I had no idea people were so traumatised by reading Kevin. It's a pretty grim book, to be sure, but then life itself can be pretty grim....

    I agree about noisy and smelly eating, it's very inconsiderate.

    Bijoux: Unfortunately there are a lot of kids as screwed up as Kevin out there....

  23. I deal with grim every day, it's just that the way this kid went about killing was so horrific. And what a nightmare for the parents of the kids, and the mother of Kevin.

  24. Agent: Very true. And yes, I can't begin to imagine the horror experienced by a parent whose child has done something so appalling.