Birthday cake wishes

My mom is coming to Boston to celebrate my birthday. The other day, she texted me to ask what my favorite meal was. I don’t care how old you are, there is nothing like having your mother cook for you to redeem your faith in the world. But her question made me realize that I didn’t have an answer. What is my favorite meal? For the amount of time I spend with food on the brain, you’d think I’d at least have a favorite meal. But I don’t. I thought for a long time, and the only thing I could think of was pesto anything. And mashed potatoes. (When I was younger, I used to say Ponderosa was my favorite restaurant because it was a buffet and I could get as much mashed potatoes as I wanted. It’s a shame Ponderosas have mostly gone out of business, because I don’t think my culinary palette has advanced all that much and also I just came up with a great idea for my birthday.)

But the thing is, choosing a favorite meal is like choosing a favorite book. Impossible. There are far too many choices and I keep discovering new things I like, and if I choose one thing, I’ll feel bad for all the things I didn’t choose. I’d prefer to love food indiscriminately. (Except onions. They can go to hell.) I always feel lucky that I was born into a family where I never need to be hungry, and my biggest decision is whether to cook something at home or go out. Such a hard life. That doesn’t mean I should stuff my face with whatever I see, but my life is pretty much a delicious buffet.

That’s why I’d like to write about women and disordered eating. I’m not talking about anorexia or bulimia or binge eating or other words that doctors use. I’m talking about women who eat nothing close to three square meals each day, women for whom eating is an afterthought, something they barely remembered to check off their to-do list. For them, food is not nourishing, filling, or enjoyable. It’s a single piece of toast for breakfast, a handful of crackers for lunch, and a low-fat yogurt when she thinks she might pass out.  She doesn’t have time for lunch, so she eats a protein bar. When dinnertime comes and she’s still at work, she eats another and pretends not to notice how it leaves her hungry. It’s an instant coffee with lots of sugar that makes her feel full, so it’s four in the afternoon before she realizes she’s eaten nothing else. I feel like I could break them if I pushed with one finger; they would crumble into a thousand tiny pieces like a spun-sugar bottle.

They make excuses. Allergies. Upset stomach. Time. Not hungry. Always an excuse, always a reason to torture your body, your heart, and to give yourself the barest minimum. I know that some people have sensitive digestive systems and/or allergies and have to be careful—my own mom is dealing with allergies to yeast and all sorts of fruit that she loves, and it makes it impossible to eat almost everything. But ladies, please. That is not eating. That is not food.

I understand the temptation. I’ve made those excuses. Sometimes, I’ve been so busy at work I’ve forgotten to eat lunch and ended up eating peanut butter out of the jar. I got home very late from work a few days ago and was so hungry I ate cereal, hummous and pretzels, and ice cream. Not food. It’s a sort of punishment for not getting things done fast enough or well enough. It’s a punishment for being too stressed to plan and cook a meal. Why treat yourself? You didn’t do anything to deserve it. But eating that way only makes me feel worse. A real meal is a balm like nothing else, smoothing over all those hurting places. Even if we’re trying to be skinny or something, ladies, is it really worth it? There’s so much food we’re missing out on while we munch away on SlimFast bars.

One of my favorite columnists, Sugar, in a letter to her 22-year-old self, puts it best:

Stop worrying about whether you’re fat. You’re not fat. Or rather, you’re sometimes a little bit fat, but who gives a shit? There is nothing more boring and fruitless than a woman lamenting the fact that her stomach is round. Feed yourself. Literally. The sort of people worthy of your love will love you more for this, sweet pea.

Please, friends, feed yourselves. None of this protein bar bullshit. Please, be good to yourselves. You deserve better than that.

This weekend, I’m headed out to my aunts’ house with my mom. It’s a celebration. I can’t wait to eat. I hope they make me mashed potatoes, and I also hope to eat a lot of motherfucking cake (and I’ll share if you’ll let me). Happy birthday to me.

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2 Responses to “Birthday cake wishes”
  1. Lindsey says:

    Well now I absolutely must make you some cookies!

    I’m totally with you on the meal cooked by your mother. If she’s offering I’ll have my mom cook Hungarian Goulash. I can make it myself just as well, but it always tastes better when Mom makes it. Enjoy your pesto and potatoes and motherfucking cake, Jill! Happy Birthday!

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  1. […] day before I went on my birthday bender (see above) I wrote “Birthday Cake Wishes,” about women and disordered eating. When I think about the future of “The F Word,” I think […]



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