The Soundtrack To An Unhealthy Relationship With Food
Dr. Sydnee Mcelroy and her husband, Justin, host a comedy/medical history podcast called Sawbones and it’s hilarious and I love it. But recently, they took things off the normal path and just spent an episode discussing their history of mental health issues in an attempt to try to de-stigmatize talking about those type of things and it was a lovely episode of raw honesty and if you want to listen to it, it’s here.
One of the metaphors they used to talk about the pervasive thoughts there were having, were comparing it to getting a song stuck in your head. With Sydnee it was an angry song and with Justin it was a fearful one, but they both discussed how when they weren’t thinking about something else…that damn song was playing in their head. And jeezus, if that didn’t resonate with me.
As I have stepped forward to try to completely reframe the way I look at food/alcohol to try to build a healthy relationship with both, I have realized the songs I have had stuck in my head for years that are playing underneath every decision and thought I have about food and alcohol.
The “FOOD LOG” song is one that is just a few years stuck in my head but DAMN, that one won’t let up. I can not tell you how many times a day I hear the refrain, “But how many calories does it have?” or maybe, “What about sugar grams? And protein?” to the song and I have to SHUT THAT SHIT DOWN. There’s the verse about how those calories erase the run I did because on the food log they cancel it out. I do not WANT that song in my head. I want to look at food and think about things like, “Am I hungry? Is this going to nourish me? Or is it something I would really enjoy? Does it add to the variation of foods or did I just have the same thing yesterday?” THOSE are the things I’m trying to think about but that damn song about calorie counting and sugar grams and how many do I have left in the day…and…well, you know the song. It’s stuck in my head and it’s hard to tune it out.
I’ve had the “GOOD DAY? BAD DAY?” song in my head for a decade now. I eat PERFECTLY on good days and I eat like a GARBAGE MONSTER on bad days and once I have ONE “treat” or ONE “not on the plan” item the day would immediately switch. There was NO middle ground. And it is SO HARD not to think about that now. I needed something sweet on the drive home last night and it was SO HARD to treat that like a NORMAL THING. The song that plays in my head says, “Well, if you are having a candy bar then the day is ruined so just get a giant one and also hit the drive-thru for a milkshake at the next stop.” That’s the song that has played in my head for SO LONG. Once a day becomes “bad” I try to take advantage of it by cramming all of the bad things into that day so that the NEXT day I can start good. AND HOLY CRAP THAT SONG WAS PLAYING NON-STOP LAST NIGHT.
But I ignored it the best I could. I bought a moderate sized sweet treat, I did not even LOOK at the calories (which was like fighting a compulsion, I had to make a special stop to throw away the wrapper because it was CALLING TO ME FROM THE GARBAGE), and then I did NOT stop again for a milkshake or come home and have 2 beers. The day was neither GOOD or BAD…it was JUST A DAY. But the “GOOD DAY? BAD DAY?” song would not let up.
Then there’s the “GOOD FOOD? BAD FOOD?” song that goes along with the “GOOD DAY? BADY DAY?” song. If it’s a good day we don’t eat bad food. If we eat bad food that makes it a bad day and then we ONLY eat bad food. For the last few days I’ve been trying to avoid classifying food as Good/Bad but that song keeps playing in my head and it is SO VERY DIFFICULT TO INGORE.
The song that has been there the longest though, is the “Body Size = Value” song that has been in my head since the first time I heard someone talk about dieting in middle school. This song is quiet and plays underneath every thing. It taints my memories because when I recall a moment that song is singing back to me whether I was a good size or a bad size. That song does not care if I was healthy or depressed or anxious or hiding in my home or yelling at my kids. That song only cares about what size I was and THAT is how my memories are cataloged. The song is so quiet and so subtle I didn’t even realize it was always playing until I started trying to reset the soundtrack in my brain. It’s embarrassing how often that song plays when I think about moments past. I can’t believe how I’ve let it taint my life for so long.
This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, because it takes digging underneath terrible reflexes and habits I’ve built up over a lifetime. Changing the way I think about food and my body and weight requires a level of reprogramming unlike I realized. Every second of every day I’m hearing a song playing in my head that I don’t want. I’ve wasted too much of my time and my energy singing these songs over and over and I’m ready to get them off repeat and replace them with something new.
And it’s working. Like I said, I did throw that wrapper away and never even looked at it. And I didn’t say, “I had candy, next up? FRENCH FRIES! MILKSHAKES! AND ALL OF THE BEER WHEN I GET HOME!”
Nope. I finished the candy bar, I didn’t get hungry again. I made the drive home. I went to bed and woke up and never officially decided if the day was good or bad. The song was playing ASKING ME to name it “Good” or “Bad” but I ignored it. I never called that candy bad. Even though the “BAD FOOD” song was playing over and over I wouldn’t let myself actually look at that candy bar as “Bad.” It was what I was craving and I was hungry and it was delicious and I savored it and then MOVED ON WITH MY LIFE without setting a classification.
Well, if by “moved on” you meant a constant dialog with myself saying, “THERE IS NOT GOOD FOOD AND BAD FOOD!” and “THERE IS NO GOOD DAY AND BAD DAY!” and “IT WAS TASTY AND I AM SO GLAD I ALLOWED MYSELF THAT WITHOUT THEN PUNISHING MYSELF!” I mean, I basically had to lecture myself to keep those songs from breaking through the silence.
BUT IT WORKED. I’m drowning out that soundtrack one moment at a time. I need a new playlist that values spirit and soul. Songs about friendship and fighting for the less fortunate. Lyrics about beauty of spirit instead of body size. Refrains that remind me that empathy is not something you earn by dieting, it is a gift I have been given and it allows me to be beautiful in ways that do not relate to calories or clothing size. Songs about food as nourishment to body and soul, but not as a value of worth. I’ve not memorized the new songs yet, but I’m writing them whenever I need to drown out the old tunes. The old songs will fade as long as I keep singing the new ones…and then the soundtrack will be the one my life of meaning deserves.