We’re finally at breakfast, like “at breakfast,” in our favorite diner. It’s been months, possibly a year. The menu, still huge, huger than huge, is disposable. There’s space between the tables, each covered with plastic black and white checkered tablecloths which are easy to wipe off and sanitize. The tent is heated, the coffee’s hot, and I am watching my husband as if in slow motion, knowing he’s counting the minutes before he dives into the fluffy, hearty, yummy stacks of pancakes that he’s been looking forward to for months.
I can’t blame him. Visualizing the scoop of salted butter, partially melted as it sits on top of the stack, waiting to be joined by hot, sweet, sticky maple syrup, I picture each golden cake, one atop another, mixed with a delectable array of tart and juicy blueberries. For most normal eaters, the perfectly rounded flapjacks serve as a mouth-watering dream come true.
My food fantasy is interrupted by our waitress. “And you ma’am?” Hoping for the miracle of a few more minutes, I quickly calculate what it might mean for me to order a stack myself. The waitress waits. “It’s so hard to decide,” I stall. “A breakfast wrap with cheddar cheese and sausage,” I tell her, handing her the laminated menu. I still don’t know why those words came out of my mouth. They just did.
Why hadn’t I ordered my standard? I rarely deviate from greek yogurt with honey and fruit. I know better! What had come over me? Impulsivity? I’d broken a silent code, an oath of sorts. A momentary mental obsession with the ingredients in the pancakes had diverted me from what had become a lifelong regimen of planning my order. I’d been caught unaware and it was too late.
The guilt and shame immediately brought me to the physical manifestation of my “bad” decision: my foot wide thighs, my doughy stomach, my too-tight jeans, my massive ass, my double chin, my overly broad hips, my sagging breasts…I had to stop the cycle of racing thoughts, and fast, but struggled to think of anything but my body, anything other than my fateful decision to veer from the rules of eating, anything to deflect from the real or fancied belief that I had essentially become a breakfast burrito.
My husband was speaking but I wasn’t listening. Something about another napkin. “Thank you,” he’d said, when his meal was served with a warning about the plate being hot. “Can I get you anything else?” she asked, placing my mammoth plate in front of me. I opened my mouth but couldn’t speak. It took all I had not to send the whole thing back in error. The warmed flour tortilla, the melted cheddar cheese, the tiny slices of link sausage dotting the lightly scrambled eggs, the crispy home fries and carefully arranged orange slices— displayed on my plate like a home-cooked morning feast. “Fit for a king!” my late father would proclaim.
The breakfast special would’ve made anyone drool. But that cylindrical-shaped wrap of carbohydrates, cholesterol, fat and sodium was a feast for someone else to enjoy, not me.
“Eat!” my husband said. “It’s getting cold.” Not normally as submissive, I did as instructed, paralyzed by my own torment. Coaxing myself to pick up my knife and fork, cut, chew and swallow, I was miserable from the first bite—not because it wasn’t tasty; it was! But my mind was out to get me. Bargaining with my inner demons, I forced myself to eat. Don’t ruin it—it’s one breakfast.
With every effort to shift my thinking, I considered the fact that it was the first Sunday in months he wasn’t working. We’d not really “seen” each other on a weekend morning in so long. We were sharing a meal together. Why couldn’t I just let it be?
I watched him enjoy each bite of his pancakes, regularly pouring on more syrup, carefully adding more butter, alternating between sips of coffee and strips of bacon. He looked at me, smiling.
“Good?” I asked rhetorically. “Really good,” he confessed. “How’s yours?” I wished I could say I was savoring every morsel. I wished I could stop thinking about the way the waistband of my jeans was digging into my gut and how desperately I needed to unzip my pants so I could breathe. I wished I could tell him how all I needed to get through this meal was to run into the bathroom and relieve the bloat. If he only knew the torture I was experiencing as I attached so much meaning to this goddamn burrito.
Wiping my mouth to signify I was done, he graciously let me off the hook: “Take the other half home.” I nodded, knowing that in a few days, the styrofoam container would be tossed, a purging ritual I often take part in, leading to fleeting relief and a false sense of freedom.
How many more meals will I choose to ruin for me and for my sweet husband? How does planned deprivation serve me? And conversely, how does the shame, guilt, and remorse serve me when I unintentionally swerve off course?
No one sees me the way I see me. I know this because I’ve inquired; asking those I trust if they see what I see. My findings are these: the woman I see is in the mirror, in my reflection, and in photos is not the woman everyone else sees. Period. Throughout the years, the stories I’ve told myself about the food I eat have become so outlandish, I don’t know how to differentiate between me and the food. There have been times so painful, I’ve actually “become” the food. If the food is on the bad list, then I’m bad. I judge myself so harshly. There’s no room for error.
Looking back on Sunday morning, I try to forgive myself. My husband’s goals were these:
- Go to his favorite diner.
- Spend some quality time with his wife.
- Enjoy pancakes.
How can I consider the value of an interaction with my husband at a restaurant if I don’t honor the value of his company, the value of eating? When will I believe that when he looks at me, he’s not assessing me or judging me, he’s simply content to be in my company? Why can’t I train my mind to enjoy a meal, break bread, eat for the purpose of eating and appreciate some morning banter?
He’s not analyzing, over-thinking, counting calories, considering the momentary or irreversible damage that his menu selection might cause him. If I’m always castigating myself for how I look and what I eat, and insist on remaining stuck in self, I’ll never be able to engage at all. If I remain unwilling to honor myself in the process of sharing a meal, I’ll continue to cut myself off from any semblance of normalcy or, for that matter, a shot at intimacy.
I’ve learned through really hard work that all of my upsets arise from my interpretation of an event. It’s how my brain attaches to the stories. It’s how I choose to interact with it. If I let go of the attachment, I can see the simplicity, the reality. It was just breakfast. It was just an item on a menu. It was just a burrito. The story surrounding it was mine. I welcome the opportunity to approach my next meal with a bit more love and kindness.