You know how on Sex and the City, the women NEVER seem to stop eating (and drinking)? One minute it’s soft-serve, the next second it’s cupcakes. These women stay lithe, luminous, and lively…and yet they don’t take particularly great care of themselves. Well, Charlotte and Miranda run, and Carrie has a bout with a spin class, but aside from that. No, sex swings don’t count.
When I moved here, I heard the SATC-esque eating habits of New Yorkers were actually true. People did really grab-and-go, and it wasn’t uncommon to see everyone from the stroller set to suit-and-ties chowing down on a random park bench. It was a refreshing change from the uber-conscious foodie set of Los Angeles, where a calorie isn’t a calorie but a torture device.
Still, I never thought I’d be one of them. My body doesn’t work like that, I thought. I can’t just eat whatever I want and not feel it. Snacking In Motion might be the city’s MO, but unfortunately, it can’t be mine.
Or so I thought. I knew the part of me that was highly in tune with her body, the one that didn’t make food rules for herself and ate based on how she wanted to feel, the one that didn’t view food as good or bad but definitely knew the things that made her physically feel bad. The part of me that has taught herself to be totally fine with a “bad body day” and the compromise of wanting a taste and being okay with the aftermath that would follow.
But there was also a part of me that I thought those practices had silenced, and apparently still lived loud and proud in the crevices of my psyche. It was the part of me that was told she ate too big of portions, the part of her that viewed certain foods as “treats” or “indulgences” rather than just things. Soft-serve and doughnuts were Sometimes Foods, ones that only made an appearance when an unignorable craving would hit. I knew I could have them whenever I wanted to, I just didn’t want to. I think it was half that I knew the way they made me feel (#froyobelly), and half that I’d done a fantastic job at convincing myself that they weren’t worth my time.
And then there were french fries. A little history with me and the fry: I have never been a starch lover. Fun fact, I used to ask my mom to order my school cafeteria-made sandwiches on rye bread because I liked picking the toasted caraway seeds off the crust. Bread-y things have just never interested me. But french fries? I knew the gloriousness a well-done, well-salted french fry could bring. Oh, I knew. But because this usually wasn’t the case at most restaurants, I had no use for them. I didn’t not like them…I just didn’t care about them enough to make them my choice.
There was also the sociocultural factor. Maure Adult Women in my immediate circle never ordered french fries. Or at least never ordered their own. They’d pick one off of their child’s plate, or pawn one off their significant other, and then they’d make a big stink about forcing everyone else to try one and do the same because they were sooooooo goooooood. This was always so obnoxious to me, and as I grew older, I realized why:
The french fry had been deemed a taboo, so if they got someone else to eat one, it would normalize their sin.
Because of this, I developed a kind of apathy toward french fries. One woman’s sin was THIS woman’s nothing. I didn’t eat them not because I was scared. I didn’t eat them because they annoyed me. I hated the way other women gave a singular french fry such power, and I hated the judgement pinned on women who did eat them. It was such a spectacle – one I had no interest in being a part of. So I opted out.
And then I moved here. I don’t remember when it was, but it must have been within the first month. I was at a restaurant in the neighborhood, and I saw them: a white ceramic ramekin filled with the most beautiful french fries I had ever seen. They were mahogany. They were sliced to perfection.
They were sweet potato fries.
Real talk, sweet potato fries were another thing I had a chip on my shoulder about. They were like low-tar cigarettes to me: what french fry transgressors ate to show the world they weren’t doing anything wrong, even though they’re just a variation on the same. Like, if you’re gonna do it, just do it. I thought sweet potato fries were a sham to ease guilty minds.
In that moment in the restaurant, I started to question my fry aversion – my restaurant, if you will. Why did fries annoy me so much? And if I got really, truly honest with myself, did I have that Mature Adult Woman in the back of my mind telling me that fries were empty, or bad, or would make me feel awful?
I didn’t even know anymore. I had to find out.
I felt the words falling off my lips as the waitress took my order – “And A Side Order Of Sweet Potato Fries” – and they felt so weighted to me. Would she judge me? Would she make a big deal about “how lucky” I am that I can eat “anything I want” or how she could “never eat fries” or something like that? Would she think I was one of those “basic” women who justified her fries by saying “but they’re sweet potato!”? Ordering my first order of sweet potato fries felt slightly rebellious. But, I was also convinced of the fact that they probably wouldn’t be that great and I probably wouldn’t think they were that great and I probably would have proved to myself that the whole fry frenzy was uncalled for.
The fries came to my table. Some well-done. Most limp and disappointing. But I had ordered them, and I didn’t care enough to send them back, so I just said whatever and picked up the most structurally decent one and bit into the stupid thing.
No, not restaurant…but definitely great. Definitely a step up from “alright” or “good.” I enjoyed sweet potato fries – who knew?!
And so then I had the next challenge ahead of me, which was the even harder one. Can I eat as many as I want and not feel bad about myself? I wasn’t gonna find out by just staring at them.
The evening came and went and we walked back home. I felt normal, but was preparing myself for that hungover or heavy feeling I’d been taught happens the next day when you eat something taboo. I went to sleep. I woke up. Nothing happened.
I come from the world of wellness, which thank goodness is starting to morph and preach a bit more balance than it used to. I’ve always had problems with the term “clean eating” because it insinuates anything that does not fit into this bracket is dirty. Under the guise of “clean eating” you could healthify anything. Cauliflower pizza crust, zucchini noodles, carrot fries.
Not trying to put on a front: I LOVE those things (really). But telling yourself you can ONLY have pizza if the crust isn’t dough, noodles if they’re spiralized, or fries if they’re veggie sticks dipped in ketchup sets isn’t the solution.
This isn’t for the people who have severe food allergies – this is for the rest of us who keep wondering when the hell we’re gonna make peace with our plate and what a healthy relationship with our body even feels like. I have some inklings, but I can assure you it doesn’t involve scare tactics or ultimatums.
Sure, if I eat a little “too much” sugar (ie beyond when my own unique individual body says “k i’m good”) I feel crappy. Yeah, if I have fries every day I start to feel like I’m becoming one. But by wiping the chip off my shoulder about french fries, trying that cupcake place my friend raves about, or ordering a Salty Pimp from the place next door, I’ve taken the judgement out of the equation. I’ve realized that food affects me for SURE, but so does sitting sedentary in a chair all day. So does staring at a computer screen letting its rays zap me of my B vitamins. So does scrolling through Instagram, flipping over to Facebook, checking in on Twitter, then switching back to Instagram to see if “anything’s happened” since I checked it all of four minutes ago. So does jealousy, anger, or complacency. Food isn’t responsible for when I feel bad about my body. Being out of touch with my body is.
I contemplated – and celebrated – my fryaversary today with my fiance as we sat at brunch eating a batch of fries baked to perfection. Not sweet potato, either; good old fashioned fried white potato fries. They were flaked with rosemary and sea salt. They taste like Disneyland, I noted. Or a hotel from my childhood.
Did I eat the whole plate? It doesn’t matter. Because they’re not a medal of honor OR a confessional I need to make. They were just fries.
I find myself Snacking In Motion here like Carrie or Miranda, and when people come to visit I sometimes wonder what they think of me. I wonder if I’m being judged or I wonder if they’re secretly snarking that I won’t be able to keep up these habits for long. But mostly, I wonder if they’re scared. I wonder if they’re looking at me thinking “I could never do that.”
I wish I could tell them that I don’t have a magical metabolism and I don’t work out like a crazy woman. I wish I could convince them that they totally “could do that,” too.
So go ahead, eat the snacks. Order the soft-serve. Let the doughnuts into your life. You’re allowed. Check in and note if they make you feel less-than-average, but also do that in the rest of your life. There are so many factors that contribute to feeling the way we want to feel, food only being one slice of the metaphorical pie (see what I did there). Being a Mature Adult Woman isn’t about willpower or the food you avoid. It’s not even about all the things you say yes and no to. It’s about why you choose one over the other.
Now, pass the sweet potato fries. Well-done, please.
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