FOR AS LONG AS I CAN REMEMBER, I’ve turned to food for comfort. I am ten. My parents have had another fight. My father packs his bag and says he’s leaving. He grabs his suitcase and walks toward the door.
I lie on the floor for a few moments. Then I pick myself up and make my way to the kitchen. I open a can of black olives and put one on each finger of my left hand. One by one I eat them off each fingertip. When all five are gone, I pop another five onto my fingers, and repeat the process until I’ve eaten them all.
But I’m not done. Next I heat up a package of 15 frozen assorted mini-pizzas in the oven. I eat the plain cheese, my least favorite, first; then the sausage; then the pepperoni. I’m stuffed, and I finally feel safe.
∞ ∞ ∞
From 18 to 26, my weight stays a stable size ten. Through college, where I fall in love with a long-haired boy, and during which time my brother has a mental breakdown and my father has a heart transplant; through graduate school, through a move to Switzerland for a romance, through my father’s death at age 56, and through several years of living in New York before moving to California. Still not the size four of my skinny, flat-chested sister, but good enough.
∞ ∞ ∞
It’s love. We lie in his bedroom in San Francisco and watch the fog hovering low, like some soft, downy blanket. I’m now 30. I know one day we’ll marry. I can’t quite accept that I am meant to be this happy, and though I don’t understand it, I’m willing to take a leap of faith.
We celebrate our happiness with much food and drink. When we get married, I’m 33 and wear a size 12. If Scott notices, he doesn’t say anything.
We cut our wedding cake: apricot eau-de-vie with buttercream frosting. It’s perfect. And though brides’ appetites are often depicted as demure, I eat the entire slice.
∞ ∞ ∞
While I work in book publishing by day, I begin writing essays for Salon.com and other magazines. In my spare time, I also take up yoga, which I find so difficult I hate it for the first six months of my practice. As my body begins to open, I get my first glimpse of its innate intelligence and begin to understand that it will tell me what it needs if I learn to listen.
I begin eating organic vegetables—kale, fennel, rutabaga, and more. Something in me gets happy when I eat this food.
I am 35 and wear a size 14.
∞ ∞ ∞
It’s the call I’ve been anticipating but also dreading, because I don’t know what the news will be. “You’re pregnant,” the kind nurse says. “Twin boys, both healthy.”
After I call Scott at work, I put on Dusty Springfield and start dancing around our living room.
I gain only 30 pounds during pregnancy—perhaps the result of being on bed rest for almost two months and delivering my sons at 32 weeks. When they are born, one weighs 5 pounds 3 ounces, the other 4 pounds 13 ounces.
“Linebackers,” the neonatal nurse says.
“It’s all that meat you ate,” my doctor tells me.
After delivery, I’m 39 and wear a size 16.
∞ ∞ ∞
I’m 41, and Matthew and Jack are almost two. I get a job at Yoga Journal magazine, running the communications department, and have the good fortune to be hired on the threshold of yoga’s American renaissance.
While at one of the Yoga Journal conferences, I have the opportunity to practice with Patricia Walden, a master teacher. As she helps me move into a backbend, she asks, “Why are you in this body? What does your body have to teach you?” I wonder if she senses that this will become a defining question for me, one that I will wrestle with for much of the next decade.
∞ ∞ ∞
I’m now 48. My husband Scott and I have been together for nearly 20 years. Our children are nine. I’m a size 18.
My relationship with food still doesn’t work. Now I overeat daily, and overeating has become a habit.
I can’t just give up food. And that makes things more complicated. What should I eat? How should I eat it? How much should I eat? What does it mean to be nourished? How can I, a food lover, learn to eat in a balanced way?
I need to lose weight, and that usually means going on a diet. But I’m not going to do that. For starters, I’ve never wanted someone else telling me what to eat and when to eat it. But even more important, diets have always felt temporary to me. We talk about “going on” them, and that means we go off them, too. There’s no middle ground.
I want to find a balanced way of eating that I can live with for the rest of my life. If I can find that, my body will find the weight it wants to be.
I’m not looking for a perfect body or a perfect way to eat. I am searching for a relationship with food that brings me greater health, peace of mind, and ease in my skin.
At midlife, I’m ravenous for something more than food. I’m hungry for freedom.