As someone who has and is currently struggling with disordered eating, I sometimes eat too much at meals. I sometimes eat too little. It’s all part of the recovery process, and I haven’t quite learned how to regulate my meals — how to eat food like a normal human being because, for a long time, I forcibly kept myself from doing so. However, I am highly sensitive to any sort of judgment, perceived or otherwise, about the amount of food that I eat.
Eating with girls is usually very taxing for me because it oftentimes devolves into a conversation about calories and a rat race to choose the “healthiest” item on the menu. To this day, I still don’t know how a calorie functions to either make you lose or gain weight, but, when I eat with girls, I feel compelled to abide by the Code of Calories.
Most of the time, I just want to stuff my face with fried or sugary foods — foods that I used to compulsively deny myself because they would (naturally) go straight to my thighs. Instead, when I eat with girls, I often feel compelled to order a salad — or something equally light and unsatisfying — because I feel pressure not to be the only one at the table eating something egregiously unhealthy.
Meals with girls usually end with a chorus of complaints about how they’ve eaten too much. I hear, “I’m so full. Why did I eat so much?” and I look down to see half-finished plates. I don’t want to finish my own plate, even though I’m still hungry. Once, after a meal, a friend who had eaten a few slices of pizza more than she thought was acceptable made a joke about throwing up and continuing to binge-eat pizza. I felt sick to my stomach as soon as she said that.
I know that it is unusually difficult for me to eat with girls because I am more sensitive than most about food and dialogue around consumption. However, I believe that the way many girls — even those without diagnosed eating disturbances — view and talk about food is unhealthy, reflecting deeper social pressures to eat (and look) a certain way.
We choose salads and similarly dainty plates when we order out to be “healthy” (fact: Cobb Salads are more caloric than cheeseburgers, but how many girls do you know would order the cheeseburger over the salad?). For some reason, we feel shameful when we’ve eaten too much so we have to acknowledge this for external validation that we didn’t do anything wrong — as if, by doing so, we’ve absolved ourselves of any guilt.
In addition, I do believe that this social pressure around consumption affects girls more than it does boys; I’ve seen many of my male friends scarf down plates of Buffalo wings, pizza, and cheeseburgers without so much as a peep. They don’t hesitate painstaking over the menu, and they don’t order their black bean burger without a bun, dressing on the side. They don’t clutch their stomachs after meals, moaning about how much they’ve eaten, the way we seem to do.
We need to reshape how we think about food, learning that it’s okay to indulge in decadent foods or occasionally over-eat, if we happen to like what we’re eating. We need to recognize that there is nothing wrong with passing up salads and ordering our burgers with buns.