THE GATEKEEPER AT THE FOOD TABLE
By: Lauren Anderson
I was fortunate enough to attend a lovely party last Sunday, put on by some wonderful people. The day was bright and brisk, the company was excellent, and the food table was LOADED.
Everything you could possibly want for a brunch-esque style soiree. Multiple egg-bakes, fresh jam, croissants, a cheese tray “FOR THE GODS DAWLING”. Party-goers piled their plates, and we noshed, and laughed, and got to the business of humans celebrating being together.
By some twist of fate, I found myself seated in a straight-back chair, mere inches from the table. I wish I could say this was due to some cunning on my part, but really, it was serendipity. I could reach over and snag a square of cheese as I saw fit, but I was still very much a part of the action.
In other words, the ULTIMATE SPOT.
But as I sat there and chatted with the people around me, I noticed that my chair was really the only thing between the rest of the party and the food table.
I wasn’t in the way, otherwise I would’ve moved! I mean, I’m NOT A MONSTER. But I did feel like an accidental gatekeeper. A Brunch-ing-ham palace guard, minus the cool hat.
As people got up randomly to get seconds on this or that, or munch another strawberry, they all would greet me, and make some remark about “Just needing another wedge of cheese.”
And I would feel obliged to respond with something like, “Eat em up!”
Or “Hell yes! It’s a party now!” Stuff like that.
But as the party went on, I noticed some of the people started to kinda explain their choices to me. They would say stuff like, “I know I was just here, but I just needed another xyz.”
Or this one, “Is it crazy that I’m still hungry?”
Or this, “I can’t believe I’m still eating.”
None of this is especially weird or different from what lots of us (myself included) have said around a party spread. Because party food by rights is generally more decadent than what we usually eat. And when it’s that good, or that fun, we want to indulge! Cause that’s how it should be right?
But because I was seated in this odd “gatekeeper” position, I got to hear every single observation. Over and over again. Commenting and justifying aloud their reasons for the individual food choices they were making.
It started to seem strange. Most people would never clock this kind of stuff. UNLESS! You happen to be me… and have spent nearly a half decade trying to figure out your relationship with food. And because I have spent so much time now investigating my own habits and feelings surrounding food, I can’t help noticing language or behavior in other people.
After awhile, I started to really notice, and I started to wonder, why are we all doing this? What are we getting out of it? Why do we feel compelled when literally every person in the room has done this at least once?
Are we asking permission? Are we making an excuse? Is what I’m hearing in my straight-back chair only the tip of the iceberg compared to what we’re saying to ourselves? Or, is this another form of banal party banter, like talking about the weather, or the highways or something?
So I started thinking about my own reasons.
Before I began healing and growing my relationship with food and my body, I used to talk so much trash to myself. Occasionally I would say shit out loud, but most of it stayed a private audience inside my head. Bad stuff, mean stuff, stupid stuff.
I found myself needing a relief from the harmful chatter, so I sought A LOT of permission from my friends. Or anyone I ate with really. When we would go out to eat, I would see what they would order, or run my order past my friend and see what they would say.
“So… I’m thinking about the Alfredo?” And if they responded with “Yum! But it’s too rich. I think I’m gonna get a salad.” The likelihood of me changing my order would be HIGH.
But if they said, “Oooo! You’re doing pasta? Then I think I’ll do Lasagna.” Er something like that, I would feel… I don’t know…validated? Like they thought my order was okay, therefore I am okay too? And maybe since we’re both okay… we deserve breadsticks?
Or sometimes it was like this. If they said, “I just want something light.” I would either fall in line and order something “light” as well, regardless of my individual hunger level.
But, I would often joke and justify and go the opposite direction. “Well, I’m going the other way. Give me that double burger and fuck it– make it animal style.”
I cringe at all this now, after everything that I’ve learned and how much healing has occurred. I cringe knowing how much I needed others to tell me that me, and my choices, were okay.
I guess it’s good to remember how pervasive this was, and I am so grateful it’s not anymore.
But it’s not magically gone. This mindset is only ever overcome by continual practice.
Like how those monks (you know those monks) describe religious beliefs. Faith doesn’t just happen. It takes daily practice. So, I guess, loving yourself doesn’t just happen, it takes daily practice. Eating habits that reflect your own needs despite others opinions — take daily practice.
SO BACK TO THE PARTY.
After awhile, I felt compelled to make people’s trips to the food table a good experience. I stood up and helped them decide. I ran plates to people. I split things in half, and doubled things up. Regardless of what they might’ve been looking for, I would respond with enthusiasm! Encouragement! Positivity!
As if to say from my chair by the food table– YOU AND YOUR CHOICES ARE OKAY BY ME.
But after a while, when traffic slowed down and I excused myself to the bathroom, I thought, “What are you doing Anderson?” I had inadvertently put all my own “food stuff” onto everyone else.
Because let’s not get it twisted– I KNOW I WAS DOING THIS FOR ME AND NOT THEM.
No one asked for this validation. At least not out loud. I was just giving it to them. But if they were mentioning something in the subconscious way we sometimes do to get “permission” to do what we’d like to do– I gave that to them as well.
I was like, “I don’t know what everyone needs right now, but I will be damned if anyone walks away from this party table feeling guilty or shitty or anything less than F*cking FABULOUS about the food choices they made!!!”
If you’re reading this and thinking “Jesus Christ Lauren. You’re spiraling.” Then you would be correct. It’s true. I spiraled. I put too much pressure on myself to be the cheerleader about food, that no one asked for, and probably no one needed. Except maybe me? Still? *facepalm
But! It’s only because I remember it all too well. The years of all that inner trash talk. And if I can pivot anyone away from that, I’m gonna do it. If I can “gatekeep” just one person away from that, I’m gonna dammit!
I’ve been in that hole, and I crawled and scratched and fought my way out. And if that means I gotta sit in a wooden chair near the edge and warn people “about the hole” for the rest of my g-d life–
Because I know what a prison it is.
* * *
I have no idea why every person at the party chose to say something to me about what they were eating or why they were eating it. Maybe it’s because they read this blog and know my story. Maybe because they know I can relate.
Maybe I was just extra boring that afternoon, and they were searching for something to say.
Maybe it really was proximity, because I was sitting there in the spot on the way to the grub.
But I can tell you, if one person– just one person– needed a nod from me to help them be a little more kind and a little more okay with their food choices, I’m glad I had that spot.
Even if the only person who really needed it was me.