Living in a blended family comes with daily challenges brought on by the seven personalities in our house (nine including the puppies), but sometimes, G and I have plain old couples issues that would likely crop up whether we had children at all.
Take food. I’ve had food hang-ups as long as I can remember. We all have, right? As a college student, I restricted my diet to twix bars, nacho cheese doritos, and cherry coke, with the rare treat of a 7-11 beef and bean burrito. When I graduated, I did a complete about-face and banned those words from my vocabulary and those foods from my body. Many years later, G and I find ourselves talking often about my eating. I didn’t understand the problem. I eat broccoli galore. As time went on and our conversations continued, I started to realize that my consumption of broccoli and everything else green was bordering on exclusive; I ruled out basically all other food. Every few months, I go out to dinner with my college friends, who bore witness to my salty, sweet, and beef and bean days, but they have since figured out that if they order rib-eye steak or anything tempura, I won’t eat it. My food habits now mimic my mother’s. She and I eat virtually nothing during the day, and bring it home with a huge, long-lasting, late-night dinner.
When G and I first shared our dream of living together, I told her that I couldn’t wait to cook her brussels sprouts and tofu, something I made all the time. G wanted to eat healthily too, so we hummed right along to our lean proteins and leafy vegetables. Soon, though, there were signs that my rigidity was causing problems. The kids made jokes about how I would never eat x, y, z. Blue dared me to have a fry or a bite of ice cream (I always declined). G worried that if we went to Rome or Paris, I would be no food fun.
I don’t need to control much, but I do control what I eat. G, on the other hand, likes to control a lot, but she lets herself enjoy the occasional empanada. Things came to a head recently when we went to a bar mitzvah and I was served a piece of bass with sauce on top. It was 3:30. At that time, I’m hours away from indulging in my daily meal. This mid-day fish just wouldn’t work: I’d be too full to dance, I’d feel sluggish, and I’d ruin that day’s one and only dinner. Seven-thirty would roll around and I’d be lost, not hungry and not knowing how to reward myself for helping to usher the nine of us through another day. Meanwhile, at the bar mitzvah party, while every other guest feasted on their steak, chicken or bass, I talked intently to the woman next to me and didn’t touch my plate. I later learned that questions about my abstinence abounded. People asked G if I was a food snob, if I was sick, and if I didn’t like the fish.
G insisted that my eating was a real issue for us. We have worked hard to keep our relationship strong in light of children and ex-husband conflict. I refused to believe that my all-out rejection of heavy cream could do us in.
Like many of us in desperate times, I scoured the Internet. Thinking I might really have a problem, I searched for adult eating disorders, all the while believing that family practitioners from coast to coast would wholeheartedly recommend my diet to their patients. Then, I stumbled on it: orthorexia nervosa, a fixation with eating healthy food, which can actually be fatal. I met several of the criteria defining the afflicted, and I started to cry.
I want to devour burgers, bacon, and nutella. In theory. I love to watch people eat with abandon…down half a pizza (hi Blue), chew on gristle (hi Mom). I’m working on meeting G halfway, ordering crispy appetizers to share, but it isn’t easy. I told her she should find a food wife, which surprised me. As I said the words, I was overcome with both sadness and relief. I don’t want her to experience things without me, but I don’t know if I can do chicken parmesan over linguini followed by a brownie sundae without trying to make up for it by doing 3,000 sit-ups the next day and hating myself. If she has friends for whom food is simply food (what a concept), she should go to them. As long as she comes home to me when she’s good and full.