Food is everywhere. It’s central to everything: crucial to our very existence, the cornerstone of our social interactions, the way we show love, the way we celebrate. The consequences are everywhere too: our lives are filled to the brim with messages about body shape, about health, about our attitude towards it all. There’s no getting away from it.
We have just returned from a short holiday to Centerparcs in the Netherlands. We packed up our special serving spoon, the mug we use to measure cereal, and a bag full of snacks for that fit Ollie’s meal plan. We planned some self-catering meals, we organised our travel to include a stop at a specific restaurant in Calais that would be easy for Ollie to cope with. We had a family meeting about food and prepared Ollie for possible changes to routine. Our older son, suffering from suspected stomach or bowel ulcers, had to be considered in the planning: he has a restricted diet too.
Centerparcs is famous for its tropical swimming pools and sports facilities. I was looking forward to the wallowing more than anything, and it had always been a family activity. Ollie, however, hasn’t bared his body in public for 18 months. Swimming was going to be a huge challenge for him. He agreed to try it on the condition that he could wear long shorts and a long-sleeved UV top.
Food and body image, then, are everywhere, but for an anorexic, they are all-encompassing. Ollie’s holiday had to be anorexia-proofed as far as we could manage. But it was my holiday too, and here’s the thing: food and body image loom large for me too. I am overweight. I have been all of my adult life. I grew up watching my mother diet, and I have been subjected to years of sneering judgement from my own family. I love eating. I’m greedy. The best time of my life was when I was breastfeeding my boys, as I could eat a huge amount without putting on weight. Now, I still eat more than I need to, but I run marathons.
Before heading on holiday, I had to prepare myself for the swimming pool too. Ollie hates showing his body; well so do I. I bought a retro swimsuit that would offer me coverage so that I could be as comfortable as possible in my own skin. It was crucial to be relaxed so that Ollie could relax. I spotted Ollie looking at all the boys his age, no doubt comparing his physique to theirs. All the while I was doing the same - mentally comparing myself to all the women in the pool. I hate that I think like that. I wish I could genuinely embrace myself as I am, knowing that I’m fit and healthy enough to run 50km in one hit, but it’s not that simple.
Ollie needs to maintain his weight. Realistically, I should lose some. We all eat to Ollie’s meal plan, and he would immediately notice if I deviated from it. Ollie knows everyone’s portions and body sizes. I feel trapped in my own fat body, knowing full well that Ollie’s recovery far outweighs my vanity. I can’t risk rocking his boat, but I’d like to be thinner.
I have moments of fear that my thinking somehow shows right through me, and that Ollie’s illness and recovery has been influenced by my own body image issues. The thought that I contributed to that decline, where he ended up tube fed against his will, is horrifying. I have to do everything I can to help him towards full health, and my own has to take a backseat. If I could sacrifice my life for his, I would.