Saturday night, I took my aunt and sister to Ottolenghi.
My aunt, whom longtime readers (all 1 or 2 of you!) may remember has the same problem I do (though has chosen to handle it differently, if she even acknowledges that she has it), suggested we order one of every single thing that looked appealing. This being a tapas restaurant with a fairly short menu, luckily this wasn’t quite as bad (or as much food) as it sounded. (When told this, her response was: “Should we order more?”)
My sister looked for something to dip the lavash into and sounded upset there wasn’t bread. We’d spent a lot of the day shopping for her; as the mother of three small children, she rarely has time. It’s probably also worth noting that she arrived in London exhausted from days of prepping things to make it easy for her husband while she was away, and spent the entire trip stressing out about what to buy them all as presents.
When it came to dessert, which Aunt M doesn’t allow herself, I ordered my favorite cake and my sister – at my aunt’s prodding -- ordered two she wanted to try. Aunt M took a couple of teeny, tiny bites; my sister complained that she couldn’t stop eating the two she ordered. (For the record, I finished mine – it was a pretty big slice -- but didn’t feel any desire to eat more.)
Sunday morning my sister and my aunt separately informed me that last night, back at the hotel, my aunt asked her for the Hobnobs my sister had bought.
“Should I give them to you?” my sister asked. Aunt M nodded. She ate some, along with some almonds my sister had brought for snacking, because what she really wanted was the dessert she hadn’t allowed herself. That morning Aunt M ordered oatmeal, but wouldn’t eat it because it because she thought it tasted too good and so therefore had something in it she shouldn’t be allowed to eat.
That afternoon we went to a pub for Sunday lunch. Aunt M couldn’t get her Yorkshire pudding off her plate fast enough, putting it on Friend Bearing Chocolate’s (anyone remember her?!) Portions were generous but not enormous (certainly not by American standards), but all Aunt M could talk about on the way home was how she was glad not to be going with my sister to a friend’s house because she couldn’t face any more food. She didn’t mean because she was too full; she meant because she didn’t think she could navigate it.
I’m writing this while the two of them are at my supercalifragimazing Pilates class, which is not in itself notable. What is notable is that the two of them spent more than an hour at Pret on a beautiful Saturday afternoon scrolling through class times and locations and working out when they could go, and being quite willing to severely inconvenience themselves (and me) or forgo other things just to do it. Like many of the other things they did, I used to do it too, and watching them is alternately sad, painful and frustrating (and I feel guilty that those are words I use to describe a family visit.) The anxiety is radiating off of both of them like the swirling mess around Pig-Pen in Charlie Brown.
And now another day has passed and I’m finishing this up exhausted, having gotten up at the crack of dawn to sign them into my gym for a pre-plane workout while I dashed off to Ottolenghi to pick up some airport food for them. (Plan foiled, as Ottolenghi had mostly breakfast pastry at that hour, and the aunt watches carbs. I knew she wouldn’t want to face figuring out what was a meal from the amazing-looking pieces of quiche and cakes I brought my sister, so I ended up buying her a calorie-controlled lunch box from the gym café, and she seemed grateful for it.)
Yesterday also included a meltdown from the aunt, the likes of which I have never ever seen – crying and yelling on Kensington High Street. And I am left stunned and reeling, not quite sure how much of it was my fault. I won’t bore you with the whole description of what happened, but some of it was food-related, and my behavior there wasn’t perfectly stellar, either. She later bought me a cashmere sweater (!), which I have no way of knowing if is some form of apology. All I know is that we were all on our forced-cheerful best behavior last night, and I suspect there will be a hangover of sorts that lingers for days now that they’re gone.
On the plus side, I’m on Day 129 – officially the longest I’ve ever gone without bingeing, restricting, or overexercising. I’m beginning to ask what it is I’m really afraid of or anxious about when I laser-focus on worrying about food. And yet I’m not sure when is the point that I’ll feel more confident about it; when my brain will stop thinking of it like a secret snow day when someone cancels a meal on me, and I can go home and eat exactly how I want. I guess all I can do is keep going until that day comes -- the day when I'm not counting days at all.