Vicarious Feeding: An Apology to my Boyfriend

I’ve begun to understand that this tool is yet another one wielded by the eating disorders.

Ron and I have been together for almost seven years come this November. We’re halfway-engaged, which means I have a cheap Pagoda ring but we haven’t made “an announcement.”

That also means that for the last seven years, Ron’s endured the exhausting fluctuations of my eating disorder alongside me. He was there during the year that I would call him crying ten times a day begging him to convince me that I wasn’t fat. He was there during the two years that I would binge all night long and persuade him, sometimes forcefully, to come with me to get just one more binge-worthy treat from Burger King.

I could go on about all the ways that eating disorders have barged into our relationship, but that would take several lengthy blog posts, a task which I’ll avoid for the time being. What I’d rather talk about today is something that I see happening in many partnerships plagued by disordered eating: vicarious feeding.

Food is the central obsession in 99% of eating disorders, so it’s not terribly surprising that very many edfolks gain pleasure from feeding other people. They get to enjoy some of the pleasures of food vicariously while avoiding the drawbacks: the smells, the looks of food and the happy food-noises made by other people without the calories. For bingers, this situation can be a lot more complex, but for now I’ll focus mostly on people whose primary tool is restriction, for whom this situation might seem familiar. It’s why so many edfolks love to cook or watch cooking shows, but when it comes to the actual consumption of food, the typical battle resumes.

Another, slightly more malignant form of vicarious eating exists. It’s the favorite tool of the half-finishers and the semi-bingers like myself: eating bits of food to gain pleasure, then feeding the rest to other people, most often a close relative, partner, friend, or significant other. It’s a way of cheating around the disorder. Nothing is really off limits, if you only have one bite– but of course, the remainder of the food must be immediately eradicated to eliminate the temptation quickly. As a lot of edfolks know, it’s not enough to toss it in the trash– half the time that thrown-out food might still end up back in your mouth during a crazed binge session. Anyways, it’s much more satisfying to watch someone else eat it.

I can’t recount the number of times I’ve served myself heaping portions of cake at birthday parties in order to have a small taste, knowing that I can “make” my boyfriend finish the rest of it. And once he finishes the first piece, I can get a second, and a third, and repeat the same process. My method functions particularly well given his voracious appetite.

I remember reading a post by a recoverer that I follow on Instagram several months ago. It read something along the lines of, “I was scared to eat the (pancakes, Snicker’s bar, ice cream, etc.) so I had a fraction and made my boyfriend finish the rest.” This scenario was sickeningly familiar, and I frame it that way because with time and recovery, I’ve begun to understand that this tool is yet another one wielded by the eating disorders. It’s not my clever way of recovering, nor is it simple generosity towards Ron.

With this in mind, I’ve been trying lately to stop my habit of vicarious feeding, not just in honor of my own recovery but for the health of my partner. He has a pronounced family history of obesity, diabetes, and stroke, and the longer the vicarious feeding continues, the more amoral I feel feeding him what are essentially my leftovers. So I’ll leave you, vicarious feeders, with the same advice. Think about who you’re feeding, first and foremost, but also consider how your feeding may actually be hindering your recovery. Sometimes it’s better to just eat the rest.

Photo credit to Studieau. Photo Link

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