Like so many women I know, my relationship with food is skewed. And like most of the women I know, this fact is supposed to be a secret.
There was a time, not so long ago, sitting in a cafe while I write, with a latte and a couple of cookies, would have filled me with anxiety and self-loathing. Food was a four-letter a word.
But could I admit it? Of course not: for nearly thirty years, I hid my ugly secret (along with my ugly body and the horrible, dangerous, delicious food I didn't want people to know I was or wasn't eating).
For me, it started with ballet. Ever since my parents took me to see the Nutcracker at the age of four, I'd wanted to dance. My dreams pirouetted with point shoes, tutus and sugar plums. I longed for the Royal Ballet school. But, when I was ten, I overheard my teacher complimenting a friend on her "perfect" dancers' body. My gaze shifted from her slender limbs and neat chest to my own short, stumpy frame. And, for the first time in my life, I felt inadequate.
But I refused to give up on my dream and set about changing myself.
At eleven, I knew the calorie content of every food I was likely to encounter. By twelve, I could lose 2lbs a day by not eating. By fifteen, I'd learned how to vomit. And along the way, anorexia, bulimia and exercise-addiction ate up ballet's place in my life.
But I always remembered to keep my dirty secret secret.
Now, unlike so many women, I have found a happy ending. Ten years ago (in between counting calories, burning calories and hiding myself away to avoid other people offering me calories, or noticing that I was regurgitating them), I managed to meet the most wonderful man in the world. Someone who actually saw the real me, lurking behind the eating disorder; someone I trusted enough to let myself be seen.
We married a year later and not long after, as my biological clock began to wind down, we decided to start a family. Two years of trying, and one miscarriage later, I realized that to conceive and carry a baby I once again needed to change: to let my body get on and do the job that it was designed to do. So, I ate healthily, exercised gently and, horror of horrors, put on weight (fearfully, regretfully but, for the first time in my life, intentionally). And nothing bad happened.
I repeat, nothing bad happened. In fact, within a year, Jem was born.
Now, I know I'm lucky. My pregnancy weight melted away, my metabolism shifted up a gear or so, and motherhood filled the hole that my eating disorder had struggled to hide (from myself, as much as anyone).
I know I'm lucky that, these days, I (mostly) accept my body for what it is.
I know I'm lucky that (curiously) I find the aging process a comfort: my body may be wrong by some people's standards (aka mine) and increasingly saggy, wrinkled and stiff, but it's my body and it actually comes in rather handy.
Sometimes, it even gives me pleasure (if I let it).
This post was inspired by Tara's Gallery (to enter or read more posts, please click here). But it's dedicated to the all the women and girls who have ever felt rejected, inadequate or empty. Please may you too find a way to fill yourselves up with love (and food). And a way to stop hiding.