Order Me a Burrito With Extra Guilt
Art by Kirsten Hemrich
I was eating at Chick-fil-A with my mom when she asked me if I felt loved. I smiled, and said, “Yes, now that you bought me food.” Her question staged within that particular environment reminded me of a tweet I saw that described each of the 5 Love Languages, all relating to Chipotle. I held out my phone for her to see over a tray of greasy food, and we laughed about it together because for us both, it was incredibly funny and very true.
Last month, I ate at Chipotle seven times in 28 days. That’s an average of once every four days. And despite the joy I get from someone else taking me out for food, I don’t feel exactly proud of the fact that I took myself out to eat so many times over a short period.
I certainly find it humorous. I told all my friends, and we made jokes out of my habits. But I think that underneath that humor, there’s a deeper, more uncomfortable feeling. After all, I challenged myself to not buy any food outside of the grocery store for this month in retribution for my previous indulgences. If I felt truly secure and happy as a result of my actions, I wouldn’t feel any urge to change. So there’s that uneasy feeling again, a feeling of inner wrongdoing that lies at the root of my self-imposed restrictions.
Why is it that when other people buy us food, it’s an act of love; but when I buy food for myself I feel guilty?
I know that there’s food in my fridge that I’ve already prepared. Yet I still make a decision to stop for a meal that I enjoy in the moment but that will upset my stomach an hour later. I do enjoy the food in the moment, except for the time when I went to get a burrito after I knew I’d eaten out way more than my usual schedule permits. I felt shame already while taking that first bite, wondering to myself why I couldn’t just employ some self-restraint. It also still raises this question: why do I get so upset with myself for eating out?
...I’ve internalized these rules and associations with food that make me feel as though I need to be eating healthy all the time, and that I need to take up as little space as possible.
Maybe the fault lies with the terrible food culture we often find ourselves subjected to, one that glorifies enormous serving sizes but only validates thin bodies. I’m privileged in the sense that I have a body that fits social norms, so no one else shames me for eating large amounts of food. Instead, I’ve internalized these rules and associations with food that make me feel as though I need to be eating healthy all the time, and that I need to take up as little space as possible.
It could also be the guilt over spending too much money on things that aren’t exactly necessary. When the food comes out of someone else’s pocket, I can skip the discomfort I feel over throwing money towards something I see as indulgent. If I do use my own card to pay for my meal, I ignore any implications during the transaction and wait to see the charge appear in my bank account. I’ll add up the total amount of food I’ve spent in a month and cringe at the definitive number staring back at me. Low is good; high is bad. I know that there is a middle ground here, but I can’t seem to find it.
I can detail what every one of my family members orders when we go to Outback. I used to think that Outback was fine dining, the type of place you had to dress up for, until I went there with my friend and her family, and they were all wearing jeans and workout clothes. I couldn’t begin to comprehend not treating the kid’s mac and cheese there with the utmost respect, seeing as it was one of the highlights of my existence (honestly, probably still is). I see connections between my guilt over food with the events my family makes out of going to eat. We always have regarded a trip out to get food or even a night where we order in as a special occasion. My siblings and I view it as an accomplishment when we successfully implement a scheme to convince our parents to treat us to a meal.
When I spend money on food, this self-judgement works on two levels, both of equal discomfort.
The combination of the extraneous eating with the idea of spending money really gets to me. I’m comfortable spending a little extra money on a piece of clothing that catches my attention. I’m comfortable with an imperfect diet and don’t stress over what I eat in the everyday. Together, they work to make each other live forever. My bank statements concretely remind me of numbers I probably would’ve forgotten otherwise. On Refinery29, they have a feature called Money Diaries, where women document their spending habits for a week, which often includes food descriptions. There’s a smug satisfaction that readers can experience by judging and comparing one woman’s money and eating habits to their own. When I look at my own history, I can only compare my actions to my own internalized standards. When I spend money on food, this self-judgement works on two levels, both of equal discomfort.
If other people purchase food for me, one half of the burden is on them. Even further, I can justify any eating habits on the fact that I was merely capitalizing on a free opportunity. Poof, any guilt evaporates like the wind and I can put the experience out of mind. The guilt leaves, the intention behind the act of love remains.
I think self-care and self-love is so important, and I’m on a journey towards practicing those things better with each day. I know I’m being hard on myself and I can recognize that quitting something cold turkey is only one option on a false binary between complete deprivation and indulgence. I want to find a middle and I want to remove myself from any contexts that contribute or cause guilt over something I genuinely enjoy. The pessimist in me says that will never happen. The optimist in me says every day is a fresh start.