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Food Insecurity?

            I was talking to my nutritionist about how I panic when I do the experiment where I have to stop eating mid-meal to check in on my hunger levels, and she said, you are food insecure.


            I thought food insecurity only referred to people who legitimately don’t have access to enough food, because of poverty, or living in a food desert. It felt melodramatic to think of dieting as a cause of food insecurity on that level – but the more I thought about it the more I realized that the nutritionist was right.

            Being on a diet means imposing food insecurity on someone who should not otherwise lack nutrition; imposing scarcity on someone who lives in a world that is full of good food. Why are we willing to do this? Why are doctors willing to encourage this?


            There is something unnatural, even cruel, in imposing a diet that doesn’t match the food that is readily available (gluten free food for millions of people who have no actual allergy to gluten, anyone?). It’s like saying to someone who lives on the beach, you should never swim. Or to someone who lives in the Alps, you should never ski; and you are a terrible, ugly, gluttonous person for even wanting to ski. And so many diets are based on passing fads and half-finished research, rather than on any real understanding of the role food plays in our lives, so that the rules we have to follow aren’t just cruel, they are also, often, wrong. The fact is, food has never been simply about nutrition. If we forget that, we forget large parts of who we actually are and where the disorders in our eating habits even come from.

            Each time I have regretted taking on the no-diet rule of Intuitive Eating this year, because I’ve been gaining weight instead of losing it, I’ve checked in with myself and realized that I did not want to return to the constant panic and deprivation that comes with diets – whether they are low calorie, low carb, or low anything else. The severe diet I tried over the summer – to deal with stomach pain symptoms – was all the reminder I needed that dieting is no way to live.

“We agree. No diets for us.”

            But thinking about food insecurity as being caused by something other than actual food scarcity made me think about all of the other artificial scarcity situations we create as human beings. Simple things, like forcing ourselves to work sixty hours a week when we don’t need to, or forcing ourselves not to cry because it looks weak, or forcing ourselves to be fiercely independent instead of relying on the people around us when we need help.

            I grew up in a middle class home. We were never poor, and yet, we frequently couldn’t afford the things we wanted, or needed, because my father withheld the money. He had it, he just chose not to spend it on us when he wasn’t in the mood (other times he would spend money on us, but only on things he wanted for us). We also went to school with a lot of people who were upper middle class, and compared to them we were poor. We got small presents for each night of Hanukah, while some of our classmates got presents worth hundreds of dollars each night. But we were not poor. We were abused and neglected by our father, but we were not poor.

            The fact is that abuse and neglect lead to an experience that is so similar to poverty that it can be hard to tell the difference. If you are food insecure, love insecure, and safety insecure, what good does it do to know that your father could afford to pay the bills if he chose to?

            The work I’ve been doing with Intuitive Eating this year has most often been about teaching myself to understand that food is always available, and never off limits, so that I can learn to decide what and when to eat based on actual hunger, rather than on the fear that the food will disappear if I don’t eat it right away. This work has taken much longer than I’d hoped, and, of course, the food represents so much more than just food. My panic at deprivation is so deep that it feels as if I’m being threatened with death, rather than just momentary hunger, when I choose to stop eating a little bit early.

“Hunger is awful.”

            The work of recovery is ongoing, and seems endless at times, but just when I think I’ll never untie a difficult knot, it loosens, and five other knots loosen with it, like magic. So I will keep working on this, and working on reminding myself that I don’t have to live in scarcity, because the things I want are available now. It’s such a hard lesson to learn, though, and food is just the first step.

“We could eat.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

46 responses »

  1. Your little dogs looked anxious, as if they were feeling your emotions as you were writing this blog! I understand you and I understand all this topic. With the most sincere love I can send toward someone I do not really know, I want to tell you (from experience) that you can transcend your weak, fearful parents. Anything they tried to do to you, it made you stronger. Food, money, love — abusive parents use it all against the children they are afraid of, hate, do not understand or resent. Just because someone is a parent does not mean they are capable of loving their children, I am sorry to say from experience. My own journey to wellness started here, with abusive parents, uncle and aunt, grandmother and every other adult and a child’s growing awareness that all of these were abusers. Only when I was a child advocate, a prosecutor in child abuse cases, did it dawn on me that I was abused to such a high level that, should I have been born 30 years later, and my abuse detected, my entire adult family would be in jail.
    But that experience made me the best child advocate ever.
    Your self knowledge will help you help others–the great universal irony!

  2. Thanks for an interesting thought that we rarely acknowledge. People growing up in the depression, as I was, had that fear and were always craving food. Often stuffing our mouths when we were really not hungry. Maybe this explains why I crave coffee, I may be coffee insecure~!

    No that would be too easy an out, actually, I am addicted to coffee~! I confess~!

  3. Really excellent points about self-imposed thoughts about scarcity and insecurity. A lot of food for thought in this post.

  4. We have to try to control weight to keep our health, but there is so much encouragement, all the time, to over-indulge. And we have to eat. It’s not as if you can give it up like smoking. So, so difficult. I wish you good luck with your exploration and I hope you are able to find your own path on this issue.

  5. I agree with Lynette in her comment. Moderation is the key, I think. And, I may have mentioned it before once or twice but I love your dogs.

  6. Greetings Rachel =) Your posts have become a beloved Sunday morning ritual for me. Thank you so much for that.
    Here in Germany doctors and therapists get paid regardless and they figured that a sick patient is a constant source of income. So they confuse you will all sorts of nonsense just to make you feel even more insecure and afraid (people that are afraid are so easy to control).
    Eating isn’t as much about how much you munch or where or when. It’s about the right things to eat. And it needs to feel good and right to you, regardless what others tell you. It’s your body, you know it best. About 4 years ago I cut out sugar completely (not because I had to. I wanted to). For every sugar loaded item you might enjoy now, is a sugar free version. I also toned down on carbs, no more junk food etc. The actual miracle was that suddenly all those nasty cravings went poof and never came back. Well that was what helped me, but that doesn’t mean it would help you, because we all are different. What I want to say is, there is a way out there that is good for you, you just have to find it. Try out different things. And follow that one rule: if it feels odd or wrong or even uncomfy, don’t do it. You will find your way, I’m sure. =)
    Hugs to your doggies, have a pawesome day, stay healthy and be safe.

  7. Thank you for sharing a vulnerable story about your struggles with food. I’m so glad you’re working through the discomfort of your insecurity about food, as this will teach you how to work through the discomfort of other things as well. For me, it comes to forgetting when the clock tells me it’s time for a meal and eating when I feel hungry. Halfway through a meal, I put the next bite on my fork and then ask myself “Do I need this bite or do I just want this bite?” When something tastes really good to me at the moment, I tend to keep eating to enjoy the taste.

    Good luck on your continued commitment to yourself!

  8. Thanks for sharing Rachel. I’ve been struggling since we had a lockdown begin in July. I’m now heavier than what I was in January. I have a V shaped weight curve this year. Thanks for your insights. They are helpful

  9. Nothing to do with food, but I mentioned your book on another blog this week, Rachel.
    (It’s in the comments below the post)
    Best wishes, Pete.

  10. I gave up smoking cigarettes; and that was very difficult. Later, I discovered that food had gradually filled the niche that cigarettes had satisfied. Cigarettes are wholly unnecessary, but eating food is mandatory. This is where I’m at regarding intake control.

  11. IMO Diets are all very hit and miss……….. a hit if they work, and a miss when they don’t. The worst thing is when you score a hit, then suddenly everything reverts back to what (and where) it was. We are all different, and what works for one doesn’t necessarily work for someone else. I was interested in this bit
    ” The work I’ve been doing with Intuitive Eating this year has most often been about teaching myself to understand that food is always available, and never off limits, so that I can learn to decide what and when to eat based on actual hunger, rather than on the fear that the food will disappear if I don’t eat it right away. ”
    Nailed it on the head Rachel……… teaching yourself to understand food is always available. and learn to decide what and when to eat.
    How many times have we eaten something not because we were hungry, or wanted it, but because it was there? My failing on a large scale, that one and I’ve been fighting the weight since my teens.
    Stick with it Rachel. The more we learn about food and our eating habits, the more we can deal with our ‘urges’ for the not so good stuff…………… I have tried to show willing by not buying chocolate as Hubby can’t eat it anyway so I feel obliged to eat the entire bar as once it’s opened, it’s gone!

    • The first time I was able to leave half of a chocolate bar uneaten I thought I’d become a pod person, but it keeps happening. The secret, for me, has been to tell myself that I CAN eat it, whenever I want. Somehow that makes it feel safer to not eat it right away.

  12. I now realize that I am beer insecure.

  13. Food insecurity is such an interesting way of describing why diets don’t work.

  14. Fascinating concept to think about. Who knew your nutritionist could be part psychologist?

  15. Lovely! Insights and changes, new paths and old paths transforming.

  16. Your post just opened my eyes for something I struggle with also. Thank you for this and all your insightful posts.

  17. You are a very insightful person, and that insight and desire to heal and become “whole” that will keep you going, stronger and stronger.

  18. That’s awesome that you’re learning all of this!

  19. Do you have tips for intuitive eating you can share?

    • Honestly, I’m still trying to learn it myself. The biggest tip I’d offer is to find a supportive nutritionist or therapist who will help you learn at your own pace. The books and websites themselves have tons of good ideas, but it’s overwhelming without support.

  20. I look forward to reading about your journey! And love those puppy photos + comments throughout – adorable and such truth from the mouths of – pups!

  21. Thank you for sharing your experiences, Rachel. ❤

  22. Once again, a well paid father denying the kids their needs. Been there, survived that. He dressed in Brooks Brothers and made to order suits. We had our cousins hand me downs. Our rich cousins, his brother’s kids, who were well treated.


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