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OMG Why Can't I Stop Eating?

Give me all the food.
All day, every day.
All day, every day.

"I'm going to be so healthy today."

"I just want to eat all the food."

"Wow, that looks amazing! Yum!"

"I hate it when lunch is over."

"Has anyone got chocolate?"

"I'm just going to have a little bit more..."

"Ugh, I really wish I hadn't eaten that."

"I feel sick."

"I kind of want to throw up."

"I have absolutely no self control."

"I'm hideous"

"I hate myself."

Sound familiar?

These are just some of the comments I've heard from women recently. And not so recently. In fact, since I was about 14 I've been involved in an almost constant dialogue with the ladies in my life about that beautiful and terrible word: food.

Women seem to think about food in much the same way as men (supposedly) think about sex. And by that I mean: all the freaking time.

As women in a world where highly processed, sugary, fatty 'edibles' (not 'food', which, by definition, has to have some kind of nutritional value), are available in abundance, we're so disconnected from the world we are biologically designed to inhabit. Our ancestors survived because they were good at gathering, but when we only need to gather from the fridge, things start to turn pear shaped. Literally.

My relationship with food has gone through more phases than a Heston Blumenthal recipe. As a kid with a 'health-freak' mother, I was constantly sneaking sugar. I slurped 7-Eleven slushies and hid the cups in the neighbour's bin. I pinched lollies from the jar my dad kept filled with treats in a cupboard I couldn't reach (FYI parents, kids are good climbers). I snuck up to the corner shop to buy Gobstoppers and Nerds, which I squirreled away in my room, savouring one by one.

When I was 13, body image came into play. I was never overweight, but I'm not one of those naturally lean people either. So I dieted. I ate sugar instead of food, believing the calories in, calories out rhetoric which had been fed to me by my parents and my school.

When I was 16 I developed an eating disorder which I am going to call "failed bulimia". In other words, after bingeing on rubbish I would attempt to make myself sick, but when it came down to it I couldn't quite manage.

At 18 I was the second-healthiest I have ever been. I was doing my HSC, and I didn't have the time or the mental energy to deal with my "food issues". Food became what it should be: a source of nourishment, something to satiate hunger and keep me focussed. Still, carbs were the devil, sugar was fine, and despite being the slimmest I'd been in my adult life, I hated my body.

On my gap year I travelled to Europe, where my diet consisted of gelato and baguettes. I gained 10kg, got dumped by my boyfriend and returned home on the upper end of the healthy weight range, needing a change.

I stopped eating sugar, which started as a way to help clear my skin and manage my cravings, but it became so much more than that. It helped my mood, my weight, and my relationship with food. I began seeing food as a source of nourishment, not guilt, and as a result I started seeing my body for what it could do, rather than what it looked like.

I still don't have it sorted -- not by any stretch. But I'm looking for answers. And we all should be. Because food, stress and the humble chair are killing more women than domestic violence. Or suicide. Or terrorism. Or sharks.

According to The Heart Foundation, every hour of every day, one Australian woman dies as a result of heart disease. It kills three times as many women as breast cancer. And our current approach just isn't working.

This isn't about conforming to some unrealistic standard set by Photoshopped magazines and genetically blessed human beings. It's not about being perfect. But I truly believe that we can't love our bodies unless we care about what we put into them.

We don't need extremes. We don't need hate, or shame, or ridicule. Nor do we need kale. We need an educated conversation about nutrition, in schools and workplaces and homes. We need to seek out advice from experts who aren't funded by Big Food or Big Pharma, eat real food from the earth and encourage each other to be healthy.

And maybe we should also try to spend less time thinking and talking about food and our relationship with it. Less time punishing ourselves for our 'bad' choices and feeling smug for our 'good' ones.

We should keep trying to see food for what it really is. Not 'naughty' or 'healthy', but nutritious or not-so-nutritious. Something we need to survive, thrive and enjoy. Because quite frankly, women have spent enough time in the kitchen.


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