Last summer, I woke at around 4am every morning with a rumbling stomach that made it impossible to sleep. I’d steal out to the kitchen, making as little noise as possible, open the fridge and pick out the most delicious-looking food in there. Hummus. Cheese. Crusty bread. Chocolate.
I’d eat my secret snack cross-legged on the floor in front of our big window-doors that look out over the tower blocks of east London, watching the first tube trains of the day trundle by, the sky turning pastel shades of pink and yellow and blue. I’d then slip back into bed beside my boyfriend, who was unaware that any of this had happened.
Weirdly, these night-time food adventures happened at a time when I was obsessed with losing weight. I worked in a sweltering office surrounded by stick-thin women, their tanned shoulder blades peeking out from spaghetti-strap tops. In the shower, I would poke my pale, squidgy tummy in despair. I loved pasta, red meat, wine, pastries – all the things you’re not supposed to like. Something needed to change. That change, I decided, would come in the form of the fad that gripped 2016 – clean eating.
And I tried. I ate tasteless quinoa and drank my coffee black and weighed out my portions of muesli in the morning. But most days, I felt empty and miserable, my eyelids drooping at my desk, and I’d sneak out to Sainsbury’s to buy a chocolate bar for a hit of pleasure and energy. I’d spend the rest of the afternoon in shame, imagining the fat spilling and pooling around me, melting in the summer heat. The girls at work fawned over their courgetti and coconut milk and talked about how many steps they’d walked that day, and I felt like a failure.
It was hard enough to control my lust for food during the day, but when I woke up at 4am, stomach rumbling, my hunger took on a mind of its own. Barely conscious, I’d grab my snack from the fridge and relish it in the delicious knowledge that nobody knew what I was doing. I didn’t lose any weight that summer.
In autumn, I left my job to study journalism. At university, I met people who wanted to be food journalists, which was an alien concept to me. Weren’t our eating habits something we were supposed to be embarrassed about? Apparently not – these people wrote to flag up the importance of food in our culture, to express their love for their favourite flavours, to encourage people to try new recipes. I started reading food magazines myself, marvelling at the way the writing and photography made the dishes come to life on the page – I could almost taste a gooey chocolate torte or a fragrant Thai curry from my seat on the tube.
Over the last few months, I’ve embraced my love of food again – as a tool of power rather than something to be ashamed of. I see it as part of what makes me interesting, an addition to the number of things I can write about. I peel, chop, whisk and simmer – a splash of white wine here, a sprinkling of cumin there – thinking as I go along about how I’d write this down, how I’d convey the tastes and textures of the food on the page. I let myself eat the food I love during the day, so I’m not hungry at night. I haven’t gained weight. I haven’t lost any either. But I’ve stopped thinking about the way my body looks.
Now, my fridge and I are a bit more open about our affair. I’m okay with people seeing us together during daylight hours, so we don’t have to sneak around at night. We’re in a loving, fulfilling and flavourful relationship, and that’s done more for my health and happiness than clean eating ever will.