How does the thought of having almost no control over your food intake for 30 days make you feel? Would you feel anxious not knowing exactly how every meal you consume is prepared? Could you cope not having a clue how many calories you are eating per day? Would you be able to eat bread/pasta/sugar with every single meal for a month straight? Would it bother you to consume a diet that is at least 80 per cent carbs, knowing that some days you would be lucky to hit even 50 grams of protein?
For many people who have any kind of history with orthorexia, the questions above may stir up feelings of anxiety. The thought of handing over total dietary control for a prolonged period of time can be genuinely terrifying for some people. I used to be one of them.
A few years ago, I meticulously counted calories. I rarely ate out but, if I did, I always checked the menu for nutritional information in advance. If I went to a friend’s house for dinner, I asked how they prepared their food and then refused to eat the higher-calorie offerings.
I could have never have allowed myself to eat bread once a day, let alone three times a day. I would have been filled with anxiety at the thought of not hitting daily protein targets, and overshooting my calories with all the “wrong” types of foods.
But this is exactly what I am doing now. As I have mentioned, while I am in Morocco, I am staying in a homestay – for the second time this year. This means I have no control over what I eat. Like a child, I eat what I am given or go hungry.
In Morocco, this means lot of bread and not a lot of meat. Interestingly, Moroccans do not use cutlery and instead eat with their hands, using bread as a vessel from plate to mouth – hence why the average daily bread consumption is through the roof.
I wanted to stay in a homestay, rather than live on my own, as I wanted to have the truest Moroccan experience I could. While my first homestay was a bit of a disaster, I was thankfully able to move into a better one.
To run you through an average day, breakfast is always the same. I have fresh bread with butter, cream cheese and/or jam, and a slice of cake, with two coffees (which are creamy, sugary and are oh-so-delicious).
I try not to take too many pictures of my food, because I don’t want to look like crazy in front of my Moroccan family, but lunch and dinner rotate between tagine, roast chicken, eggs and sometimes just vegetables. Some days, however, I’m lucky to eat one vegetable.
Every household across Morocco serves couscous on Fridays. I like this tradition.
And let’s not forget about dessert. Every single day, my Moroccan mama bakes a cake. They are very generous here so, even when I’m full and say no, I always end up with more food on my plate.
I’m also addicted to their mint tea, which comes at the end of every meal.
When I have travelled on the weekends, I ate out and had a little more flexibility with my food options (although it’s funny to see how many restaurants literally just give you the choice between tagine and couscous). In theory, I could do the same thing in Rabat but a) that would be rude to my host family and b) it would be a waste of money considering my food is included in the cost of my accommodation.
Although I lost weight in my Guatemalan homestay, I have gained a few kilos here. But I’m not stressing about it. I know that as soon as I arrive in London and return to a normal style of eating and stop pounding down the bread every five minutes, the weight will come right off again.
While the thought of the grave lack of protein in my diet has crossed my mind once or twice, I haven’t bothered to estimate my overall caloric intake or anything like that. To me, there is no point. And I definitely haven’t felt guilty about anything I’ve eaten.
Exploring the Moroccan cuisine and food-related customs has been the highlight of my time here. To know that a few years ago I would not have been able to relax and appreciate the food here makes me sad. Even now, I see people who are too afraid to eat out even once a week, let alone 21 meals a week.
Instead of worrying about how “clean” my food is, or stressing over the fat, sugar or salt each meal contains, or turning down meals that have been lovingly prepared, I am far more interested in learning the history and traditions concerning each food. While my body fat may be a little higher than normal, I am satisfied knowing that I have fully enjoyed the culinary aspect of this country.
I have really enjoyed sitting down with my family three times a day and partaking in the sacred event that is meal-time, where we all talk about our days, hobbies and even life aspirations. Not to mention, never having to cook or clean up saves a lot of time and energy!
In my next post, I will talk about exactly how I learned to let go of my food rules, and how I grew to eventually enjoy handing over the control of my nutrition to someone else.
From today onwards, for my final days in Morocco, I’m attempting to partake in Ramadan (both out of curiosity and respect/necessity). But I will save my thoughts about that for a later post!
Have you ever handed nutritional control over to someone else?