Can I Have a Little Bite? Getting Territorial About Food [Reader Question]

by Charlotte on June 4, 2012 · 39 comments

“Ooh, that looks good! Can I have a few bites?” These words sparked the one and only time in my marriage I nearly punched my husband out. I wish I were exaggerating but it was in the depths of my eating disorder and I’d spent all day being “good” and counting every calorie and this dish was my reward. I’d portioned it perfectly and already entered the numbers into my (insane) food tracking spreadsheet. I’d been looking forward to eating it all day. (True story: when you’re starving, all you think about is food. I was obsessed with cooking shows, recipe websites, cookbooks and magazines, always planning the gourmet meal I was going to eat when I was finally “good enough.”) And of course I was so so hungry.

So when he leaned over and casually took a few bites, I went atomic. Realizing that I couldn’t articulate all the crazy thoughts in my head without sounding, well, crazy, I burst into tears and stomped into the other room yelling at him that he might as well just eat the whole thing now. As I sobbed in a corner, all I could think was “How could my beloved husband steal food right out of my starving mouth? Couldn’t he see how much this food meant to me right now? Especially since he could eat as much of anything in the whole house that he wanted and all I had was this. And now this was two bites less. How was I supposed to calculate the calories now? And if can’t count it then I can’t eat it.” I went to bed hungry. And furious.

I also wish I could say this was the only time I got territorial about my food but this weird instinct has been one of the harder aspects of my disordered eating to kick. It’s only been in the last year or so that I haven’t felt that hot flush of anger and fear whenever anyone tried to eat my food or offered to split a dish with me at a restaurant. This was especially tricky since kids are notorious food sharers. One of Jelly Bean’s favorite pastimes to this day is running over whenever she sees me chewing and prying open my jaws to get a good look at whatever I’m masticating. If she’s interested she’ll even try and take some. (A practice I discourage – I’m not Alicia Silverstone.) I can remember more than one occasion where giving my kids half my granola bar felt like a bigger sacrifice than donating a kidney to them. I was not a good sharer.

So when a reader e-mailed me about her “weird” food issue, my first response was to write her back and say “No, you’re not weird! You’re not alone in this!” and then to sigh and smile to myself No, you’re not weird! You’re not alone in this…

She writes, “I have a problem sharing food which I’m pretty sure is down to my [eating disordered] past. I think it’s the concept of having a ‘whole’ meal. A combination of the anorexia’s wanting to be able to keep track of how much and a touch of OCD. Even though sharing means less food, I still have trouble when a friend or family member asks for ‘just a bite’. I can’t afford to talk to anyone about it and usually I either grudgingly give whoever it is the smallest amount possible while still being polite, or say something along the lines of ‘it’s really spicy’. I feel guilty about it, but my overwhelming desire to have a ‘whole’ meal is too strong. Do you have any thoughts? ”

Yes, yes, I do. My first thought is to tell you that this too will pass. Like I said earlier, this was one of the last “voices” to go for me but just the other day I was eating a piece of (excellent) cake at a party and when Jelly Bean climbed up on my lap and demanded to “waste wookie” (taste cookie – her word for dessert) I let her finish my piece. And then I got up and got myself another one. No angst at all. It can be done and you will get there! So here are my un-expert tips about getting from there to here:

1. Protect your food. It sounds counterintuitve but to convince my mind that I was really going to let it eat now, until my body was satiated, I had to let it know that I was going to protect its food. For a while I did actually just tell people no. I didn’t give them excuses or explain it – I just said “I’m sorry, no” and moved my plate away. It sounds mean but the ED destroyed any trust your brain had in your body. For years it would send you hunger signals only to be ignored. You are now working on rebuilding that trust.

2. Allow yourself to eat what you want. This is what Intuitive Eating taught me. If you know that you can eat exactly what you want when you need it then the scarcity issue disappears. This isn’t your “last meal” because you will give your body delicious food when it needs it. This is scary at first. Really scary. And I recommend Geneen Roth’s books to help you understand and get through this part. (Note: this is not binge eating. It’s the opposite of binge eating – it’s being very conscious of what you’re eating, why you’re eating it, how it tastes, how it feels etc.)

3. Practice sharing food you don’t care about. Again, sounds nuts I know, but it totally helped me. I’d pick a food that I didn’t have any emotional attachment to and then offer bites to people. Sometimes I’d reserve a serving for myself back in the kitchen or my car so that I knew there would be some for me if I wanted it too.

4. Don’t deprive yourself. The second you start putting food rules back on what you “can” and “can’t” eat or labeling foods “good” or “bad” then the sharing issues come back in full force. I was able to share my cake with Jelly Bean because I already was assured that if I wanted more cake I could have it.

5. Eat consistently. Part of my problem was that my body was truly starving and when you’re that hungry of course you’re going to get upset when someone takes your food! But even now that I’m not starving anymore, sometimes getting overly hungry can trigger that same response. It’s about finding that sweet spot where you can feel your hunger (it’s just as bad to never feel hungry as it is to always feel hungry) and yet are not overcome by it.

6. It’s okay to not like sharing your food. Whether it’s the germ factor or some other reason, some people just don’t like sharing food. And that’s all right! There’s a difference between being ruled by your ED and hoarding your food and being in tune with yourself and realizing that you just don’t like sharing food. If you’ve tried the 5 previous things and it still makes you uncomfortable then don’t share food. I recommend coming up with a humorous answer rather than slapping people’s hands away though. Something like “Whoops, I already licked the whole thing” or “I failed preschool, I can’t share” ?

Anyone else get territorial about their food? How do you feel about taking “just a bite” of someone’s food? What’s your advice for this reader?

{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

Kendra June 4, 2012 at 11:07 pm

Thank you for addressing this issue! I’ve struggled with anorexia for 13 years, and I’ve always been baffled by the fact that I will spend 99% of my time avoiding food, and yet will go ballistic when someone tries to eat any of “my food.” One of the first ways my ED first manifested itself was in avoiding small bites of others’ food, so it seemed totally unfair that people could eat my food when I would never eat theirs. One of the biggest successes in my recovery has been gaining the ability to taste othe people’s food, and as I’ve begun tasting, I’ve become more open to sharing my own food. I still haven’t shared a meal, but hopefully I’ll get there!

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Charlotte June 5, 2012 at 8:20 am

Yes, if it’s one thing EDs are, it’s irrational. Congrats on all your progress so far! THat’s huge!!

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radioactivegan June 4, 2012 at 11:12 pm

I don’t mind sharing food for the most part, so long as people use utensils. I know several people who use fingers for non-finger food, and it really bothers me. If someone sticks fingers in my food, I’m done eating it. Sometimes, if someone is eating their own food with fingers and I have to watch, then I’m done eating too … I just can’t deal with it :\

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Charlotte June 5, 2012 at 7:18 am

Groooosssss! I’m with you on this one. If someone else sticks their fingers in my food, I’m done. Esp. if it’s one of my kids – because I know where those grimy little hands have been!

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Kristin June 5, 2012 at 12:11 am

Interesting… if I’m out at a restaurant, I generally try to get people to try whatever I’m eating, since the portions are usually out of control (and I have a hard time leaving food on the plate). So I kind of force people to take it away from me :)

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Charlotte June 5, 2012 at 7:16 am

I do this too – my food sharing problem is more in regards to when I’ve portioned my food myself. You’re right about the ridiculously huge sizes most restaurants offer and I think sharing in that context is an awesome idea!

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RubySongbird June 5, 2012 at 4:16 am

Yikes. I also count calories, and though I haven’t had an ED I do get annoyed when I’ve counted out the exact amount of something I want to savor, and someone grabs a bite of it. This might be normal, but it sure is annoying. Sometimes I have to get my own portion of food just so that I don’t have to share.

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Charlotte June 5, 2012 at 7:01 am

Yes, this can be frustrating for anyone who counts calories, I’m sure!

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Naomi/Dragonmamma June 5, 2012 at 6:38 am

One of my husband’s favorite stories happened over 20 years ago: We were eating Ding-Dongs, and he grabbed a freshly unwrapped Ding-Dong out of my hand and shoved it in his mouth, and I went ballistic. Doesn’t matter that there was the whole rest of the box sitting there, that was MY Ding-Dong and he had no right to take it!
Had nothing to do with an eating disorder, I just don’t like sharing food which has already been established as MINE. (Buffets are totally different, they’re meant for sharing.)

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Charlotte June 5, 2012 at 6:48 am

Hahah – I wish I could have seen that! And yes, there’s def. the element of “no, I made/brought/unwrapped this for me – get your own, man!!” for me too.

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Sarah June 5, 2012 at 6:46 am

I am possibly an OVER-sharer of food. I’m always trying to give my food away! Case in point, the other night we had a formal dinner for my fiance’s ship and the plate we were served had both a portion of chicken and a portion of steak. I ate my chicken and about half of the steak and pushed the rest on to my fiance’s plate. Did the same thing last night with the lamb we had. I also gave him the rest of the fries I didn’t want at a baseball game this weekend. In a way, sharing my food becomes portion control. If someone else eats it, I can’t eat it. I grew up in a “clean your plate” household, so I do feel some guilt for leaving food, but that guilt goes away if someone else eats it! Lucky for me, the fiance is usually always still a little hungry at the end of a meal!

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Cammy June 5, 2012 at 8:11 am

I totally had this issue, and still do, but to a much smaller degree now that I’m re-nourished and don’t have my body and brain in uber-survival mode. It was both a survival and an OCD issue, I think. You are starving and just don’t want to share the food, you’ve saved up calories for it all day, etc, but there is also the total panic over not being able to calculate exactly how much is in that bite or two that someone takes, and I was just like you described: If I didn’t know precisely how many calories I was taking in, I wouldn’t eat it at all, *even if I knew it now contained LESS than it originally did and couldn’t possibly push me over my meager energy budget.* I think it was anxiety over not being certain of how much I could “afford” to eat later if I didn’t know the precise value of the dish in question. Or something. God life is so much easier now….

I found that starting off sharing food I didn’t care about, item #3 on your list, was incredibly helpful. Also, now if my boyfriend wants a taste of something I’ve got, I just take a taste of his and call it even. =) Go recovery!

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Jeanette June 5, 2012 at 8:15 am

Thanks for posting this! It’s nice to know I am not alone in my crazy…. I had to have long talks with my boyfriend sometimes to let him know why I was being weird or territorial over my food. Now that he knows and is respectful,. I share a lot easier.

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Kaelin June 5, 2012 at 9:56 am

I hadnt really thought about my fear of sharing food until you shared your story. I have been working through the Intuitive Eating process for a few months now and looking back I definitely had some serious issues. I also panicked when my husband would nibble on my precisely measured and tracked meal. Or the times I made myself finish a meal because I wasn’t sure how many calories were left on the plate…. I am doing so much better and like you have said it really does get easier!! I am learning that no one expected me to be perfect except for me and if I believe I am good enough, everyone else will too.

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Abby June 5, 2012 at 10:34 am

Thanks for this! I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anyone else address this but I guess it is a big issue for those of us with past or present ED symptoms.

It used to drive me insane when the anorexia was in full swing and my family or roommates would eat all the healthy food I’d bought first and then move on to the junk food they’d bought. I wanted to scream at them that they could eat anything and they were stealing the only things I could eat. To this day I have a small shelf in one of our cupboards where I keep things I don’t want my fiance to eat. It has less and less on it (at the moment some protein bars and dried fruit) but he’s still very good about respecting my space. Mostly it’s things he wouldn’t want to eat anyways and part of it is just the ease of having it all together so I know what’s there when I’m frantically packing my lunch before work but there is definitely still a bit of that territoriality.

I am better in restaurants though! Not perfect but better. I for sure had that whole meal thought before. If someone ate some of my dish how was I supposed to count the calories? These days though I’m happy to share bites of my food (though that may be the thought of “oh man, less calories” but I still think it’s progress) and sometimes can even split a dish with the fiance. If I know I’m going to want the leftovers for another meal then sharing still makes me anxious but I’m working on it.

On a related but non-ED note, it genuinely makes me crazy when meat-eaters bring meat things to potlucks that I can’t eat but then proceed to eat all the vegetarian options first and then eat the stuff with meat in it. I’ve also seen this at work things where they ask who doesn’t eat meat, order food for everyone, and the vegetarian stuff is always the first to go. There’s a reason I always have food in my purse.

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heather June 5, 2012 at 10:40 am

No one in my family asks for a bite of my food because who wants a taste of salad? I am the one asking for just a little taste of my husband’s real food, or my kids’ ice cream or whatever it is I “shouldn’t ” eat (as if the calories don’t count when it’s not “my” food. It must drive them crazy! I need to stop doing it!

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colleenzo June 5, 2012 at 10:46 am

A friend and I had a conversation about something similar to this, and we decided that some food hoarding can be contributed to being the middle child. Her husband and I are both middle children, neither of us have ED or any other major food issues, but both of us tend to hide ‘special’ foods so other people can’t have them! We’re both middle children, and we analyzed it down to the fact that we never really got our ‘own’ stuff as kids! Add to that the fact that I now have a husband who can and will eat 17 servings of a snack all at once, and yeah, you better believe I hide my favorites so that they’re still there when I want them! I also never share leftovers. I’m a bad, mean wife! ;)

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geosomin June 5, 2012 at 11:31 am

For me it’s overindulgence that’s the issue. A big thing was realizing I don’t have to eat everything on my plate. I can eat too much by nibbling and really do eat fast…some would say too fast. I can eat more than I should before I feel full, so it has taken a bit of work to work on portions and leave some for later…that way if I am still hungry I can have more, but I’m not feeling stuffed from overdoing it. Often that means my husband will eat the left food, which sometimes works, altho I don’t want to sabotauge him by giving him extra. I usually get more miffed when he nibbles during cook prep (I just don’t period, or I’m not hungry when the meal is ready to eat). I can get grumpy if I put something aside for later and discover he’s snarfed it (Don’t even get me started about him putting the empty containers back after!), but there’s always an apple kicking around so it’s not like I’ll starve. I do wish food could just be simpler…

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Quix June 5, 2012 at 11:59 am

My husband is not a sharer, by nature, but I’ve made him come over to the darkside with work.

His family: if you’ve never had this type of thing, you may have one bite. Ever. And it must be done with clean and untouched silverware or the food is ruined. If you want that type of thing in the future, you order it or make it.

My family: lots of shares and bites and trying each other’s food. Lots of picking things up with fingers. Eating out of the carton. Here have a bite from my silverware. We are not afraid of fingers and spit.

And I’m a nortorious food tracker, but I’ll just guestimate and put in that I had 5% of a meal or 95% or whatever or sometimes just put in 100 or so misc calories for “bites” and call it a day.

However my husband does not understand sharing ice cream. He’ll get a pint, eat some, and put it in the freezer for 2 weeks, and then be mystified why it’s gone. Um, hello, you left ICE CREAM right at the front of the freezer for 2 weeks. Same with potato chips. :P

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Kiya June 5, 2012 at 9:17 pm

“He’ll get a pint, eat some, and put it in the freezer for 2 weeks, and then be mystified why it’s gone.” Hahaha! Reminds me of when I was a kid and my mom would buy frozen cookie dough and leave it in the freezer for a month. She would pull it out to make cookies and get all ticked when there was only three spoon-fulls left. Seriously?

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Heather @ Bake, Run, Live June 5, 2012 at 12:29 pm

I don’t have a problem sharing, as long as that person uses their own utensil. However, when my boyfriend and I started dating, I quickly realized he didn’t like sharing- that was just creepy to him. We have been together 3 years now, and he will eat off my fork and drink from my straw! He still won’t do that with other people, but he is comfortable enough with me!

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Jessica June 5, 2012 at 1:37 pm

I haven’t dealt with any type of eating disorder, but I’m really weird about sharing food – even with my kids. I think it comes from living with two sisters who were binge eaters – if you didn’t get a serving of something as soon as mom came home from the grocery, you didn’t get to have any because they’d eat it all within 24-48 hours.

What’s weird about my lack of wanting to share my food though is that I’m ALWAYS wanting to share OTHER people’s food! I ask my husband for sips of his drink or bites of his food all the time, and then get irritated when he does the same to me. Not sure what that’s about. lol

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The Girl in Yoga Pants June 5, 2012 at 2:02 pm

I don’t think that’s weird at all. I don’t have an eating disorder, but I feel the same way about sharing my food. Well, the good food, anyway. When someone asks for a bite of a food I’m particularly enjoying, I say, “GET YOUR OWN!” Selfish, huh? Of course, they’re food trading, if we’re eating different things and somebody else’s food looks just as good. I don’t mind that so much.

Everyone in our family is like that. We all have our favorite things to eat. The rule is: if it’s not yours, don’t touch it!

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Alyssa (azusmom) June 5, 2012 at 2:28 pm

I used to hate sharing, for the same reasons but now I don’t mind so much. I still eat too much, but will share.
IE is, after all, a process. :)

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Laura June 5, 2012 at 3:13 pm

I don’t have a problem with sharing, but I do have a big issue with people ordering my food for me. This made me feel so much better that you wrote this today! This morning I wrote a post about going crazy when coworkers ordered food for the table to share last night, and it was reassuring to see that you have noticed yourself being unreasonable about certain things too!

On the sharing front, I really dislike tapas/shared food when it’s ALL shared, because I eat without having even a general idea of whether I’m eating too much. I don’t mind at all when people take food off my plate, or even splitting a dish between two people, but I hate when it’s lots of small plates and I only get a bite at a time – I never feel as full as with something like a buffet, where I can visually see how much I’m eating all at once.

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Kim June 5, 2012 at 3:34 pm

THIS IS SO ME. Although, I know that part of it was a fear that if I offered someone a bite, they would TAKE IT ALL! I’ve noticed since I’ve been with my husband, I am more likely to offer him some, and I’m more likely to be OK if he asks me to share.

Sharing was always the worst. With my ex, I never wanted to share because he would eat SO FAST and when I turned around, it would all be gone. If I want to eat slowly and deliberately, I couldn’t share with him. He would take more than half, he would steal my food!! And I’d budgeted Weight Watchers points for HALF! My now-hubby savors also, and I feel like I can trust him to only eat some, and to stop when he’s full.

Still, there were about a million times when someone would ask me for a bite and I would feel horror and absolute anger at the question. I’m getting better, although not always.

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Wilson Darwin June 5, 2012 at 3:58 pm

I never take any bite on others food. I hate it. But your detailed tips about taking foods are very very helpful to all. Thanks for your great tips.

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Kendall June 5, 2012 at 5:20 pm

I totally feel this way alot! Like many, I can attribute it to my ED. When I’m eating something I totally enjoy and have looked forward to all day I get anxious at the thought of there not being enough of it, as it may be the last thing I eat that day. I also get territorial over the amount of food there will be. Often, if there are cookies in my house or some sort of treat I want to allow myself to eat later, I’ll keep tabs on how many everyone in my family has eaten, and if I don’t think there will be any left by the day I’m going to allow myself to eat it, I’ll stash it for myself later, hiding it away from my family. Luckily I’m recovering from my ED so this happens much less often!

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Cort The Sport June 5, 2012 at 5:32 pm

My husband is the WORST about sampling. More often than not it’s because he is too lazy to get his own ____ (insert name of food). He’s like a vulture…circling…for when the kids have had enough and he goes in to clean up their plates. UGH!!!

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Raine June 5, 2012 at 6:16 pm

I hate it when people do that, so glad I’m not the only one. I think part of it may be due to ED in my past (non-purging bulimia), but part of it is just general territoriality and OCD. It is so much worse if you are tracking food, because I’m one of those people who would weigh every ingredient down to the gram.

I’m weird about other people being “involved” with my food at all though. I remember several occasions when coworkers would comment on what I’d brought to work to eat (at the time, I worked night shift and slept during the day, so the only thing I ate all day was what I had at work). Once someone had commented on it or acknowledged that I was eating, I usually threw it away because it made it impossible to eat any more.

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Annie June 5, 2012 at 7:11 pm

Greatest article ever written.. period. LOVE YOU!!

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Man Bicep June 5, 2012 at 7:27 pm

I don’t mind sharing my food most of the time but I HATE if someone takes a bit of my food without asking OR before I get to eat it.

Also, I find I’m more territorial about food on cheat days. It may be the only day that week that I get to eat something so I don’t like sharing it! Also, I tend to eat to access and have this weird thought that I won’t get everything that I want if I share it.

It is a strange feeling to have especially considering I usually get way too much food on cheat days and eat till I have food triplets in my belly!

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Man Bicep June 5, 2012 at 7:28 pm

Oops I mean excess not access haha

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Cynthia June 5, 2012 at 7:48 pm

Thank you again for getting into my brain and helping me understand my weird self, sister from another mother! I was so happy the first time I shared my food! I didn’t know I had others out there who were equally happy. What would we do without your over shares? :-)

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Aimee June 5, 2012 at 7:49 pm

I hate sharing food but for me it’s a table manners thing. My Dad was extremely easy going but the one thing he was a stickler on was how to behave at the dinner table. Anytime someone asks me for a bite of my food I think of my Dad, who would have thought such behavior extremely rude, and I never ask people to try theirs for the same reason. I just can’t do it. lol

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Kiya June 5, 2012 at 9:14 pm

I almost got in a fight with my husband earlier tonight about food sharing! He makes green beans with bacon and onions. I was spooning some into a bowl, and every time I would lift the spoon up, he would knock the bacon back into the pot. I tried to serve myself four times before dropping the spoon and glaring at him. He giggled and said sorry… THEN IMMEDIATELY DID IT AGAIN!! Oh man, I almost slapped him.

Whenever someone asks for a bite of my food, my immediate reaction is to clutch the food to my chest and scream, “Mine!” But I usually take a deep breath and let them have it.

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Rachel June 7, 2012 at 9:33 am

Aaaah food sharing. I love sharing my food and honestly it kind of bothers me when people won’t share (I think, “oh, so you need to eat that entire large restaurant entree to yourself? Really???”) so thank you for sharing your perspective. It is especially an issue with my husband’s family. I have trained my husband to share with me but no one in his family will ever, ever offer to share their food – and I know they are not suffering from EDs so they have no excuse! ;-) My MIL will never offer me any of her food yet she has no problem accepting anything I give her – even if it’s half my entree. Then if we order dessert, she refuses to share with anyone who is ordering the same thing, even though we logically point out that the serving will be huge. Then she regrets eating the whole. thing. by herself. WHY? I understand it could be because she is the second youngest of 6 kids… but that seems like an issue that should be overcome in order to avoid wastefulness and obesity. I know I’m being judge-y, it’s just hard for me to understand. I really don’t think it’s “ok” unless you are recovering from a serious mental illness like yourself or many of the folks who comment.

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mercy January 18, 2013 at 6:20 am

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Jill November 27, 2013 at 11:51 pm

Oo that is me! I was cranky today after someone tried to take my supper and threatened me if I didn’t give it up! I am possessive over food and couldn’t find anything else on net. I hate having my arms wrenched away n hands pried open (by adults) to see if i have anything worthy of them. I have my clothes taken n worn by others, shoes taken, books, dishes, tools and food is the last straw.

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