Getting Territorial About Food: The Problem With “Can I Just Have One Bite?” [Help a reader out]

by Charlotte on April 28, 2014 · 22 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 few years 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 a taste, 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” ?

How do you feel when someone asks for “just a taste” of your food? Are you a good sharer or do you kind of want to punch them out? What’s your advice for this reader?

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Courtney April 29, 2014 at 4:42 am

Same thing here. Once a week I go to this local cake cafe and buy a piece of cake the size of my face as a treat. Sometimes my husband and I share a piece and sometimes we each get our own. This week I got my own piece and brought one home for him (different flavors). I ate half of mine and decided to take the dog for a walk and come back for the rest later. Came home from walking the dog and my husband comes in the kitchen and says, “So I had a bite of that cake,” and I gasped, “Which one?!” He burst out laughing so hard and said the look on my face was as if he’d just punched a puppy. But if I get it in my head that something is for me and me alone, you’d better watch out if you think I’m sharing. (He did not, by the way, mean that he’d taken a bite of my cake, he was just letting me know he’s tried *his* cake and was going to say it was really good.)

I have no advice, but you guys are not alone. Really my husband is the only person that would ever ask for a bite of my food and he knows why I am territorial about it with my ED history. My girlfriends and I go out frequently and they are always offering to trade bites of things but I just don’t partake. It’s another one of those things that I allow myself and don’t feel the need to explain. Truly, fighting against the inclination just makes it that much worse. We all have our quirks after all, right?

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Naomi/Dragonmamma April 29, 2014 at 4:58 am

Ah, the Ding-Dong story. Was enjoying my nightly reward for a day well spent, when hubby thought it would be really funny to grab the partially eaten Ding-Dong out of my hand and cram it in his mouth. I nearly killed him. (This was about 30 years ago, and he’s still alive, although I’ve almost killed him for various other reasons.)

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Carla April 29, 2014 at 5:18 am

OH NUMBER THREE!!
thats such a great idea.

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Lynne April 29, 2014 at 5:49 am

My issue is that I have to hide food for me b/c my kids and husband eat everything. It’s awful to eat well, consider portions and plan meals only to have it completely derailed – driving me into a not always pretty event. I’ll roast tons of veggies so that I’ll have a healthy lunch throughout the week and then husband will come home from work and eat it all… for a snack… on chips… It has turned me into a hider… keeping Larabars or nuts in the car, sneaking out for a snack no one is looking… It just doesn’t feel right.

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Nicole April 29, 2014 at 7:25 am

I have a bit of an issue sharing food too- but I also think it is important to recognize that you don’t HAVE to share food. Unless you are an immediate family member, I think it is rude to ask if you can “have a bite” unless the other person has already offered. It is THEIR food- if they are at a restaurant, they picked it out and ordered it specifically, and you did not. Even if it is a family member, I am very conscious of asking, because some family members don’t like to share.

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JLVerde April 29, 2014 at 7:56 am

My hang up with food sharing is more OCD than ED.

I like to count out small things like m&ms or peanuts. Not because I’m limiting myself to only so many but more that I like to eat even numbers or (with a single serve of m&ms for example) I like to know how many were in the package (again, not for calorie tracking, just being nosey).

My husband will just take a few of said item and NOT tell me the number. It gives him evil glee to hear me sigh and lament that my count is now off. If he asks for some (instead of just grabbing) then I will give him either the odd ones or give him an even amount (so my numbers stay “right”).

(even weirder about the counting thing is, I don’t enjoy math at all and am woefully inept at it. The number stuff has nothing to do with math, just organizing and counting)

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Renée April 29, 2014 at 7:59 am

As eating disordered as I have been throughout my life, I actually have no problem sharing…in fact, I’m usually the first to offer. That being said “out loud”, I wonder if its an attempt to ‘lose’ calories off my plate and still count them? Or maybe I’m just over-thinking the whole thing and just like to share. Many times if we are out with family or friends, everyone orders something different and we all get to taste each entree. Of course, when eating out most portions are so huge that I end up bringing at least half home and have lunch the next 2 days.

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Hal April 29, 2014 at 8:41 am

I have a different but related problem. My boyfriend consumes ice cream at a much higher rate than I do and so very often I’ll go to the freezer only to find that it’s all gone. A few years of this have caused me to start eating ice cream even if I don’t want it just because I know it won’t be there when I do want it later.

I’m considering buying ice cream very clearly JUST for me so that I don’t go through this sort of cycle. And I don’t consider that behavior disordered. In this culture we do not make it easy for people to make consistently good choices about food, and so the process of trying to do so gives rise to all sorts of behaviors that seem absurd but are in fact necessary.

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Lili April 29, 2014 at 8:46 am

I’m absolutely obsessed with movie theatre popcorn. I like to savour every single kernel, and will request a new bag if it isn’t ‘fresh enough’. If my husband so much thinks about taking a handful, he’ll get all sorts of angry comments out of me. Our solution: buy a large, since it comes with free refills. We never actually get a refill, but it lessens my popcorn hoarding and anxiety.

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Darwin April 29, 2014 at 9:00 am

No, Charlotte.

You reaction was not “weird” given your specific circumstances at the time.

From YOUR perspective.

Because YOU had the benefit of not having only a TINY PART of the story.

But your loving spouse however DID only have a TINY PART of the story.

So your reaction was unexpected , abrupt, astonishing, unanticipated, unforeseen, from left-field, unheralded, unlooked-for, out of the blue, unpredicted, not bargained for, and unpredictable…

AND with the amount of information he had…it was weird.

UNTIL he got the rest of the story.

Ultimately, and regardless…it would have been traumatizing for him.

How could it not be?

(This is something I know about from experience.)

I have often thought that your posts needed a companion piece from your husbands perspective.

After all, any people in similar circumstances often have someone close who experiences the fall out from these kind of things.

And how to help THEM deal lovingly, and appropriately would be just as important.

Your husband appears to be an expert!

Kudos! (And high fives to him!)

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Megan @ Meg Go Run April 29, 2014 at 9:02 am

When I was in the pits of my disordered eating, I was territorial about my food. I was also not one to take just a bite of someone else’s food…. it was like an all or nothing mentality. I wanted the whole thing, not parts of anything. Weird…. Now that I am not in that dismal place anymore and have chilled out A LOT with food, I am not all weird about sharing anymore!

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JavaChick April 29, 2014 at 10:50 am

I’ve read that anecdote of yours before, and completely understood it, but today it made me think of how protective I am of my “free” time. Possibly because I had a mini-meltdown last night.

I come home from work with a list of things in my head that I plan to do. My husband comes home and sits down behind the computer and proceeds to do whatever he wants for the rest of the evening.

So I’m ticking things off in my head – feed the cats, exercise, practice piano, wash some dishes, get dinner, clean litter boxes – and I want to come home and get that stuff out of the way so I can relax. Then Husband will want to talk about something, or read me something interesting he is looking at online and I’m standing there thinking: I hate having stuff read to me and I’ve told him this before and that he should just send me the link and can’t he see I’m on my way to do something [or in the middle of doing something] and it’s not fair because he can do whatever he wants when he comes home but I HAVE THINGS TO DO!

Yeah.

Then he’ll get all….I can’t even think of the word….I am too riled up by the imaginary rant in my head. And it’s not that I don’t want to sit and chat with my husband, and I just wish that he’d wait until I wasn’t running around the house trying to get stuff done. And it’s not that he never helps with things like making dinner either, it’s more about me having a specific order in my mind of what I am going to do, and I just want to be left in peace to get it done.

But mostly I am an easy-going person. Really. ;)

Food sharing? I can’t think of people ever asking for a bite of my food. My husband and I will trade bites of something new, but that mostly doesn’t bother me. But I’m pretty reserved, so maybe I just don’t come across as the kind of person you can ask that of.

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Katelyn April 29, 2014 at 2:10 pm

I have never been fond of sharing food. Not before, after, or during my eating disorder. What is mine is mine and what is yours is yours; and I am not selfish for not wanting to share.

Also, this entire conversation reminds me of Joey on Friends who doesn’t share food!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCCzzZVVpIA

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Amanda April 30, 2014 at 1:25 am

Yes! All I could think through this whole post and discussion is “Joey doesn’t share food!” Which is my husband and I’s go-to phrase when we don’t want to share :)

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Lisa April 29, 2014 at 5:36 pm

I get territorial! I didn’t realize that it was a ‘thing’. I just thought that I was selfish.

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Katie April 29, 2014 at 6:17 pm

i have a good friend (she never had an ED at all, not ever) who straight up refused to share food. Sometimes we’d go out to dinner with a group of people to like Thai or Chinese or something and people would say “let’s get a bunch of different meals and split them” I knew from experience with her that it wouldn’t fly and she always just said, No.

SHe would sometimes explain it, and sometimes not. Usually the others would get a few and split them, and she would happily eat all of her own. When she did explain it, she simply said “I am ordering the dish that I want, so why would I share it? This is what I want. You get what you want.”

Simple.

I also come from a family notorious for eating off of other peoples’ plates. My sister is so bad she’ll eat the same dinner as her husband, but eat most of his because, she claims, it tastes better from his plate.

I’m usually fine with it (because I am guilty of it myself), but sometimes I get rage-y, especially if it is something I’ve been looking forward to all day. I bought two donut peaches last summer (they’re small, so I was going to eat both) and my niece grabbed one and after biting it, said “oh, can I have this” I was so mad!!! But then she said she’d never had one before and followed that with “I love when you come home, because I always learn about a new food!” How could I stay mad?

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Smurf April 29, 2014 at 7:36 pm

OMG. I was just having rage-y thoughts tonight about how I never can get any food around here before it’s cruelly taken away (dramatic, yeah…).

I’ve relapsed hard back into my restrictive eating disorder and I have to keep food at my office just so I get something to eat. It’s not that my spouse is a greedy pig (although it does feel like it right now), but if he’s hungry and it’s there then it’s fair game.

With all of my stupid food rules I might not let myself eat if there isn’t something “safe” in the house so I keep a stash of healthy foods and eat at work. Nothing’s worse than literally being starving and having your food “stolen”.

The second worst thing ever is when your non eating disordered spouse makes comments about how much you eat. I know he doesn’t do it on purpose, but there’s only so much commenting and raised eyebrows that I can take. On the rare occasion that I want extra, dammit I should have it! Ok, rant over! Great post–I’m definitely going to read up on intuitive eating–very intriguing and normal sounding!

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Melissa April 29, 2014 at 9:09 pm

I’m not even a huge “Friends” fan, but I just have to say…

“JOEY DOESN’T SHARE FOOD!”

Also, I’ve definitely been there. Heck, can’t say I’ve really gotten past it, either.

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Janet April 30, 2014 at 3:34 am

Wow, I feel so reassured that I am not the only one. In my case, it’s because I often can’t eat other people’s food due to food allergies, and I also need a certain amount of protein and vegetables to feel physically okay; I can’t physically deal with too many carbs at once, especially early in the day.

There’s also the inverse that I insist on sharing treats that we aren’t likely to have again in the near future. We received a fancy “energy bar” with dried fruit and chocolate (i.e., candy bar) that costs $2 each, which I think is outrageously expensive and would never buy. I ate half and left half for my husband. I even did that with the small packet of peanut M&Ms that we got from the same holiday: ate half (5 peanut M&Ms) and left him the other 5 in a small bowl.

I learned that from my mother. When she grew up, her father would dole out the whipped cream onto the jello from the serving bowl: one dollop for mother, son, and daughter. He would then take his jello and put it into the whipped cream serving bowl, so he would eat all the remaining whipped cream. She was radically into sharing because of that.

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Colleen May 1, 2014 at 12:49 pm

I also have a real problem sharing food, but I’ve never had disordered eating. I also experience real anxiety when I’m asked to pick a restaurant if I’m going out to eat. I think my issues are twofold. First, I’m the middle child. From what I’ve read, there’s a widely recognized connection between being a middle child and a food hoarder. We have to fight to get what we should, dangit!

Secondly, I was raised decidedly upper-middle class, but there were quite a few years after college when I was trying to make it on my own, and times were very lean. Both good food and trips to restaurants were extremely rare and special treats, so I get really stressed out about picking the PERFECT place, and PERFECT meal to not squander this opportunity. I’ve changed my life quite a bit in the past few years, and I’m much more comfortable financially now. I’m just starting to learn to be a bit more laid back about restaurants and leftovers.

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A May 5, 2014 at 3:19 am

I have the exact same issue. I get SO anxious when people ask for bites or tastes of my food, because it throws off all of my meticulous calorie planning/calculating/measuring/portioning, and then I can’t be 100% sure of how many calories the person’s “bite” contained. And like you said, Charlotte, I work really damn hard to “earn” each part of my meal, as disordered as that sounds/is. Drives me bonkers even though I know it’s silly. The reader who wrote in about this is DEFINITELY not alone.

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