Guy and the Contradictions of Modern Eating
by Ingela Bohm
One look at the magazine stand, TV guide or social media is enough to realize that food and eating is a major preoccupation in today’s western society. Not only that, it’s a problem for us – a problem to be solved with the help of experts. How do we eat to become thin? To become muscled? To increase our mental potential? To live longer? To appear refined or rugged or cool, to acquire happiness, to take good care of our families, to fit in, to stand out?
And what happens if we don’t follow the rules?
Guy Wilkes, one of the MCs in All You Can Eat, knows what it’s like to fail. Like so many people, he is presented with lots of tempting food in the name of the free market, and then left to his own devices in the name of personal responsibility. The ideal consumer is rational enough to buy a moderate amount of ‘unhealthy’ food to keep the economy going, but not enough to get ill and burden the system.
This view is so pervasive that it’s become a moral duty to eat a certain way. Lack of control is the ultimate western sin, and society doesn’t pity those who can’t keep up. There’s no room in our culture for ‘good enough’.
Guy is a victim of this kind of thinking. He’s one of the people who can’t handle the contradictions of abundance and personal responsibility. Trying to stay thin, he denies himself food until he can’t resist it any longer, and then he binges and throws up and hates himself for his failure to conform.
But how much power does the individual have over their food intake, and how much is decided for them? We like to blame people’s weak self-discipline when their food habits don’t appeal to us, but the truth is that there are greater forces at work here than rational thinking.
Food has always been an expression of culture. We eat to show who we are and where we belong. At the dinner table, the child learns what is edible and what is not, what is good and what is healthy in their circles, and what constitutes a proper meal. Food is an intricate cog in a giant machinery of social and cultural interaction, and choosing differently than your peers may be seen as a rejection.
This means that it’s extremely difficult to change your food habits. Many of us were raised in a climate of neoliberalism, individualism and personal responsibility, rather than collectivism, community and solidarity. Therefore the idea that social norms impact something as personal as eating can be horrifying. We like to believe that we have free will, and that our food choices are our own, but humans are social animals. Our company influences what we choose. For those who have ever tried to lose weight, this might be familiar: even as friends and family may cheer us on, they simultaneously sabotage our efforts by complaining that we’re no fun and that we’ve become too difficult to invite for dinner.
In other words, it’s a question of ‘Damned if you do, damned if you don’t’. It’s a harsh world! But that’s just it – you don’t get social status from doing something that’s easy. Just as gold is valued because it’s scarce, people are valued for achieving the impossible. In societies where food is scarce, large bodies are appreciated, whereas in a western context, the feat of staying thin while eating ‘unhealthy’ becomes the highest possible achievement. The ideal is the classic “I can eat whatever I like and still stay thin” trope.
One way of solving this dilemma is to throw up after meals. It’s not a good solution, but for some people, it can seem like the only way out. For Guy, this vicious circle makes him terrified of letting anyone get to know him – especially health-conscious gym freak Xavier. When they meet, Guy is instantly attracted, but he can’t allow himself to act on it, because he’s convinced that Xavier would be absolutely disgusted if he knew the real Guy behind the mask.
What Guy doesn’t realize is that his troubles aren’t a personal failing to overcome. The structures that brought it about are bigger than him, and his eating is a symptom of something deeper. His culture tells him that his struggle to eat healthy and stay thin is a personal goal to reach, and the responsibility none but his own – when in fact, the solution to the problem is much simpler.
It is spelled acceptance.
Acceptance for who he is, no matter the shape of his body. The question is, can a health nut like Xavier overcome his prejudice and become the person to fill that void?
About All You Can Eat
Blurb: How do you date someone who doesn’t eat?
Dietician Xavier Deniel is the poster boy for healthy eating. Toned and fit, he practices what he preaches, and his patients keep coming back just for the pleasure of seeing him. His spare time is divided between the gym and the other men who go there, and that’s the way he likes it.
Until Guy turns up. He is Xavier’s opposite in every way: mousy and awkward, sullen and frail. Worst of all, he carries a beast inside him, one that makes all human connection impossible. Lesser men than Xavier would recoil in disgust if they knew, and Guy is not about to reveal his true self to a bloody Frenchman.
But what Guy doesn’t know is that Xavier has stumbled on his half-forgotten blog, the one place where he has confessed all his secrets. When the truth comes out, will Xavier run for the hills – or will he be the one to finally force the beast out in the open?
Don’t forget to check out JustJen’s review of All You Can Eat to see what she thought of it!
An Excerpt from All You Can Eat
Against his better judgment, Guy leaned against a tree. It was a seductive move, almost a challenge. Stupid. Stupid and dangerous. He shouldn’t be displaying his disgusting body for this stranger to take. He should be running for his life.
But at the corners of Xavier’s eyes, just next to his too-long lashes, there was something real. Something he didn’t even know about himself.
Guy looked away, and the bark bit into the back of his head. “So why did you become a dietician?”
He could feel Xavier’s surprise. “Because I wanted to… uh, help people.”
Guy snorted. “Uh-huh. Think you can help me, then?”
Xavier bit his lip: an irritated gesture. Guy was getting to him, the only way he knew how. Because if he could be nothing else, at least he could be a fly in people’s ointment. Disrupt their perfect little worlds.
“I’ll try if you let me,” Xavier muttered, no doubt kicking himself for letting his professional mask slip.
“Going to tell me to have breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a few snacks in between? To avoid saturated fat and simple carbohydrates? Don’t waste your breath.”
Xavier stepped closer, suddenly angry. “So why did you even show up? Why didn’t you cancel, let someone else have your slot? Someone who needs it?”
Guy stared up at him lazily. He was right, of course. Guy just couldn’t bring himself to care. “You’ve got it all in those books of yours, haven’t you?” he goaded him. “Right there, at your fingertips. Nutrient tables, diagnoses, threshold values… but how many people have you actually cured?”
Xavier was trying so hard to keep calm. It was all Guy could do to suppress his laughter.
“It’s my job to try. It’s what I do. What Doctor Stenlund referred you for. If you don’t want it, we don’t have to book another session. I’ll just tell him that you weren’t responsive.”
Guy’s answer stuck in his throat. Responsive. Damn. Why did he have to use that particular word? He felt his cheeks fill with blood, and his abdomen clenched a little. Just like that, he’d lost the upper hand and the opportunity for a fling.
But it was what he wanted, wasn’t it? To fuck off home and never see Mister Perfect again. Because however rudely he’d put it, it was true: there wasn’t a damn thing Guy didn’t know about nutrition.
At a loss, he looked away. “Yeah,” he shrugged. “Sounds good.”
Xavier made a movement that looked involuntary. “So I can go back to my office, then? You’ll find your own way to the underground station?”
“Sure.” Guy straightened up, stuck his nose in the air. “Bye, doc.”
He turned to go, but something made him stop. A sound, perhaps? Something deep in Xavier’s throat, like a protest. Guy glanced over his shoulder, and for a moment, Xavier looked completely vulnerable. Wounded pride, no doubt: another failed consultation.
But it got to him. Hell, it hit him in his weakest spot, right there beneath his ribs where the hunger sat. And from one moment to the next, his mind was awash with images of his lips brushing Xavier’s temple, his cheek, the corner of his mouth – of his hands sampling the softness of that perfect throat, that hair. Right here in the fucking forest, among the swaying trees.
And before he could stop himself, Guy went back and rose on his toes to reach Xavier’s lips. It wasn’t even a kiss, barely a touch, but as messages went, it was unambiguous. He expected Xavier to recoil, like most of them did, but instead he was frozen to the spot, unbreathing. A moment passed, and another.
And then Guy heard the rustle of clothes as Xavier leaned forward. Before he knew it, Xavier’s mouth was covering his and he was making tiny sounds of surprise and desire – pure, unadulterated desire – desire for the intimate touch of someone he’d just met. A Frenchman, for God’s sake.
But damn, he wanted this. Raising his hand, Guy hooked his fingers around Xavier’s neck and hauled him in for a longer, deeper kiss. Their tongues met, and the strangeness of it all shot through him like lightning. It singed his insides, set fire to everything in its path. His moan was smothered by Xavier’s lips – he was licking up the sound of him like honey – and fuck, it turned him on. Xavier’s hand even slipped down between Guy’s legs and came to rest on his crotch. Warmth radiated through his jeans, made him tingle and swell…
When Xavier suddenly pulled back, Guy’s lips felt too cold. He opened his eyes, and his vision filled with Xavier’s black pupils, with the questions haunting them. “This is a really bad idea,” he murmured in a weird voice.
“No, it’s not,” Guy whispered. He didn’t say don’t stop now, I’ll die if you fucking stop, don’t fucking give me a spoonful of sugar and then put the packet away – and since he didn’t, Xavier would never know.
Stepping away so quickly that Guy almost swayed in the draft, Xavier put a hand to his forehead. He looked positively nauseated. “Jesus Christ… I’m sorry.”
For what? Guy was the one who’d done it. That would be Xavier’s comfort when he got back to his minimalist apartment with its one vase filled with fresh flowers: that he hadn’t done anything. His professional record was unsullied, because it had been a surprise attack. He hadn’t had the time to defend himself.
As Xavier stood there, visibly debating with himself, Guy felt saliva pool under his tongue. He wanted to grab Xavier and push him against the trunk and crush his lips with his mouth. He wanted to shove a hand down those designer trousers and jerk him off roughly and messily. He wanted them to stain.
But Xavier was already out of reach. Shooting Guy a drowning look, he croaked, “I have to go.”
And just like that, he was gone.
About Ingela Bohm
Ingela Bohm lives in an old cinema, tucked away in a northern Swedish forest where she can wander around all day long and dictate her books. She used to dream of being an actor until an actual actor asked, “Do you really need to do it?” That’s when she realized that the only thing she really needed to do was to write. She has since pretended to be a dietician, a teacher, a receptionist and a cook, but only to conceal her real identity.
Her first imaginary friend was called Grabolina and lived in her closet. Nowadays she has too many imaginary friends to count, but at least some of them are out of the closet. Her men may not be conventionally handsome, but they can charm your pants off, and that’s all that matters.
Ingela’s more useless talents include reading tarot cards, killing pot plants and drawing scandalous pictures that no one gets to see. She can’t walk in heels and she’s stopped trying, but she has cycled 12 000 miles in the UK and knows which campsites to avoid if you don’t like spiders. If you see her on the train you will wonder what age she is.
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