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"I've never had a 3-course meal." Robin Bailey opens up on her relationship with food.

For Robin Bailey, eating has never really been about food.

On the most recent episode of The WellBailey speaks with Bec Sparrow about her complex relationship with what she chooses to – and what she chooses not to – put in her mouth.

“Food is a life force,” Bailey says. “You have to eat to survive. So if you are someone that struggles with the whole concept of food, whether you don’t eat enough you can die, and if you eat too much you can die.

“But you can’t abstain, because you’ll die.”

Bec Sparrow and Robin Bailey present 'The Well'. Image supplied.

For people who struggle with alcohol, the solution is often to abstain.

For people addicted to drugs, the solution is to stop taking them.

But for people who have a complicated relationship with food, it is a battle they must front up to multiple times a day.

Bailey has never been very much interested in cooking. Food has not been a source of joy in the same way it has for Sparrow. She has never, in all her life, eaten a three-course meal. She explains, "Through periods in my life I've been really thin... and I've ended up in hospital."

The Queensland radio personality says her time in hospital has not been the result of "any sort of eating disorder..." but rather of pushing her body "to the absolute limit."

When things have become seemingly unbearable for Bailey, she copes through restriction.

Listen: Robin Bailey opens up about her relationship with food on the latest episode of The Well. Post continues below. 

And Bailey has had it tougher than most. Her husband of 16 years, Tony Smart, died by suicide in September 2014 after a long struggle with depression. She is a mother to three sons.

She explains that "not being able to eat in that process has made it so much worse..." and at times she has avoided going out to eat with family or friends, because she has felt "out of control".

"I don't want to be in that space because somehow it will feel like I'm going to be judged", Bailey reflects.

Staggered throughout the conversation are multiple clarifications that she is not suffering from an eating disorder: "Now don't all freak out and think that I'm some sort of anorexic, I'm not..."

Which ultimately begs the question, is she?

I'd argue that we exist in a culture that promotes and normalises disordered eating.

"I'd argue that we exist in a culture that promotes and normalises disordered eating." Image via iStock. 
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Bailey's restriction and anxiety around food is not an aberration - it's symptomatic of the society we live in. And the sickness lies with society as a whole, rather than within the individual.

For Bailey, eating is about the emotions attached to the food, rather than the food itself.

"The difference between someone like me and someone who is maybe overweight or struggling on that end of the spectrum is that mine is more socially acceptable. But the issues are the same..." Bailey reflects.

Sparrow adds, "Not only are yours more socially acceptable. You get congratulated."

For some, anxiety, fear or self-loathing results in severe overeating. Or binging and purging. No option is any more 'moral', 'virtuous' or 'controlled' than any other.

Robin Bailey and Rebecca Sparrow talk food. Image supplied.

In a society where food is never far from our fingertips, it has become a complex coping mechanism, abused by many different people in many different ways.

After a long, hard day, presented with a piece of cake, Sparrow eats it.

After a long, hard day, presented with a piece of cake, Bailey doesn't. In rejecting the cake, which part of her most certainly wants, she feels as though she "achieved something".

And in a chaotic world, putting down her fork feels like a taste of control.

Disordered eating doesn't just look like 'obesity' and 'anorexia'. There are countless shades of grey in between.

Anyone who needs support or advice about eating disorders or body image should contact the Butterfly Foundation's National Helpline on 1800 33 4673.

Listen to the full episode of The Well below. You can also listen in the Mamamia Podcast App and subscribe in iTunes

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