All You Can Eat by Ingela Bohm
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?
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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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.
A tale of food and prejudice
To help someone, the saying goes, we need to start where they are, not where we are. This is easier said than done. It takes dedication, respect and patience, especially for a man like Xavier Deniel.
Xavier is a dietician, a gym freak and a health nut. He was born into a culture of health consciousness and privilege. From a small child, he was socialized into viewing vegetables as an integral part of a meal instead of something optional and frivolous. Because of his background, he finds it hard to understand why people don’t just do what he says. If they know what’s healthy, why don’t they just choose it?
What I would like to say to Xavier is this: imagine the worst thing you could possibly eat in your circles. Imagine eating something that would make people around you horrified – hamburgers, dog meat, spiders, whatever works for you – and then imagine eating that day after day amid the disapproving glances and jibes or just quiet contempt of the people you love.
This is an exaggerated example, but it shows something important: food choice is a cultural matter, and that’s what Xavier has to learn in All You Can Eat. His heart is in the right place – he really does want to help his patients – but he doesn’t realize that by doing so, he’s attempting to change what makes them who they are. He’s asking them to go against everything their friends and family value.
Part of what makes food culturally acceptable is ethnicity. It’s a well-known fact that migrants tend to hold onto at least some of their food habits when they move to a new country. It’s also very common to show scorn for other nationalities, based on the simple fact that they eat differently than we do. By dismissing their food as disgusting or strange, we question their very humanity. Since we are what we eat, a person who eats dog can be seen as barbaric in a society where dogs are treated as family members. The same may be said of a person who eats cow, in the eyes of those who view the cow as sacred.
Certain countries also have a privileged position when it comes to food culture: for example, France is commonly revered as a gastronomically advanced nation, while England is not. Because of this, it’s an accepted form of xenophobia to joke about baked beans and chips, while the French equivalent of such traditionally working class fare is lauded as authentic and rustic. No doubt this adds to Xavier’s feeling of superiority, since he was born in France.
But contempt for food habits isn’t limited to ethnicity or nationality. The diets of the so-called lower classes are commonly derided, and typically middle class food is seen as better and healthier, even when the actual nutrients are the same. For example, an artichoke cappuccino may be held in higher regard than a ladle of cooked green peas, just because it’s more ‘refined’.
Of course, what is regarded as refined is dictated by the dominant classes. They have the privilege and the platform to self-define in a way that minorities don’t. This means that if the middle and upper classes ‘hijack’ healthy food, working class people are more or less forced to adopt an ‘unhealthier’ lifestyle. And that’s not even mentioning the price of ‘healthy’ food, which effectively shuts many people out.
Or perhaps you aspire to become middle class? Oh dear. The more the lower classes try to emulate middle class food habits, the more the higher classes change their view of ‘good taste’ in order to keep their distance from all these pesky upstarts. It’s a never-ending race.
This is why trends keep moving and changing. A prime example is sugar, which was once expensive and hard to come by. Because of this, it was considered an upper class food, and it was believed to have medicinal properties. By now, sugar is one of the cheapest things we can eat, so of course it’s viewed as a working class food, vulgar and addictive and fattening – a food that should be avoided completely.
A coincidence? I don’t think so.
But Xavier has some way to go before he realizes this. To his mind, people have a responsibility to eat healthy, and knowledge should translate into behavior, no matter your background. As a dietician, he is the link, the provider of knowledge, and it’s his life goal to help as many as possible.
But his world is turned upside down when Guy Wilkes walks into his office. He is seriously screwed up about food, and yet he rejects Xavier’s every attempt to help. Worse, he already knows all there is to know about nutrition, and yet he doesn’t eat like he should.
Xavier is perplexed, intrigued and irritated. Who is this impossible man who just doesn’t do his duty and eat three hearty meals a day? And why does Xavier keep on caring long after Guy isn’t his patient anymore? He’s not even Xavier’s type!
Well, that’s the wonderful thing about love: it can shatter your world and build you a new one, and even though it may hurt along the way, it may just be worth it.