At the onset of food’s introduction into our lives, its primary function is to nourish us. However, somewhere down the line, it takes on a far greater role: it entertains us, comfort us, and often control us, marionette-like. Most people lug with them some “food” baggage; not just anorexics or bulimics (or women), but anyone who’s ever been on a diet. My long-term and often unhealthy relationship with food goes back as far as I can remember.
I was six years old and my mother and I were having lunch at my grandmother’s house. (My mother was pregnant with my sister at the time-consuming, which may explain this behavior in retrospect.) My mother urged me to eat some mashed potatoes and I rejected her, over and over. She got exasperated about my lack of eating and voila, hoopla erupted around me. She threatened to dunk my head in the toilet if I didn’t eat. She dragged me to the bathroom and I wouldn’t budge. No potatoes. “I’m not hungry,” I repeated. She never went through with the dunk. Could this minor incident have planted the seed in my brain for a lifelong unspoken doctrine: my refusal to eat garnered attention and I liked it?
Not long ago I would wake up with my stomach rumbling, and I couldn’t wait to figure out what I’d have; breakfast was my favorite. A bagel with cream cheese? Waffles? Pancakes? Eggs with challah toast? Now all of those things come with tremendous food guilt which also act as a drawbridge, forcing my mouth shut.
I’ve jumped on the other side of the extreme from the girl I was in high school who worked at the family donut shop and ate two candy bars for lunch, followed by a platter of nachos when I got home from school. By 17, I decided to change my ways, joined the pre-points Weight Watchers and a gym and shed 30 of my 155 pounds.
As life moved me forward I never fell to an unhealthy weight. I counted every single thing I put in my mouth, including how many m&m’s. In college, I had an unhealthy system of weights and balances where if I knew I would go drinking, I would not eat all day. This left room for the booze calories and got me drunk super fast. I kept my not-quite-an-eating-disorder under control by always staying on top of it (read: Obsession). Food problems were just one tab in my file cabinet laden with disorders, which I diversified the way a stock broker would diversify his portfolio. I never put all my psychosis in one eating disorder basket. I tinkered in depression, explored a milder version of bipolar (I was usually able to keep my disorders on a short leash), drowned in anxiety, and settled on a decades-long tango with panic attacks.
My food issues remained tightly under control while I figured out how to fail at marriage, how to succeed at motherhood, and then start all over again, learning about life and love from a clown and a 3-year-old. In fact, while I was newly single and dating I enjoyed many nights centered around gastronomical delights. Sadly for me, the food did not provide solace from stress, it caused it.
I thought back to how I would laugh at women who said “they forgot to eat” and now it was me with the lame excuse. (Some readers just said “fuck you” in their head to me. I get it.) I fed my family well, but when I was alone, it was easier to avoid eating altogether rather than face the daunting task of figuring out something healthy to eat – and something – this is crucial – which wouldn’t make me nauseous. I’m not anorexic (I’m cold and hairy enough as it is); not bulimic (tried it, hated it, throwing up is my kryptonite), I have a self-diagnosed case of nausea PTSD.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, I threw up the entire time, 2-3 times a day. I had the kind of extreme nausea Princess Kate had; only mine didn’t garner international news coverage. Instead, I got hospital hydration visits and wrote 350 pages about how throwing up every day can drive you insane. It felt like the world’s worst hangover and lasted the better part of a year. Like a solider post-combat whose anxiety trigger may be anything with a bang, my overly-sensitive puke trigger gets activated regularly and is often confused with other stomach-centered sensations, hunger, heartburn, or even anxiety. Not that it matters which way it presents itself, the end result is a hatred of food. I respect food as fuel. If I could eat a bar or drink a shake or even take a pill which guaranteed me all my necessities for the day, I would be happy to shake my hands of food buying, preparing, eating, and cleaning forever, even ice cream and pizza, my two unhealthy favorites.
Nowadays I’ve developed a “healthier” understanding of food as a source of vitamins and nourishment for the miracle of the human body. I want to inspire healthy eating habits for my children so I teach them about the value of the colors of foods. I use science and biology to explain foods’ influence on our growth, our immunity, our strength, our endurance, and how our bodies look. Still every day is a struggle. In the morning when I look for breakfast, I try to step over the invisible line on the ground preventing me from eating.