the year i started eating again
i wanted to taste my life
CW: I use the term “food problems” to describe my lifelong struggle with disordered eating and eating disorders including anorexia and bulimia.
I’ve had food problems for as long as I can remember.
A self-proclaimed “expert” quitter, I’ve walked away from a Wall Street job, left New York City, and gone sober.
But my food problems are the one thing I can’t quit.
The noise in my head never stops roaring.
you can’t eat that, you shouldn’t eat that, why did you eat that, what are you going to eat, how can you be hungry, don’t be hungry, stop being hungry.
Every single second, the voices are talking. Sometimes, they’re screaming. At other moments, they’re whispering. But it’s never been quiet.
Since I was seven years old, I’ve been aware of my body.
Since then I’ve tried to change it, at one point, so dangerously, that I thank God someone intervened. They called my mom and told her what they had seen. With this person’s help, my parents stopped me from hurting myself irreversibly.
As a junior in college, I became aware that my food problems could end my life if I didn’t figure them out.
I got them more under control and lived with them. Carried them with me, like an ugly blanket I couldn’t bear to get rid of, to every apartment and every relationship and every city.
To be clear, I didn’t imagine I’d have food problems for my entire life. I mean, how fucking sad would it be to be eighty years old and never have eaten bread? But I also didn’t know when I’d get rid of them or how. Or if I could.
Instead, I traded the food problems for other problems. I distracted myself with what I thought were lesser evils.
My mom told me I couldn’t go to my internship on Wall Street unless I made progress on my food problems. I forced myself to eat enough so I could focus and learn, get a return offer, and pass my financial exams.
Instead of being obsessed with being skinny, I became fixated on being successful. Replacing “food is poison” with “food is fuel” helped me eat more normally.
I graduated college and moved to New York. I packed my lunches, meticulously measuring salads into glass tupperwares. I ate enough. I avoided the foods I was afraid of, listing intolerances and allergies when it came time to order at restaurants. No one noticed my food problems.
The first fall I lived in New York, I ran the marathon. Went to 5am workout classes before work and squeezed in hot yoga before I went to bed. I was eating, but I also was “earning” my food. The food problems were different, but they were there.
It worked, in a way. I ate and I achieved. I slipped up sometimes, but largely, I was okay.
Until I got tired of chasing achievement.
I traded achievement for experiences. I quit my job and decided to move to Spain. I distracted myself with a whole new set of problems. Figure out international visas! Learn a new language! Build a social life knowing zero people!
Then I got sober.
Another new fun distraction. It took me a year to make that a new steady state. I couldn’t even poke at the food problems, I was remaking my life. I was figuring out how to exist in a world obsessed with alcohol. I had my hands full.
Throughout the years, I did try to work on the food problems. I’ve been in therapy for three years. I tried eating disorder groups and sometimes went to Overeaters Anonymous. I worked with several nutritionists. But nothing stuck.
When it came down to it, I couldn’t solve my food problems, because I didn’t want to. I couldn't imagine my life without them. When I felt out of control, I could always control my food.
Then, one week before my first sober anniversary, I fell in love. Really in-love. Like I’m-going-to-have-children-with-this-person and I-already-bought-our-hyphenated-last-name-website-domain in love.
I thought I had won the game. Once I found my soulmate, the food problems would go away. They had to.
Because that’s what I was sold in the movies, especially the ones where the geeky girl gets the makeover and gets the guy. If you’re thin and beautiful, you get the guy. And I got the guy.
But the noise didn’t cessate.
How could it be? I was sold the idea that modifying my body had an evolutionary purpose. That I should want to be beautiful so that I could fall in love. More than that, it was necessary to modify my body to be loved.
It was a lie.
I could eat and be loved.
More than that, they’d love me because I ate. They didn’t care what I looked like, they loved me always and especially when I ate enough to have energy to be creative, to write and talk and dream.
It was a devastating truth.
I was liberated, but also in grief. My heart broke when I looked back at the years that I didn’t eat. How I dieted and over-exercised and dated jerks, believing that they’d be nicer to me if I was thinner.
This belief wasn’t logical, but it drove my life.
I didn't have a new distraction. I didn't have a new thing to worship so I could avoid dealing with the root problem.
No matter how much I fell in love, or how much they loved me, the food problems weren’t going to go away on their own.
I wanted to be able to eat a meal with my boyfriend and not have to think about anything other than how good the food tasted and how gorgeous this person was sitting across from me.
More than that, I wanted to taste my life.
Despite how “easily” I went sober, how I was able to quit cold turkey, I knew that the food problems weren’t going to be as clean of a break.
Unlike going sober, I couldn’t just stop eating or having to interact with food like I could with alcohol.
More so, my food problems have been around much longer than alcohol was in my life. I started drinking at seventeen and stopped at twenty-four, only seven years to undo. But my food problems are as part of me as my own skin. I’ve had them for as long as I could remember, twenty years or more.
There was also the social component. While alcohol is ingrained in our culture, it’s generally understood that stopping drinking is good for your health. Letting go of my food problems meant that I’d let my body exist at its natural shape. That my body might change, in a way that wasn’t socially accepted as “healthy.”
All these things, and more, remind me why I’ve never gotten all the way through it. No matter how I try, it might never go away.
This isn’t quitting, this is rewiring.
It’s happening as I write this. I’m sharing from the middle, not the other side. I’ve never written from the middle. But I think it’s important to share that even in the process, there is progress.
In case you too might have food problems. In case someone you love has food problems.
I’m writing about them now, because if I wait for them to be gone, I might never talk about them. Instead, I know that any space I gain, any silence I reclaim from the food problems, is victory.
As my boyfriend and I plan meals, I write names of foods I haven’t eaten in years. Some I’ve never eaten before in my life.
Bread, pasta, potatoes, eggs, corn, arepas, tortilla. God, this food. I say their names like prayers, like promises.
I can’t believe it. I’m eating again.
I wanted to taste my life.
Finally, I’m getting full.
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