I don’t know exactly when my relationship with food was corrupted, but I know that it occurred in the same timeframe that I separated from the self I once was. I cannot determine if this is this me right now, if I am the person I was destined to be. I feel like I’m not. I feel like I’ve lost my innocence over food, indulged in sex and drugs and food until I had no clue who I was before all that.
I wonder if it was an effort to lose myself, to throw away the bowline and lose site of the shore so that I would never remember the sweetness of feet on solid ground. Then I would soon lose the memory of who I was and would never have to miss myself. But I do miss myself, or rather I miss what used to fill the emptiness that lingers inside of me now. Perhaps my heart was severed in that transaction, the giving up of land for the tumultuousness of the sea. I feel as though I will never find land again.
It all makes sense though- my parents get divorced, my life turns upside down, and in those years, so crucial to the development of my sense of self, I lose every fragmented bit of me to the unforgiving forces of nature. It was a cyclone of “right” and “wrong” and “yes” and “no” of “who am I?”s and “who the fuck are you?”s.
I get that growing up changes your perspective of your parents- this is inevitable. While most teenagers use their parents as a backbone from which they try to completely deviate from, I did not have the luxury of having such a clear example of who I did not want to be. Instead, my parents morphed before my eyes- as I grew up, my father grew sicker and when I clung to my mother, she morphed into her boyfriend, a stranger with whom I’d spend the next 4 years of my life with. Malleable, I called her. And so, to try to create myself from such evolving role models is to try to paint Jupiter’s sunrise. With days lasting less than 10 hours, Jupiter spins faster than two times the rate of the earth.
Food equaled control. Cliche, but it’s the truth. There was a kind of sanity in science. I strove for perfection. I am not alone in this- we all do to some extent. I wanted to be a perfect person and without clear guidelines to what that looked like, I made up my own. Good grades, a fast runner, a skinny girl. This was the ticket to success. Family values were out the window and none of my friends were close enough with me to share their own. Or rather, those that were had their own shit to figure out. These were tough times, adolescence.
I chose good grades because that is what my teachers told me. I chose running fast because that is what my coach told me. I don’t know why I chose food, but it’s the one that has stuck with me ever since. I wish I could pinpoint the exact moment that I realized food was to be controlled, but I cannot. It may have been at dinner at my grandmother’s house when I was on my third serving of macaroni and cheese. It may have clicked like the closing of the cupboard door that woke me up to my father shoveling cookies into his mouth, his belly protruding from his big white t-shirt and underneath that, his male parts sagging in his briefs. It’s a shame white does not camouflage well. Or it could’ve been later, in health class, listening to my teacher talk about protein, fats an carbohydrates. It was seductively simple. One must not consume under 1,200 calories. This is the minimum number needed to run your organs alone if you just lay in bed all day.
But I didn’t just lay in bed. I ran, I swam, I played soccer. I went to practice after school and then went home to dinner, followed by a glass of ovaltine for dessert, homework, and ab exercises. A half cup of grapenuts with skim milk, a whole wheat pancake, no syrup, a piece of french toast with a dash of blueberries. That was breakfast. Then, two cheese sticks and a pear, a yogurt and an apple, four crackers and a clementine. Lunch. Dinner my mom always made for me. I ate the smallest I could get away with. Everything had to be whole grain, I never added cheese. Before practice, I ate a granola bar. The fat to protein ratio had to be 1:2. They were always kashi bars. I ate each piece of oat individually. I drank my ovaltine in tiny spoonfuls. My cheese sticks were slivered into miniscule pieces, my clementines I ate one nibble at a time. I refused anyone else’s food. I loved myself for the choices I made.
But then, I started to get sick a lot. Infections took a long time to heal. I was always cold. I ate enough, or so I thought. Then one day a magazine heading caught my eye. Eating disorders. I realized I was not as healthy as I thought. I was on track to eating only fresh fruits and vegetables. Nuts were too high in fat, too low in protein. Grains were too processed. Orthorexia was the article’s diagnosis for me. I stopped my disordered eating habits. I indulged, I devoured. I gained weight. Cue bulimia.
The disordered eating had returned, but this time in a different form. It was no longer about being healthy: I wanted to be thin.
This resurgence of disordered eating was again about control, but I no longer valued perfection. The rigidity was lost. Instead, I desperately tried to convince myself that food was okay. I still struggle to do so today. It is very rare for me to be able to put food in my mouth without an intense battle inside my head. To indulge or to deprive. I still don’t know which is right.
I don’t know when my mind switched from its childlike contentedness to the feeling of never being good enough, but the alteration certainly had something to do with food.
I think that I will always feel like I need to be skin and bones to be happy, but I hope that this isn’t true. I lack the self-discipline to starve myself like I used to and though I have yet to forgive myself for this, I am realizing that it does not matter as much as I once thought it did. Growing up I always pictured myself as a disney princess or an actress from a movie. The reality is that I am neither; I am average. I could be in better shape, I could have better skin, better clothes, better hair, better make up. However, I have to make room for myself, for what I am and not what I could be. What I am is down-to-earth, I am funny, I am thoughtful, I am kind, I am intelligent, I am adventurous, I am loving. I am many things, but I am not fat and I am not skinny. I am average and I am beautiful.