I remember when I was quite young, maybe 8- or 9-years old, I visited the doctor and listened as she explained to my mother that I was overweight. I sat uncomfortably as I overheard the word diet. I understood the implications of that hideous word well before I saw the sheet of paper she handed my mother outlining foods to avoid. I knew something ominous was about to take place.
Indeed when I saw the foods that would be off limits: cookies, chips, pop, candy, bread, red meat … I felt outrage that I could no longer eat what everyone else clearly considered the best food. Cookies! Red meat! Bread! All of it! They were going to take away all the best food! I crumpled up the piece of paper and so began my sneaky and illicit affair with food.
I would take whole packs of cookies down into the basement and hide them under one of my dad’s shirts and feeling frantic that someone might be onto me at any time, I would race downstairs to devour handfuls of cookies and then back upstairs to wait until I could do it again.
Once at a friend’s birthday party where naturally pizza was provided, we were told we could each have two pieces, but after many of the girls only opted to eat one and go play, I lingered staring at the extra slices, and would run back to quickly eat one and then one more, every chance I got. I hardly remember enjoying anything else about the party, besides eating numerous squares of pizza.
Or when visiting friend’s houses, immediately upon entering the door, I started fantasizing about what was in their pantries and cupboards and how much I could feast on without my friend catching onto me, without having to outright ask for seconds.
By the time I reached adulthood, though my weight had started to balloon much more out of control than it ever had as a child, I felt I managed my food problem in a most discreet way.
A bank I worked at in my 20s had employee appreciation days every Friday and we were rewarded with doughnuts and bagels galore. One Friday I carried my perfectly glazed beauty up the stairs, back to my work station and as I was setting down my coffee, the doughnut toppled out of my hand and landed gooey glaze side down on the carpeted floor. I resisted the urge to scream, Nooooooooooo! dramatically while clutching my chest as if a tragedy more than a dropped doughnut had just occurred.
I quickly snatched it up and looked this way and that, over my shoulder and around me to see if anyone had seen it fall. Then I inspected the chocolate glaze for hair or errant staples. I didn’t see much of anything that put me off (not that much would have, I probably would’ve eaten a staple if it was glopped in chocolate glaze) and being that no one was around to see what I was about to do, I began to eat the doughnut anyway, devour really. It was the last chocolate glaze! What’s a hungry girl supposed to do? Not eat the doughnut that fell glaze side down on grotty carpet? Go get a different doughnut ? Look like a sow when going back downstairs to fetch another doughnut, because people would look at my size and assume I’d already wolfed my first one and was just being greedy. Oh no. Oh no, that doughnut was getting eaten, carpet fiber and all!
I wasn’t proud of that moment, but my worst food offense, I mean worse than a eating a doughnut off the floor, was the filthy string cheese. Ah, the tale of the filthy string cheese. The time when I truly did go too far and knew it’d become more than sheer rebellion against my childhood pediatrician and her diet suggestion.
I was in college and babysitting a friend of mine’s 4-year-old twins. When I arrived the little boy was holding a half eaten string cheese, so I decided I wanted a string cheese. When I saw Coke in the fridge, I immediately grabbed that, too. Then I spotted the pantry and it sang its siren song to me. The feeding frenzy was on: Goldfish crackers, mini packs of cookies, pretzels, more Coke, I just kept grazing, even making a meal for myself of pizza rolls though I was far from hungry. I burned my mouth on the oozing meaty sauce concoction they inject into the rolls, not waiting for them to cool, but still, still I felt insatiable. I ate a Go-Gurt, I noshed on more snack packs of any treat I could find while the children happily played.
I made the children grilled ham and cheese sandwiches for dinner and ate what they didn’t finish. Then I spotted the string cheese the little boy had been holding sitting on the couch. Something was coming over me and I felt I had to eat that specific string cheese. Not a fresh one, delicately wrapped in its packaging in the fridge, but the filthy one that had been held for the better part of an hour by a 4-year-old boy’s hands and then discarded and forgotten. I picked it up. It was half eaten, slightly dirty looking and had flecks of grime on it from sitting on the couch unattended for hours.
I popped it in my mouth. And even as I chewed I felt horrific shame. It wasn’t good. But that wasn’t the point. I did it, much like the other day when I carried out a day of bad choices (not doughnuts on the floor and filthy string cheese choices but bad choices nonetheless) because somewhere inside of me, somewhere vicious and hurting wanted to prove that the food had all the power.
And that isn’t so. That’s never been so. The food doesn’t have all the power. I do. I give food the power. And when I make food the mistress, the thing I need to ravish in a frenzied quickie, it’s downright shameful. I don’t need to eat a doughnut off the floor or quickly shove down burritos to prove that I am beholden to food. I have come so much farther than that. I am beholden to my soul and my soul could easily pass on a half-eaten rancid string cheese.
It wouldn’t however pass on:
Bob Dylan on record
The sound of the wind
Dancing in the kitchen
Coffee made in a French Press
Painting old chairs
Photographing the sea
Adventures in Wildlife Refuge’s
And those are just a few of the things that I found in the past few weeks had me so lost in love that I didn’t think of food or my want of it for hours. So what’s a hungry girl to do then? Feed her soul and the hunger will subside.