Food = Pain
by: Jessica Brooke
Food was a big deal in my home as a child. My father chanted “food is love” over and over to my mother to ridicule a phrase often spoken to her by her father growing up. The dinner table was always a tense place to be, snide remarks and yelling by my father for me to eat faster as I picked at my food and fed some to the dog when no one was looking. I loathed the steak I was served. It was tough and took forever to chew. It would get to the point that I would just spit out the vile meat.
Every desirable food a kid would want that was in the cabinets was labeled in black marker “for company”. I am not sure exactly when my mother expected this company, but “company” also meant my parents and it was off limits to me and my older sister Amy. Downstairs there was a large commissary full of food that was forbidden. It was torture some to go down there and want to eat something and try not to open the box. Sometimes I would anyway and sneak around to get something more than non-sugar cereals, natural peanut butter, and frozen orange juice concentrate.
I felt guilty for eating food I wasn’t supposed to have and found myself hoarding snacks and pilfering change from my father’s panda bank to get sweets from vending machines where I took my violin lessons. In the grocery store I would steal butterscotch candy from the pick-a mix and shove it into the pockets of my green jacket. Once a customer caught me in the act, but it did not stop further activity such as this that always concerned food. Candy was not allowed or bought. There was plenty of ice cream usually, but being lactose intolerant, I was not allowed that either and had to eat home-made tofutti. Even some of the items in the freezer weren’t allowed and were labeled.
After my parents went to sleep I would often raid the refrigerator and eat everything in sight. I remember throwing up often after eating too much so my stomach hurt. Food was guilt, food was pain, and food was never love to me. Every morsel that passed my lips I despised.
In high school I was convinced that the reason why I got cramps when I ran races was that I ate the wrong things, and I would not eat for hours beforehand and have only an apple at lunch. I hardly ever ate breakfast and dinner would be choked down so I could leave the table. Having always been teased for eating slow, I learned quickly to shovel it in so I could get away from my father’s tirades.
Since food was always restricted at home, it wasn’t hard for me to restrict food from myself at school and elsewhere. I carefully counted calories, checked fat content religiously and vowed to never eat any fried foods. For the most part I didn’t even eat my dinner. I would get nervous at dinner and spill my milk and my mother always seemed to bring it up at family gatherings how clumsy I was and how I spill it all the time. I hated having to eat as a family and was greatly relieved when dinner was eaten in front of the television.
Due to my behavior, before long I was no longer chubby, I was quite skinny. I ran cross country and track and did aerobics and power walking in gym class on the same day as I would run five miles in practice. I was a compulsive exerciser, running on the weekends, doing crunches and pushups, lifting weights, and constantly checking the scale.
I weighed myself compulsively as well. I checked the scale multiple times a day. I recall checking the pant sizes of other girls while they were in gym class. I wanted to be small; I didn’t want to be big like my sister and parents. I really just wanted to disappear.
I remember many mornings I would get out of bed and everything would go black and I would have to hold on to the doorway in order to avoid collapsing. I never told anyone about these blackouts, but they happened regularly. Much of my eating was done in secret and guilt abounded. I felt like I didn’t deserve food since my parents were so strict regarding it.
I would be amazed when visiting friend’s houses and saw that cookies and other such delicacies would be available and easy to reach, not on a high shelf with marker written on it. Sitting down to dinner with my best friend’s family also was surprising and new to me. No one argued, food was passed around freely and I felt comfortable and not rushed. This was a foreign environment to me and I was simply awestruck.
There was one time when I was 17 and dating my first love. I went over his house once and there was an entire pizza in the oven, brownies on the counter, and popcorn ready to be made. This was overwhelming that I could feel free to eat and wasn’t chastised for it.
I constantly examined myself in the mirror, picking out various flaws in my appearance, especially after I gained weight after I left school. I would pinch each flabby bit of my stomach with disgust and think up ways to get rid of it, by either restricting or purging, or both.
After I transferred to UConn after gaining weight from medication, I started purging. My roommate literally taught me how to throw up my food, and I had a secret stash of laxatives. Outside the cafeteria, there was a bathroom where I would go to eliminate what I had just had eaten. I didn’t find myself to be very good at making myself vomit, so that mounted my guilt and self loathing.
Over the years I have continued to struggle with the ups and downs of the numbers on the scale. I have seen nutritionists, joined gyms, and bought exercise equipment. I finally am able to lose weight in a healthy manner with a dietician, however beneath the surface are my insecurities. I still binge periodically and struggle with allowing myself to eat “normal” meals. At times I relapse into poor eating habits when under stress. I continue to this day to battle with my eating disorder, but I believe it is a battle I can win.