On Food

Trigger warning: Food issues, body issues, eating disorders

Warning: Emo whining ahead

I love food.

I used to tell myself I was immune to anorexia: I just love food too much. Hot, rich, salty, sweet, creamy, savory… from the crispness of blanched snap peas to the decadent richness of a raspberry white-chocolate lava cake to the simple joys of a beef roast, I just adore food. Of course, my childhood imagination was inadequate to match the realities of my situation; by the time I was 17, enough of my soul had withered away that I was regularly throwing away carefully home-made lunches in the hopes of losing just a few more pounds.

I think a lot of men, unless they’re diabetic or otherwise on an extreme diet for health reasons, don’t understand the obsession with food that is prevalent in the XX-half of the American psyche. The weighing of every bite, the bartering, the tricky calculations required before I can let myself enjoy my food: it has to be low-fat, low calorie, preferably with some whole grains magicked into the recipe before the guilt entirely vanishes. The rich smoothness of chocolate can only be enjoyed when synthesized chemically and diluted into low-fat yogurt or injected into a “protein bar” or powdered and dropped into the most vile of concoctions, the diet shake.

Today I brought from home chicken prepared according to a simple recipe with seasonings but no added substance and some blanched green beans (that turned soggy but that was a kitchen mishap). To that I added a fruit cup (diced fruit, not in any kind of syrup) and… a brownie. I convinced myself the fruit and veggies “allow” me to have the brownie, that I’m not cheating, that I won’t suffer a heart attack right here at my desk. I’ve only eaten about four bites. I keep thinking about the 75g of sugars in the soda before me and the 68g in the first bottle, wondering how many grams of sugar I put in my morning tea that I usually use to reduce the soda I drink. The guilt for tomorrow’s planned fast-food run sinks in: I leave work at 5 and aim to be at DnD by six, a 45-minute drive on a good day. Then I wonder how much high fructose corn syrup is hiding in my morning sausage and maybe I should cut back to muffins only they’re even worse…

When everything around you is filled with “bad” ingredients, it can be easier not to eat at all.

According to my mother, the resident diet expert, white flour is bad for you, white sugar is worse, white rice is so taboo it ought not to be mentioned. So much for carbs. Fat is the deadliest of killers: pork is horrible for you, beef only slightly better, so I eat chicken almost exclusively. Butter and oil are nasty fatteners. Milk should be skim. Soda is an absolute no-no: drink water instead, nevermind that the tap water tastes of nothing but chemicals, because juice has the evil sugars in it and even flavored waters add sugar and you should never, ever ingest sugar. If you must have sweetness, use artificial sweeteners, but not too much because chemicals and preservatives are bad for you which is why you should cook all your own food and don’t even get me started on salt, salt is like Hitler’s personal flavoring agent.

The last time I checked, my mother steams a huge batch of vegetables at the beginning of the week which she consumes for two of her daily meals, occasionally broken up by a salad. For breakfast she has a frozen-fruit smoothie.

I love food. But eating “reasonably” isn’t cutting it anymore; cooking my own meals primarily based on low-fat recipes for beef or chicken and veggies and carbs, punctuated by snacks of real fruit, still has me at a BMI of 37. In order to lose enough weight to be “healthy”, I’d have to either starve myself or torture myself forcing my broken, useless body far beyond its limits, ignoring my disability and crippling myself trying to burn off enough calories to make up for my meager lunch.

And even with that I’d never be as skinny as the chefs on the cover of my cookbooks.

I refuse to “diet”. I refuse to do the exhausting mental tradeoffs in my mind: does the whole-wheat make up for the preservatives in Wheat Thins? Does the fruit content in a pie make up for the sugar and fat? How many grapefruit breakfasts allows me a chocolate chip cookie? I refuse to ever again turn food, one of the great loves of my life, into a bland, banal calorie count. I refuse to give up on flavor, to eat only to live and not for the passion of it. Instead I practice the art of substitutions: onion-garlic puree to provide flavor to a butterless mac-and-cheese dish, greek yogurt on turkey tacos flavored by corn salsa rather than taco bell, turkey for beef or pork in pretty much any capacity, fruit juice or applesauce or honey to add sweetness to dishes. But even still, I can’t escape the guilt that tells me not only should I not be eating this food, I shouldn’t be eating this much. The guilt that says every bite is a failure, every bite adds another pound to the skyrocketing total (a lie, I’ve been able to hold my weight steady for a year now). The guilt that says I don’t deserve food: I’m a fatty mc fatty pants, and nothing I eat will ever be slim enough to save me.

I do my best to ignore it. My brownie is half gone, every bite as delicious as the last. Plain celery will never provide as much soul nourishment as a good steak. I tell myself that’s more important. Even if it’s a lie, it’s a lie that lets me sleep at night.

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