I can’t think of anyone I’d rather have write Chew on This’s first guest post. I’ve known Grace since the first day we moved into our university residence, and we moved in together in second year with three other friends. When I left to spend my third year in Barcelona, we talked every day, even with the time difference and travels. We still talk every day.
We’ve shared so many meals together over five years that I know Grace’s food likes (dumplings, seltzer water, cheesy pasta, freezies, gummies, and rare steak) and dislikes (mushrooms) as well as my own at this point.
Grace also happens to be one of the smartest, most caring, and secretly goofiest people I know, and I count myself as lucky to have her as a best friend. She’s the first person I ever taught to cook, and I will always remember how she would often ask me to “show her how to cut an onion again, pleeeease?” when she just didn’t feel like doing it herself. I never minded. I’m proud to say that she’s now one of the more adept cooks I know.
Grace is also one of the millions of people whose relationship with food hasn’t always been easy. It’s so common for food to cause some sort of stress or anxiety, but unfortunately, we as a society tend to only focus on the “weight issues” kind of food troubles. Grace wrote this to share her own particular experience with food anxiety, and how’s she’s come out on the other side as a happy eater.
Without further ado, here’s Grace’s post:
I remember the day that I became afraid of food. It was my tenth birthday and I threw up out of excitement or nerves and I blamed my dinner because it made much more sense than blaming my feelings. Eating stopped being fun and delicious. I would take one bite and be nauseous. The only thing that could calm my anxiety about throwing up was the feeling of an empty stomach. Being hungry made me feel safe and in control and I would dread any situation where I might be forced to eat. I never thought of it as an eating disorder because I wasn’t trying to be thinner and I certainly wasn’t throwing up on purpose. This was my only conception of what an unhealthy relationship with food could look like: women who were too skinny because a misogynistic world told them to be. I was twelve and just wanted boobs and to be able to stop shopping in the kids department.
Things I loved to eat when I was younger suddenly became my enemies. Dumplings, my first and only true love, reminded me of the birthday dinner that started this whole nightmare. I went from a voracious (albeit picky) eater who could keep up with my older brothers no problem to a tiny little girl who would only eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. It never occurred to me that I had any control over my nausea. I thought I was sick, that there was a pill somewhere that would fix me and then I’d be able to fearlessly eat again. My parents were very patient and even though they could tell it was all in my head, they followed me from doctor to doctor. First it was headaches and then stomachaches, all symptoms of not eating enough. To me it was more evidence of a mysterious disease.
I will forever be grateful to my mom for breaking down and telling me she just couldn’t force me to eat anymore, couldn’t watch me starve myself. Like just about all women in this fucked up society, she had her own issues with food and I think it was too hard for her to watch me develop such unhealthy habits. I would love to believe it was compassion for her that caused me to take responsibility for my own body, but I think it was probably just growing up. I learned to take deep breaths when I got nauseous, to meditate (though I wouldn’t have called it that at the time) when I got nervous. This made it much easier for me to take a bite without worrying about whether or not it would stay down.
By the time I got to college I could tolerate food again. But it wasn’t until I met Dahlia that I learned to love food again. I have never met anyone so full of love than Dahlia, love for her family, love for her friends and best of all, love for food. We braved bad dorm food side by side and when we moved in together the next year, she taught me how to cook (though lets be real it took several years before I could make more than a decent sandwich). Her passion and enthusiasm for everything that food could be allowed me to think of it as more than just something that I needed to keep being alive. Food became something all of our friends did together, whether it was messy, drunk cooking with our other roommates or elaborate potlucks with our neighbours. To this day it is the cornerstone of all of our plans and a key part in keeping our larger, beautiful group of friends together. Sometimes I still have to take deep breaths when I’m anxious but I don’t worry anymore that food will do me more harm than good. It was a long, slow process but I hope any little kid who felt like I did will meet someone like Dahlia to bring them into the light.