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My History with Food

The long and the short of how my relationship with food progressed throughout my life. The ups and downs of how mental health and food are related.

From Childhood to Childbirth

I have always had a tenuous relationship with food. Honestly, as long as I can remember food was one of my biggest sources of anxiety. Many adults have dependent and abusive relationships with food, but mine started way back when I was a kid. I remember going to school as a 5th grader with beautiful packed lunches containing leftovers from my favorite dinners and healthy snacks and delicious treats. And while these were all things that I loved in the safety of my own home, it only took one kid pointing at my tortellini salad, with avocados whose color had changed ever so slightly brownish in the fridge overnight and saying, "What is THAT?! It smells like poo," for me to start "forgetting" my lunches at home. For me to start coveting the lunches all the other kids brought with wonder-bread sandwiches of bologna and American cheese (you know-how kind that comes plastic wrapped in separate slices) and their fruit gushers and Oreos. I even yearned at tines to be "normal" enough to get to eat the cardboard pizza and canned fruit from the cafeteria. Because when you are nine all that you really want is to be the same as the kids around you. Now, as an adult I am so thankful for leftovers from dinner for lunch and healthy snacks to get me through the day and I'm so thankful that some of my mom's message was able to make it through the cloud of little kid nastiness. But my nine year old daughter, she wants to take sandwiches to school in her lunch everyday. She wants chips and fruit roll ups and the piece of fruit that I make her take always come back home with her. And while I would rather she take the leftover tamales (one of her favorite foods) or a thermos of soup that she loved last night, I never want her to come home starving and cranky because she refused to eat her food in front of her friends because someone teased her about her weird looking food.

How much of parenting is just adults trying to shield their children from the same traumas we lived?

But I digress...

Let's fast forward to middle school when my mom had caught on to my tactics and started enforcing a breakfast at home rule. I wasn't allowed to leave the house until I had eaten breakfast. Because, as it turns out, the school breakfast provided to us during homeroom that consisted of jelly danishes and chocolate milk were not exactly what a growing body needs to get through the day. So although I was eating a healthy lunch and breakfast every day I spent my lunch times walking laps around the halls of the school with friends, or camping out in the band room to "practice" my flute. Aka flirt with the boys who were actually trying to practice. It was about this time too that I noticed the difference between my body and those of the other girls at ballet. There were several of the tiniest, sprite-like girls in my class who were probably a foot shorter than me and needle thin. And while I had always lived ballet, their super natural bendiness and feather-like flitting about made me feel like a thundering ogre galloping after them and their dainty jetes. Looking back at photos of myself in my ballet costumes I can feel the absurdity of those feelings like a stone in my stomach and my heart aches for that poor hormonal little girl who simultaneously wanted to grow boobs and her body to shrink back into kindergarten sized clothes, both wanted boys to like her and never wanted them to notice her. Middle school is rough, you guys, and I'm not even going to get into the girl drama.

So I did what anyone who has ever really loved anything does...I quit.

I know, I know, I know...this is not the uplifting message you were expecting to hear. That comes later, I swear. The point is, I was embarrassed and I felt out of place so I gave up. That I said, I did begin high school dance team shortly afterwards which was a great excuse when every adult I had ever met asked me why I quit ballet. "Well...I just wanted to focus on dance team and with band and theater there really wasn't time for everything." Bullshit. I thrived on busy. My freshman year of high school my dad dropped me off at school at 5:45 for dance practice. School started at 7:20, after school was play practice and marching band practice (or football games) was later in the evening. I would get home after dark and do homework until bedtime (or later). 

So food was...not a priority. My breakfast usually consisted of a bottle of Squirt shared with my dance team bestie after practice while we did each other's hair for school. Lunch was hit or miss and I ate dinner if I was home or my parents dropped food off to me when they picked my brothers up from whichever extra curricular they had stayed late for. I remember once, that same year going to Starbucks with my grandpa and my mom. They got me some fancy pastry probably filled or covered in sugar or chocolate or something amazing. I ate less that half of it before I said I was full (let's be honest right now I would devour one of those bad boys if I could). My grandpa looked at me and rolled his eyes and said to my mom, "She doesn't eat much does she?" and then he and my mom shared a LOOK. You know the type of look adults give each other. That meaningful heavy type of look that make kids (even super grown-up 14 year olds) feel teeny tiny and super nervous. Those looks that make kids sure that adults can actually communicate telepathically. Yeah, that look. So I started trying to eat more in front of my family. I want to reiterate. I started trying to eat more of the food that I ate while my family was around. I wanted them to think that I ate. While at school I would tell my friends I needed to skip lunch because I forgot my lunch/I was out of money/I was full from breakfast? I didn't feel well/I was dieting because, although my stomach was so tight I literally could grab any pudge, I was too fat and needed to lose at least 3-5 pounds. 

And then. Then when I was 17 something happened that turned me off of boys. That made me stop wanting to be noticed. Or seen at all. That made my avoidance of food change to an overindulging problem. I was raped. And after that I gained 40 pounds and stopped dancing and wanting to leave the house. Or get our of bed. Or go to school. And I ate. A lot. I ended up taking most of my classes at the community college my senior year of high school so that I could avoid people I knew and all those inquisitive eyes and rumors. This was the first time in my life that I had felt depressed. And while I coped more or less. I didn't get help or actually process the trauma for a long time. When I left home to go to the University for the first time, everything all hit me at once, like a tidal wave. And I finally hit a breaking point and asked for help. 

After eating nothing but olives and for days I went to a football game with my friends (I was on crutches-a side note) and I started feeling dizzy. I told my friends I had homework and was going to go back to my room to study. On my way down the stairs from the stadium I blacked out. I made it to the bottom of the stairs by sheer will power alone and collapsed on the ground. A few people asked if I was okay but ears were still ringing and I couldn't see them so they walked on by. Finally a girl I didn't know brought me some water and helped me to my feet and asked if I needed help getting back to my dorm. I refused and hobbled myself home. Once I was settled I called my mom to tell her my experience. I was pretty shaken up. She insisted that I have a friend drive me to the hospital right away. After all, fainting is not a normal occurrence. I didn't. I told my friends about the whole thing a few days later. After I had seen the campus doctor. Who had been entirely unimpressed by my story of the car accident and ankle pain and blah blah blah and had jumped right to the question: Had you eaten that day? Have you eaten today? Do you have a history of anorexia? Do you have a history of depression? (Apparently she knew a little bit about teenage girls). I answered those questions as dishonestly as possible and never went back. I rolled my eyes and claimed that doctors know nothing at all. When I left that school, after only one quarter there, I continued to not eat and refused to believe that that may be the cause of my physical ailments. I continued to black out on a regular basis. I moved into a house of roommates who were never home and only ate when I was around people who would notice. I honestly didn't believe at that time that the amount of food I was consuming was not enough for my body. I honestly didn't believe that my food habits were the cause of my black outs or uneven heart beat or tingling in my fingers or massive headaches. I was so deeply afflicted by trauma that I couldn't see any reason at all. And I had my doctor convinced there was something deeply wrong with me as well. He sent me to all kinds of specialists and ran all kinds of blood tests. Everything came back normal and he was stumped. Eventually he gave me a homeopathic hormone balancing pill. Hoping that balancing my hormones make stabilize me and end my fainting episodes. Well, ultimately the hormones interfered with my birth control and I got pregnant with my life saving daughter. 

I will not say that my eating habits changed overnight or that my body was magically healed. But, I knew without a doubt that my body was no longer only my own, and with her best interests in mind I began the journey toward healing both my body and my mind.

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