There are great cliches about people with a history of disordered eating. One, of course, is that food becomes very important to them. With my history, food has always been at the root of my experiences.
My father didn't eat. And if we did, as kids, he would say You ate yesterday and our hungry bellies would drop. Food became taboo. So much so, I vividly remember being five and almost choking on a hotdog so I could eat it before my father caught me. I remember being four and my father counting the ice cream sandwiches in the freezer and being punished for eating them. I remember being older and hiding in the pantry to eat. When food is a crime, you don't care what you put into your mouth, every morsel is a tiny revolution.
It wasn't only food, though, it was what food could do. Food had the power to nourish and comfort but it also made you wider in the hips and filled cheeks with color. When I look back on pictures of myself in middle school, I'm a stranger to myself. My whole perception of myself given to the loudest voice in the room, I would cup my belly fat in my hands and hate myself for it. I would believe flabby, fatty. It was true that I would be beautiful if I was skinny. And, pretty soon, the only voice louder becomes the one in your head. The one that only repeats the worst thoughts. And so I stopped eating. I only let myself indulge in Weight Watchers approved foods, I learned how to make myself throw up. I got so dehydrated and malnourished I fainted in Las Vegas and, when I came to, I was afraid the IV would make me fatter. I took sodium pills because I wouldn't eat anything with salt on it. Those pictures, now, are of a girl who was only as fat and ugly as she let herself believe. My arms, which I hated, were thin. My belly, which I thought made me an ogre, was just human.
And that became my first foray into cooking: control. If I made it, I knew what was in it. I did not eat to enjoy, I ate to punish. Because I had known food only to lead to punishment. The Saturdays spent being bullied into eating tomatoes, my least favorite food, and--when I couldn't stomach it--being punished. I was the fatty who couldn't eat the healthy foods my father wanted me to eat. On Saturdays, my parents would go out for lunch. It was really the only time my father ate and it was the only time, as a child, I remember my parents really spending time together. Getting to go out for lunch with them was a glimpse into a teasingly normal family dynamic. And so I would do try my best. I would work on the times tables and coax my gag reflex into swallowing the mushy, seedy, tomatoes. But, often, I failed. I would be left at the windowsill, watching the car drive away, hysterical. I had failed. I was a failure. A fat, ugly, failure.
I would starve myself and wait for my father to compliment me. He never did.
But, when I moved to New York, I thought food and I were liberated. It wasn't simple as that; I spent a lot of time reverting to old habits. In college, especially, I would eat nothing but a cup of soup and then walk up the 17 flights of stairs to my dorm room. I was known for my cupcake obsession and my illicit dorm room cupcake maker. I wanted to be a happy, baker person. And so, when I first lived alone, following the summer of 2015, it was my chance to reinvent myself. For the first time in my life, I stopped comparing myself to other bodies. I turned off the voices that told me I would be beautiful if I was skinny--and that's why no one loved me. I baked when I wanted, and shared my wares with my students. I meal-prepped and ate foods that were nourishing and comforting. I filled my home with whatever foods I wanted to try. Baked cookies with butter, even though--growing up--we only made them with applesauce. Food was my friend. And it was delicious.
I take food pretty seriously. Probably still for control but, different yet. I still can't get myself to eat creamy things. I hate tomatoes. I am quick to fall into old habits and, if I don't monitor the voices, they have their worst lines memorized.
This is Me:
My name's Melissa. I'm the girl with her hands in her journal.