Born Again Foodie: How I Fell in Love with Eating After Anorexia
It’s my thirteenth birthday. The theme is “cupcake spa.” Even the lotion I bought smells like a chocolate cupcake. The scent is freakishly accurate, and the consistency is just like frosting.
My grandmother’s friend crocheted me several cupcakes, which I display on cake stands as part of the decor. It’s just the beginning of my cupcake craze. I don’t like eating them, but the pastels make me happy and I just love the aesthetic of the compact little baked goods.
My family teases me about the irony. Less than a year prior, I was in the hospital for ten days because my risk of cardiac arrest was so high. I had spent the summer before sixth grade starving and exercising myself to death. I would spend the next decade trying to fix my toxic relationship with eating.
I didn’t eat anything outside of my prescribed meal plan for years after the hospital stay. My plate was always dull, filled with whole wheat grains and barely-there snail trails of butter. I avoided pizza for a long time. I was terrified of admitting I liked food because I associated that with fatness, and back then, being fat was the worst thing someone could be. On my first real date at a Starbucks at age fourteen, I sat with nothing in front of me while the boy drank a Frappuccino. I couldn’t let him see me eat, and certainly not something so full of sugar and fat. I was afraid that my hunger, my human need to eat, would make me unattractive.
Later on in high school. I am the leader of my city’s chapter of Project HEAL, an organization that provides grant funding for those who cannot afford eating disorder treatment. I organize bake sales and benefit concerts and speak in front of my peers to raise awareness. Restaurant owners laugh in my face when I call to ask for donations for raffles, because “Isn’t it counterintuitive to ask a burger place to donate to help people with eating disorders?”
Fast forward to college. My sheets are from the Target kids’ section. They have ice cream on them because I am shamelessly childish and I love the aesthetic of ice cream.
I am in a dull relationship where I am a muted shell of who I used to be because the boyfriend doesn’t agree with my politics and lack of religion.
Our dates revolve around trying “freakshakes” and various other over-the-top desserts and entrees in Orlando. I eat to feel the pleasure our love can’t give me.
I am still the leader of a Project HEAL chapter, this time it’s my university’s. We host bake sales on campus, and again, people laugh.
“Isn’t this a contradiction? Cupcakes for eating disorders?” a professor asks.
“No, actually, it’s not at all. Eating disorders are about a lack of balance and we are promoting the idea that it is okay to eat cupcakes.”
He listens, understands, and applauds my response. “What is your major?” he asks.
“Writing and rhetoric,” I reply.
“I thought so,” he says.
My final year of college. My lifeless two-year relationship ends in a toxic waste dumpster fire and I finally feel free to be myself. A few months later, I come out as bisexual, and a few months after that, I start a queer relationship with a fellow eating disorder survivor. I am terrified of letting them know that my eating habits are anything but healthy and try my best to be a role model, because they aren’t as far along in their recovery. But I can’t keep up the facade.
During the first few months of our relationship, I fall back into a severe depression despite the joy the new love has brought me. My numbing binges become too frequent to ignore. It is clear that I am still sick, just in a different way.
I know that this is the way eating disorders go: too much control and then too little. But it has been ten years and I am tired of not knowing how to feed myself.
Several long months later, my depression becomes manageable. I move back in with my parents at the onset of the pandemic and my eating becomes intuitive. I am able to admit that I struggled with binge eating for years after my anorexia diagnosis, and I don’t feel so ashamed.
Present day. I live with my partner. We cook most meals together. We hold each other accountable. My eating is more balanced than ever before, and yet it is 90% plant-based (I am lactose intolerant and vegetarian, but Cheetos always have a place in my food pyramid). Eating seems so easy sometimes that it is strange to think of all the turmoil it took to get here.
I write for a few different food outlets and am starting one of my own. My latest attempt at a foodie Instagram is slow-growing but more intentional than ever. There’s plans for a food startup brewing in my brain.
Food is love. It is life. It is culture. It is history. It is political. It is both divisive and unifying.
Food has been demonized, stripped of its cultural meaning, and reduced to numbers by the diet industry.
Diet culture has made food evil and unsafe. Loving food for more than its nutritional value without guilt in a world where companies are trying to sell you the “right” way to eat is a radical act. Nourishing your body with food simply because it tastes good is defiance.
For me, that defiance used to be punishable. I punished myself for having taste buds that craved and a stomach that growled.
But I have learned better. I stopped trying to control and numb and punish.
Now, I just listen.