Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Me, Food, and Our "It's Complicated" Relationship

This post is written in light of Mental Health Awareness Month.

I'm sitting at my desk surrounded by five types of snack food. That's right, five. You ask, why don't I just pick one? Don't I know that having all that food at hand easily leads to overeating? For that matter, why not get rid of the snack food and go make myself a meal?

The answer is because food and I have a complex emotional relationship.

I'm not talking about comfort food-emotional. I'm not talking about an eating disorder either. I did the anorexia thing (under-eating plus overexercising) for a couple years in early teenagerhood, but it wasn't so much a problem as it was a symptom of other problems associated with my abuse.

No, my current problem with food is that I don't like it. Any of it. Not even my favorites sometimes. Cheese, chocolate, bananas, apple sauce, cucumbers, peanuts...I can look at any one of these favorite foods and suddenly realize how disgusting it is and hardly be able to look at it without feeling nauseous.

And then tomorrow I'll go back to scarfing it down.

Thus I grab 4 or 5 options when I visit the snack shelf. If I just grab 1, it will look sickening by the time I've returned to my chair. I have to psych myself into eating by looking at one thing and thinking, "ick!" and hurriedly eating something else while my brain is still fixated on the disgustingness of the first food.

I'm also completely unable to cook for myself. Once every three months I get the urge to cook eggs for breakfast. I whip out that frying pan and I try to think of anything but eggs so that when I'm done cooking them, the sight won't make me want to throw up.

I don't make dinners in my house. If I try, this is what happens: I look in the freezer and see a quiche. I love quiche! Heat up the oven, prep quiche. Thinking about it, quiche isn't actually the most appetizing thing on the planet. But it's edible. I can do this. Stick quiche into oven. <Some time later...> Retrieve quiche. Stare at it disdainfully. Serve self. Pick at quiche. Shudder. Manage to eat down a whole slice. Have an upset stomach all night and next morning.

It doesn't make sense. I know it's in my head, because ordinarily (if someone else makes it), I love quiche. And yet I can't overcome my distaste by force of will. My stomach and intestines and everything else will revolt, violently. They will refuse to work properly, no matter how diligent I am at eating my no-thank-you-bites and trying to overcome my mental issues.

I don't know where this issue comes from. I grew up a totally healthy kid, unless you count severe hypoglycemia (chronic low blood sugar) that led to a few ER trips. But in college I suddenly contracted stomach issues that mystified my clinic doctor. The issue went away, to be replaced by heart issues. These went away to be replaced by stomach issues again, much more severe. Doctors mystified again. They stuck a scope down my throat and biopsied my stomach lining; they found irritation but couldn't find the cause, and by that point I was getting better again anyway.

It was a year after all that where I began to have mental problems with food. I used to love cooking; I was the girl who moved into an apartment at 18 and was most excited about having a kitchen. I cooked all my meals from scratch during college. I don't know when my cooking aversion happened. It was a slow downward spiral: cooking began to stress me out and I couldn't enjoy what I made. Eventually, all food stopped being enjoyable.

So here I am. I used to feel guilty that I eat a lot of Trader Joe's frozen dinners. I got over at that, but I still feel broken. Why don't I like food? If it's all in my head, why can't I overcome it with happy thoughts and determination? My stubbornness has never failed me before; but these days, my stomach wins over my head.

I can only assume I'm in this place for a reason. Maybe it's good for me to be helpless like this. Maybe it's a good thing that I'm constantly reminded I'm not in control of my life. Because I'm not. We're not. Crap like this happens, and we can either get steamrolled or fall for someone who likes to cook.

Maybe I'll figure out what's going on with me. Maybe I won't. Maybe I'll be food-averse the rest of my life. That's why I've got people watching my back. And five different snacks on my desk.

Word count: 786.