I am on my winter break, visiting home. I am twenty-one years old and a senior in college.
It’s about ten o’clock at night. I’m hungry. Not famished, but hungry enough to be uncomfortable. I’ve been so since perhaps 9 or 9:30, but it’s difficult to tell. I’ve been fighting a migraine since around 3pm, and the medicine has only just kicked in well enough to let me focus on other feelings instead of just pain. I am relaxed. I think about what I’d like to eat. I’m not craving anything sweet – something I take as a personal victory, after a few years trying to work on eating more intuitively and with the spectre of what may have been Binge Eating Disorder in my past. After a few years of living on my own, with access to my own kitchen, I’ve learned to eat substantial food when I’m hungry instead of trying desperately to fill up on sweets in the belief that real food is off-limits after dinner time.
What I really want is a potato. A small one, or a half of one sounds good. Little bit of butter or sour cream. Sounds perfect. Dinner was around 6, after all, and I’ve only been eating sporadically during the day. Banana for breakfast, small sandwich and apple for lunch, cheese and crackers, chicken and canned potatoes for dinner. A baked potato would be even better. Even if I’ve been napping a lot today, I’ve been spending a lot of mental energy on this migraine. I’ve been oddly weak the last few days, anyway, and nearly fell over on yoga poses that I’m normally better at yesterday. Even a little bit shaky afterward, and it occurs to me that I might not be eating enough now that my meals are being structured by the family again, and not my personal schedule.
So I get up. And I make the mistake of not trying to sneak food, waiting there hungry until my parents go to bed and I can eat in peace. No, my mom is still up, and in fact making herself a snack at the same time. I believe a peanut-butter rice cake, but unlike her I don’t pay obsessive attention to other peoples’ food. My dad is nearby, chatting with her.
I reach for the potato-baking dish from the cabinet. “What are you making?” My mom asks. Her voice is cold, accusatory, maybe even scandalized. What am I doing taking out food-preparation materials, when she’s also preparing food?!
“I really feel like a potato,” I answer. I cross the kitchen, put the dish down. Start to reach for the vegetable.
“NO.” She scolds me like a small child, her voice firm if not actually angry. “You are not making a potato at this hour, that’s a meal, not a snack.”
Well, a half a potato with a little butter is traditionally a side-dish, not a meal; in this house, a baked potato with meat, cheese and sauce piled up on top is a staple meal, so maybe I can see where she got confused. I don’t feel like arguing the point. “I’ll eat half. Maybe I want a meal, I’m hungry.”
Dad comes closer, he and Mom looking worriedly at each other. “You did have dinner.”
I look at the clock. “Four hours ago.”
My mom mentally throws her hands up in the air, and stresses to me, “It is not healthy to eat this much.”
I wash my potato, and put it in the microwave.
She has no idea that I was already planning fully on cutting the potato in half, and just felt it preferable to store half a baked potato in the fridge to storing half a raw potato on the counter. She (hopefully) wasn’t counting my calories, and I don’t know that she knows what I ate for lunch. She doesn’t put any stock in the idea that I might be legitimately hungry. She doesn’t seem to find the disconnect in preparing something for her to eat, and scolding me for doing the same. She looks at me as though I must be some kind of horrible food ogre for being hungry this late and wanting something warm and substantial instead of a rice cake.
When the potato is done, I cut it in half, store the other half, and top it with a little butter and garlic and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese. It’s delicious. Simple, filling, not too big but not too small.
But I spend the rest of the night mad. And worried, and shamed, and fat. I’m hungry a few more times, and convince myself maybe it’s just gas. I shouldn’t have eaten beforehand and I certainly shouldn’t pile in more food now. What if I really did eat too much – those cheese and crackers that held me over from lunch to dinner must have been a bad idea. I don’t trust my body to tell me when it’s hungry – after all, sometimes when I’m sick I can mistake the feeling.
But I’m mad that my parents think that their 21-year-old daughter’s food choices are still their business, and something they can tell me not to do and expect me to listen. I’ve been worried about my mom – since starting Weight Watchers a few years ago she’s gotten a little obsessed, and I heard her talking about skipping breakfast for her weigh-in just this afternoon. I’m simmering after a debacle with a fat-shaming poster up in my dorm room at school, and with calorie counts on the menus in New York City, and with memories of being eleven and on a diet.
I’m seriously stuck considering that I might just be a Horrible Food Ogre who has no idea about how to eat, if I dare to be hungry at ten at night.
It's 4am. I'm still mad.
And I want to start a blog.