Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Last Straw, OR, the Blog Namer

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.


  1. I LOVE this post. So poignant, rings true for many, me included. I'm a 37 year old doctor of "normal" weight, though my mom clearly would have liked me to be 15 pounds lighter my whole life. She still makes comments about my food choices. It bites, it's not fair, it's incredibly negative and sabotaging, but I'm really impressed that you fed yourself and listened to your body. Migraines are horrible for confusing signals. They totally slow down gastric emptying and motility. All bets are off when that happens in terms of knowing what's going on with hunger etc. Hang in there. I really like this blog! I am reposting a segment tomorrow on my own blog with a link. Hope that's OK! You have a lovely voice, and I think your anecdotes will help many people...

  2. Thanks for the support and super-thanks for the linking.

    I was proud of myself for eating anyway that night, but what I didn't get around to posting was that I ate incredibly lightly the next day, and it was one of the worst days. I did basically nothing all afternoon but lie on my bed waiting for dinner, after having a tiny lunch for fear of Mom walking in and judging it again.

    late that night I took some leftover green beans from dinner, which I wanted, and planned on the rest of the potato when my parents went to bed. They happened to walk by and congratulated me on my good choice of green beans when I was, possibly literally, starving. I ended up stealing the potato and eating it in a few bites, and remembering how awful it used to feel when I stole food when I was younger.

    The good news is the day after that I escaped to a friend's house for the last of the holidays. But I might follow up in another post about just how much the Potato Incident really messed me up the day after, even if I made it through okay the day of.

    Also I didn't know that about migraines, so learn something new every day :)

  3. Hi, I think we might be twin daughters of the same mom, separated at birth. Except I'm 50, so, maybe not. And at 50 my folks still comment on my weight and eating. My first diet was at about 9 or 10. So I definitely feel your pain. Hang in there! Love your blog.

  4. glad to hear you like it - isn't it ridiculous how many people all seem to have the same stories? That's why I feel like an anecdote blog might be as useful as all of the scientific and analytical blogs. Not as rigorous maybe but it really helped me when I started to realize that there were other people who had been through the same things, only getting further along the process of understanding and getting past them.

  5. Thank you - this is a lovely post. Luckily my mom doesn't try to regulate me in that way (even if we used the same kitchen) but so many years of self-regulation mean that I have to fight the urge in myself to have the inner critic SCREAMING at me as I listen to my body's signals.

  6. Thanks Heidi - it can be so hard, can't it? It took me such a long time just to get used to the idea that I could eat "dinner"-type food whenever I was actually hungry. I'll probably write soon about how odd it is, but I actually sometimes get harder on myself about eating substantial food than i do about sweets or junky food. I grew up used to being able to eat my treat for the day at night, but not allowed to eat a substantial food, so I have this weird idea in my head that it's better for me to eat the sweets