Trigger Warning: Eating Disorders
My mother made a lot of money and flaunted it on clothing and dining out, but I was completely food insecure at home. I was lucky if I opened the refrigerator to find a few hot dogs that weren’t moldy and some slices of cheese. My food and health weren’t a priority to my mother, causing innate food issues that have never left.
I vividly remember walking to the refrigerator, stomach rumbling, no one home, hoping to find food. I opened the door to find margarita mix, butter, mayo, and other sparse condiments. I closed the refrigerator and went back to the couch. I sometimes repeated this ritual three or four times a night, hoping that I missed something or that a chicken dinner would magically appear! Alas, it never happened.
The next night, my mom would have me out at Martell’s on 83rd Street drinking Shirley Temple’s and ordering shrimp cocktail as my appetizer, as if I hadn’t been desperate for food the day before. I recall going to school happy that it was a weekday so that I would be guaranteed two meals that day. I knew things didn’t add up. My mother could provide me with meals, but she did not prioritize having food in our home.
I started taking any money I would have from allowance or gifts, buying junk at the corner bodega, and hoarding it in my room around age eight.
I would plan to keep it for nights when I needed food to eat, but since part of my mom’s approach to food was restricting junk foods and sugar from my “diet,” I also found myself unable to control myself around them. I would gorge myself and shamefully hide the wrappers under the bed until it was safe to throw them out when she wasn’t home.
Two weeks before seventh grade, my mother and her boyfriend announced that they were shipping me away to a military boarding school in Front Royal, Virginia; a story for another day. One of the positive outcomes of a boarding school was that I would be given three square meals a day. A huge negative effect for me was the complete lack of impulse control and understanding of creating a balanced meal or doing something as simple as stopping eating when my stomach signaled that I was full.
I started throwing up when I was 12.
At first, I realized that it was a way for me to eat everything I wanted, and when I got to that point where my stomach couldn’t handle the feeling, I could just release what was inside. For the first time, I felt in control of my food.
Sadly, I had lost all control. I spiraled so quickly that once my dorm parents realized I was making myself sick, they would no longer excuse me to the restroom during meals. I would throw up at their feet in the dining hall. My body physically couldn’t handle holding food down.
I fought active bulimia for four years through the middle of high school. Though I no longer physically make myself ill, I have struggled most of my life with intrusive thoughts equating my self-worth to a number on a scale or how I look in a picture.
I have thought as recently as this year that I could make myself sick to drop some weight and that no one would know. I fight against the guilt and shame of my daily choices regarding food. I am grateful that I have not acted on any of these impulses since my teenage years. Still, I also find it frustrating that I was never taught to respect my body or was set up for any success with having a relationship with food.
Working to break the negative narrative and teach healthy habits to my children has been one of the hardest things I have ever done. Teaching the importance of balancing out meals and doing things like coming together at the table to form healthy bonds amongst our family and habits within us as individuals have been something that I am learning right along with them.