Eating or even just being around food has been awkward for me for years. When around others, I cringed no matter what I put in my mouth. If I brought along a dessert, I figured everyone wondered why the fat girl was stuffing her face. Cheese, chips, or other “unhealthy” foods branded me as unhealthy. But if I ate lettuce, people would snicker about my weak attempt to diet. Everything about me and food seemed wrong.
Now, these feelings would have been bad enough if they were just in my head. However, I had heard many of my fears stated by peers, strangers, and even my wonderful family. I distinctly remember sitting in a parking lot one day snacking on some Cheese Its. Two men parked and entered the store. When they returned, I overheard one snicker, “Look at that big girl pigging out on those Cheese Its. She was doing it when we went in and she still is.” Just the fact that I had been watched was bad enough but knowing that I had been judged as well made me want to die right then and there.
Eating is a very private and difficult topic. I know that I am not alone in fearing eating in front of others. Our society has taught us to label foods as good, bad, super, and no-nos. Although many places preach moderation, judgment and restriction of certain groups of food permeates our society. Women who never eat grains or men who abstain from all added sugar are congratulated and affirmed. Now, some people seriously need to do this for healthy reasons. However many times, cutting things out of a diet is unnecessary and can lead to an eating disorder. Even if it doesn’t, eliminating certain foods gives them a power over you. Food is food; it is meant to nourish and energize you. It is not an unknown dangerous foreign substance but a vital part of life. Without it, one will eventually die.
Now that I have lost weight, people seem to think that I deserve to eat whatever I want. However, I struggle trusting this new approval of consuming food. Are they lying to me? What if they start to talk about me negatively the second I turn my back? Is this some new way to make me feel gluttonous and unworthy of life? Each time I eat in front of others, I still feel anxious, judged, and awkward.
However, something strange has begun to happen. Oddly enough, not eating has started to be an awkward situation. Coming up with excuses why I am skipping a meal or won’t eat in front of them fills me with dread. Lying about not being hungry is almost as difficult as when I used to quietly scarfing down food. In these weird turn of events, my eating disorder has become a barrier between me and others. Sure, no one judges me for unhealthy dining choices but now they watch me with narrowed eyes as I stammer out that I will eat at home. Restricting is just as awkward (if not more so) than eating.
So, I am slowly trying to making eating with people less awkward by practicing it. Instead of hiding in my room when a family visits, I have supper with them. When dining in public, I try to act as normal as possible. Although I still feel anxious and judged, I continue to make little steps toward recovery. Eating shouldn’t have to be an awkward activity. It should be a life-giving way to care for yourself. Every time I eat a bite, I remember that I am on my way to a hopeful future where I can help others feel less awkward about food.