“You’re a happy eater and a sad eater. That’s not good.”
- A friend
Let me clarify, my friend wasn’t speaking to me, but she could’ve been and in my case she could’ve added “stress-eater,” “celebratory eater,” and gourmande. Food and I have a love-hate thing. No, it’s more like food “just isn’t that into me.” Although, it is way into me, especially around my belly - a good couple of few inches thick at that. And so, it’s on to The Salad Days.
I hate salad.
O.k., not really. Plenty of people have witnessed me ordering a salad and eating it with a fair amount of pleasure. There are even some salads that I crave (gasp!) – the salad niçoise at the now gone Left Bank for example or the seafood cobb salad at Marmalade Café (sans bacon). So, it’s not salad itself that I hate, but what the Salad Days represent: penance, order, rationality.
The irony isn’t lost on me. Perhaps it’s another sign of our times that the very phrase that has historically meant a time of abundance and wild abandonment has come to mean a period of asceticism and temperance. How is it that fresh and nutritionally rich food is considered a penance? How is it that I scoff at this permitted unlimited indulgence, which rewards me with better health and appearance?
The penance isn’t so much because I’ve gained weight, although that is a problem since even my “fat clothes” are getting a bit snug. If I’d over-indulged in martinis and raw oysters, white chocolate macadamia nut cheesecake, Irish mussels, or lobster boils, that would be fine. I love those foods. But I can’t remember what I’ve been scarfing down for the past few months, and that for me is the bigger problem.
I’m not a control freak, because if I were, I wouldn’t be in this situation. And I’m not completely out of control, because if I were my situation wouldn’t matter. My problem is that I want to be a control freak but it, or rather I, go pear shaped and now I’m trying to run damage control. Welcome to the mind of a bulimic.
Bulimia isn’t just gorging and purging. Bulimics don’t eat everything anywhere, that would be pica and in the eating disorder hierarchy, people with pica are the bottom rung. For the record, anorexics are the top wrung, ethereal creatures that have complete control over the basics of life. They’ve got attitudes. They mock those of us on the lower rungs. They keep to their delusions. They don’t waiver between the two worlds.
Bulimics blur the line of rationality. They think each step of the process through, but not all at once. They know the laws of association – that eating certain foods recreates emotional memories. Like the first puff of a cigarette, the first bite triggers emotional memory, but then it disappears and that pleasure of the first bite is followed by a neutral second, third, fourth, five thousandth bite. Then it’s time to chase the emotional fulfillment with the next food that has a similar association. And then the next.
The problem arises when, unlike alcoholic drunkenness, “sobriety” returns instantaneously. It’s like having the cheesecake goggles ripped off my face, knowing that “magic food” is not the solution to the problem. Then damage control kicks in: the purge. There’s actually two kinds of purges: the kind to alleviate gastric pressure – which happens while still on a glassy-eyed bender and then the second, which is a pathetic attempt to undo what’s been done – not the consumption of calories so much as an attempt to turn the clock back to rationality. It’s part of denial. We don’t want anyone to know that we’re subject to bouts of irrational thinking and we’ll go to great lengths to hide it.
Claims of “chapped hands” explain teeth chaffed knuckles, excessive love of citrus explains acid erosion of gums and teeth. Mouthwash and perfume hide the scent of vomit, but when barf spatters force a change clothes or worse, the need to wash one’s hair, there is panic. Showering after a meal and changing clothes raises questions. People will know about those Lost Hours. “Pure” bulimics (as opposed to anorexic-bulimics) tend to be overweight. The shame of the weight is not so much body image as the fashion magazines and feminists would like us to believe. Excess weight is seen as the record of how many moments of irrationality we’ve experienced over a period of time.
Several years ago, I thought I’d take the bulimia by the horns. I realized that no matter how much salad I ate, I could lose weight. I looked great. I had more energy. I started doing things I enjoyed again like writing, dancing, and going to concerts. With such good memories, I was hoping that salad would become my “go to” comfort food.
It’s not. Long running habits are difficult to break, especially when my comfort foods factor so strongly in society’s moments of celebration and conviviality. This only reinforces their emotional connection for me.
I don’t purge anymore. The damage it poses to my health are worse than the shame of irrational food consumption. Besides, I have many irrational behaviors, so what difference does one more make?
The Salad Days are here. It’s time to embrace them.