Trusting Taste

This week for my “homework assignment”, my dietitian asked me to write about what it would be like according to eat based upon taste.

Part of having an eating disorder has meant that taste is sort of last on my list when it comes to eating. Eating seems like a chore; I have to get in certain exchanges and every bite is a struggle. Sometimes I pick things that I don’t even particularly like the taste of, just because my eating disorder has decided that it is a “safe” food.

Eating “safe” foods manifests itself in a very disordered way: eating virtually the same thing, over and over and over again. Every day I get up and have the same thing for breakfast, maybe varying the fruit choice. As I proceed throughout the day, that’s pretty much the most variation I get, and there are some fruits that I won’t even touch. These are remnants of my restrictive behavior.

My eating disorder is really good at convincing me that as long as I’m eating, I’m doing fine. At least you’re not restricting, it insists. You’re already doing enough damage to yourself by eating at all.

My eating disorder operates on the belief that intaking food and not expending at least an equivalent amount of energy leads to weight gain. It doesn’t believe in the possibility of “weight maintenance”. One time, one of the other girls I was in treatment with gave the most accurate description of this mindset ever. She said that whenever she ate something, she literally visualized it appearing on her body as a mass of fat. This is exactly what it feels like for me.

But people aren’t walking around with pizza shaped stomachs or doughnut shaped legs. No one else immediately gains weight after eating. Your body sees all food as fuel; any amount of calorie consumption equals energy to perform basic processes such as keeping your heart beating and your metabolism functioning.

So why is it so easy to believe I’m different?

Because I have an eating disorder. It’s an extremely irrational thing. It doesn’t care that science has proven that the human body needs a certain amount of daily caloric intake to even survive. It doesn’t care that things like ice cream and cake are far more delicious than a salad (nothing against salads, however). All it cares about is keeping me tied down to it. It’s like dragging around a thousand pound weight; I can barely move forwards. I feel like Atlas, holding the weight of the world on my shoulders, sometimes. The effort it takes to have an eating disorder is exhausting. There is no part of me that enjoys it.

So what would it be like to eat based on what I like and dislike? What would it be like to actually process tastes and textures instead of eating food like some sort of mindless robotic machine.

Honestly, I can’t even remember. Intuitively eating is something I’m scared silly to do. The idea of eating according to hunger cues, and eating what my body is craving, is terrifying. If someone were to ask me to get a coffee with them or invite me out to ice cream, I’d find some creative way to turn them down. This is because the idea of eating anything more than the minimum that is required of me seems like the stupidest thing anyone could possibly think of to do. You’ll gain weight instantly and be ridiculously unhappy, my anorexia reminds me.

But that’s not really how it works.

Let’s pick pizza for a moment, since that’s sort of my ultimate fear food.

Pizza.

italian pizza

When you break it down, you’ve got dough, cheese, tomato sauce, and whatever toppings you might desire.

So a slice would equate to a grain, a protein, and a fat exchange. Double it, and you’ve got the basis for my dinner.

What is it about pizza that’s so scary?

First of all, it’s oily and greasy by nature. My anorexia immediately turns up its nose at anything that has the remotest appearance of being unhealthy. Secondly, it’s a combination food. My eating disorder really likes me to compose meals of disparate parts; being able to visualize all my exchanges on my plate satisfies my OCD tendencies and also serves to reassure me that I’m not overportioning. Start mixing things together, and that totally goes out the window.

But what would it be like to eat pizza, not because it meets my exchanges or because it’s a challenge, but simply because dammit, I like pizza?

What would it be like to not have fear foods? To eat based on what I’m craving at the moment? To have a bowl of pasta or something saucy, for example, and not be reduced to a sobbing mess afterwards, wracked by guilt?

It sounds wonderful. It sounds normal. It sounds like living life.

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