Here’s a fun fact: I have an eating disorder.
I feel co-optive whenever I use that term—several of my friends live with ED’s and are the bravest souls I know, and my comparing my bullshit eating habits to theirs has always felt disrespectful. My eating disorder has nothing to do with body image, or with control, or with trauma. All my life I have been labeled by others as—and have understood myself to be—a picky eater. Because I do not eat fruits and vegetables.
Yeah, seriously. I don’t. For as long as I can remember I have survived on the other food groups: meat, dairy, grains, and sugar. Eggo Waffles are my shit, as are hamburgers, sandwiches (with no lettuce, tomato, or mayo), and pasta. I am a mac and cheese expert. I’m learning to love seafood, cautiously trying mussels and oysters despite their bizarre texture. And as long as I can remember, people have been telling me I will grow out of my food aversions. First my parents had a theory that once I left for college I would expand my horizons—a mixture of dining hall peer pressure and new maturity. Then it was once I moved out I would experiment with cooking out of necessity—yeah, that didn’t happen either. The theory was revised a third time to be once I found a great boyfriend I would broaden my horizons (not sure what the logic was there, but more on that later). About certain things, such as the afformentioned seafood, I can try new things. But fruits and vegetables? Absolutely not.
It’s hard to explain exactly why I cannot eat them, other than to say they’re disgusting to me to the point of terror. I used to call it a food phobia, but that’s not really it either. It’s a combination of the texture, smell, and the fact that they can sneak into everything. At eight I had a meltdown when a chef stuffed gigantic onion slices into my innocent-seeming hamburger. The only occasion I’ve been truly daring and tried something new was when I got drunk my junior year of college and let a friend feed me baby carrots. I was just too drunk to feel the usual feelings of revulsion.
But what I have come to realize is that this isn’t something I choose. It’s not like I enjoy being a difficult eater. My food issues have been a source of stress for my entire life, increasingly so as I have begun entering real relationships and the work force. In the past few months I had to:
- Explain to my old boss that I didn’t want anyone to bring in snacks to celebrate my last day, afraid they would present me with an apple tart that I wouldn’t be able to touch.
- Explain to my new boss that I would rather not try the house speciality platter of locally grown vegetables, and that mac and cheese was just fine.
- Politely refuse the expensive salad my ex-boyfriend’s parents had gotten for us all to share before our main course at the Hollywood Bowl without sounding ungrateful or rude (because I was so, so grateful, seriously, his family is the nicest).
- Plan half a dozen dinners in advance with new Berkeley friends at restaurants that would have options for me and where I wouldn’t embarrass myself struggling with the menu.
- Hunt down an acceptable sandwich at Pret a Manger, which must have discontinued their ham and cheese melt, while a new co-worker waited for me to check out, because I couldn’t leave empty handed. I went on to eat my sandwich on the roof alone where I could pick out the bits I didn’t want and not feel judged.
- Turn down a kind offer to stay for dinner with a friend’s family because the main course was some sort of corn soup disaster meal.
Some of my worst relationship memories have been the moments I had to explain my food issues to new partners, and the struggles we occasionally had going forward. Men usually find it cute at first, a strange novelty. Fantastic, a woman who prefers a burger to salad! Viva la sexism! But when going to fancy restaurants causes me incredible anxiety and they realize Thai food, Chinese food, sushi, Moroccan, etc. are all off the table, the new relationship glow wears off fast. “We can’t go anywhere,” an otherwise respectful partner said in a moment of frustration. Another partner with an abusive pattern of behavior bullied me into trying his mother’s vegetable smoothie in front of his entire family. After taking a tentative sip and playacting my positive reaction, I retreated to his bathroom and cried while dry heaving over the toilet.
The fact is I’m not a “picky eater.” That implies that I have some power over it. It also makes it cute, palatable, and normal-seeming. The truth is food stresses me out. I live in fear of business lunches. The smell of melons, of apples, and especially of bananas make me feel physically ill, and I used to ask my incredibly patient ex-boyfriend to brush his teeth after eating an apple before kissing me. I need to stop feeling like a brat, hating myself, and putting myself down when I explain my dietary restrictions to new people. I need to call it like it is—I have a selective eating disorder. And I’m not the only one.
I realize this has been a, well, a deviation from my blog’s usual subject matter. But this blog is as much about me crashing into adulthood as it is about sexuality and erotica, and entering a new workplace always brings up my food issues fresh and strong. Everyone who knows me well knows I’m weird about food but it’s not something I broadcast if I can avoid it—like other eating disorders, my selective eating disorder occupies a place of deep shame in my life. I’ve never been one to let shame control me, and if there’s something upsetting me that usually means I need to write about it. I’m more afraid of posting this than I am a piece about STI stigma. And that, as my mother recently put it, is “pretty fucked up.”
I now return to reading Alison Tyler’s new novel out in the sunshine. Happy long weekend, everyone!