My journey with food: From friend to foe and back again

A student reflects on her journey with disordered eating and the importance of treating yourself with food and forgiveness.


Content warning: This story discusses topics surrounding disordered eating.

I’ve never been the model of perfect health within my 21 years of life, and my diet has never been exemplary either. I’ve always overindulged in the wrong foods, lacked consistency in exercise and succeeded in maintaining the unsophisticated palate of a picky child. 

These days my daily food repertoire typically consists of hot dogs, french fries, pizza and cheese quesadillas; any doctor would advise against a diet that is so monotonous and significantly lacks color and nutrients, and I would readily agree with that assessment. Although I sound picky now, I consider my current diet to be exceptional in comparison to how it was just one year ago. 

I woke up one day in January 2022 and decided on a whim to stop eating; not a morsel of food was to enter my body. I was undeniably overweight and had fluctuated between diets and numbers on the scale for years, but my decision wasn’t a conscious attempt at dropping pounds. 

I’d developed a crippling fear of food overnight. It was no longer a source of nourishment, but a potential cause of unwanted food poisoning and stomach aches instead. To this day, I’ve never once had food poisoning, and I very rarely experienced nausea. It was never something I thought about, and I struggled to understand and navigate this sudden aversion to food out of fear that it would harm me when it never had before. 

I was overcome with abrupt thoughts of illness, food safety and contamination that immediately led me to stop eating altogether. My solution was simple: if I never eat, my stomach can’t hurt and there would be nothing to throw up. If I never put food in my body, I can’t contract food poisoning. 

Through starvation, I felt that I had unlocked a brilliant loophole that allowed me to effectively avoid what I was now the most afraid of. Despite enjoying food my entire life, I adapted surprisingly well to my new lifestyle, surviving largely on Diet Coke and the occasional cracker or slice of toast. 

However, I wasn’t prepared for the physical symptoms of starvation, which were worse than any stomach ache I ever had. I could quickly tell that my body was suffering without sustenance.

My face looked sullen and pale and I could barely walk without fainting. Because my body didn’t have any carbohydrates to burn, I went into ketosis, where my body was instead burning up fat as a source of energy, leaving me feeling sick and fatigued constantly. 

I lost 30 pounds by the end of March 2022. Another 20 pounds had fallen off by July. I had lost a sizable portion of my body weight in six short months. 

Weight loss is often a cause for celebration. People fawn over how great someone looks, beg to know their methods, and are generally over-complimentary. I wanted to feel happy in those moments, but as I fought this battle with my body image and an eating disorder, conversations about my weight loss felt like there was a spotlight shining on my greatest shame. 

My new appearance seemed to be of the utmost importance to the people around me, but it was the least of my concerns. I knew deep down that I wasn’t healthy or in good shape, I was sick and spiraling. 

Despite the compliments I was receiving, I was still in constant mental anguish because of an imaginary threat: food poisoning. The hours following a meal were unbearable as I sat riddled with anxiety, counting the hours and waiting for the doom to set in. 

Every time someone told me I looked great, all I could hear was that I looked horrible before. When people asked how I lost the weight, I stumbled over my thoughts before settling on some “less food and more exercise” word vomit that I don’t think ever sounded sincere. 

Physically seeing and feeling the damage that I was capable of doing to myself taught me about the value of my body: my body is where I live. It houses my soul and allows me to experience life and love, and for that, it deserves to be nourished, not deprived.

I’ve slowly begun to find the foods I can tolerate with minimal anxiety or clock-watching, and I’ve tried my hardest to stick with them. Avoiding meat and fresh produce in favor of familiar pre-packaged snacks and starches provides me with the most peace of mind. On the surface, these foods are bad for me, but I take comfort in knowing they keep me away from starvation and sickness. 

I am hard on myself in nearly every aspect of my life, but I knew that I had to be compassionate and forgiving while I worked to fix my relationship with food. I never related much to the idea of just doing what I could manage, but I know now that a small win is still a win, and I’ve learned to take them in stride. 

My diet is not healthy, and it is the bare minimum compared to how I used to eat. But if half the challenge is eating anything at all, then every hot dog and every french fry is one step closer to a path of recovery that I wasn’t always sure I’d reach.

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