10 May 2008


I would like to revisit this subject of eating. Once brought up, self-deprecating thoughts and dysmorphic opinions of what I really look like and how I eat usually produce an overwhelming response from people about how "normal" I actually am. If I may, I'd like to traipse down that path again, flush out some misunderstandings, and redefine what it means to eat like a cow.

One of my many flaws is to over-explain myself and, in keeping faithful to that, I'd like to set a ground rule here. Understand what I'm saying: we're good friends in this discussion and I don't expect you to discourage my perception of myself or other people. I think it's good to be objective and even comedic when looking at your own eccentricities.

Having said that…

Everyone has a certain way they relate to food. Some people view food as fuel to nourish their muscles, flesh, and organs and in doing so take only from food what is necessary for survival. To them, food is a dutiful slave; a puppet that will perform the way they will it too. It's a useless and inanimate object when their body does not need fuel. I often find these people show-offish in the way they parade their self-control by tucking in their shirts and how seldom they attempt suicide.

I have come to realize that I don't have a clue what part food should play in my life. I'm bewildered at how to define this essential and pleasurable component to living. Should my relationship with food be strictly platonic? Do I only resort to food when I need nourishing fuel and all other avenues of sustenance – sunshine, prayer, and laughter – have exhausted themselves? What do I focus on in order to make healthy food choices?

I sometimes think food is like poetry. When carefully chosen, ingredients can become intoxicating components - individually distinctive and collectively one. Some foods communicate eloquently: you do not need me to live and you do not want life without me. I cherish it.

I recently watched a food show on the travel channel about a man who traveled the world to find exotic and extravagant foods. He had a genus palate that could appreciate subtle differences in south-east Asian cuisine. He even said something like "I love how the flavors just dance around my tongue."

That man loves food. He loves, savors, and enjoys it.

More often my relationship with food resembles co-dependency, or rather, total dependency. This week is nurses week and it claims to celebrate the accomplishments and importance of nurses. It's hidden and more subversive purpose is to keep us fattened like prize calves. Neighboring health facilities sent us tubs of bagels and cream cheese. The medical director of the ER offered a cannoli cake, a gargantuan spread of sub sandwiches, and a buffalo chicken wing tray that was approximately the size of a kiddie pool. Another gift was a silver platter tray (no kidding) of little chocolate and German chocolate cakes. When I first went back into the nurses lounge on Thursday to put away my Subway sandwich, I was awestruck at the extravagance. I just stood in the doorway of the room for a moment in total shock. I feared, too, that my poor Subway sandwich would never live to be eaten as it had so hoped only an hour before during its creation. I was correct.

Being the reasonable man that I am, I believe that olives are evil and so had no difficulty bypassing the platter with sandwiches devilishly speared with olives. I had one chicken wing right away just to show my appreciation for the doctor's generosity and then headed off to work.

As the night progressed, though, the smorgasbord of decadence called to me from down the hall – a sort of brothel for overeaters – and I couldn't resist the temptation. I would visit the lounge when nobody was looking and have a taste here and there of the different foods. By the end of my night, just before I was to go home, I went back into the lounge to "get my things" – which is to say that I was going to eat what was rightfully mine.

I was reminded of a scene in Kate's Secret (a melodrama from the mid 80's starring Meredith Baxter, an upper-middle class woman who struggles with an bulimia). After all the guests of an afternoon party left her house, Meredith was alone in the kitchen with the leftover hors d'oeuvres from the party. She couldn't resist the temptation and began stuffing her gut with the luscious treats. She became frantic about grabbing fistfuls of food. She pawed the food like a bear, shoveling it in, and pushing the surplus of food back in her mouth with her soiled fingers. She was a complete animal about her consumption.

And I completely get that.

Sure, eating like that could be considered - by some - to be a bit unhealthy. But those are the sort of people to be on faddish soapboxes pooh-poohing public indoor smoking or crystal meth usage. I myself like to remain open to different ways of looking at things and if someone wants to stuff their gastric pouch with as many buffalo wings as humanly possible, I think they have that prerogative.

I showed little restraint when consuming the wings just before I left for home and, although I demonstrated more civility than Meredith in my rate of consumption, I was merciless on the chicken platter. I'd pick up a chicken wing, lift it to my mouth, and gnaw at it until the bone was bare and then I'd toss it in the garbage. I repeated this rhythmic cycle for a few minutes while catching up on all the department notes and clinical reports pinned to the walls of the lounge. I consumed battered and deep-fried chicken wings while educating myself about anti-platelet drugs and heart attacks.

On my way home, the food finally hit my stomach and I began regretting the last fifty or so wings. I knew that I would pay dearly for my binge and that God would teach me why gluttony was a sin. By using simple physiological responses to overeating and processed food, my body began protesting at its misuse and would soon be in full-blown revolt. At first, I was listless and uncomfortable. I tried to sleep and felt like (what I imagined) a pregnant woman goes through every night in bed. I flipped back and forth searching for the most comfortable, or least uncomfortable, rather, position to rest my incubating enemy.

I finally fell asleep only to wake a few hours later experiencing severe cramps, gestative contractions, and pain. Delivery was imminent and so I walked, hand on belly, to the birthing room. What happened next was not the miracle of birth like so many claim. It was sheer misery.

"I promise, God, if you teach me how to use food, I'll never do this again" I lied on the toilet. I really meant it, I just knew that I couldn't keep a promise like that and so did God. At that moment, though, I needed to show God that I understood the fullness of my depravity and repentance from it. I honestly asked God to show me what kind of relationship I need to have with food and how to be faithful to it. I knew that I was giving birth to intentional sin and I knew that it felt horrible.

I'm a little gun shy now. I had dinner with friends about 12 hours ago and haven't eaten much since. I'm wondering how restart a broken relationship without getting into bad habits right away. A couple of hours ago I ate a Kashi snack and had some coffee. That didn't fill me up, but I figured it'd be a step in the right direction because it's all natural and organic. Well, the Coffeemate creamer wasn't organic, but everything else was.

I'm feeling like my body needs fuel – like it' needs nourishment and I'm at a loss for what to give it. My head's a hodgepodge of mixed thoughts: my cheeks are pudgy - I really should go exercise – I want some chicken nuggets – a beer would be really nice – maybe I'll have some grapes – is McDonald's open – I'd go on a fast if it wasn't for that lasagna dinner on Sunday.

My pangs are growing now and I know I need to eat something. I'm just so confused as to how to make the right choice. I think I'm going to look in my pantry and focus on having more energy and tucking in my shirt.

This sucks.