Food changes with you. Breast milk turns to smashed peas turns to mashed potatoes and chicken and then bread! Hard items begin to emerge like chips and marbles that I put in my mouth thinking they were candy. And we get to choose! Finally we have agency and we can choose to eat Lucky Charms or Raisin Bran for breakfast and whether or not we want to finish off our lunch with a Hostess Cupcake or a finger coated and dripping with white Elmer’s Glue.
We are connoisseurs of our own mental cookbook. Food is supposed to change when we change. Your taste buds change ever 7 years, they say. When I was younger I hoped that one day my buds would change to like black licorice. I don’t know why. I loved the look of it, the shiny darkness. It looked like something that shouldn’t be eaten, but I wanted it. I still don’t like black licorice, and my taste buds haven’t changed as much as the items my stomach will accept into it have. When the most common question you get is “What DO you even EAT?!” — you know you have a lot of allergies.
I’m at my university’s health center at the end of my first quarter of my freshman year, and the woman just said numbers to me that I can’t understand.
“What?” I grimace.
“170,” she says. “You’re overweight.”
While I’m home for winter break I visit the pediatrician I’ve been seeing since I was 6. I’ve been having trouble breathing, and my GI tract feels like a concrete snake inside me. She has a gentle, hollow voice. Pressing, but understanding.
“A lot of the time when people become vegetarian they don’t substitute the right kinds of food into their diet, just a lot of breads and starch. That’s probably what happened.”
“Okay,” I say.
I stop being a vegetarian, and over the rest of the year scale back my food intake further and further until I’m only eating 1500 calories a day. I know this because I am calorie counting, a type of eating disorder that many people don’t talk about, but that is very dangerous. I lose 10 pounds from this, but my body still seems to be rejecting everything I put inside of it.
Finally, in the summer after my freshman year, I stop eating gluten — not because I thought it was bothering me, but because my brother has Celiac and I wanted to show solidarity. 3 days later I felt amazing, and haven’t gone back every since.
I hesitate to write about my food troubles because every time I start to think about how bad I have it I think of everyone that has it worse off than me worldwide and murder and genocide, and then I shut up and try for the 15th time to cook a vegan, gluten-free meal that doesn’t use oats, rice (in it’s pure form, I can have rice flour but not grains of rice. I don’t get it either), almonds, quinoa, low-refined sugar, low-pepper blahblahblah. I hate myself for even thinking about being upset about my restrictions, but that is part of the large swelling of the self-judgement portion of my brain that has been occurring since birth. I emerged from the womb chewing on my fingernails and screaming “I’M NAKED DON’T LOOK AT ME!!!!!!!!”
I was diagnosed with Celiac when I was 18, got my first colonoscopy when I was 19, and now, at 20, I am side-stepping my way towards culinary deliciousness. Because, despite its general hatred for my gastrointestinal system, I love food. I love eating food and talking about it and looking at it. I read cookbooks and food blogs dreaming of a day when I have a kitchen bigger than my wingspan and a refrigerator that doesn’t drip an odorless black liquid onto everything inside of it.
I also don’t complain about the restrictions because they saved my life. I was headed down a path toward anorexia, I couldn’t control my emotions. Eating food that my body likes keeps my balanced and able to be a human. I’ll trade gluten for happiness any day.