Girl struggles with disordered eating, works at bakery counter
Potentially triggering content: disordered eating, weight loss
The words "disordered eating” acknowledge that even if a broken relationship with food is invisible & immeasurable, it can thrive in a person's mind.
One year ago, I was trying to starve myself.
I had left my parents' home in California, where I spent two heartwarming, healing weeks with my family. Cooking & eating, celebrating the holidays surrounded by loved ones, indulging in the abundance of Asian cuisines in the Bay Area.
Once I flew back to Pittsburgh, my sense of healing was doused in isolation. Classes hadn't started, and my roommate wouldn’t fly back for another week or two.
All by myself, the shame of having gained weight became deafening. In a culture that idolizes thinness, I had learned from an early age to conflate my worth with my weight.
That winter, alone in my apartment, I tried to stop eating: a silent effort to punish my body for having dared to take up so much space.
Sure enough, I lost weight. And I felt better about my body.
That is, if “feeling better” could include trying to starve myself during the week, only to binge-eat during weekend shifts behind the counter of a local bakery.
Within a month, I got myself to therapy & established some semblance of a healthier relationship with food.
But as struggles go, it’s up-and-down.
Only recently did it occur to me, how peculiar to be working at a bakery — a girl who has struggled for years with disordered eating, working at a locus of eating for indulgence.
When I got the job, I thought only of making some money in the summer before my senior year of college.
A year and a half later, I’ve become well-versed in the language of guilt that people default to when purchasing (or not purchasing) pastries.
Among idioms surrounding the stigma of eating sugar & gaining weight, I've heard:
“It’s bad for my waistline.”
Or if a pastry sold out, “It’s good for my waistline.”
[rushing past the pastries] “I’ll be good today.”
[rushing towards the pastries] “Came here to eat my feelings.”
“Don’t let me order any more.”
“Oh, why not? It’s Friday.”
[me] "Anything else?" [customer] "Well, I want everything, but..."
“I’ll tell myself this is for tomorrow.”
“I just went to the gym, so…”
It’s possible to have a healthy relationship with eating sugar, or carbs in general. Even so, working at a place where customers confront the possibility of consuming pastries, it is thought-provoking, revealing, & sometimes triggering to witness the inflections of people’s relationships with eating.
Beyond the words themselves, the inflections of people's voices open a window into a wide range of relationships with food: towards the negative end, there’s guilt, a desire to be restrained, & a hyperawareness of judgment.
As the stranger positioned behind the counter, sometimes people project upon me the insecurity of being seen as they transgress whatever is considered an "acceptable" amount of sugar to consume.
To my ears, the wide variation in their tones has melted into uniformity: they expose how thinness — as an indicator of health, beauty, & worth — dominates our relationships with the food we do (or don't) eat.
In the aspiration for thinness, I hear undertones of the shame that convinced me, alone in my apartment a year ago, that I needed to eat as little as possible.
Most of the time, I’m not triggered by what I hear at the bakery counter. My struggle has never been quantifiable as an eating disorder.
Anyone who sees me will assume I have a healthy relationship with food. Yet this isn’t true, either. So I’ve found the words “disordered eating” to be deeply validating: they acknowledge that even if a broken relationship with food is invisible & immeasurable, it can thrive in a person's mind.
In addition to therapy, I've found the concept of intuitive eating to be helpful. I find its rejection of the paradigm of weight-loss deeply healing.
Even so, to write about healing as linear feels naive and superficial.
As a woman who, on some days, still struggles to eat more than a meal's worth of food, I have no stirring tale of healing to chronicle.
If nothing else, this is a space of attentiveness & curiosity towards an unexpected intersection: my history of disordered eating with a part-time job that pays the rent while I build a future as a freelance artist.
In less words, it's me being vocal.
A year ago, silenced by shame and the grim satisfaction of watching my body shrink, I didn't have language for what was happening.