If you ask James, he’d say I never actually tasted the food I ate.
He’d say food forcefully tumbled into my stomach through a strong suction of air like the eating mannerism of Patrick Starr from Spongebob Squarepants.
“You know, you’re stomach wouldn’t hurt if you stopped overeating.” I threw a slight eye roll; I figured this much.
Week after week, I’d text him about how tired I’d feel after a lunch that could’ve been split for two and how zapped my energy level were.
Today, was no different; food was piling up, weighing me down and it was only 1 o’clock. I was exhausted before the day even really began.
Why did I always eat like it’s the last meal I’ll ever have?
One thing is for certain; I never worried about starving growing up.
If you grew up with a Southern mother and the whole kin, then you knew it as impossible.
Some of the most distinct memories I have with food are from 8-hr family trips to my grandparent’s in rural South Carolina wherein a few days time you could pack on a SERIOUS gut.
When we arrived my grandpa already carried back assorted snacks, cookies, and cakes from the local Piggly Wiggly.
At 3 o’clock on a weekday, the smell of dinner cooking on the old stove–rice, mac & cheese, green beans, stuffing and stewed chicken– permeated through the creaky screen door.
Grandpas’ pork butt finished on the grill shortly after; cooked low and slow with his signature tangy barbecue sauce.
He would’ve slaughtered a whole pig, had it flushed, seasoned and on the grill, lest we starve.
We’d toss our bags in our rooms, and report to the kitchen to sniff around. We’d fling the fridge open to reveal a Wonderland of different ready-to-eat foods, with a fridge stocked so well you’d think Thanksgiving had just passed.
Family-sized bags of chips and cereal sat atop the fridge.
The wood-laminated countertops were littered in one corner with cookies, always a fresh-baked cake, and other sweets. The freezer; butter pecan ice cream was a staple.
In every crevice, food sat out ready to be chosen.
When dinner came my grandparents were adamant we eat until our heart’s content. Calorie consumption was an afterthought, even as young kids. Even if we were only peckish and we ate enough already to hold us over for desserts; we ate anyhow.
We ate what we pleased when we pleased and as much as we pleased; it was our grandparent’s “we love you”‘.
On the East Coast, the food we ate was healthier but bad eating habits were reinforced.
Fully home-cooked meals sat out for hours simmering on the stove after the first plate.We all knew we’d go back for more, packing our stomachs like suitcases that might not zip all the way, only to unpack in distress later.
We’d fry up a whole bag of Ore Ida after school, and pan fry a burger or two with a cup of kool-aid on the side.
We’d go out to eat; eat the bread, the appetizers, our entree & sometimes even desserts driving back home loosening our seat belt in delight of what we’d just done.
We’d stock up on Chinese food on every-man-for-himself Fridays, with extra chicken wings dipped in mambo sauce to share, barely saving any for the next day.
During Christmas (the only major holiday spent at home) we’d cook up a bevy of meats–some grilled, some fried, and some baked– along with rich sides, buttery breads and sumptuous desserts; a food coma indeed.
Maybe when we were younger, momma gave us only one plate and then cut us off.
You know, like how during the holidays the young kids were told where to eat and had to ask Auntie for more.
But we ate unsupervised.
I’d grown into my teenage years– and into adulthood–to abuse the privilege of having unwarranted access to the kitchen.
“One time, earlier in my teenage years, I’d really done a number on myself causing stomach cramps so severe an ambulance was called to the house.
Only propping myself up with pillows at night eased the tension on my chest enough for me to sleep quietly.
Later, at the doctor we found out I was backed up all the way through my intestines i.e. constipation and for weeks my dad joked about how I was full of shit, literally.”
James stared in disbelief with a concoction of disgust and genuine concern on his face. I chewed the last piece of my sandwich bit-by-bit, waiting for a burp to clear out the rest.
It’s not that I couldn’t stop eating, I just simply didn’t want to. Once the food hit the table you’d think it almost vanished, as fast as it was gone.
After, I’d stare at my emptied plate in revulsion, not wanting to look at another piece of food.
Why did I continuously succumb to this highly predictable cycle?
Like a child constantly walking into a swarm of bees after already being stung; you’d think I’d learn my lesson.
3-hr food comas after a weekend brunch weighed on my body like a weight too heavy to bench press and the quality of my sleep suffered and fatigued me throughout the week.
My childhood taught me the importance of eating, but left out the discipline needed of eating until I was satisfied.
Only recently, I’ve become an advocate for putting the fork down and becoming more of a slow eater.
Eating a little bit slower, and appreciating food a little bit more has helped me to attack the rest of my day with the ferocity of a gym rat having their pre-workout protein shake.
Sometimes, I still go back there but the consequences jolt me back to reality.
I realized my problem with overeating was not so much about wanting to enjoy my food, but more about wanting to eat just to eat.
Eating slow is eating just to savor, and I thought if food takes time to grow shouldn’t we take time to relish every bite?
I think so.