• April 25, 2019 |

    granola bowls or porridge?

    breakfasts with body dysmorphia

    article by , illustrated by

    Content Warning: Eating disorders, body hatred, body dysmorphia 

    The best weekends of my life have always begun the same way: with a “healthy” breakfast of granola, strawberries, chocolate chips, and brown sugar. Episodes of This is Us keep me company as I eat. In these golden days of old, this delectable cocktail proved a source of reprieve and relaxation. But this semester I’ve gone abroad, and granola bowls have vanished into that good night with little to no fanfare, replaced by the amicable blandness of store-bought porridge from my local London supermarket. My hasty departure has left me consumed with guilt, for I failed to grant my sweet granola bowls the send-off they deserved. I wasn’t there to say goodbye. I never got to say “I love you” one last time, to cry into the coconut shavings as season three of This is Us unearthed more Pearson family secrets.

    Yes, I’m an Englishman now. At least temporarily. Which is to say, not at all. I sense my American heritage is fairly transparent to the locals. What little practice in the regional dialect I have received from my program—learning the “standard” accent of Received Pronunciation is mandatory at the London Dramatic Academy—has proved largely ineffective for a blubbering twenty-something who can barely pronounce words in American English. I order a black coffee and see the disdain in the barista’s eyes as they ask if I mean an “Americano.” My Rhode Island ID is constantly scrutinized as a shoddily made fake; my strict dieting and slim 5’6” frame does me no favors to convince bartenders I’m above fourteen years old. This isn’t all that bad, really: When you’ve been grappling with eating disorders for the last seven years, the suspicion functions as an odd sort of compliment—especially when my free time has been devoted to strictly scheduled gym sessions as opposed to sight-seeing. Truthfully, I have largely considered my experience abroad as beneficial: Here, I can easily resist the temptations of Blue Room muffins, spicy withs, and those dastardly delicious granola bowls. 

    Yes, I confess: At the time of my departure, my dear granola bowls were less of a childhood sweetheart and more of a toxic lover. Allow me to enlighten you with the history of our tragic affair.

    ***

    November, 2016: Freshmen are concerned about many things: whether or not they’ll pass their classes, make friends, carve themselves an identity. The one I’m most worried about is the freshman fifteen. The sacks of fat that wrap around my stomach are much smaller than they used to be, sure, yet the fear I might return 

    to my former size consumes my waking days. How can I make new friends when I’m constantly on the precipice of obesity? Though I’m not exactly counting every calorie, I have devised an ingenious fail-safe, one that allows me to indulge in—and simultaneously prevent the repercussions of—endless binge-eating sessions. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the “chew-spit.” Three easy steps, repeatable ad infinitum: 

    1. Chew up foods you crave but do not need—i.e. pizza, sweets, desserts (shout out to Cajun apple cake!).
    2. Find a suitable location to spit out the food (a napkin or empty to-go box are generally accessible; if timing and location are flexible, a bathroom works quite nicely).
    3. Spit out the remains, and stay fat-free!

    This system doesn’t always work, of course. Dates require constant inter-action, and unless your potential suitor leaves to go to the bathroom, you’re forced to endure whatever has ended up on your plate. In such scenarios, I have no choice but to force myself to eat the standard number of calories per day, and even to try foods that are objectively bad for me, such as the breakfast burritos that draw out obscene numbers of people to Andrews on weekends. A girl I befriended insists I “switch sides” from the burrito line to the one across and try a granola bowl, specifically with coconut shavings. I doubt I will. If I’m eating junk, at least let it be junk I choose to indulge in. My daily caloric intake doesn’t grow on trees. 

    April 2018: Warmth envelops me, and I cannot determine the origin. As a sophomore, I have settled into the comforts of familiarity, knowing which foundations to rest upon when the going gets rough. Weekly therapy sessions haven’t hurt either. 

    Yet, there’s something special in this very moment. Perhaps it’s the way my girlfriend rests on to me. It could be the loop of The Velvet Underground’s “Sunday Morning” that sways through my head. Or maybe it’s the tasty concoction of granola and chocolate that smothers my taste buds in decadent delight. It feels good to let food go down your throat.

    She offers me her leftovers. “I told you you should switch sides.” 

    For once, I do not hesitate to eat more. 

    November 2018: Two minutes of sugary bliss, and now I have to work it off in a gym session I cannot possibly fit into the day. All the chocolate and carbs and sugar are turning into blubbery fat as I speak. I need to go to the gym. But when? I can’t delay learning my lines for The Antipodes again. I can’t cancel on my friend—that’ll be the third time this week. I can’t forget about the response paper for Latin American History and Film. And I told Katie I’d meet her for dinner. That means I definitely have to eat more. I’d look like a moron if I made plans for dinner and then say I already ate. What kind of friend would I be? 

    I have to—need to—let this tension out. Some Blue Room muffins should do the trick. I hope the second-floor bathroom isn’t being cleaned. 

    February 2019: Coldness envelops me, and I cannot determine its origin. Perhaps it is the caffeine coursing through my body, making my skull throb, both friend and foe to the myriad of tasks set before me. It could be my sense of inferiority, an unshakeable feeling that, despite friendships and encouragement, I do not belong in London, in the program, or in the acting world. Or maybe it’s the rush of anxiety whenever my new girlfriend offers me chocolate. I think back to the chocolate Insomnia Cookies that returned in mushy heaps to their containers, the chocolate Blue Room muffins I sputtered into the toilet, the chocolate granola bowls that always seemed to latch across my stomach and throttle my brain. All these are foreign to me now. I swore off their seductive ways in favor of a healthier lifestyle—dictated by rigid exercise and a strict diet of chicken, whole-wheat products, organic peanut butter, and good ol’ English porridge. What better way to maximize my fitness training than with consumption of strictly nutritiously advantageous foods? No more greasy dining halls and lunch dates with unpredictable caloric values. I am in full control of how I live. I have structure, safety, and security, both in the people I have befriended and the food I consume. Everything is exactly as it should be. So why am I unhappy? 

    She smiles at me, a thumbnail-sized block of milk chocolate in hand. Even in my neurotic madness, I know to refuse her offer is ridiculous. A voice in my head devises a new rule to follow: Never reject chocolate from a girl who loves you. 

    And yet I do. Over, and over, and over again.

    Until one day I don’t.

    ***

    In less than a week, I will be back home in Rhode Island. My London endeavors will be a fond memory. But while my semester has ended, there’s a way I can still carry London with me—to home, to Brown, and beyond. 

    The ingredients are simple: yogurt, granola, and a whole bag of chocolate chips thrown in there for good measure. 

    I think it’ll be a hell of a lot better than porridge.