the smell of my desperation has become a stench

In The Mood for Food

Over the weekend Jon and I attended a relatively small barbecue at a friend’s house with about 12 other adults and as many children. Right before we ate all the children walked around to the adults and handed out handwritten food and drink menus:

The spieshl stek was indeed very spieshl, and although I’ve been known to pound my fair share of liquor (and everyone else’s share), we took it pretty easy on the acahol.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take it very easy on the honeydew melon or the cantaloupe. I have a problem with melon, one that makes it impossible for me to stop eating it once I’ve begun. And I think melon itself is a nuisance because it’s so damn sneaky: you don’t realize just how much melon you’ve consumed until you suddenly realize that you’re 20 months pregnant with a cantaloupe baby.

The problem started my sophomore year in college while I was adhering to one of those monumentally unhealthy low-fat diets. I’d eat a small bowl of cereal in the morning, followed by cereal at lunch and cereal at dinner. Occasionally I ate baked Lays potato chips, because those were so flavorful and full of vitamins, obviously, but I never ate fruit because I’d heard HORROR stories about the calorie content of a single banana. I was afraid that I’d eat an apple and wake up the next morning with an apple-sized nodule of fat on my thighs.

I know now that I was being completely insane, but at the time I was horrified of gaining weight, and I think many women at that age experience some of the same fears. I’m not ashamed to admit that between the ages of 16 and 22 I had a crippling and dysfunctional relationship with food, and that because of that relationship I will never be able to look at food like a normal person.

Perhaps there is no normal way to look at food, and when I say normal I mean the way my father wanted me to look at food when I approached him in 1992 and said I desperately needed help because I was starving myself on a regular basis. He didn’t know what to say to me, or how to help me, and the last thing he wanted was a member of his own family seeing a therapist, how scandalous! So he sat me down and said, “It’s really easy, Heather. When you’re hungry, you eat. When you’re not hungry, you don’t eat.” That’s great advice to a four year old, perhaps, but to a teenager who was starving herself as a means to control something it was like telling a diabetic that they’d get better if their body would just produce more insulin already.

I hadn’t been able to eat when I was hungry for years, not because I had a weight problem but because I felt that everything else in my life was completely chaotic. The anorexia slowly turned into bulimia slowly turned into excessive exercising slowly turned into a somewhat functioning ability to eat like a normal person but being completely obsessed with it. Trying to maintain a 3.9 grade point average in college to keep my scholarship only exacerbated the obsession, and I lived for years in a cage of thought about what I was or was not going to eat next.

During the cereal marathon of my sophomore year one of my roommates read in a women’s magazine that you could eat as much melon as you wanted without gaining weight because it was made up entirely of water. I’d had it with the Wheaties, and one afternoon I bought a honeydew melon and a cantaloupe and ate both in less than 15 minutes. What the article failed to mention, however, was that eating anything more than a SANE amount of melon would cause your entire body to bloat so quickly and to such dangerous proportions that you might pop and explode like a thundering green and orange geyser.

I have a much healthier relationship with food now, due mainly to the fact that I have a much healthier relationship with myself. It’s just, sometimes I can get carried away with the melon. And the chocolate pudding. And the bologna. And, ohmigod, the Doritos. And the Bubblegum Jones Soda. And did I mention the bologna?

  • tan

    2003/05/27 at 12:13 pm

    I have smelly cats. Too bad household cleaners don’t stop them from shitting on my bathroom floor.

  • Lex

    2003/05/27 at 12:15 pm

    I want many things for my daughter (now 4 1/2 and to all appearances perfectly healthy, thank God), but among the top 5 would be a healthy relationship with food.

    She doesn’t hand out menus, but she does play “waitress” pretty much any time, anywhere, including restaurants — so much so that her younger brother, 2 and change, is now playing also, demanding that I give him a pen and a piece of paper just so he can shout at me: “Daddy — water or beer? Water or beer, Daddy?”

    Beer, son, preferably a 34-ounce draft.

  • I'm Fine!

    2003/05/27 at 12:16 pm

    I’ve been battling my own issues with food for years. It’s only now that I can consume two slices of pizza or eat a hamburger and fries and not immediately run to the bathroom. Keep going with yo’ bad self!

  • the farkleberry

    2003/05/27 at 12:27 pm

    High fiveses!! For at last healthfully being able to enjoy some of life’s truly good pleasures…steak, bologna, and chocolate pudding. Very spieshl, indeed. Don’t worry about the melon, though. Even if you feel like you’re about to give breech-birth to a honeydew, it’ll all come out as pee very soon.

  • jackie

    2003/05/27 at 12:29 pm

    god i luv bologna. i love the way it’s spelled, i love the way it smells, and i love the little tough ring around the edges. turkey is ok, chicken is a lil’ wuss, but bologna… i loved thelonious monk so much i named him thelogna bologna. now back to vegetarian though, the fake bologna isn’t so bad — but there is no replacing cheese — and you should try korean pears. mm mm!

  • Megan

    2003/05/27 at 12:34 pm

    It’s great that you are able to talk about this so openly. I have some friends with food issues and sometimes wonder how to breach the subject. I guess forwarding this entry to them isn’t the best method?!

  • Beerzie Boy

    2003/05/27 at 12:50 pm

    Jesus. And I thought I had food issues because I putting catsup on my avocados.

  • Appleshell

    2003/05/27 at 12:55 pm

    My ex-hubby had my son fetching him beers out of the fridge as soon as he learned how to open the fridge. I think “BEER” was one of the first 10 words that came out of my son’s mouth. Now my son is 4 1/2 and is learning how to cuss. What a great father my son has.

  • Totah Sam

    2003/05/27 at 12:57 pm

    my god!!! you ate ALL the children????? :oP

  • mademoiselle a.

    2003/05/27 at 12:57 pm

    Those note papers are cute 🙂 Food is a chapter on its own… as kids, my bro and I served goodies to the adults that were gathering. We mixed and mashed up all the chocolates we had; smarties, choc bars, candies…and served it on little dolls’ plates. Because we thought this is the way to prepare ‘food’ just like adults do.

  • Hilatron

    2003/05/27 at 1:01 pm

    Word on the food issues. I used to eat the. weirdest. things, and had the worst ideas about my body during that time (yet somehow managed to never lose any weight, anyway). Bleah. Now I say, bring on the Cheez Doodles!

    (Less on-topic, am I the only one who read “Right before we ate all the children…” and momentarily thought the sentence stopped there? I am? Okay then.)

  • bearcub

    2003/05/27 at 1:02 pm

    not to be a pain…but don’t you mean that you were 4 years old in 1982? not 1992???

    sounds about right.

  • bdk&e

    2003/05/27 at 1:06 pm

    You speak so well. — It’s amazing to me that I am NOT surprised to hear your eating woes? Why? Because I think every female (and some males), I have encountered has some kind of eating hang up. From my roommate, drawers filled with diet pills and laxatives, would sneak around slicing piece after piece of cake, a millimeter at a time (less calories that way) to myself, who when I can’t handle the food in the house any longer I manicly throw it in the freezer or dump it in the trash. — For all those people out there, Heather is beautiful inside and out, entire melon ingested or not.

  • antisocial diva

    2003/05/27 at 1:09 pm

    when you said, “I lived for years in a cage of thought about what I was or was not going to eat next.” well, that’s totally where i am right now.

  • dooce

    2003/05/27 at 1:10 pm

    bearcub: go back and read it with your eyes open this time.

  • just me

    2003/05/27 at 1:17 pm

    She said that was great advice for a 4 year old not that she was four at the time.

    Unrelated note…
    So sad about your struggle. So many go through it and it breaks my heart. (As having several friends who had problems with it too.)
    I’m happy for you though.

  • christine

    2003/05/27 at 1:35 pm

    I can’t stop giggling over your “How To Charm Me” today. Oh, man, that is great! I am dreading the day my kids start embarrassing me by broadcasting cute, personal tidbits to everyone. Guess I’m going to have to start enforcing the “no kids in the bathroom while mommy is pooping” rule.

  • PJ

    2003/05/27 at 1:42 pm

    When I hear or read things about girls and their weight/self-image issues, I am secretly relieved that my two children are boys, because I would have HUGE problems with girls and the whole societal-influence thing as it relates to their looks. Don’t even get me started on the girls vs. boys in the classroom issue. I would be a militant mom on their behalf. My husband and I were having (well, honestly, it was mostly me) a conversation somewhat relating to this last week when Ruben won on AI and it was my strongly stated position that if it was a woman with a killer voice like his, but of that size, there is no way in hell she would have won.

    I think you have a great deal of courage to post something like this, and even more for overcoming the problem.

    P.S. Get the chainsaw. I got my husband one for his b-day last year, and I think it is his favorite gift EVER.

  • EC

    2003/05/27 at 1:59 pm

    Wow, I can’t get over the fact you asked your Dad for help. You must have a pretty good relationship with him to do that. I don’t think I could have done that. I could, however, ask mine for more watermelon. Just wondering if I’m strange because eating tons of melons is a good laxative for me. Six or more Krispy Kremes is too.

  • the mighty jimbo

    2003/05/27 at 2:14 pm

    i was just thinking about how hard it would be to deliver a cantaloupe baby, when i realized that a cantaloupe – at least a small one – is the size of a baby.


    one more reason i’m glad to be a man. i can eat what i want, i only bleed when stabbed, and i never have to pass a cantaloupe from any part of my body.

    (ya know…suddenly cantaloupe isn’t all that appetizing anymore.)

  • Zorbs

    2003/05/27 at 2:20 pm

    Oh for the love of jeebus, I despise cantaloupe.

  • UnderwearNinja

    2003/05/27 at 2:36 pm

    I think bologna is one of the worst meats ever, it’s battling with hotdogs. Yuk! Chocolate pudding and Bubblegum Jones soda though, I could eat until there is no choice but puke.

  • nicole

    2003/05/27 at 2:51 pm

    dads are dense like that, they don’t really mean it. after a decade of depression and finally getting help, he had the nerve to ask if the zoloft they were giving me was just a placebo. what the fuck, dad?!

  • Erica

    2003/05/27 at 2:56 pm

    Dooce, I’m glad to hear that you are much healthier now. I lurve canteloupe.

    And that astro turf bedspread reminds me of a grave. Can anyone explain to me why Kia – a professional, well-paid designer – cheats and uses wallpaper borders? And why did those people seem to *like* the astro turf? Did they just do a really good job of faking it?

  • Sara

    2003/05/27 at 2:59 pm

    People either love eating food, or hate eating food. I went through a starvation period and missed two days of school because I felt so weak. I’ve never heard of someone being intimidated by fruit – I never thought of the fat. I always thought of the vitamins. Maybe that is my mom’s voice or my own. But I believe everyone stops sometime in their lives, to realize food and its effect. I don’t know, food is a very tricky thing. Indeed. (Darling notes by the way.)

  • Anne

    2003/05/27 at 3:36 pm

    Dude, you people have it all wrong. Day-glo mac&cheese, cheetos (the crunchy kind), and peanut butter. Chocolate milk to wash it down.

    I too have/had those food issues, only mine were more like days of inhuman binging, and then days of complete starvation (unless you count water).

    I’d be willing to bet that 100% of girls (and a good chunk of guys) have had fleeting thoughts of food abuse, if not full-on major issues with it. Sigh.

  • Kat

    2003/05/27 at 3:44 pm

    um, bubblegum jones soda? i used to hate food, although i never became bulimic, i was borderline anorexic for a really long time. i’m getting better. rock on…

  • Melissa

    2003/05/27 at 3:45 pm

    You said a mouthful. I myself had serious issues with food as a teenager.

    At one point my father tried to physically force feed me corn flakes. Surprisingly, this was not an effective method for treating my eating disorder.

    I ended up in treatment at a luxurious center in the Arizona desert.

    Sometimes I wish I could go back there…but without all the jutting bones and the extra body hair. 🙂


  • E

    2003/05/27 at 3:48 pm

    The “just before we ate all the children” thing made me laugh harder than anything has all week; thank you. Made me think of the little hellions I know that deserve to be eaten.

  • bhoneydew

    2003/05/27 at 5:05 pm

    I too am somehow not surprised by the food issues in your past (though for me the sentence ends with past?) … something about your vision makes me say so. In a horribly horrible movie I watched the other day one they quoted from the Kabbalah “God counts the tears of women.”

  • Kyle

    2003/05/27 at 5:09 pm

    I read that as ” Right before we ate all the children” .. I read too fast for my own good.

  • vibegrrl

    2003/05/27 at 5:43 pm

    ok, I feel bad because you wrote such a deeply personal entry on eating disorders, and the only thing I REALLY wanted to comment on was:


  • Zandria

    2003/05/27 at 7:17 pm

    I applaud you for speaking out about something that can be so incredibly difficult to bring out in the open and admit to. I’ve had my own issues with food, and though I’ve purposefully gained some of my lost weight back I still constantly know how many calories I’m eating during the course of the day and think in advance about what I’m going to eat next. I think it’s pretty hard, if not impossible, to ever really get over issues with food.

  • Gina

    2003/05/27 at 7:18 pm

    A stranger butting in with Food Advice:
    Melons – Eat them alone or leave them alone.
    (To avoid digestional upset)

  • Pat

    2003/05/27 at 7:51 pm

    i struggled with food issues when i was a teenagerthe more people teased me the more i ate so they teased me more so i ate morein a visious cycle i ballooned up to 350# after many years of treatment i am finally down to 180# i still need to lose 40# more but i’m working on it rock on girl

  • Pat

    2003/05/27 at 7:51 pm

    i struggled with food issues when i was a teenagerthe more people teased me the more i ate so they teased me more so i ate morein a visious cycle i ballooned up to 350# after many years of treatment i am finally down to 180# i still need to lose 40# more but i’m working on it rock on girl

  • lexie

    2003/05/27 at 8:20 pm

    I think you’re so brave to share this with everyone. I’ve had eating disorders for years but I’ve always been too scared to tell anyone. I know there are health problems associated with it but I’ve had such an unhealthy relationship with food for so long, its so hard to change, and I worry that I’ll never be able to. It’s comforting to know that you are able to eat normally now, even if you still get fooled by sneaky melon!

  • christopher

    2003/05/27 at 8:44 pm

    I had that problem with carrots once. Try eating 5 lbs a carrots in a day and see what happens ; )

  • christopher

    2003/05/27 at 8:44 pm

    I had that problem with carrots once. Try eating 5 lbs of carrots in a day and see what happens ; )

  • jj

    2003/05/27 at 9:57 pm

    i’m very happy that you have confronted that demon and made it back off. i’m a guy and i imagined i was the only guy who ever obsessed about food like that, until i started asking others and watching people. i wasn’t bulimic, but in my case i nearly ran myself to death, dropping to way below what i weigh now (this was years ago).
    now, i am happy to say that i can sit down with a glass of wine and a good sheep’s milk cheese, start talking about the last good movie i saw (or the last bad one, if talking about it is entertaining), and with a good crusty dunking bread, go through a half-cup of olive oil without thinking about it.
    your honesty is beautiful and admirable.
    ps. in thailand they eat fruit (including melon and watermelon) with a salt, sugar, and chili mixture. yum.

  • Adam

    2003/05/27 at 10:06 pm

    Damn the melons.

  • Mia

    2003/05/27 at 10:28 pm

    Thank you so much for writing that. You are such a beautiful, intelligent and funny women and it pains me to know that your life has been anything but peachy.

    Melon rocks. Go Melon!

  • Kevynn Malone

    2003/05/27 at 10:52 pm

    Friggin’ pickles. Luv em’.

  • John Burton (I'm a shrink)

    2003/05/28 at 12:38 am

    Hi Dooce,

    As a shrink, I wanted to throw my thinking in here as it seems not just you but a lot of other people who read you struggle with food issues.

    Here’s the devil of it – food issues don’t have much to do with food. It’s that way with a lot of psychological dysfunctions (sorry about that word, it sounds just about three tons worse than it is) – but it is true of food issues as much as any of them. And you can’t approach it from a formulaic standpoint either, like saying that it has to do with your body perception, or your self image, or control issues. It might have to do with none of the above, all of the above, or all of the above and ten other things.

    The trick to beginning to resolve food issues, if there is a trick to it at all, is to step away and look at the bigger picture. Not the what but the why. Find the why, resolve that, the what magically goes away. And be careful with yourself in the process, you know? I trained with clinicians who thought they were making themselves hip by telling their patients, “You know, you aren’t that fucked up.” I used to scratch my head at that, until I read about male pattern baldness and started leaving my head be.

    Now, I just say, “Yeah, that is pretty fucked up, and you might be a wee bit fucked up too, but then again, so is everybody else, and I am leading the pack in that category.”

    I have found the truth to be the most underleveraged tool in all of shrinkdom.

    I applaud your sharing. That takes big melons.

  • Spike

    2003/05/28 at 1:27 am

    JB: “I have found the truth to be the most underleveraged tool in all of shrinkdom.”

    Ummm, personally, I’ve found proper analysis the most underleveraged tool. Way too much reliance on habit-changing therapy that just pushes the real problem into a different area… oh, look, continuing therapy…

  • John Burton

    2003/05/28 at 2:03 am

    Spike –

    Yup, we’re saying the same thing I think. Changing the why not the what. You can work through a manifestion, but if you don’t get at WHY you are having the manifestion, I promise you you will have another one. Trouble with the therapeutic system is that to get at the why you have to get at the truth, and that takes time away from making sure the client schedules another session and that their copay is in cash.

    As an aside, I wrote more about this issue in my blog today.

  • skyewalker

    2003/05/28 at 3:10 am

    i don’t know about the rest of you, but if you don’t feel hungry, you should smoke a phatty-boombatty blunt. roll it up… light it up… smoke it up… inhale… exhale…

    that’s what i’m talkin about! after a phatass joint, i’ll eat melons, pizza, chocolate-chip mint ice cream, smores pop tarts, and anything else i can get my hands on. dooce, you should definitely spark one up. fuck the honeydew melon shit; after 1 joint, you’ll want to hit up white castle for those mini-cheeseburgers and KFC for a bucket of chicken. damn, i’m getting hungry…

  • Glovia

    2003/05/28 at 4:28 am

    Everything makes so much more sense now. Thanks for sharing and good for you.

    And Jimbo, my kids heads were definitely the size of small cantaloupes. I promise you forget. Else there would only be single-child families in all the world.

  • PJ

    2003/05/28 at 5:48 am

    Jimbo: A cantaloupe the size of a baby?

    I don’t believe I have ever seen a 7lb3oz cantaloupe.

    And ketchup on avocados?? I shudder just thinking of that combo.

  • david

    2003/05/28 at 6:07 am

    two slices of bologna, two slices of bread = the perfect bologna sandwich…

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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