Content warning: eating disorders, food trauma, depression
The subject of nutritional abuse is one that I’ve found difficult to talk about for a long time. I keep thinking that it’s because I’m no nutritionist, and I’m not really qualified, but this fear masks avoidance. The thing is, I don’t always know when I’m hungry, because my body doesn’t tell me. I need use marijuana and several prescription medications to help have an appetite, and having a stable routine helps a lot.
Food is scary. It’s necessary for survival, but subtle abuse at the hands of many makes access complicated. Even truly gentle and autonomy-affirming parents don’t always have access to adequate food for their children. Hunger has a long history of being used to control populations, and to systematically destroy people. Since the advent of processed and mass-produced food, a new type of food abuse has emerged as well: obesity caused by malnutrition, which is often compounded with the emotional trauma of being labeled a failure at feeding yourself properly.
In the modern world, anybody can publish a diet book, even my mom. Even when she was the one who’d say to me, “just eat a few walnuts and keep working, they make you feel full,” and “your fidgeting is good, it means you’re burning calories while you eat,” and “sometimes I forget to eat, don’t you?”
As a parentified child to my needy mother, I was more sister-servant to her than daughter. Her coffee must have just the right amount of cream and sugar, and if it wasn’t strong enough, I was to dump the pot and start over. Depending on the stage of pregnancy she was perpetually in, I needed to give her back rubs and foot rubs, make sure she had a quiet nap in the afternoon – anyone disturbing her was sure to be my fault, and with the consequence of her irritable nap-interrupted lectures.
Without being prompted, I had a relationship with food that centered on my smallness: ashamed of how thin, small, weak, and unhappy I was. I couldn’t force myself to eat. Nobody watched my portions to say, “do you feel full? How is that food sitting in your stomach?” And it is difficult to make anyone unfamiliar with the psychological levels of food shame understand that it is abusive whatsoever. Trying to eat plenty, and eat well, never occurred to me. I was too obsessed with the needs of others. I also loved baking, so I had an excuse to make all kinds of pastries without eating too many of them – if I ever wanted there to be leftover cookies, I would estimate 7 cups of flour as my reference for multiplying the recipe. Only several dozen would withstand my siblings’ assault on my hoard, sneaking behind cupboards or crawling behind the kitchen island to sneak a warm cookie.
I had the odd ability, growing up, to tell my family members exactly what they were craving at any given time. This was quickly explained the day someone explained to me that I was an empath. Empaths very often can intuit the physical and emotional feelings of others before their own, especially when having been trained to do so, and to be responsible for the satisfaction of those around them. Our cupboards were never bare, as my dad made a decent single income that would be squarely middle class if his offspring count wasn’t off the charts for calculating income to household members. But it is difficult to prepare enough food to feed sixteen people regularly.
Unprompted except by a secret gnawing sense that something was deeply wrong with me, I tied my aprons tights and layered them over my homemade prairie dresses. This made it hard to breathe, but it silenced my stomach, which I desperately wanted to forget about. After all, eating hindered my productivity. Ask any Jeub kid why productivity is important, and you’ll get some version of a spiel adapted from my parents, clearly wrapped up in the futile attempt to beat the game of capitalism by working hard enough. That is simply because it was what kept us going day in and day out – productive, productive, productive – why are you sitting down? Do you have chores to do? Go make sure you know where all the kids are. Make sure the laundry appliances are running at all times. Who said you could have a snack?
When I was homeless and living in a car, I vomited a lot because I couldn’t access much healthy food. A car doesn’t have a way to keep fresh produce cool, nor does it come with a stove and cooking items. So you’re lucky if you can find a microwave in a grocery store where you can heat something up, otherwise all your food will be lukewarm. I once made some ramen with a hot water dispenser at a gas station, and threw up on the side of the road, then cleaned myself up and went to work, where I served slices of deli items worth more per pound than I was per hour, while according to the state I made too much to qualify for food stamps.
These voices play in the back of my head, but I am recovering.
Finally. Slowly. Every day is not perfect. But I have reached and stabilized a healthy weight, even though I’m far from finding diagnoses and solutions for my various physical symptoms and mental illnesses. And I’d like to share what’s worked, what hasn’t, and how I’m stretching my food stamps and food bank foods to create a restorative routine despite what I’m up against.
Thanks to the kindness of people, I have stayed alive. My partner and I are now in an apartment, and since we’ve moved in, we’ve taken advantage of luxuries we cannot take for granted ever again – a blender for smoothies, our one appliance, and the roommate’s dishes to make salads, healthy cuisine from around the world, with lots of chicken and very little grease or sugar.
I’ve been lurking in Facebook tag groups, and one of them is called “Is this a depression meal?” It is a safe place for people with eating disorders and general depression to post the sad meals they’re having. Before joining this group, I didn’t know it was perfectly okay to say “hey guys, I’m eating the stale chips out of the bottom of this bag for dinner.” By okay here I mean it is a normal human thing to be too depressed to eat much, and getting communal support in those times is great, not that a few stale chips are adequate nutritionally.
I also learned the phrase “recovery food.” These are foods that help. I spoke with a nutritionist who told me that if I can’t eat much, try to make it count: protein drinks and protein bars could help if I could only manage to take a few bites. So I started buying protein drinks. That has now evolved into a shake I make myself every morning with yogurt, fruit, milk, and protein powder. I mix the flavors up a bit, and recently my dear cousin-in-law sent me fresh peaches, so I’ve been having a lot of vanilla-peach flavor.
My dietary needs are different from those of my partner. His food trauma is very different from mine, but that is his own story to tell. It is enough to say that I am filling my days with high-fat proteins that help me stay at a healthy weight, like the shake I start each day with. He is avoiding sweets and carbs, and emphasizing chicken as the best possible meat source, eating a lot of chicken salads. Me, I like red meat and need my carbs, so I’ll often eat potatoes or pasta with my meat while he eats lettuce with his.
Here are a few of those meals. You may have noticed that I haven’t put any new photos on my blog, and that is because so many were lost with the old site, and also because I want my blog to be accessible – no ads, no paywalls, no affiliate links, no images without image descriptions. I hope you see that these are not just pictures of what I’m eating. Every image is a triumph, and I’ve organized them from most recent to back when I started posting selfies of my mood to show the progress:
The image below is of a recent lunch which looks extravagant but is mostly food bank food, I just beat the shit out of an old steak and broiled it like lamb chops (haven’t had lamb in years), steamed some green beans, tore off the slightly moldy end of hard bread, and helped myself to some blueberries my roommate picked to share.
I listened to the audio book “Letter to my Daughter” by Maya Angelou over the past few days. She said red rice was her favorite food, and the description of it made me want to try. I used chicken instead of bacon and used a wild-rice lentil mix as the base, which took forever to cook well enough, but four hours later it tastes fucking amazing. But I 100% know it’s nothing compared to how it would be made by someone who grew up with a family recipe for it.
I struggle to finish my food and I ate a whole solid breakfast. Pic is of an empty glass that had a chocolate protein shake in it, a bowl with an apple core and cherry pits and stems, and an empty yogurt cup. Nothing is left of the blueberries.
I’m so grateful that I can afford to eat like this. Food stamps don’t usually stretch this far, but last month we moved close to a discount grocery store that actually has quality produce. It’s taken years to get to this point.
I have a weird relationship with eggs. They’re fine in things, but I have to really be in the right mood to eat fried eggs. They’re an easy way to get a ton of nutrients so at various points of my eating disorder, I’ve become so picky from getting great fresh eggs that for a while I was drinking raw eggs every morning. Apparently I can stand them boiled, and I’ve been working on my timed eggs and cool water shock. A few months ago I made some absolutely terrible stuffed eggs that had lots of eggshells, so I’ve been doing my homework. I present, perfectly soft 8-minute eggs.
This is all I can stomach of what would be enough to get me through a looong morning. Image is of a protein drink, English muffin, and sliced kiwis. But no, my new med insists I’m too sick despite also taking Zofran and smoking a bowl. Fml
Stoked that I finally got to go to the local farmer’s market where they take food stamps, featuring garlic chive cheddar cheese curds. The chicken is some extra I made last night for a Caesar salad. It’s super tender because I used a rolling pin to flatten it.
Still homeless. Kitchen is of the good Samaritans who are letting us sleep in their garage and save for a place. Doctors appointment today, then showing up to ask some people to hire me. Wish me luck or whatever.
Things are kinda shitty. We’re stuck in a town with no job market whatsoever and neither of us are from here so we don’t know anyone local. Literally the cash we’re feeding ourselves with day to day is from odd internet jobs. Upwork, Craigslist. Pawning our least necessary electronics to have food for the day.
On top of all that, I’ve been switching meds and working with a therapist who would finally be willing to see me on a “pay what you can” basis, and my period is 62 days late (not too worried, had a pregnancy test two weeks ago and have another scheduled on Wednesday and I’ve been spotting). My body and brain are in a continuous fog, my mania is showing its true colors, and my paranoia and panic has been debilitating. And I have to work. Piecing together freelance writing that very much impresses my small clientele, but who won’t offer a job with benefits because I didn’t graduate college.
Anyway, I have a theory about my eating disorder. I think I was trained to starve myself. Though she would never be caught dead getting a psych eval, my mother almost certainly has Munchausen by Proxy. So I can never tell when I’m hungry or what would be nutritional, because this is how I eat.
Manic days: fresh homemade bread, pancakes for breakfast, curry and rice with flatbread and hummus
Depression day, aka what’s pictured: dollar store candy, a leftover sweet roll I made a couple of days ago, a bowl of spinach havarti dip (all I had was havarti don’t judge) from last night, and a cup of raspberry tea. Yes, that is Snorlax on the mug.
I got stoned and had McDonald’s and got to spend a day with my man. Perfect Thanksgiving for an introvert. I much prefer this to Holiday drama.
Hey, you. The one scrolling through depression memes, thinking maybe something will tempt your appetite. Can we just, for a moment, look at the fourth wall through the internet at each other? We know this whole system is bullshit and we’re fucked. I currently have my own apartment with a stable partner and we both have jobs. It has taken me five years of adulthood to be in such a stable position. If you’re fighting homelessness, barely eating enough to make it to work, you are not alone. And we can work together to survive as a generation that is primarily parentless for many reasons, leaving us alone in the world.
My depression hit hard today. We both get paid on the same day and I left before he woke up because it’s my day off and we work opposite shifts and weekends (no we never see each other, and it makes us miss each other terribly) to go take out a loan. I’ve done that before, but the godforsaken town we had to move to in order to stay off the streets apparently has no loan places. Like, they just don’t exist. I looked up MoneyTree and my maps circles an area of car dealerships. Debt is someone bribing us to give them their money, and I just need to have enough for our next paycheck. And people wonder why I’m so depressed.
Anyway. We’re in this together. And I say that in the most rueful tone possible, because having isolated depression in an economy like this isn’t something I’d wish on anyone.
So. I know a lot of us can’t afford therapy and can hardly be stable adults. Want to just share tip amongst us? I’ll start:
Image description is of a plate of vegetables and fruit, a water bottle, and a protein drink. This depression meal is lying on carpet because it is next to the couch where I am munching and writing. I confess, it’s not my proudest work. I basically just grabbed all this from the fridge after having a cigarette. The veggies were chopped a few days ago, when I had some extra energy.
Today, I haven’t eaten much. I feel like depression is that state of imbalance between frustration and not giving a fuck. I was pissed because after driving around for hours, I had nothing to show for exhausting myself on my day off. When I got home, I laid on the couch, unable to move, for nearly an hour before I finally got up to feed myself. We’ve all been there.
Folx, I want to break down the tips I have to start spinning our secret web:
1. Water bottles are worth buying at $4 a case if your tap tastes terrible and you struggle with drinking enough water to begin with.
2. One of my doctors recently recommended that I talk to a nutritionist about my depression eating. If you can’t get to a doctor, I’m there right now. My job and my state are beaurocratically delaying my medical care. But the one time I saw her, she said, “If you can only eat a few bites, make them count.” Which nobody ever told me, because I never was asked about eating. That’s the protein shake. If I can only manage to drink a little, or I run out of energy, having these around is well worth the five bucks.
3. Leave leftovers and chop extra things that will last, it helps when you can’t function enough to make anything.
4. All of the above can be purchased with food stamps, and are within budget for most people.