Illustration by Patrick Daugherty

The Fear Of Food

By Patrick Daugherty

In the early stages of my life I found only solace in food. I did not denote any foods as good or bad. Food meant that I was in the presence of my rather large family who instilled the idea of tradition in its younger generation through old recipes and time spent cooking and eating together. I yearn to be young again, a time in my life where I enjoyed food so unapologetically and so earnestly.

Outside of my family gatherings, the kisses on the cheek after a meal were replaced with a chorus of laughter from my peers. I was proud of how much I could eat. I was proud of the diverse palette I had compared to other kids my age. However, this pride turned to shame as I got older and kids became meaner. Sure, my parents got mad when I stopped eating my lunches but at least the kids at school had one less reason to torment me.

It was as my body began to change with puberty and the looming threat of depression that I realized I had to force myself to be afraid of food, I thought. In my head, eating food meant gaining weight. Gaining weight meant “looking fat.” “Looking fat” in middle school meant having a target on my back. I equated not eating with surviving socially and quickly turned my enthusiasm for food into an enthusiasm for thinness.

Alas, thinness never came for me. During these years of restrictive and harmful eating I quickly learned that discrimination toward plus-size people seeped its way into every corner of our lives. I not only had to endure this treatment at school, but at a place everyone should feel comfortable, accommodated, and listened to: the doctor's office.

An entirely different article could be written about the general fear people have of going to the doctor, but for plus-size folks, it's a whole new ballgame. Healthcare providers are notorious for not only stigmatizing overweight patients but refusing certain tests and treatments under the guise that their suggestion to “lose more weight” is all the treatment that patients need. An editorial in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) from February 2019 showed that in a survey of primary care doctors, 50% of them “viewed obese patients as awkward, unattractive, ugly, and noncompliant.”

My first run-in with a doctor like this was when I was 13. A pretty formative age, right? They did not seem to care. I went in for a routine physical, and I left being told that I needed to lose 70 pounds. She gave me no resources. No pamphlets. Nothing. She said “See you back in three months. Hope you’ll make some progress,” then slammed the door in my face. What did she think the outcome of her words would be? That I would come back in three months 70 pounds lighter, ready to be the poster kid for beating childhood obesity? Her words have stuck with me for the rest of my life, regardless of how much I have grown as a person. Hearing such daunting, fear-mongering language from healthcare professionals makes plus-size people scared to ask questions, which can prolong what underlying condition remains undiagnosed at the hands of biased doctors.

“Noncompliant” is the word from that survey that stings particularly bad. I hate to make such a simple statement, but fat people have lives too. Fat people work long hours and have bills to pay, homes to take care of, and in some cases, kids too! Fat people, just like a majority of society, are under the strain of tumultuous, busy lives that don't facilitate the most time for thinking about yourself and your own health. It’s such a sad truth to write, but it’s my own as well.

I’m a full-time student who commutes. I work part-time. I’m internship hunting. At the end of the day, the only thing on my mind is making up for the day's lack of food in any way, shape, or form and getting into bed. I am constantly beating myself up for not having a “rise and grind” mentality. Why shouldn’t I get up at 5 a.m. to go on a run? Other people do it! Why can’t I meal prep for the week and calorie count as I cook? Other people do it!

This is where the fear begins to dissipate. I am not “other people.” “Other people” are not me.

No one has the same body as another person. We are all unique in our body composition, our metabolism, and our cravings. No one else has the same 24 hours, either. Of course, people who have ample time and money find it easy to work out and meal prep and find “healthy food” with ease. Folks who, in comparison, have little time and money use whatever leftovers they have of each to find some semblance of peace in their lives. The “calories in, calories out” agenda that gets pushed on us by influencers and fitness gurus is proof that people who have a more flexible 24 hours find that burning off all of the food you ate that day is feasible. It is in fact not feasible. For so many people. We cannot continue to assume that all people are affronted the same resources, just as we are all not given the same time in the day.

With these realizations, I gave new life to my body. I reveled in every stretch mark, every freckle, and every part of me that caved in with the push of a finger. It felt like my own for the first time in a long time. How could I do this same thing with food? How could I prevent myself from almost cowering in fear to something that is an absolute life force for all creatures on this planet?

I began to associate food with new memories. Memories that live inside of this newfound body.

Now, food is the Taiwanese restaurant in Highland Park that me and my sister visit so often the workers become sick of us. Food is the car packed with friends I took through the Taco Bell drive through in the dead of night because one person said “potato taco” and everyone nodded in agreement. Food is the bagels me and my friends got before saying goodbye to our friend one last time before she went away to school. Food is sending a mandatory picture to that same group chat of friends everytime one of us gets a bagel. Food is looking around at my friend’s everytime we see each other, and remembering when I was too scared to eat around them, instead being happy as we stand in one of our kitchens, cooking pasta and playing music and laughing amongst food we have made to enjoy.

For anyone reading this and struggling with eating and/or body image issues, please understand what I am about to say. No two people have the same way of making it over this hurdle. I almost forced myself to find peace. You may not be capable of that, and it’s okay. Be patient with yourself. Be kind to yourself. Find solace in the people in your life that affirm and understand your struggles. While these support systems are important, seek to find comfort in yourself. Comfort in your own body. Comfort in the food that fuels that body.

Trading fear for comfort is what saved my life.