TRIGGER WARNING: DISCUSSIONS OF NUMBERS, UNHEALTHY EATING HABITS AND OCD-LIKE FIXATIONS
I had this habit that started when I was around 10 where I’d play with my food. Not that I’d sit at the table and build sculptures out of mashed potatoes or flick peas at my sister or anything like that, but I’d turn food into a game. I’d get on kicks where for a few weeks at a time, I’d only eat green food, or red food. It didn’t matter if the red food was spaghetti or a jelly bean, if it was a red day, I’d eat it. I had a lot of red days, which is why to this day, my dad still thinks I love tomatoes. The more stressed I was, the more strict I was with my colors. On a good day, I’d eat all of the spaghetti, including the noodles and meat because technically it was covered with red sauce. On a bad day, I’d take my time eating, cut my food up into little pieces, sneak it into my napkin and only eat the parts that were actually red.
As I got older and learned more about math, I started playing elaborate number games with the calories. I’d only eat to a number that was divisible by 3 or that had a whole number as a square root. If I went over, I’d vomit up whatever felt like the right amount to get to my target. If I went under, I’d eat one piece of the chocolate that I kept hidden in my desk drawer. When my aunt introduced me to weight watchers, I completely fell in love with the points system. It was so soothing to convert my food into numbers and track over a whole week instead of just a day.
These games were my little distraction from the reality of middle school and high school. They kept me calm when all I wanted to do was scream at everyone around me. To be fair, I often also screamed at everyone around me, but going back over the numbers or repeating something like “brown today” helped calm me down. That age range is a terrible time for most people, and being able to fixate helped me to focus and feel like there was something going on in my life that I had at least the tiniest bit of power over. It was fun to have a secret from my family and classmates. It was fun to have that one tiny thing that was just mine. And it was fun to give myself a distraction.
Since I started getting counseling in college, I haven’t had many color days, although I’ve frequently used the weight watchers point system or other number patterns to help me focus when I’ve felt particularly overwhelmed. But I have been slipping for quite a while now, and yesterday was an orange day. I didn’t realize I was doing it until around 5pm yesterday when I looked at my desk and saw a package of baby carrots, a package of barbeque potato chips and realized that I’d been adding a little more skim milk to my coffee that day to make it look “right.” I had a little under 300 calories of Orange yesterday, and it felt so soothing. It was so easy to slip into that pattern, and if I hadn’t noticed my nails peeling and realized I’m not getting diverse enough nutrients, I wonder how many more color days I would have had without even realizing what I was doing. It’s a little scary to think about how easily those old habits come up when life gets a little more than I want to handle.
When I got home, I heated up a plate of the chicken and vegetables I made this weekend and had a piece of carrot with each bite. I stayed home with my husband this morning and had a bowl of beige oatmeal that he made for the two of us. Tonight I’m going out for dinner with a friend. Today will not be a beige day. Today I will be careful, and I will not eat alone.