What It’s Like To Live With: An Undiagnosed Eating Disorder
What It’s Like to Live With explores the stories of people who see and experience every day a little differently.
Please keep in mind the content of the article may cause emotional distress.
People keep telling me I should eat properly, and that I look underage, underweight, and even “anorexic.” And it really triggers me — I can’t explain my problem to them. I know eating comes naturally to most people — like it’s the most basic thing. But I just don’t feel the same way.
For a greater part of my life, I thought that’s how people are, and that’s what’s “normal.” I don’t even sense hunger, generally. I only realized about five to six years back that it was just my misconception.
If I try to eat a meal, the food doesn’t go down. I just try to eat a little so that I can survive.
But it was only under lockdown that I figured I had an eating disorder. Because ordering was a challenge, and I’d never really had the chance to learn how to cook, or how to manage a kitchen — I just decided not to eat. It was challenging, and nothing was driving me to take that challenge up because I don’t feel hunger. So, I wouldn’t eat for two to three days at a stretch — I’d probably just have some tea and rusk a couple of times, and that would be it. There was a point when I couldn’t even eat finish just one paratha in a day, and that’s when it struck me that I have a problem.
I think I know how this problem started. I stayed with my parents and my elder brother till I was about 18. While I was growing up, my mother, who is a homemaker, was really controlling — as was my father. It was a bit of a power struggle between them, at times. Sometimes, this would result in my mother, who was in charge of cooking at home, simply not cooking for us — it was her way of controlling us, or making us understand her importance. She probably didn’t know how else to do that.
Of course, we recognized the pattern after a point, but I think I sort of developed this “coping mechanism” of sorts to deal with it, where I stopped being interested in food. If I felt hungry, I’d just divert my attention elsewhere. After a point, even if I hadn’t eaten for a day, I would just not feel the need to eat — I stopped feeling hungry.
But it did take a toll on me — even though I probably didn’t realize it then. When I look back, it’s clear to me that I would act out when I didn’t eat. I also experience severe digestive issues to this day, so much so that I always try to have an antacid on me. Although I still don’t feel hungry, I feel frustrated, and experience mood swings if I haven’t eaten. I’ve even had meltdowns because of this — but for a long time, I just didn’t connect that to food.
The disorder really impacts my job too. I work in the costume department for movies and T.V. shows in Mumbai, and my job requires me to be out in the market for long hours, and I’m often carrying a lot of heavy materials. And, you know, even though I enjoy doing what I do, I’m just so irritable and tired all the time because I haven’t eaten. If someone tells me to do my job — just my job, which I know is my job that I also happen to like — I simply flip at them. If you see me walking on a street, you’d probably be able to tell something’s up with me all the time.
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I’ve begun realizing this pattern now. So, when I sense this frustration coming on, I try to eat something small, and I feel better and happier immediately — because I suddenly have energy. It allows me to do my job, and like it too.
But even when I do eat, my choices in food are very limited. I just can’t eat most things. I eat really bland food — no garlic, no spices. While it’s partly due to my lack of interest in food itself, some of it also has to do with the kind of food I ate while growing up. At home, we never ate garlic, or any other spicy food, as such. So, if I go to a restaurant, I would have to explain how I’d like my food to be prepared. Because it seems difficult, and I don’t care enough as it is, I often just avoid going out and eating in a group.
In any case, I find it difficult to eat with people. If I absolutely have to, I just take a couple of bites and I’m done. It’s relatively easier for me to eat when I’m alone. I think that may have something to do with the fact that we never sat down and ate together as a family while I was growing up. We would just serve ourselves whenever we were free. It’s a very small thing, but I realize how big of an impact it’s had on my life. If I’m sitting with 10 people, I simply don’t know how to eat — I feel super awkward; it doesn’t feel natural to me.
I also find it difficult to try out new dishes, or even new flavors. Lately, I’ve tried to be more open about my choices — but if I manage to try something new and like it, that’s all I’ll have for the next six or seven months — over and over again till I get bored of it.
When I see people talk passionately about food, I just don’t get that, you know? I know people also connect with others over their love for food, but I can’t seem to connect with food itself. Sometimes, people invite me over, and I know they’ve gone through the trouble to cook for me, but I don’t know how to appreciate it.
I have considered seeing a psychiatrist about this. But I’m trying to cultivate a relationship with food. One way I’ve been approaching it is when I’m sitting with people from work, I try to suggest a place where we can order lunch from. If they appreciate my recommendation, I really like it, and it drives me to learn about more places, and take an active interest in food in the process.
I’m also trying to work on my food habits myself, and right now, I’m able to eat about one-and-a-half parathas a day. I still can’t have proper meals though.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. As told to Devrupa Rakshit.