When I was 11, my parents hosted Thanksgiving. In my family, we generally ate breakfast and then fasted until gorging ourselves on the impending feast in the early afternoon. There were no appetizers or snacking pre-turkey. Partly because I grew up poor and partly because my family is punitive around food.
So that’s about six or seven hours without food. Which, when you’re 11, is a long time.
On this particular holiday, my mother put a dish of pickles out on the table just before dinner. They were sweet pickles, the “bread and butter” type, sliced into pieces.
Our dining room table was pulled apart with the extra leaves stuck in to make room for more guests. It barely fit into the dining room. I was carefully navigating my way between the wall and a line of chairs when I spotted the pickles. The porcelain dish sat next to a tiny pickle fork used only for this occasion.
I impulsively reached for the pickles. I was hungry and I love sweet pickles.
My uncle, however, was watching me. He was standing on the threshold between the dining room and family room, arms crossed, apparently surveying his environment.
Just as I put the first pickle slice in my mouth, my uncle pointing at the remaining 2-3 slices in my hand and said,
“See, Andi, that’s why you’re fat.”
I can’t remember what I said. Probably nothing. I think I was stunned and embarrassed, so I just shrugged. I was also mid-chew, so I finished eating. And since I’d already touched the other slices, I ate those too.
Later on when dinner was served, it was the first time I restricted what I ate for the sake of not wanting to be held responsible for “being fat”. I also felt acutely aware that people may be watching me eat, thinking the very same thoughts my uncle did as he watched me eat the pickle slices.
He violated me. He humiliated me. I was a hungry little girl who was innocently eating a few slices of sweet pickle. He intruded on my moment of pleasure to shame and guilt me for a very natural thing: eating because I was hungry and the food in front of me looked good.
I don’t think I have ever been able to do that since.
He’s a shit person who has no influence on my life now whatsoever. But that moment, and his choices in that moment, had a profound impact on me.
And from that experience, I learned that I could control uncomfortable emotions by altering the amount, type, and quality of food I eat. I also learned that “fat” is highly undesirable and I should do everything in my power to avoid it.
A lesson that has tormented me ever since and come into full relapse for just over a year now.
Can I just sleep until Friday??