I do realize that this post would make me sound like even more of a privileged white girl than I am. And that’s all right. It is stereotypical to think of my illness as that of a rich people’s problem. How dare we starve ourselves willingly when there are millions out there dying without access to proper nutrition? Perhaps. Perhaps I am a selfish privileged girl.
And this is yet another thing that used to terrified me.
Here I am, sitting on my flight back to Madrid, for my last semester of college, thinking about how to kill time, when the flight attendant arrives with her trolley and starts offering drinks and snacks. And that’s when the memory of the crippling fear hits me.
Airplane food. It might seem like no big deal but in reality, an airplane is perhaps one of the most out-of-control environments one could encounter; and as I have said many times before, eating disorders have a lot to do with control.
Thankfully, I have gotten over this pretty quickly, given how much I have to travel on a regular basis; but I remember just how hard it was in the very beginning. How hard it was to lose control – to voluntarily give it up thousands of feet in the air.
What do I mean by that? Imagine this: your brain is telling you that you’re a fat cow who doesn’t need to eat today. Or that you need to eat something that is mostly water and no calories. You’re struggling with those thoughts, trying to convince yourself that it’s fine, that you’ll find something that your disorder craves – and then you are locked in a tin can with only one or two options for your meal. Chicken or fish. Beef or pork. Egg or salami.
None of them look healthy.
The macaroni in the small tinfoil container are drowning in some greasy concoction. The dessert they offer is not fruit but a nice, full-fat chocolate candy bar. There is no diet soda in sight.
Airplane food is a panic attack on a tray. All thoughts of calories go into overdrive – the do not have a nutritional value count on the back of each piece. There is nothing to hang on to, nothing to calculate. So you push it away.
But then the nice flight attendant pouts at you and goes, at least take the candy bar.
You scream internally but you accept it, stuffing it into the front seat pocket. Your hands shake as you ask for another glass of water. And another. And another. People around you stuff their faces and drink tomato juice, thick with vegetable-y calories, pungent and sickening. You stick to water and coffee. You feel bad for not eating, so you ask for more from the flight attendant whose practiced smile looks mocking. More, more. More.
Enough to convince yourself that the ubiquitous smell of warmed-up lunch that wafts through the entire aircraft doesn’t bother you. You turn your head and see an obese man finish the last of his stone-like white bread bun. His butter packet is open and seeping melted dairy onto the tray.
You can’t wait to be home. Home, where everything is safe and controlled by you. Home, where the vegetarian option is vegetables and air. Home, where there is no sticky rice and baked beans and chocolate bars.
Home, where everything is countable.
Home, where there is salvation in numbers.
P.S.: just after I wrote this, Lufthansa gave me a pleasant surprise.
THEY GET IT. THEY GET IT. You go, Lufthansa!