Ever since I could remember, I’d been dieting. At least publicly. I was always the bigger child and was embarrassed to be seen eating when I was at least double the size of some of my elementary school friends. During those elementary school years, I would be the one getting the water instead of chocolate milk and I only bought a cookie once a week, whereas most of my friends bought one, or multiple ones, once a day. Still, though, I was always the bigger one.
Despite the fact that the idea of dieting was ingrained in me at such a young age, something really snapped in me in middle school. By sixth grade, all the girls were concerned about looking good and thin. It was hard to get dragged in.
I felt kind of lucky because the skinny craze did not hit my friends until high school. I watched my weight in middle school while my friends downed fries. It was probably a good thing that I did not have to listen to them talk about their fear of being fat while they weighed so much less than me until at least ninth grade.
Nonetheless, I couldn’t get over the embarrassment of how I looked. I was the girl who started always skipping lunch or I brought a Slimfast shake. I watched as my friends ordered lunches at school, usually consisting of the school specialties of fries, chicken fingers, and mozzarella sticks. The dessert options were upgraded from cookies to ice cream. My school was never really known for healthy lunches. They ate throughout the period, while I picked at a half of sandwich or slowly sipped my shake.
I didn’t realize just how deeply my fear of eating in public would become. The fear of eating alone is public is called solomangarephobia and I had that, but it went further. I was scared of eating in public at all.
My junior and senior year I made sure there was no lunch in my schedule. I never ate in school all throughout junior year and senior year I took a study during lunch, where I hid behind a book to eat a protein bar. I felt so ashamed to be eating in front of all these skinny, pretty girls. I thought that they thought that I was just some fat girl that couldn’t help but have food in her mouth at all times. Every bite was filled with a deep shame and I didn’t get over that until graduation.
I didn’t think about that change so much as it was happening. Last week it really hit me that I was on a date with a guy and I was starving because I hadn’t eaten all day, being too busy with classes. I pretty much said, “I promise I’m listening, but I really need to eat this,” and then scarfed down a burger right in front of him.
It was later that night that I really realized what I’d done. I didn’t pick at the burger and then push it away, claiming that wasn’t really even hungry anyways. I didn’t just box it up and scarf it down later when I was alone. I ate, like a pig. Actually, I ate like a person — a person who is hungry and has every right to eat like everyone else, no matter what she looks like.
I still prefer to eat alone, but I’ve eaten in class before without hiding my head. I’ve gone out with friends and actually ordered a full meal. I’ve eaten both with friends and alone in the middle of the dining hall. And I didn’t even think about it as it was happening. I’m still not a skinny girl, but who cares? If I’m hungry, I should eat, even if someone happens to see.
Being totally in control of my diet in college can help and hurt. Freshman year I really did eat crap just because I could. Every freshman does. Obviously, that hurt. But, making your own diet can help if you have a fear of eating in public like I do. Before I went away to school, I’d never really known what it was like to be hungry and tired and need food. My mother was always the type to have a family dinner ready at the end of the day and make sure I have a good breakfast before I go off to school.
In college, no one is going to do that unless you do it yourself. Because I had five suitemates at the start of my freshman year, I was never alone during any meal and ended up skipping many because of it. For my first few days at school, I barely ate a thing. Eventually, I hit a point where I knew I had to eat something or I was going to pass out. Never mind that I’d have to go eat in the dining hall, in front of strangers. I had to eat.
Despite my fears, no one came up to me and called me a pig for having a meal. I have a right to eat, just like everyone else. Judge me if you like for grabbing a second slice of pizza, but I can’t say that I care much anymore.