"The way I interacted with food dramatically reorientated itself when news hit that stock was flying off shop shelves with the speed of lightning."Anna Shvets/Pexels

Content Note: This article contains detailed discussion of body image and relationships with food.

It’s 10 pm, and as I sit here writing this and wondering what to say, my stomach swells from the delicious meal I just had – fried tofu, doused in flakes of salt and simmered in the pan along with kale and slices of sweet chili. Add to this the leftover egg-fried rice from last night, and you have yourself a fine dinner. Add to this a freshly bought trifle purchased that day from the local supermarket, and you’ve just passed through the gates of culinary heaven.

This is me and my body on a good day. On a good day, when I look at my reflection, there are no arguments with its numerous curves and cadences, no backbiting comments, no physical altercations or fights. On a bad day, however, food interrogates my relationship to my body, warping it beyond recognition in my darkened eyes.

My torrent relationship was recently reignited in the early days of the Covid-19 outbreak. The way I interacted with food dramatically reorientated itself when news hit that stock was flying off shop shelves with the speed of lightning. All of a sudden, images of empty shelves invaded my social media feed, accompanied with stories of people who struggled to get the items they needed on their weekly shop.

“If my body is like a faithful but underrated boyfriend, food is like a reckless ex that comes back in my life to taunt me every now and then.”

I was incensed with panic - I value control, above everything, but it felt as if I was no longer in control when goods were depleting in the local store in front of my eyes. In the first two weeks of the lockdown, this feeling burrowed itself further within me - every trip to Tesco’s felt like a wooded path down somewhere I hadn’t visited before.

I didn’t know what to make of the empty aisles glaring at me, taunting me with their nothingness. It was difficult enough to find things to eat even before the lockdown, and all those empty shelves reinforced how much harder it would be for me to have a healthy relationship with my body when my relationship to food had become as equally unstable.

It all started when I was a young girl, as it always seems to do in these kinds of stories. I started off as a rather thin child, and my body didn’t give anyone the impression that I was in need of having my diet snipped. I was acceptable to others, but most importantly, I was acceptable to myself.

This changed after my parents’ divorce. My greatest comfort at this tumultuous time was food. A little snack here, an extra bag of chips when mother wasn’t looking, some sweets to wash it all down with. Food became my best friend, a source of stability when everything around me, the only things I had ever known, was changing.

“I spent my later teenage years in this cycle, bouncing between eating nothing to eating everything in sight.”

I wasn’t a very active child and my laziness, coupled with my ever-growing diet, resulted in a massive weight gain. I went from being that typically awkward, skinny Asian kid to an even more awkward, fat Asian kid who could have given Russell from Up a run for his money.

My weight gain surprised me – I didn’t want to be the size that I was, but neither could I give up my relationship to food. Against my expectations, my body had revolted against me. It didn’t help my self esteem when others felt entitled to make invasive and sometimes snarky judgements on my body, without considering how I felt throughout it all.

Things didn’t change until I moved in with my grandparents and was able to cultivate a healthier relationship with food, one that didn’t define how I felt about my body. My grandmother was very kind in this regard – she must have known that I had a bigger appetite than most eight-year old’s, but she never reprimanded me for it, or used it as a weapon against me. She accepted me, and, for a while, I could accept myself too.

If things had ended there, I would have been a very happy child. Sadly, with puberty came a distorted relationship with my body just when I was beginning to accept it. The chocolate bars I was eating started producing volcano-sized spots, and fat would sprout in parts of my body I hadn’t thought about before – my breasts, my bottom, my hips. My breasts seemed to increase by a cup size every month and my hips swelled to the size of a beach ball in one week, causing me to struggle to fit into my school skirts every morning.


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Beforehand, my body had gotten bigger and my weight gain was a surprise to everyone, but at least I had the dignity of being in control of it. Whereas now, another contestant had entered the arena – not only was I grappling with my diet, but I was facing off hormones that were flitting off in all directions and causing irreparable changes to my body.

Throughout this period, I was spending more time at the gym, trying to work up my resilience whilst eating the bare minimum I could to get by. But, even though my lifestyle changed, my body refused to concede any ground. My hips remained stridently wide, my bust wouldn’t budge, and fat gathered in concentric circles around my stomach and thighs. And so, as a middle finger to the body that had betrayed me even when I made it stronger, I gained my appetite again. I ate and ate until I could no longer spite myself. If my body is like a faithful but underrated boyfriend, food is like a reckless ex that comes back in my life to taunt me every now and then.

I spent my later teenage years in this cycle, bouncing between eating nothing to eating everything in sight. As the years have gone by, the extremes have become narrower, and the relationships have become more manageable. I can exercise without wanting to punish myself afterwards. I can eat without guilt. Most importantly, I enjoy eating and I look forward to my meals. I lay it out in my head at the beginning of each day – yogurt and honey for breakfast? Toasted pitta bread and hummus for lunch? Maybe wholegrain pasta and homemade tomato sauce to top it all off for dinner? Yes, to all of those.

I haven’t quite picked out all the shards from my past, but why would I want to, when they provide a link to the person I was before? And for the first time in my life, I feel contentment, because I know that I’ll be prepared for the next time that it happens. I’ll be ready to fail better, work better, rise better, once the occasion arrives. I’d take it on, each time it comes alive, again and again.

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