I think I had enjoyed food and that I had taken much pleasure in the the taste and eating of it until my anorexic days.
Looking back at it, I most probably enjoyed food more than my two sisters – I think they ate to live more than they lived to eat. Whereas I was the opposite. I was also shorter and slightly bigger than my two sisters (I was also the middle child!). It was not that I was big, it was just that I was bigger than my sisters. Maybe because I seemed to like food more than my sisters. I think I still do.
Although I was shorter and bigger than my sisters, I took some solace in the fact that the three of us had barbie dolls at the time. Whereas their barbie dolls were tall, buxom and attractive in a more mature manner, mine was shorter with small breasts and pretty in a girlish way. I related to my barbie doll. I felt that she represented what I was in relation to my sisters. Up until my anorexic days, I had always felt relatively pretty. I was not unhappy with the way I looked. Unfortunately my anorexia certainly took a toll on my looks and I spent quite a few years in my late teens and early twenties not looking particularly attractive. Some of the fashion and hairstyles of the time did not help matters, but more of this later.
My lack of attractiveness during those years was inadvertently confirmed recently. At a recent family reunion where an ex-boyfriend of mine (from my anorexic years) was visiting from the States, a photograph was taken of my Mum, my ex-boyfriend, my sisters and me. My eldest sister, who has been struggling a bit with her weight since she had a hysterectomy, was commenting on how much she hated the photo of herself. My younger sister, who has never been particularly happy with her looks (despite having a lovely figure and an attractive face, as well as being phenomenally intelligent) was also making negative comments about what she looked like in the photo. I for once, was happy with a photo of me – I looked happy and was smiling, which is rare in a photo. My eldest sister, in a hushed voice (so that I would not hear, but I did anyway) mentioned that in our youth that it was not me, but my younger sister and her that the boys/young men they thought were the most attractive. A harsh, but not altogether surprising comment under the circumstances. One, however, which I thought could have been left unsaid.
Back to the pleasure (or lack thereof) of food. I certainly knew what food I enjoyed and what I did not. I hated my Mum’s ox tail stew and her beef olives. I think I hated the idea of eating a tail of an animal and the beef olives were always dry and stuck to the roof of your mouth. Yet I was happy to eat my Grandmother’s tongue sandwiches, somehow blocking out what I was eating. I also hated my Dad’s silverside beef and soup ‘with bits in it’. Dad’s soup put me off eating soup for years until I realised you could puree soups.
I must mention however that my Dad (certainly more than my Mum) was an excellent cook. He made the best hamburgers, toasted sandwiches, pizzas, mushroom and bacon on toast (later mushrooms on toast when I became a vegetarian) and something which affectionately became know as Daddy’s toast (sauteed chopped celery, onions, green pepper and bacon (left out once I became a vegetarian), combined with a generous amount of grated cheese, chopped fresh tomatoes, mayonnaise, tomato sauce, spread on the most evenly toasted toast and then grilled to perfection until the topping was warmed through and going slightly brown in places – each slice of bubbling toast was then cut into three fingers for easy eating – three precisely cut fingers).
I loved melktert (milk tart), Ingleside apple pie, Israeli cheesecake and our Sunday chocolate treat. Dad would pop out to the shop on a Sunday and bring back a range of chocolates (aero, peppermint crisp, top deck, white flakes etc.) which we ate as a family on my parent’s bed (I can’t recall whether this was before or after breakfast).
With my anorexia, all of the fun and pleasure surrounding food disappeared, I no longer ate with people and no longer ate food for pleasure.
Perhaps the only pleasure I took in food was cooking it for others and seeing others eat, while I starved myself. Food at best was something that I had to eat, in scant quantities, to give me energy to face the day or to stop people being on my case about not eating. Despite this, every morsel that passed my lips was tainted by guilt. I no longer ate chocolate or sweet things. In fact, if I recall correctly, I did not eat chocolate for eight years (between the ages of 16 and 24). My family ‘chocolate Sunday’s’ were a thing of the past.
Not long after my anorexia started, I registered to go on a hike with my school. I can’t remember where it was or what it was in aid of. All I can recall is that we were required to carry a large rug sack with all our belongings in it, over very undulating and at time steep terrain. I remember sitting apart from the rest of the group at breakfast, eating a small cup of cereal and then feeling guilt ridden, tipping out half of it. We were told to take boiled sweets with us for energy. I remember putting a delicious tasting, red boiled sweet in my mouth and then removing and discarding it soon afterwards as I felt guilty taking in the additional calories. Needless to say that it did not take long for me to succumb to my lack of energy and for my school friends/support crew to have to take over carrying my rug sack as we finished the hike.
I also recall an episode when we were staying and my Granfather’s lady friend’s holiday home in Kleinmond of me ‘walking the streets’ of a rather dusty and desolate Kleinmond just to burn off calories, with absolutely no energy and a light head but not letting myself eat a thing as I was in calorie-burning mode. It was like being in a fugue-like state. Being there but not there.
My life changed quite quickly from food pleasure to food deprivation; from eating food for fun to eating out of necessity and even then, just barely. I was in a permanent state of hunger.