Write the world – out(numbered) to eat electricity joules

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One ripe, yellow banana: One hundred and ten calories. One thin piece of 9-grain wheat bread: Ninety calories. Seventeen pretzels (the unsalted brand, of course): Eighty-one calories. One piece of white-meat chicken: One hundred and fifty calories. I was going to have to cut that in half. I’ll say that it wasn’t cooked thoroughly. Still pink? It would be untrue, and it would make my father, whose Sunday-dinner responsibilities consisted of grilling whatever meat my mother had bought that day at Stop & Shop, feel bad. He’ll ask me if I want another piece. I’ll decline. I wasn’t feeling well, I’d say. Or, no. I used that excuse last week. I’ll say I ate too big of a snack before dinner. My mother will get annoyed. She’d say she told me not to eat too close to supper time. It would be worth it. One day, I used to think, one day I’ll be small enough.

For a long time, food was my enemy. The Ursula to my Little Mermaid. The Maleficent to my Sleeping Beauty. My life carried on as a whirling concoction of numbers added and subtracted, of clothes put on and taken off, and of food eaten and purged. Going out to restaurants and seeing heavy white plates carrying strips of golden, crispy fried chicken or gooey, greasy slices of cheese pizza never failed to light up the faces of my friends and family, but to me, it was nauseating. I would get dizzy with fear of the numbers.

And for a long time, that’s all food was to me. Numbers, percentages, and pre-vomit. My parents, having eyes and all, eventually caught on. They sent me to a nutritionist who told me to drink whole milk (110 calories) and eat a cup of mixed nuts with lunch (nearly 800 calories— she was kidding herself there). I gulped down the milk and I choked down as much pasta as my parents could guilt me into, but the numbers were still there, swarming around in my brain like hornets around a nest.

Food, for so many people, means joy. Sitting down to a good meal with good people, passing the creamy white mashed potatoes and enjoying slice after slice of that fresh bakery bread, is a luxury; a way of bringing people together. People smile, they laugh, they gush over the casserole and they moan after taking their first bite of the ‘sinful’ chocolate torte. For so long, I didn’t have that. When I sat down to a meal, no matter who with, I couldn’t see past the numbers. I didn’t see a warm, caramelized slice of homemade apple pie in front of me. I saw 300 calories.

I wish I could say with absolute certainty, for those out there that might be like me, what eventually cleared the hornet’s nest. I went to therapy and talked to some woman in a purple sweater about the numbers, and I went home and I talked to my family about the numbers, and I wrote in my diary every night about the numbers. I did it for years.

But now I’m about to turn eighteen, and the numbers are gone. Perhaps I shouldn’t lie—the numbers are still there, but I’ve learned to manage them. Sure, I can still recall the calories in a slice of my mom’s homemade banana bread if I think about it for a moment (208), but the numbers no longer act as warning signs. The constant adding and subtracting has virtually ceased (a good thing: I never liked math much anyways), and now calories to me are the equivalent of time (it’s 3:57 now) or weather (a brisk 63 degrees): Fleeting, and impersonal.

Food was never the enemy, I decided. Food was the mask I was putting over the real issues of self-esteem and addiction that I was really facing. No one ever really ‘recovers’ from this type of thing. The numbers will still always be there, but I’ve come to the realization that it’s my choice whether I manipulate them, or whether I see the glossy, milky scoops of ice-cream dripping over the edges of the chocolate-dipped waffle cone. I can’t change the numbers, but I can change my perception. I’ve decided I want to live in a world where donuts are plush and powdery, and chips are salty and crunchy. I want to sit at the table and feel my eyes roll back in my head as I bite into the perfect buttery, flaky croissant. I want to peel the foil wrapping off of tiny chocolates filled with peanut butter or coconut and share them with my friends. I want my mom to pass the hot rolls across the dinner table, and I want to push a cool pad of butter into the soft, doughy inside and feel it melt into the steaming center.

As I write this, I’m dreaming of rich orange and white sauces poured over thick yellow pasta. I’m sipping iced-tea (sweetened!), imagining the white, golden, and rich dark-brown cookies I’ll have this weekend at the party. I’m digesting the sticky rice and caramelized veggies (cooked in oil!) I had for lunch and wondering how I ever could have mistaken the sweet, the savory, and the utterly delicious for something as futile as numbers. Like I said, I was never good at math.