About five years ago I wrote an experimental essay to document a three-day binge. Then in 2012 I was invited to contribute an essay to The Shoe Burnin’ Anthology: Stories of Southern Soul. I submitted a couple of pieces I had already written and the editor(s) chose this one: “Eat, Drink, Repeat: One Woman’s Three-Day Search for Everything.” I blogged about this in August of 2012 (which went into some detail on WHY women binge) so why am I telling you this again now? Because I’ve been struggling with (food) bingeing again lately, and it’s something no one can understand unless they’ve experienced it. I’m not going to share the entire essay here …. only the pages about the first day of the three-day binge. The rest of the essay includes episodes of bulimia and depression. (Please buy the book to read the rest of the essay and some great stories and a wonderful music CD comes with it… this Kirkus Review says the collection could “retune the meaning of Southern.”)
This is longer than my usual blog post, so feel free to skip it and come back Wednesday if the subject matter doesn’t interest you. But if it does, please leave a comment here or on the Facebook thread. Thanks for reading.
“Eat, Drink, Repeat: One Woman’s Three-Day Search for Everything” (excerpt):
Tuesday morning, 7:30 a.m. Paul Newman’s Special Blend Organic Decaf K-Cup goes into the Keurig brewer. Eight ounces of steaming java flow into the white mug with the blue logo from Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi, on one side, and a quote from Winnie the Pooh Goes Visiting on the other. Remember the scene where Pooh ate too much and got stuck in the hole in the tree, so he asked Christopher Robin to comfort him? Then would you read a Sustaining Book, such as would help and comfort a Wedged Bear in Great Tightness? Breathing in the full-bodied aroma from the handpicked Arabica beans, I stir in three packets of raw sugar until they completely dissolve and then add a quick pour of Land O’Lakes fat free half and half. 70 calories and zero grams of fat. Not as sustaining as a Caramel Macchiato from Starbucks, which I gave up after discovering that each grande Caramel Macchiato (without whipped cream) has 240 calories and 7 grams of fat. With whip? Add another 5 to 11 grams of fat.
8:30 a.m. Frosted Cheerios make a sound like an old-fashioned bicycle bell as they tumble into a cornflower blue ceramic bowl with a terra-cotta glaze on the inside. A few ounces of fat-free milk moisten the tiny donuts just enough to set the sugar-coating free but not enough to subdue the crunch each bite delivers, temporarily satisfying the craving triggered by a life-long eating disorder known as pica. (Crunching on these cholesterol-fighting nuggets is certainly preferable to ice—which ruins teeth—and clay and other non-food items, long buried in my past.) The method of delivery is an 18-gauge Towle Beaded Antique oval soupspoon, which has a nice heft, even when only filled with cereal. After licking the last drops of sugary-sweet milk from the glossy mirrored bowl of the spoon, I am greeted by my image-in-reverse—turned on my head by my first encounter with food this morning, and already thinking about what comes next.
9:30 a.m. Writing, laundry, writing, bills, writing, Facebook, writing, email. Diversionary tactics only keep the cravings at bay for brief intervals. By mid-morning I remember that McDonalds quits serving breakfast at 10:30 a.m. A mere three blocks separates my kitchen from theirs and the sizzling, greasy sausages snuggled into those buttery biscuits. Rule #1: Only eat sausage and biscuits on road trips. After 10:30 those succulent baby sandwiches are replaced by French fries—tossed around in hot, oily baskets with a blizzard of salt covering every surface of each morsel—the fast food that changed a generation of taste buds forever. Rule #2: Never order French fries. Ever. By 10:30 I have managed to keep my body out of the kitchen for an hour, but my mind is anywhere but on the work at hand. Except that today I’m actually writing about food.
10:30 a.m. I’ve been awake for three hours with no protein or salt. Generously salted scrambled eggs cooked well-done in real butter like an overly bothered omelet satisfies both needs. But the salt makes me thirsty and the protein doesn’t act quickly enough for the instant blood sugar boost I’m craving, so I wash them down with a few sips of ice cold canned Coke. I open one can a day and sip on it for about twenty-four hours—my replacement for diet colas, preferring quality to quantity. I was so excited when the new six-ounce cans came out—the ones shaped like tiny little Red Bulls—because of the way they feel in my hand, and they help me cut down on calories. Or at least that’s the plan. The edge of the can has an almost sensual feel on my lips as the quintessential caramel-colored thirst-quencher glides down my throat, delivering a refreshing carbonated rush. But as I finish washing the saucepan and putting my dishes away, the craving only grows stronger. Sugar. Chocolate. I scoop a couple of dips of Edy’s Slow-Churned Rich & Creamy vanilla ice cream—the kind with half the fat, of course—into a stemless martini glass. Next I drizzle Hershey’s chocolate syrup over the ice cream, enough to assure chocolate to the last bite. This time a Towle teaspoon delivers the goods, its smaller shape being more efficient at scraping out the final bits of chocolate syrup that cling to the bottom. When the spoon doesn’t do the job, I use my tongue. By now the morning is nearly gone, I’ve achieved very little real work, and shame sets in.
11:30 a.m. How many times do I look at the clock, waiting for permission to pour that first drink? Some days I make it until afternoon. But not today. I realize I haven’t stopped eating, drinking, or thinking about eating and drinking all morning. I don’t need the bathroom scales to tell me I’m at my all-time heaviest weight. My clothes remind me each time I shed my stretchy yoga pants for jeans or my baggy t-shirt for a fitted blouse. I’ve put away close to a thousand calories before noon, with plans to prepare a nice, oven-roasted pork tenderloin, baked sweet potatoes and fresh Brussels sprouts for dinner. None of those foods appeal to me, but they are favorites of my husband and daughter. I already know that I will sit down to dinner and only nibble at the nutritional fare my body really needs. By 7 p.m. tonight I’ll be full, but still not satisfied. And so at 11:45 a.m. this morning I pour a glass of Monkey Bay Sauvignon Blanc into a small pink Depression glass wine goblet I got at an antique store in Arkansas. It doesn’t have the same feel as the larger, clear white wine goblets from Williams Sonoma, but I can’t hide them in the dishwasher amongst the coffee mugs and juice glasses like I can the smaller glasses. I save the larger ones for evenings when my husband is imbibing with me. Anticipation builds with the sound of the cork leaving the bottle. The distinctive chug chug chug of the wine filling the glass. It’s not really a cork—it’s a rubber wine stopper (from Rabbit) and its phallic shape and texture is tempting. I place it in my mouth and suck the last drops of wine from its surface as I slowly pull it out and push it back into the bottle. The first swallow is always the best, bringing instant gratification, holding promises of relief, of edges softening, jaws relaxing, mind slowing down, dark clouds abating. And sometimes it makes good on those promises, but the relief is only temporary. Even now as I’m penning these words, the afternoon has begun and a second glass of wine is calling.
12:30 p.m. My husband’s perma-press shirts and khaki pants are washed, dried, and hung, wrinkle-free, in his closet—mindless work that somehow soothes because I can be successful in this endeavor. I love the way the Egyptian cotton feels and smells as I rescue his shirts from the dryer. The comfort is short-lived, as my mind returns to food, and to the fact that everything I’ve eaten today has either been simple carbohydrates or protein. Not one of the recommended five daily servings of fruits or vegetables has graced my lips, unless you count wine as a fruit, in which case I’m now on my second serving. I look around the kitchen and find fresh peaches ripening in a small brown bag on the counter. I pull one out and make a small indention in its flesh with my thumb—it feels ripe. I bring the fuzzy yellow-red orb to my nose (I always smell my food before tasting it) and breathe in its sweet aroma. It’s ready. Using a small, white-handled Cutco paring knife, I make one incision, then another, allowing a perfect slice to be removed from the peach. I observe its texture—free of pithiness—and its color: red tendrils, freshly pulled from the seed, contrast with the shiny yellow crescent. I put the entire slice into my mouth and savor it slowly. I give it an 8. If it were a 10, I would eat the rest of the peach naked. Instead, I pour a small amount of white sugar onto a saucer and dip the remaining slices, one at a time, into the sugar before eating them. No longer savoring the flavor, I eat mindlessly, reaching into the bag for another peach, dipping one slice after another into the sugar, waiting for a surge of energy and wondering if it will sustain me for an afternoon of writing and working out and preparing dinner.
1:30 p.m. A second glass of Monkey Bay carries me just past 1500 words of this essay but the sugar high is over and the salt craving has returned with a vengeance. Chips. I want chips with guacamole (that’s a fruit, right?) or cheese dip. But if I go there, will I make it upstairs to work out? I hurry to the elliptical, rushing past the pantry and upstairs onto the machine that will help me burn some of those empty calories and hopefully shoot some much-needed endorphins into my nutritionally and chemically unbalanced system. I run down my list of recorded shows on TiVo and settle on last night’s new episode of Law and Order SVU, which requires a bit of mental energy to follow. I fast-forward the commercials, assuring a food-free media session, although it’s nearly impossible not to notice the butter dripping off the pasta in the Olive Garden spots, even at double-fast-forward. I actually slow down to watch one of them, nearly drooling into my water bottle in the process.
2:30 p.m. Four and a half hours until dinner. Plenty of time to metabolize a snack first, right? A little queso dip into the microwave and a dozen or so crisp, salty tortilla chips from the pantry join me by the sink where I stand to eat them while watching more of my favorite TiVo’d shows—this time it’s an old episode of House. The queso is only “medium” but I don’t do hot and spicy so it’s burning my mouth just enough to push my Margarita button. But I swore off making Margaritas at home a long time ago, so I mix up a short Tanqueray and diet tonic with lime. My glass is a wonderful little oval-shaped number from Pottery Barn with wavy lines etched inside. I start with ice—to fill the glass about two-thirds to the top—and then squeeze the fresh lime over the ice, dropping the lime wedge into the glass. The gin comes next. I don’t measure, but guess at the shot—1.5 to 2 ounces. The fizzy diet tonic brings it all to life. I can feel the carbonation tickle my nose as I pull the glass to my mouth, smell the lime, and finally, the Tanqueray. I celebrate the marriage of chips and queso with gin and tonic for about thirty minutes. And then it’s over. I place my hand over my full belly, moving it across my disappearing waistline and running it quickly over my growing love handles. I consider purging, a practice I haven’t outgrown from my teenage years. More shame sets in.
3:30 p.m. Two thousand calories in and three drinks under my belt, I face the computer screen and close my eyes. Maybe I need a nap. It’s either that or another gin and tonic. I’m in no shape to work. The couch wins, and I allow myself the luxury of reading—not just for pleasure but also as research for my novel-in-progress. I’m fascinated by Michael Cunningham’s book, The Hours. Lured into the interior worlds of Virginia Woolf, Clarissa Dalloway and ’50s housewife, Laura Brown, for a while, I don’t think of food, or drink, or my own insecurities. Until I get to the part where Laura Brown’s husband leaves for work and she’s left alone with her son and her responsibilities as a mother. “When her husband is here, she can manage it. She can see him seeing her…. Alone with the child, though, she loses direction. She can’t always remember how a mother would act.” Suddenly I remember that I’m alone, and like Laura Brown, my husband isn’t here to see me, to remind me, if only by his presence, how to act. The familiar fog of disgrace creeps back in. I know I should get up and do something productive, but instead I find my way to the freezer for a Skinny Cow ice cream sandwich. Only 140 calories. I take the sandwich back to the couch and continue to read as I taste the cold, low-fat vanilla ice cream wrapped perfectly in the soft, chocolate wafers, which stick to my fingers, requiring licking and sucking to get the bits of chocolate off my fingertips. The process distracts me from my reading, and I return to the freezer for another ice cream sandwich. And yes, a third one, tossing the empty container into the trash, burying it beneath the morning’s cereal box.
5:30 p.m. Time to start dinner for my husband and daughter. I preheat the oven to 350 degrees for the pork tenderloin. Opening the refrigerator to get out the sprouts and sweet potatoes, I see the limes. Another gin and tonic will ease the discomfort of preparing a dinner that I’m too full to eat. A cocktail before dinner—what could be more benign? My husband and daughter arrive home from work. Hi, honey, I’m home. Kiss. How was your day? Oh, fine. Mmm, supper smells delicious, what is it? Pork tenderloin, Brussels sprouts and baked sweet potatoes. Aren’t you joining us, Mom? Hug. She grabs a Stella from the fridge and he mixes a Vodka and 7 with lemon. No, I’m really not hungry, and besides, I kind of snacked all day. Husband and daughter both smile. But I’ll sit and have a drink and visit with you guys while you eat. The Brussels sprouts’ tiny leaves are bright green and glistening. Brown sugar and butter dissolve into the rich orange flesh of the sweet potatoes. Mustard and honey drip from the skin of the pork tenderloin. Nutritionally and aesthetically balanced. So what did you do today, dear? I wrote an essay about food.
8:30 p.m. The evening is filled with talk of our daughter’s impending move to Colorado and plans for her wedding next spring. And my trip to Denver in a week to visit our son and meet my new granddaughter, two weeks old. Our daughter is leaving the nest—forever—in two days. So tomorrow afternoon we have appointments for mother-daughter manicures and pedicures at The Nail Bar down in Harbor Town, followed by drinks at Tug’s grill on the Mississippi River. Later we’ll meet her dad at our favorite sushi restaurant downtown.
11:30 p.m. My husband sleeps soundly beside me. Our daughter is upstairs. Probably on the phone with her fiancé or watching a movie on her computer. The lonely silence beckons me out of the bedroom. It feels like I’m sleepwalking to the kitchen. I open the refrigerator and find the Monkey Bay from earlier this afternoon. About one third full. I twist off the top and consider which glass to fill. Fuck that. I put the bottle to my lips, empty it in four swigs, and toss it into the trash. I reach under the cabinet for a new bottle and put it in the refrigerator for tomorrow.