Nonfiction from Sophia Roumeliotis
WHAT I ATE WHY
i gained the freshman fifteen during my freshman year of college. i ate so much and all the time. i had so many friends and i was so happy. i needed to buy new pants after winter break because they were all too tight. i ate on my way to class, in class, in the caf, in the library, everywhere. i was so happy. i lost those fifteen pounds during sophomore year. sophomore year i was going to the gym every week for cardio. this will make me healthy, i told myself. i spent an hour every friday on the elliptical. it just made me feel more tired than usual. after i realized i lost so much weight, i promised myself i’d spend the next year gaining muscle mass by weightlifting. i’ve never gone to the weights in the gym once this year. this year, i go to the gym to buy smoothies and guacamole—they are fatty foods and fatty foods make you fat. this year, i found out i lost ten more pounds. my parents say i need to put more fat on my bones and i cry and say it’s not my fault and there’s nothing i could do about it. this year, i seclude myself from my friends and foods. i don’t have the energy to talk or eat. i don’t like to sleep so i just lie in bed all the time in a state of no emotion. the black hole that lives inside me controls my thoughts and emotions.
i usually lay in bed and wait until the void swallows me whole. i don’t know what the void is, but i know it will take me away someday. my mind is already in a state of void—most days i don’t feel anything. the void makes it so i open my textbooks and laptop up and it looks like i’m occupying myself when in actuality i’m actually just dozing off in a state of nothingness. it’s nice—knowing you have so much to do, so much time to do it, yet that swamp goblin that lives inside you doesn’t let you do anything! so then you spend the whole night wide awake, thinking why didn’t i do anything, i had all day! the swamp goblin also pushes my buttons and decides what i feel and when. the swamp goblin thinks it’s funny to control my emotions and actions. so if i’m out with my friends and i get an urge to LEAVE RIGHT NOW, don’t take it personally—it’s not you. it’s the swamp goblin who lives with me. during this time of my life, i’ve accepted the swamp goblin as part of my personality. i used to think it was a hindrance towards my abilities to appropriately feel certain emotions, causing me not to know how i should react when. don’t get me wrong, it still does that, but rather than seeing the swamp goblin as a negative part of myself that i’m trying to fight, i’ve learned to accept it as someone who lives with me in these trying times—like a constant friend. a constant friend who keeps nagging at you and pushes your buttons, when you tell them to STOP because you just wanna LIVE but they don’t listen ever so you just end up ignoring them because you know they never listen and will do what they want whenever the heck they want. it’s a nice friend, or it’s nice to live with this friend because you know it’s constant and will probably be with you forever.
i know something is wrong with me, but i don’t ask for help. i’m too stubborn to do that. i can solve my problems on my own; i don’t need other people to know i feel things. now it’s all rushing back to me and it’s feeling like i have no time. it’s a feeling like i’m trapped in an hourglass. it’s a feeling like if i don’t get help NOW i will literally and figuratively explode. what makes me angry is i’m not sure what’s wrong with me or WHY. what’s the cause of your bad moods, my therapist says. i don’t know i say. how do you feel now, my therapist says. i don’t know i say. there’s something wrong with me but what is it? how would i know? it’s not like they’re my own thoughts or emotions anyway, they belong to the swamp goblin.
i went to mcdonald’s five times this week. usually i get a big mac meal (no cheese, please), but sometimes i get chicken nuggets. the last time i got a big mac meal the lady put cheese on the bottom. i said no cheese. she said you don’t want this? i said no i would die if i ate that. she said oh so do you still want it? she made me a new big mac. it was so good. it fills the void within me. it fills my voided stomach, but not my voided emotions. one thing i know for sure is how much i love mcdonald’s when i eat there. the month of october was my favorite because mcdonald’s put those stickies onto their large food items—fries, burgers, sodas—and you could win free food. that encouraged me to eat so much, i won so much free food! the food at mcdonald’s tastes heavy; it tastes like a slap in the face that says you know you should not be eating this, it is very unhealthy and you will get fat! but it also tastes like a tight hug that says you deserve to eat fatty foods here because your life is already at an all time low, what do you have to lose? i waste so much money there but at least i’m eating.
coffee is a meal. i skip lunch and drink coffee instead. it’ll get me through the day. instead, i sip my coffee and instantly feel the thuds ingrained in my head and eyes. that’s normal. i shake more than i usually do when i drink coffee. that’s normal. coffee makes me feel like the world is spinning one hundred miles an hour and i’m just sitting in the middle of this whirlpool, my mind begging for some tranquility amid the chaos. then i drink another coffee a few hours later because i like the taste.
sometimes i sleep for dinner. sometimes i eat cake-in-a-mug. i didn’t know such a thing existed until this year. i’d put soy milk in the mixture and never mix the cake batter enough. the cake is done in less than one minute. it tastes like burnt. it tastes like salt. it tastes like bathroom sink water, even though i know i added three tablespoons of soymilk instead. somehow, i convince myself eating cake-in-a-mug will be enough nutrients for the whole day. somehow, i only eat one cake-in-a-mug a day and hope i don’t die from malnutrition.
i showed my friend how i make my cake-in-a-mug. i brought the vegan molten chocolate cake packet, a spoon, a straw, and a mug, of course, to the bathroom. this cake packet tastes so bad i said. why are you eating it he said. because i don’t have any chocolate here i said. this is how to make the cake. i poured the cake mix into the mug, along with two teaspoons of hot sink water. i tried to stir the mixture with the straw, but it was too long and flimsy to really stir anything. it’s so hard with the straw, i said. my friend said why don’t you just use a spoon. i can’t mix it with a spoon because the goopy cake mix gets stuck inside the curved part of the spoon! my friend said no, use the long part of the spoon. oh i never thought about it like that. i found an old plastic knife. it’s flat enough that i can mix my cake with. i mixed it with the thicker bottom part in the mug and the sharp part into my closed fist. it didn’t hurt because it was just sharp plastic. i put it in the microwave for one minute. the cake comes out still goopy. it tastes like dirt, i said. i kept eating it all. it doesn’t even taste like chocolate. all i want is chocolate.
if i could just eat chocolate for every meal i would. it’s too bad no one ever knows how to accommodate for a dairy-free person. the school cafeteria never has any ‘vegan’ desserts for me, and the only safe ice cream they have is raspberry sorbet. that’s gross. the school market in the student center does not have any dairy-free desserts—only milk chocolate and milk forward foods. i would need to walk to jewel-osco just to buy a semi-sweet dark chocolate bar that i could eat. i never do that because that takes too much effort that i don’t have. instead of giving in to my sweet tooth, i eat pecans alone in my room and suffer. i eat them because that’s the only snack i have that’s not salty. i eat them lying down because nothing in life really matters when you don’t get what you want. if i close my eyes hard enough i could maybe imagine that i’m eating chocolate chips instead of the sad nut that is a pecan.
i could skip meals—my therapist even approves of it! well, maybe not, but when i told him i eat coffee and cake for dinner, he smiled and laughed. he didn’t laugh in a rude way; the laugh more so said are you serious? but since my therapist neither said i should nor should not skip meals, i figure he gives me the approval. i’d be much more concerned if he stopped taking notes in his little notepad and told me i’m dumb for not eating. but he didn’t do that. he laughed. a laugh means keep going, you’re doing great, sweetie! his laugh means i am silly and i probably shouldn’t do that, but i’ll ignore its implications because i’m too tired to take the effort to eat real foods.
my friends yell at me. they tell me that COFFEE IS NOT A MEAL. they yelled that from all over the table in the library. i felt personally attacked. my friend says coffee is not a meal but coffee cake is a meal. okay then, i will go out of my way just to find some dairy-free coffee cake. okay then, i will only eat that coffee cake in place of meals for normal people. my dorm has a kitchen in its lobby, but i’m too tired to walk down the stairs, turn the oven on, and put my spanakopita in the oven. i’m too tired to wait for the oven to preheat and wait for my food to cook. i can’t wait for food, which is why it’s easier to not eat anything than to wait for food to cook. it’s better that way. my friends say Soph you won’t get nutrients from coffee. yes i will. i have a three-bean latte—coffee beans, soy beans, vanilla beans—there i have a vanilla soy latte.
Soph, what do you want for dinner? my friends ask the hardest questions sometimes! i don’t know what i want; i don’t want anything. i want to sleep and sleep some more. i don’t need to eat, i say, i ate half a spanakopita. i ate a few fries during lunch today, my brain says i ate once today so i don’t need to eat another time. Soph, that’s really unhealthy, you should eat something they say. It’s okay, i say i’m never hungry. or, i say, i am hungry but i don’t want to eat. or, i want to eat but my swamp goblin doesn’t let me eat. or—then they say what are you talking about, Soph? then i say i don’t know how to explain so i end up eating in the cafeteria with them just to get some food in me, otherwise they would be upset at me for not eating.
my favorite food is skinny pop. freshman year i’d come to school with 6 bags of family-sized skinny pop and eat one in an hour or two. then costco introduced the 14 ounce skinny pop bag and i thought i was in heaven. last year, costco started packing 20 ounce skinny pops—they were literally half the size of me! i fell in love. i’d devour those 20 ounce skinny pops and within the week, i’d beg my mom for a new bag. this year, i came to school with only two family sized bags of skinny pop. costco stopped stocking the 20 ounce skinny pop bags and now they just have organic skinny pop, whatever that means. that makes me angry because i didn’t eat skinny pop to get skinny—i ate it for the addictive salty taste and satisfying crunch. now costco suddenly wants to implement some kind of healthy alternative to my favorite food??? so, i ate the two family sized skinny pops very slowly this year. i lost my appetite and lost my love for skinny pop. i simply don’t want to eat it or am not excited when i pass by the bags of skinny pop in the grocery store anymore. sure the overwhelming salty taste is still satisfying but it’s not nearly as ethereal as it once was for me.
the ‘organic’ skinny pop is just one example of how everything tailored towards a dairy-free person needs to be vegan, gluten free, paleo, etc. i’m not asking for the healthiest meal—i don’t care about my calorie intake or anything like that! i look at the foods in the school cafeteria and drool over the pizzas. i could eat that i would say to my friend. i don’t care if i would die. he would give me a look don’t say that he said. no i don’t mean it in that way but i just want a piece i say. we could make pizza in the dorm kitchen he said. no you don’t understand i said. i don’t want to cook my own food! i’ve done that my whole life! i want to BUY food like normal people do i said. i want to BUY a dairy-free pizza that is not also gluten free and vegan. he says he will make me a home-made pizza. i say no i want to buy normal foods like a normal person. he does not understand.
beef stew is a white American food—i’ve never eaten it. i am not white American. i wish there were greek foods at the school cafeteria or anywhere else here but they always mess it up somehow. the gyro is always frozen, never fresh. the meat is always beef, never lamb. the olives are always black, not from kalamata! i’ve just learned not to have any expectations when it comes to the school and good food. so my school meals usually consist of half a hamburger or half a chicken sandwich and french fries, just like what the Americans eat! however, Americans eat much MORE food, but i just don’t have the stomach for that sort of thing.
i eat fries every day for all my meals. the first time i ate a baked potato with BACON on it was this year! it was an experience i’ll never forget. baked potatoes used to be my favorite food as a kid. i just loved my full stomach from all those carbs. i love carbs. it’s too bad this school doesn’t have any bread. i requested plain baguettes during one food advisory board meeting and the adults there just nodded their heads. i’m not sure if i’ll be getting my plain baguettes any time soon. i love dipping bread into olive oil and salt and lemon, but not like a real greek because i can’t add feta cheese to that mixture. when i introduced this mixture to my friends last year, they called me a witch. they said you’re making a concoction of witch potions, Soph! i said fear me mwahahaha! my friends do not think i am very scary.
It’s not you, it’s me. i never understood that sentiment until i was cursed with this gift God gave me. sorry for breaking all my ties, i just don’t know how to deal with myself! the swamp goblin controls me, so what’s the point in trying. it doesn’t let me eat or talk or be, so i sit here with my second coffee of the day and shake all over. i’m shaking even before i drink my coffee. i’m deprived; i’m starving, but coffee is a nectar that ‘heals’ me. it gets rid of my headaches and heartaches but gives me new ones an hour later. the headaches and heartaches feel the same because they both make me feel like food doesn’t matter because what’s a full feeling when you don’t have any love left in you. how do you feel full when your head is vacant. eating is hard for me because nothing tastes like anything and my brain does not want to put the effort to pretend like it tastes like something. i’m hungry for validation and perfection. i’m hungry for something more than what i’m doing with my life right now. i’m hungry for a stronger sense of identity or motivation or passion or something. so it’s not you, it’s me! i’m trying to get better. i’m trying to get hungry again but it’ll take some time.
Sophia Roumeliotis is currently a senior at Lake Forest College. She will graduate with her B.A in Creative Writing in the Spring of 2020. She will graduate with her MAT in Elementary Education and a Middle School Endorsement at Lake Forest College in the Spring of 2021. Sophia is the editorial head of her college’s literary magazine.