Food was my adversary for many years. I grew up eating lots of healthy foods, but had a sweet tooth and from a young age was heavier than most of my peers. As a teenager, I was prone to binging on sweets at parties and often felt bloated and like I wasn't really enjoying the food anymore (just kind of wolfing it down). I ate when I was bored. Or when I felt lonely.
I didn't feel like I could control my eating, so mostly I just ate anyway and tried to ignore as much as possible my own dissatisfaction with my body. I held on to the gnostic myths that comforted me: that I would one day marry a missionary who wouldn't be so shallow as to care about externals. He would love me for my soul and my discontent with my body wouldn't matter so much anymore.
I think I knew that my disordered eating was a symptom of other pangs and longings, but wasn't sure how to address them. In the end (if we can call it an end), it was a long relational process (that began about 10 years ago) that helped me develop a healthier relationship with food and my body. As you might expect, it happened concurrently with other emotional development and healing.
As an undergraduate, I started taking morning walks for mental and physical relief (exercise became a habit). I grew intellectually through the courses I was taking. My year at Oxford, I had weekly sessions with a professional counselor to talk about the issues related to my parents' marriage and divorce. I started to take more of an interest in the world. I started to believe that I was a good person.
Throughout that period, there were many ups and downs, some evenings still spent staring into the mirror, hands grabbing the flab on my belly, feeling guilty for eating too much. Feeling like I was terrible and now needed to lean into the terribleness. I've always had a fear of being boring, and this feeling was always exacerbated by eating lots of sugar. But those downs gradually came less and less. I learned to be more balanced in my eating. I took an interest in food as more than sugar or fat: in knowing what goes into it, portioning it so that my body feels nourished, and preparing it in ways that my taste buds are delighted and satisfied.
I have learned (for the most part) to enjoy food. The regularity of preparing and eating satisfying, well-balanced meals, and crafting a cup of coffee in the afternoon or evening, are rituals that ground me. Food is a major part of my self-care.
As my love and appreciation for food has grown, I've developed a heightened awareness of how important it is to both share food on a local level, and also be a part of efforts to feed communities across the world that suffer from lack of food. My food issues have always been related to excess and, in some ways, an irrational fear of lack that came from my own low sense of self-worth. I believed that I did not deserve to eat, that I was not worthy of having this basic and universal need met. I didn't think I deserved to be provided for, so I was afraid no one would provide for me, despite the reality of plentiful food sources.
I can only imagine (and not very well) how excruciating it is for those who suffer from hunger and starvation. The physical pain of your body deprived of nourishment is compounded by the mental sense of your own body devouring itself. Add to that the horror of watching your community starve and being powerless to feed it. Lack of food doesn't just destroy you physically, but cuts into the fabric of your communal life. Without food to share, without commensal meals, what holds your community together? Around what do you gather together? Your bodies are too weak even to work together as you once did.
If people like me can feel deeply neglected even though we have our daily bread and then some, how must those who are quite literally and physically abandoned feel? Can you believe in life at all when you are physically dying slowly and watching those you love die beside you? How can you believe that you deserve to be fed when no one is feeding you?
But then imagine, just imagine, that moment when someone brings you food. This, here, is the beginning of your new life. Today, you are fed by others. Tomorrow, you will plant. The day after, you will both feed and be fed. Your community has been torn apart by devastation and lack, but you will rise again. You will once more gather around the table to be nourished together.
And this is a day of liberation not just for those who suffered from lack of food, but for the people of excess who lived in the myths of their own scarcity. This is the day those with excess of food stop fearing lack, stop hording their resources, and begin to believe that the whole world deserves to be fed. They stop fearing that no one will provide for them and, instead, recognize that generosity does not lead to lack, but abundance.
I began this post thinking about the efforts of Preemptive Love to bring food and relief to communities torn apart by ISIS (and most recently their efforts to address the water crisis in Mosul). Food has deep theological, emotional, and social significance, and to me hunger around the globe has become deeply personal. I do not (and should not) feel guilt for the food security I have, only an intensified desire to do what I can to help others find safe and abundance spaces.
I encourage you to consider giving to Preemptive Love or other relief organizations you might know. You may not feel like you have much to give, but remember: you have more than you know.