Food Philosophy: College

You can read the first part of this series here.

My first year of college I lived in a dorm. Dorm food being what it was I ate as much salad as I could…but also a ton of pasta, pop-tarts and anything that I could grab with my dining dollars. It was the nature of the beast: I needed fast food I could keep in a mini-fridge and heat up before I scrambled off to be late (again) to class.

As it turns out, my freshman year of college I became heavily involved with a Christian group on campus. When I went to college I was decidedly not a Christian–just an agnostic with undefined religious leanings despite growing up Southern Baptist. As anyone who joins a Christian (any religious?) group knows…there’s always food. Small group began with a dinner, usually pasta. Friday night gatherings offered bagels that had been donated by Einstein’s. We ordered pizza on Saturday nights after Ultimate Frisbee games.

So, predictably, I began to pack on a few pounds. I hit the gym hard, but nothing I did seemed to make the pounds budge. I couldn’t seem to resist the food, either, like in the past. I’d try to go without, but instead I binged. I think my roommate might have had an eating problem as well, because she’d egg me on to go to the convenience store in our dorm so she wouldn’t feel guilty about going either.

Sophomore year I moved out of the dorms and into an apartment. Things would be different this year, I thought. I’d be able to eat healthy. I wouldn’t be living on campus; I could make my own food decisions. I’d be Healthy Strict Vegetarian.

And so I was, mostly. I ate whole grains, salads, fruits and vegetables. Lots of beans, some eggs. I also exercised a ton at our apartment gym.

And yet.

Pound by pound creeped on. It didn’t help that I was also in the middle of a super-stressful relationship. It also didn’t help that my involvement had grown in the Christian group, which created stress. I began to feel that my cravings were wrong, sinful, and something to be white-knuckled through. I pleaded with God to remove them. Also, my body began to be a foreign thing to me. It’d speak and I couldn’t–or didn’t want to–hear it. I began to view my extra pounds as signs of sloth, and my desires as…demonic.

It was a church that bought into the ‘spiritual warfare’ modality. People prayed in tongues, prophesied, and there was rampant interest in learning how to faith heal. Several members even went to a ministry school focused on that. Conferences were about the end of days and 24/7/365 prayer.

Needless to say, it was an intense group. Stressful, even, to be in college and also to be a leader in a group that operated with that kind of intensity and intimacy. We shared our deepest personal ‘sins’ with each other, repented, asked for forgiveness. Worship was full of excitement and dancing, a joy, really…but followed by inevitable lows. It was not the most stable place to be recovering from a mood disorder just one year past.

What does this have to do with food? Well, it coalesced into this feeling of almost a disgust for my body and for my appetites. In secret I had begun to binge again, seeking some outlet for the stress of church, college, relationship and life.

That summer between my sophomore and junior years I gave up vegetarianism. I was traveling and felt it rude to place my Americanized ideals on foreign host homes. I definitely didn’t lose weight, but I felt at least a little more balanced. Through my junior year I still had trouble binging, but the weight gain had also eased up. I stayed fairly steady in my eating habits through the rest of college.

I married the summer after college, and things didn’t change much then, either. I made an effort to eat “healthy”–protein, vegetables, salad and whole grains, potatoes and pasta. I was unhappy with my weight and tried various times to lose it by exercising more and eating less. It worked, some, but would always stall out after a few weeks. I just couldn’t control my urge to binge when stressed. I still felt at war with my body, even though I had been growing away from the church and it’s philosophy of ‘sinfulness’.