I almost died for a box of cereal. My fondness for cereal developed at an early age–when I stayed home sick from school I’d camp at my grandmother’s house, and she’d serve me Frosted Flakes (“They’re GRRRRRREAT!”) in her pink and gold flowered china bowl. I’d also added a few spoonfuls of sugar to the already sweet mix, and lick the granules clean off the dish. Nothing like Tony the Tiger to bring quick healing. As my taste buds expanded, I delved into boxes of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Frosted Shredded Wheat (that only lasted about a day), and Lucky Charms. As I got older, my father fixed me Grape-Nuts with a side of grapes in the morning (grape overkill!), and I announced cereal as one of my favorite foods. About this time my mother decided she needed to get in shape and lose some of the fat she accumulated from childbirth, lack of exercise, and a stressful job. She purchased a new type of cereal: an emerald green box of Healthy Choice flakes, embossed with an image of a couple jogging towards a white bowl filled with the aforementioned breakfast meal (and don’t forget the glass of milk, juice, toast, and accompanying piece of fruit). I was hesitant at first to try the cereal–it appeared pretty bland with no colorful marshmallow pieces or geometric shapes to entice my tongue. But I gulped it down, thinking, “Well, if it makes me healthy, then ok.”
Then my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer, and what kind of cereal I ate in the morning was the last thing on my mind. I questioned whether or not she would live to see me graduate from high school, and if so, what kind of life would she be able to live? Would she lose her hair from chemo treatments, and grow boney and frail from the medicine in her veins? The morning of her surgery, my father left the home before the sun rose, and I resigned to meet him later that night after my mom was placed in a recovery room. I don’t remember what I felt when I woke that morning. Maybe fear, maybe sadness. What I do remember, however, is stumbling into the kitchen and making a vow: 1 bowl of Healthy choice flakes for breakfast, run the neighborhood hills, 1 bowl of Healthy Choice flakes for lunch, then go to the hospital. And that would be it for the day. I gulped down the cardboard cereal, pounded through 3 miles of pavement as fast as I could, chugged another bowl of flakes, then quickly rushed to the hospital. Needless to say, I was immensely hungry by the time I reached my dad and devoured a tuna sandwich and chips right away. After eating I saw my mom sleeping in the recovery room, a thin white blanket pulled up towards her chin, hooked up to a machine, and I felt disgust and anger. Angry that my loving mother had to endure such pain, and disgust that I couldn’t hold out and NOT eat anything at the hospital.
And so it began, my tumultuous stumble, falling deeper and deeper into the anorexia rabbit hole. And it all started with a simple bowl of cereal.
I am now married 4 years strong with a 2 year old daughter, yet 16 years after that day I decided cereal would be my staple diet food–and the only food I’d eat–I still see a psychiatrist and dietitan to ensure I don’t relapse into my old restrictive behaviors. Why am I sharing this, you may ask? If anything, I hope people learn from my experience that:
1. Major life events triggered my eating disordered behaviors, and my inability to express emotions led to me taking my feelings out on food.
2. Parents, don’t talk about dieting, body, or “good” and “bad” food in front of your children. Youngsters are sponges, and your words and actions speak volumes.
3. Parents, also notice changes in eating habits that are out of the ordinary in a child you suspect has an eating disorder–and question them about it.
4. The mind of an eating disordered individual is intensely driven to accomplish SOMETHING. Whether weight loss, wearing a certain size clothes, or maintaining a particular physique, those suffering from an eating disorder are blind to people and events around them. They will malevolently lie to hide their illness, so family and friends, be patient with them, love them, and offer support via treatment.
To this day, it’s still hard for me to eat a bowl of cereal. The negative emotions attached with that green box leaves my stomach in knots. I’ve slowly started munching on a small dish of granola every so often, however, just to prove to the Eating Disorder voice that, no, in fact it does not have control over my life, and that my infatuation with cardboard flakes is a thing of the past. Bite after bite, I eventually end up finishing my cereal, and when all that’s left is the empty dish and spoon, I put the bowl away, and go on with my day.