Culture, Food & Drinks, Life

It took years to admit to my Arab family that I had a serious problem

Plates of vegetables and bowls of meat were spread out for us to enjoy. I indulged, only to hate the feeling of it in my stomach.

I never wanted to get sick.

At the age of 14, most young teenage girls have other things on their minds, like their first crushes, homework, and after-school activities. At least that was the case for me at the time. But since I was 12 years old, I had been making myself sick after meals. For two years, it was my dirty little secret, something so private that not even my closest friends had any idea about it.

At first, I’d only do it when I felt too full after meals, particularly at restaurants where I knew I could slip away unnoticed for several minutes to “use the bathroom.”

But then it became an obsession.

You see, in Arab and Middle Eastern cultures, food is readily available. There are always all sorts of gatherings where there will be lots of food, and you have to attend for fear of seeming “rude.” Whether it’s a wedding or a funeral, engagement or a family get-together, you can bet there will be a buffet of delights to tempt even the pickiest of eaters.

I was not, and still am not, a picky eater. Yet this abundance of food all around always seemed to cause me some sort of anxiety. It wasn’t bad food. either. In fact, it was always delicious.

From appetizers to desserts, plates and bowls were all spread out for family and friends to enjoy. Large bowls of freshly prepared salads sprinkled with herbs, trays of meat and vegetable sambusak hot out of the oven, and platter after platter of freshly cooked meats straight off the grill. The smells were incredible. It makes me hungry now just writing about it. Sometimes there would be a main dish of lamb sitting atop of a heaping bed of steaming white rice, so tender it would fall off the bone as soon as you ate it.

The desserts were pretty much a diabetic’s nightmare. There were plates of baklava, homemade cakes, and heaps of fruit. I enjoyed every morsel of food at these gatherings, and at home with my family where we ate a lot more simply. But then, as always, the guilt would kick in. Did I eat too much? How many cups of rice was that? My jeans feel tight; I’ll have to step on the scale tomorrow to see how much I weigh. So would begin the negative thought process, followed by a mad dash to the bathroom for a private purging session.

By the time I was 14 years old, I was regularly binge-eating and purging three to four times a day, always in secret. I knew it had to stop but was incapable of doing so. I had already turned into a full-time bulimic.

It also didn’t help that from all the festivities and get together, there was always an abundance of food in the house. I also had my own ‘trigger’ or ‘guilty’ foods. Cake, chocolate, pizza – just about anything with too many carbs, salt or sugar drove me over the edge with guilt. I soon began to hate the feeling of food in my stomach and relished my time alone in the bathroom vomiting all the food up.

Yet my body began to fight against me. My cycle had soon stopped for up to two months, and my skin was a disaster, covered with acne and with a yellowish tint. My health was suffering, and I needed help. I broke down one night and confessed to my parents, who were shocked, to say the least.

Since then, it’s been a difficult journey, one that took me from one doctor to the next, trying to figure out how and why I started making myself sick. And even though the actual physical purging stopped, it took years for my relationship with food, and with my body to heal. Fast forward over a decade later, and thankfully, I’ve never been healthier or happier.

It’s not always easy, but I can safely say I’m finally at peace with food. Now I recognize it for what it is: fuel and nourishment for the bodies that house our souls.

I still have my days where I struggle, and I, too, have climbed on board the diet fad train – which I assure you never really work – but I’ve come to a place in my life where I’ve realized self-love is one of the most important things of all.