According to the Mayo Clinic, after you eat, it takes about six to eight hours for food to pass through your stomach and small intestine. It takes a total average time of 43 hours from eating to stool elimination—I like that they call,this “transit time.” Food then enters your large intestine (colon) for further digestion, absorption of water and, finally, elimination of undigested food. After I researched this topic, I thought about how proper digestion is integral to maintaining good health — vital, really. I am interested in hearing from readers about exploring their own relationship to food. Start when you were young, or when you were first diagnosed. I recently discovered the amazing work of Crohn’s patient, Daniel Leighton. He openly explores his disease through his art, and I was blown away—his piece entitled “Tied Up at the Hospital” is superb (heartbreaking to me), and I encourage you to follow his work. So, let’s use ART to share our experiences! I use creative nonfiction, and writing has always been my release—in our book, Jessica and I encourage patients to “keep a food journal,” but now I also want to encourage patients to explore their disease, their relationship to food, their fears and loneliness, humor and love, through making art (photography, poetry, writing prose, painting, video, drawing, etc.). I can’t wait to publish some of these works! (Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.). Okay, I will start off with a piece of my own creative nonfiction:
How my longing for food — my lifelong love affair with what I could, or could not, eat — began.
I was longing for food, literally desperate for the half-eaten slices of pizza left on the plates at a restaurant off Harvard Square. I was a 26-year-old bulimic, and food was my secret obsession. Who doesn’t love the hot-out-of-the-oven, doughy-crust pizza with fresh-grated mozzarella garnished with chopped basil leaves?
The revelers had straggled out of the room after a private engagement party. I told my boyfriend I had forgotten something, and walked back in through an arched doorway. The jukebox finally playing the Bonnie Raitt song, “Somethin’ to Talk About,” I had selected earlier. I stood there and gazed around the room: it looked a hurricane had breezed through around 60 knots with chairs overturned and crumpled napkins scattered about….
But it was what was on the paper plates that caught my attention: I made my way along the tables and grabbed slices of pizza and—gazing back at the arched doorway to see if anyone was coming — I scarfed them down and pushed the food into my mouth with both my hands like a refuge from war-torn Biafra.
You see, I didn’t know it then, or perhaps that was when I knew something was the matter with me. I was skinny and sick; mentally obsessed with a longing for food that occupied my thoughts much of the time.
A morning run along the Charles River was the usual start to my day—I loved this and felt so light as I jogged the worn paths past the brick buildings of academia. After my run, my reward was half a honeydew melon and a cup of coffee. Then I’d ride my bike to work at the publishing house on Beacon Hill. At lunch, I ate dry salad, and when I came home in the early evening, I ate popcorn with brewer’s yeast with Diet Coke.
Why, you may ask, did this young woman who was outwardly happy—a job in publishing, a boyfriend who had returned after a year hiatus, a loving family in nearby Providence, Rhode Island—resort to eating leftover food from people’s plates in public restaurants?
Having a mother who apparently subsisted on candy bars was one thing, a father who talked obsessively about food and his inability to loose weight, was another. “Am I fat?” plagued me throughout my adolescence.
My family prided themselves on being thin and fit, with tennis, riding, and golf practiced at various clubs—and at school, we played field hockey. Going to an all-girls high school had the added benefit of questions like “You Haven’t Gotten Your Period Yet?”
After high school, I took a year off from attending the non-existent college that my parents pretended I’d been accepted to. I headed to Vienna, where Weiner Schnitzel, Würst, pastries, and beer were to form the main ingredients of my diet, and after a few short months, I weighed 170 pounds.
When I returned from Europe after a year, my father announced that I had gained the “Freshman 15-times-two,” without attending college!
I remember the day I landed at Boston’s Logan Airport. My mother and one of my little sisters, Alex, stood there at the gate. My mother had her kerchief on, covering her wig at the top of her head that gave her that ’70s bouffant look; she was wearing her big Jackie O shades and had one of those purses that look like a small picnic basket with flowers painted around the edges clutched under her arm.
“Guüten Tag, Muttie und meine kleine Schwester!” I called gaily.
I walked toward my mother and sister and watched their mouths drop open. I was around 180 pounds at that point, my hair was cut in an ill-fitting pageboy, and my skin was dark brown from a summer spent sleeping on the edges of fiords after hiking around Scandinavia. They had no idea who I was!
The reality of my situation—home after 12 months after living on my own in Vienna and traveling around Europe—was horrifying to me! I was so heavy the buttons on my Indian print button-down shirt were almost popping off.
The whole way home in the car, I only spoke German, trying to explain to my mother that I had “forgotten how to speak English!”
I also liked this “no food/empty stomach” feeling I had in the car that afternoon when I returned, a stranger to my family, back from my year off, and I wanted it to last.
I retreated to my bedroom and unpacked my Kelty backpack, holding back the tears that I knew would never come.
This piece is excerpted from Spin Cycle by Dede Cummings, a creative nonfiction work-in-progress to be published (hopefully!) in 2017.