By Sahej Marwah May. 12, 2021
Just like everyone else I was fed up of being cooped inside their houses, waiting on my hunches for the pandemic to end. Helplessness took over me. Food became the only focal point of my life that I could wield control over. That is, until it started wielding control over me.
The first time that I watched the children’s classic Matilda was in 2020 while working on a podcast episode. While the antics of this thumb-sized character were amusing to me, what really stuck with me was the grotesque chocolate cake that Bruce Bogtrotter was forced to consume by Principal Trunchbull. For the uninitiated, this cake could have easily been a 20-pound chocolate giant that this unsuspecting six-year-old boy was coerced into polishing off. In 2021, the dark clouds of the pandemic surrounding me embody the characteristics of Trunchbull. I, the gullible child, who previously had no cravings for that cake now look at it longingly. As Lockdown 2.0 barked orders at me and iron fists of Distress 2.0 thumped at my door, I could not help myself from reaching out to cake; to unhealthy addictions of all kinds. Unfortunately, I was not alone in this battle.
Early days of last year’s lockdown were teeming with internet food trends. There was the saccharine cup of joe in the form of Dalgona coffee, the fad of the Banana Bread, and then came the Baked Feta Pasta inspired by a TikTok video. Social media was replete with people experimenting and nourishing the new-found joys of the kitchen. I too forayed into this culinary world and saw no harm indulging from time to time (which eventually just became a loose conception). Soon I found myself desperately wanting that spoonful of sugar to make any bitter reality fade away. In a way, these trends validated my need to constantly be snacking. Just like everyone else I was fed up of being cooped inside their houses, waiting on my hunches for the pandemic to end. Helplessness took over me. Food became the only focal point of my life that I could wield control over. That is, until it started wielding control over me.
I, the gullible child, who previously had no cravings for that cake now look at it longingly.
The constant opening and shutting of the fridge became a routine activity in itself; was I expecting an apparition of some snack stashed away? Hunger became the solution for boredom and boredom a gateway to anxiety. This anxiety has been largely two-fold. First, the uncertainty regarding the availability of groceries encouraged hoarding; especially for oddball items that were never bought before. (Why did I buy jars of jam and several packets of coffee? I like neither.) And second, people were running helter-skelter in anticipation that food may either run out or prices may multiply rapidly; an exercise induced only by paranoia.
For me, binge eating or emotional eating has been the only way to react to this incomprehensible reality. This encouragement to own the kitchen meant that I could now cook or bake all my cravings. Restaurants shut down for an indefinite period? No problem. I could whip up a cake in a few minutes. Craving some freshly fried donuts? Recipes were at my beck and call. If I had an emotionally rough day, my hands would magnetically (and magically) reach out to the ice cream in the freezer. This discord in my eating habits and the glaring lack of structure in my meal timings has been undoubtedly accentuated by the disruption of a schedule. Not just that, the arbitrarily programmed timings for the opening and shutting of grocery stores meant that I was no longer spoilt for choice.
Hunger became the solution for boredom and boredom a gateway to anxiety.
As a consequence, I have shed all farces of being a picky eater – a privilege that can no longer be exercised. But I’m not alone in this battle; many like myself have had a similarly polarised reaction to the pandemic. But who can really be blamed here? It has been the easiest way of keeping in touch with the outside world. With every funky restaurant at my fingertips promising to deliver meals in thirty minutes, it has become the currency with which I reward myself. The minutest inconvenience in my life prompts me to “order something nice” for myself because “I deserve it”. It has never been easier to develop this dependence on food and it has entered my life all guns blazing.
The minutest inconvenience in my life prompts me to “order something nice” for myself because “I deserve it”.
As someone who is tremendously passionate about food, I still share a hot-and-cold relationship with it. I often indulge in cooking things I like, studying food at a scientific level, watching videos of people exploring this shared passion, even my comfort watch is MasterChef Australia. Wherever I turn, I am inundated by food-driven content. In my pre-pandemic life, eating right was a lifestyle decision. There was a healthy inclination towards meeting all my macros and then congratulating myself with a dessert maybe once a week. My eyes would rapidly scan over all fried foods as if that part of the menu was not applicable to me. But now, I am convinced that those french fries and that finger lickin’ good chicken is made just for me.
During the lockdown, I have been tied to my couch and physical activity has been embarrassingly low. With every bite that I consume, I am taking mental notes of how this fat is going to deposit itself in some unstrategic part of my body. The symbiotic connection that I had with food has gotten lost somewhere in this ordeal. Through all of this, what really grinds my gears is the fact there is nothing else that I can turn to. Food has held me hostage because it knows the ways in which it can reign over me. I need it to survive. According to Dr Campbell, “[T]he brain cannot function without appropriate nutrition. We have to feed the brain, so the brain can fight the eating disorder.” What an antithetical relationship of codependency.
The symbiotic connection that I had with food has gotten lost somewhere in this ordeal.
What makes my dilemma worse is the restriction of movement initiated by the lockdown – the solitary thing that could have helped maintain the equilibrium between being healthy and feeling healthy. At home, I don’t have to suck my stomach in. When clothes tighten their noose around my waist, I just slip into something more comfortable. My only ray of hope (or lack thereof) is the seemingly eternal nature of the pandemic. I know it’s not breaking up with me anytime soon so perhaps, I need to stop swallowing that spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down.
Sahej Marwah likes to have a finger in every bowl. She spends her time baking, writing, editing, podcasting, and pampering her cat. It's safe to say that she is now running out of fingers and is open to donations.