A Junk Food Reckoning or How I Came to Use Food For Love

Aimée Gramblin

CW: Disordered eating.

In childhood, candy was a sweet hug. A high followed by a crash. I was an anxious kid who struggled with sleep. I craved the relief of the crash that followed the candy high. I had the sweetest of sweet tooths. Came by it naturally, by way of both sides of my family.

Fantastic candy. ZotZ in their little plastic packages. A sweet hard candy with a sour fizz liquid middle made me feel alive. Kissed.

Pop Rocks felt fun and dangerous as they created mini mouth explosions — candy having an obvious chemical reaction with my spit.

I loved the fancy candy in round tins at the International Pantry, the gourmet store my godparents owned.

The assault of cinnamon from a cinnamon toothpick. Strong oil on my tongue. Mouthfeel insisting this is grownup. A fidgeting addiction. Relief. The toughness required to chew through the cinnamon layers of an Atomic Fireball. The sweet softening layers of everlasting gobstoppers. The Willy Wonka wonder of sweets.

Regular-sized pixie sticks in paper made soggy by sucking. You had to tap the sugar into your mouth without getting the paper wet. The huge plastic pixie sticks needed scissors to be opened before pouring sugar into my mouth. Satisfying sweet powder coating my tongue.

As a teenager, I loved candy. And Big Red soda from the gas station fountain. I drove my station wagon and pumped gas. Under a dollar a gallon. Went inside to pay and choose the evening’s sweets. I’d leave balancing A 44-ounce Big Red, candy haul, purse, and keys. Drive home and go straight to my bedroom. Watch reruns and eat my gas station goodies for dinner.

Sugar felt like romance. Sugar felt like a friend spending hours with me, and only me, talking on the phone when the world’s weight was crushing me pancake flat. Sugar felt like a pass when I didn’t feel good enough. Sugar made me feel good. Good enough. Good.

Until I crashed. And, when I crashed I’d sleep a sleep of sweet death. The sugar hangover? I don’t remember them from my younger days.

I haven’t named all the candy I loved. The crunchy, fake fruit flavor of Runts, the rainbow chew of Skittles, Reese’s peanut butter nestled in chocolate cups. The compressed powder sweet soda flavors of Necco wafers. Chewy sour sprees. Chewy sour Sweet Tarts. Jolly Ranchers. Butterfingers. Tootsie Rolls. Butterscotch. Heath Bars. Paydays. Candy hearts. Soft mints. Hard mints. Gummy Worms. Gummy Bears. Twizzlers. Snickers Bars. I’m not sure there was a candy I didn’t like. I still crave them but when they’re not in the house, I manage not to eat them.

As an adult, when I felt low, I’d run to the nearest store and stock up on boxes of Lemonheads, Bottlecaps, Junior Mints, and a bag or two of chips. Some soda to top it off. I brought my own snack food to the 4th of July hangout with my now-husband’s family. My mother-in-law noticed my sweet tooth. I mean I had to bring pop, chips, and candy to the family hangout. Why?

Now too much sugar makes me sweat and panic. Toss and turn in sticky sheets. The high and crash don’t always happen. The anxiety and sweaty sheets are likely side effects. Although I crave candy, I don’t often consume it.

I love coffee. My body doesn’t. I have acid reflux now that I’m in my 40s. If we’re being honest, I probably had it for years before I was diagnosed.

Coffee feels like a best friend through thick and thin; coffee won’t leave my side. It’s a warm hug. A lift-me-up. Productivity magic. I’ve given her up time and again, but always go back.

This relationship with food isn’t easy. We need sustenance to survive.

I want to derive pleasure from my body.

When I intuit what my body wants, really wants, I listen to deeper wisdom. It resides in my body and somehow knows which nutrients will satiate me. I seek out beets, artichokes, olives, lettuce, matcha. Sometimes steak. I like these foods. When I remember to eat intuitively instead of emotionally, I find my body sated.

When I listen to what my body craves, I listen to the voice of disordered eating. The voice of sugar addiction. The part that wants the fast comfort of all things sugary. It says Good ‘N Plenty’s, Bottlecaps, Junior Mints, Ice Cream.

I’m also supposed to avoid acidic foods like tomatoes, sugar, dairy, alcohol, and caffeine.

Help me.

Our bodies are temples, but?

This has never rested well with me. I want to derive pleasure from my body. I’m human and want to feel joyous human things. Sugar rushes, woozy alcohol brain, the blur of being cannabis high, a kiss on my cheek, orgasms, wind through my hair, dog’s fur, dirt, tree bark, plant textures. I want to taste cinnamon and vanilla and chocolate. Not supposed to have chocolate either.

I’ve been almost anorexic, borderline bulimic, and definitely overweight. The fluctuating iterations of my body weight haven’t much bothered me.

Skinny is my SOS. Every time. Depression. Self-harm by deprivation. In my teens, early 20s.

Later, throwing up when I had panic attacks, only I didn’t know that’s what was happening.

Then, eating food and junk to feel good. Eating more when I felt happy. Partying like Romans at orgies.

There’s no my body is a temple in these behaviors.

When I manage to eat in something like moderation, mostly healthy foods, with treats thrown in, I feel like I’m doing more than fine. My body is my body.

I don’t know how to navigate my relationship with food. The either-or situation of deprivation or satiation doesn’t sit well with me.

I forgot to mention gluten and onions. Those are also no’s. So many no’s.

I love flavor on my tongue. A full stomach. Someone cooking food for me. That’s bliss. That’s intimate. I don’t want to give up the mouthfeel happy satiated inebriated caffeinated high feeling of my favorite foods.

My body rejects these cravings. She reacts by becoming physically ill.
I reject my body when I eat whatever I want.

The cycle spirals as I make better choices and then regress. When I regress, I feel like a failure and what’s the point anyways? Where’s the junk food? A failure at thriving to survive.

It’s too much pressure to treat my body like a temple. I’m not that goddammed enlightened.

In my 30s, I gave up soda pop — Rootbeer was my favorite. I replaced it with La Croix — two or three a day. I thought I was doing my body a favor. The doctors said to give it up. It’s also bad for reflux.

I’m down to filtered tap water — no lemon — that’s acidic, low-acid coffee, and Emergen-C as a treat drink. It’s the pits.

I miss ice cream cake and key lime pie. I miss. I miss. I miss.

Tomorrow, I’ll try matcha with oat milk and a bit of honey because honey helps a bit with my sweet tooth. And, all or nothing never works for me. I’ll try not to eat half a bag of popcorn and call it breakfast or lunch or dinner. I’ll try not to eat my imitation gluten-free dairy-free Drumstick ice cream bar or a pint of dairy-free ice cream.

There’s something here. Something only within me. Within each of us. A relationship between food and our psyche.

Something about acceptance and forgiveness and finding that love and hug and kindness and productivity in my bone marrow, in my inner being, in the me-est, truest part of me. I don’t know if I’ll find that something in this life, but I’m traveling down the road and observing. I’m trying to be a kinder gentler person with myself. Trying to find sweetness, rest, productivity, and kindness outside of my daily dairy-free ice cream binge and coffee imbibement.

Aimée Gramblin examines a life lived with mental health disorders — anxiety, depression, and OCD. From an intense and tumultuous childhood to becoming a parent herself, Gramblin often turns to nature for wisdom in distilling, interpreting, and learning from her history so that she can grow forward on her path, with the hope of inspiring others to do the same. She is currently working on completing her first book — a memoir that documents her childhood, coming of age, and adulthood through a lens of experiences in nature.

Originally published in Age of Empathy April 2021.

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