October 28, 2015

EMOTIONALLY STUNTIN’ | Food Morals

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By REBECCA KRUGER

It is a brisk fall afternoon. I, exhausted, am plodding back to my dorm from my freshman writing seminar. As I wiggle my headphones in and adjust the volume, my stomach growls. I am hungry. The only nourishment awaiting me in my cramped triple is a box of crunchy peanut butter Clif Bars nestled on my otherwise barren desk shelve reserved for snacks. I sigh. I had one of those bars for breakfast this morning. I am starving. But two of the same bars in one day? My innards curl at the excess; my brain short-circuits at the imperfection of my repetitive diet. In more mundane terms, it feels wrong and I feel guilty.

Guilt and food isn’t a new phenomenon for me. The two have gone hand in hand since developing an eating disorder during my sophomore year of high school. But today the feeling is too familiar, as if before contemplating my afternoon snack I had been ruminating on lunchtime failures and breakfast disasters. But I hadn’t — I had been in my ethics class. Today my professor posed a couple of stereotypical ethical brainteasers and asked us to decide what the right choice was in each anecdote based on our own internal ethical intuitions. One involved a doctor killing an alcoholic homeless patient in order to donate his organs to three others. My reaction to the hypothetical was the same — innards curling, brain short-circuiting, that creepy-crawly yucky just-no-good feeling creeping down my neck to my spine. Doctors killing patients feels wrong. Not just any kind of wrong, but the same innate, fundamental type of wrong as having two Clif Bars in the same day.

We all have an internal meter that deems actions morally right, wrong or irrelevant. Most adhere to the basic moral rules such as “Thou shalt not kill” and “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Our meters exist from birth, though they are fine-tuned by societal standards. Even an infant raised in a bubble would get that familiar icky of wrongness when witnessing a murder, though he wouldn’t understand the moral complexities of shoplifting. Most people cannot pinpoint why they view actions as right or wrong. They know things are wrong when they feel guilty afterward and things are right when they feel good afterward.

While most people’s meters would deem food to be morally irrelevant, eating disorders’ meters do not. Every one of us worships at the altar of food commandments. We recite “Thou shalt not eat carbohydrates” and “Thou shalt exercise compulsively” in our Sunday school classes. And when we violate these rules, we are subject to guilt and punishment and shame by the almighty god of unworthiness. Why does one piece of bread, one apple matter? Because every food choice results in the relief of knowing we made the right decision or the guilt of making the wrong one. We feel the same after eating a cookie and lying to a friend. We may not have received the warm gooeys from giving to charity today, but we ate salad for every meal, and that glow is just as warm and pleasant. Why is salad right while cookies are wrong? We don’t know, we just know what makes us feel good and what makes us feel bad.

Friends and family alike tend to baffled by our behaviors. Why are we making things so difficult for ourselves? Why can’t we eat like normal people? Hopefully this has helped shed some light on the black and white world of disordered eating. Please bear with us when we falter in grocery stores and buffet restaurants when we are asked what we would like. Please hold our hand when we stare into the fridge with a growling stomach at lunchtime. Sympathize with us by imagining that every mealtime, you must choose between killing two people you love. Then both of us can feel the pressures of being asked to make a complex moral decision with disastrous internal consequences if considered poorly within the span of five minutes.

Rebecca Kruger is a decidedly undecided freshman in the college of Arts and Sciences. She is a fan of cats, black coffee, whiny girl bands and anything made out of corduroy. Emotionally Stuntin’ appears on alternate Wednesdays this semester. She can be reached at rk528@cornell.edu.

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