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Being a Food Writer Made Me Lose My Appetite

After a string of mediocre hookups, I opted to take a sabbatical from shagging. Filling my nights with pastries instead of sex—plus fact that I had recently taken a new job as a food writer—eventually resulted in an unsavory outcome: I stopped caring...

by Alexis Steinman
Jul 18 2015, 2:00pm

Photo via Flickr user vialbost

The problem started with pants. More specifically, my inability to button them. I tried lying down—a secret girls' trick to redistribute one's muffin top through the law of gravity—but there simply wasn't enough waistband fabric to wrap around my haunches. I had gained weight unwittingly; my body hidden under layers of wool and cashmere during my first, cold winter in years. Even in dance class, the only time my flesh felt air, I hadn't noticed a difference in my reflection, though in hindsight I do recall more effort required to leap my heavier frame in jumps and jetés.

In musing about the source of my newfound fat, I realized this wasn't an accident; I was not stunned like the Virgin Mary, my blossoming belly the product of an immaculate accumulation. My recent move to Seattle had incited a slew of changes to explain the extra poundage. Even the temperature shift from sunny Southern California to the gray Pacific Northwest caused me to beef up, just as the local orcas gain blubber when moving to cold waters. To combat the chill, I upped my intake of dark beers and brown spirits and, quite simply, ate more.

I slurped oysters like they were my lover's mouth and gulped Champagne to replicate a post-coital buzz.

In retrospect, my increased eating was not just a response to my constant shivering. After a string of mediocre hookups, I opted to take a sabbatical from shagging. The absence of pleasure in bed led me to replace it at the table. Food became my substitute for sex. The more sensual, the better: creamy carbonara, glistening hunks of pork belly, succulent lobes of seared foie gras. I slurped oysters like they were my lover's mouth and gulped Champagne to replicate a post-coital buzz.

Instead of Warm Body Syndrome—a term my friend coined to describe my predilection for sleepovers, platonic or romantic—over sleeping solo, I had Hot Pastry Disorder. Cream cheese danishes, peanut butter cookies, and kouign-ammans, that mouthwatering marriage of a buttery croissant and burnt sugar. In American Pie, the horny teens use apple pie as a proxy for lady parts—but I just wanted more pie.

As my love handles grew without anyone to handle them, my dip into gluttony territory continued. Work played a big part. I had grown from a small-potatoes food blogger to a bigger spud: the Seattle editor of a national culinary website. I logged more hours focusing on food so that I could keep up with the pace of Seattle's thriving food scene. Consequently, each bite had to be exceptional. A ho-hum ham and cheese was a gustatory death sentence. Lunch had to be rosemary-roasted pork shoulder, aged provolone, and rapini pesto piled high on a fresh-baked ciabatta bun.

Soon, my inner Libra set off a warning signal of imbalance. My scales tipped too far in food's favor, triggering a most unusual outcome: I lost my appetite.

Conversations around the merits of Himalayan pink versus French sel gris felt even more frivolous than usual.

As an isolated incident, an absence of hunger doesn't rate high on the Worst Things Ever list. The desire to eat can be squelched by stress and sadness, replaced by the urge to lose weight, distracted by the daily grind. For me, a food writer, my lack of hunger was akin to a singer losing her voice or a navigator losing sight of the stars. How could I compose posts enticing readers to check out a new Chinese place when I was done with dim sum?

I hadn't just lost my yen for the edible but the desire to discuss it. When I had made the move to Seattle, I was initially enamored with the city's culinary charms. At the crossroads of bountiful farms, mushroom-stocked forests, and shellfish-laden water, the Emerald City is an epicurean Eden. Gardening is a citywide sport, moms bake squash millet muffins for preschool snacks, and potlucks are as competitive as an episode of Top Chef. In LA, the cliché was that everyone had a screenplay; Seattle's standard was home-brewed beer.

But with my appetite M.I.A., I lost interest in what my friend had made for dinner, the newest banh mi on the block, or that strawberry season had arrived. Conversations around the merits of Himalayan pink vs. French sel gris felt even more frivolous than usual.

My aversion to taking part in the edible discussion was particularly depressing, for my relationship to food was always rooted in connection. The seed that planted my passion for eating was not food per se, but the act of sharing it. I was raised in a house where nightly meals were a must-do. My family ate together at home, coming together around the dinner table after our busy days of school, work, marching band, and dance.

Food is a language that links us. Lasagna brought to a grieving family conveys compassion, while bagels and lox celebrate a newborn's birth. Warm, chocolate-chip cookies ooze love. Hot soup delivered to a flu-stricken friend says, "Hey, I hope you get well soon." My eating apathy had silenced me, drawing me inward instead of toward my community. Without the inclination to ingest, food had become merely a question of sustenance, instead of gustatory and social satisfaction.

I had gone from gastronome to full-blown glutton, from shared suppers to a one-woman show. Food had turned the tables and was consuming me.

A month into my hunger strike, I had an appetite awakening while listening to the Dinner Party Download podcast. One of the co-hosts, Rico Gagliano, was interviewing David Renteln, a VP of Soylent, a nutritional food substitute created as a replacement for food.

"It's very easy to wake up…and mix up a pitcher of Soylent," said Renteln. "I don't have to worry about lunch or what I'm going to get…It's a problem that is just solved."

Gagliano responded: "But I guess that's what gets me: this idea of stopping to eat 'food' as a 'problem' that needs to be solved".

That's when it hit me. I was not a Soylent customer, a person who regarded food as a waste of time and money, as a bother to their busy lives. Food was my problem when it became a replacement for men—a substitute for the comfort, the companionship, and sensual pleasure they provide. Topped with my increased food writing and cold-weather binge-eating, my issue ballooned into a catastrophe. I had gone from gastronome to full-blown glutton, from shared suppers to a one-woman show. Food had turned the tables and was consuming me.

Doctors and public health proponents tout the importance of a balanced diet, in which the food groups are consumed proportionally to maximize health and nutritional benefits. My loss of appetite was my body and soul sounding the asymmetrical alarm; I needed to balance my life's plate.

Operation Edible Equilibrium followed. I peppered my nights out with lectures and concerts. I cooked for others instead of solo dining. I resumed dating, meeting men for tennis or art exhibits rather than dinner. (This alone did wonders for my love life; without candlelit, wine-soaked evenings, I was seduced by the man rather than the tantalizing meal that we shared, preventing me from premature infatuation.)

As my days diversified, my appreciation for food, both consuming and writing about it, returned. I shed my gluttony sweats and donned my epicurean pants. And I buttoned them.

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