A struggle with disordered eating.
I had only just recovered from years of starving myself and constantly upsetting myself over food anxieties when the HUDS strike rumors had begun. The talk of food instability for some caused understandable stress, but the mere mention of food created this nagging feeling in my gut much worse than any hunger I’ve caused myself.
At the beginning of this year, I had finally started making real peace with myself. The summer had been long and full of days I couldn’t get out of bed, and certainly not out of my room to go searching for dinner. My eating disorder was more than me wanting to fit into that white romper my mom had bought me, or to look better in my bathing suit on the few days of the entire year that I would go to the beach. No, my eating disorder was a way for me to have control over myself and my life. If I felt unproductive doing a problem set, I easily reasoned with myself that I should work through dining hall hours. If my roommates willed me into joining them for dinner, it was easy to be simultaneously writing my paper while pushing food around my plate. But they did notice, and they saved me from myself by reassuring me that I deserved food and that I did have the control over my life and choices for which I was desperate.
I have been so proud of myself for recovering. But then the news of an impending HUDS strike emerged. I support the dining workers entirely, but I would be remiss to say I haven’t felt mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted in the process.
It is typical in recovery to relapse and have especially hard days where all you think about is how you look, what others think about you, how far away you are from reaching your goals, how little you can control your life… But this semester, there have been many more of those days strung together.
At first news of the strike, people immediately began discussing how students would be fed. The fear of food instability was spreading across campus and has only ramped up after seeing how bare dining halls look during the strike. The constant discussion of food has brought me back to a time when I avoided eating in public entirely and could barely get out of bed to find some crackers to keep from feeling nauseous under the stress I put myself. With the many invitations to attend the dine-in with HUDS last Thursday during the strike, I started to pull away from my social interactions entirely to spare myself the frustrations I kept experiencing. I could not very well explain to my lab partner I had grown closer to while doing assignments that I would not go to the event because I would have to leave crying while calling my mom to calm me down (as I’ve had to do in the past when the dining halls would get overcrowded and the feeling of everyone staring at me got too strong).
With the unexpected replacing our normal meals, people have repeatedly said that students just need to “suck it up,” effectively. But sometimes, being a picky eater is not something anyone can help. Sometimes, being a picky eater is a result of years of starving yourself and needing to find a few select foods you were able to believe you deserved to eat. For me, macaroni and cheese reminded me enough of my mom that it was comforting instead of stress inducing. It was easy to make and eat in front of other people, and that is really all it takes for someone to progress through recovery. I have many memories of the dining hall workers helping me to find the food I was most comfortable eating, and even made sure to always have the condiments I preferred available because they understood.
The volatile new dining hall situation has made it increasingly difficult to find food I feel comfortable eating without a resulting anxiety. The added stress of now having to travel to a different house in order to eat, and knowing that I will not even know most of the others in the dining hall with me at the time, has made me feel more reclusive now than in past years.
I respect HUDS and want them to get the respect from the University that they deserve. It is important that students get involved in movements like this that will affect a majority of our community that the student body may have been ignorant of previously. But at the same time, I urge the student body to remember during this time that students who chose to abstain from participating may have many reasons for doing so, which may be harder to understand. Regardless of whether you chose to refrain from joining in at the picket line or prefer not to speak up when talks of the protests begin, you are encouraged to make your own decisions to best tend to yourself. For those who are struggling with the strike as you recover, I hope you feel safe and supported in the communities you have formed at Harvard, and that you are able to reach out to the resources available to cope with this stressful time. All that matters is that you are able to evaluate your needs and find ways to advocate for yourself, even when campus does not seem mindful of your struggle.
The Indy (firstname.lastname@example.org) hopes that anyone with questions or concerns regarding this piece feel comfortable reaching out to Harvard resources such as ECHO, Room 13, and more.