Monday, December 21, 2020

In An Attempt to Eat

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"Ma? Can I go watch TV now?" I would ask at the dinner table.

"Only after two more mouthfuls," my mom would sternly answer.

I would obey, gulping down the two mouthfuls, and look at her with watery eyes, pleadingly hoping she would let me go. She would sigh with frustration and say, "Fine, you may be excused."

That was when I was about two or three years old. I was this skinny, little kid who was always whining at breakfast, lunch, or dinner. My most miserable time was mealtime. I never enjoyed eating as a child, except when it was chocolate candy or when I was almost dying of hunger. Being the first-born child, I got to be my parents' guinea pig. My mom got this idea from a book that kids should be fed only when they're hungry. This way they won't take in more calories than necessary. It's supposed to be an effective way of preventing weight gain. So my mom only fed me whenever I was hungry, which was not very often. She even tried grinding the food to make it easier to swallow, any way by which I could take in food as it took me forever to finish even a small meal. As a result, I became this undernourished child who was in and out of the doctor's clinics in the vain hope of finding relief. None worked.

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In desperation, my mom devised a new tactic. I couldn't leave the dinner table until I finished the food on my plate. That didn't work either as the maid with eagle eyes saw through the rice in which I had buried the meat and vegetables. And no eating while watching television was the rule of the house.

Once my mom thought she had a bright idea. She bought cornflakes, a new thing to me then, hamburgers, doughnuts, chocolate chip cookies, spaghetti and pizza, anything except the home cooked meals. The Filipino cuisine my grandmother cooked for the family was not to my taste. My appetite improved a little but I was still terribly underweight.

On one of my regular visits to the doctor's office, she said, "She looks so frail. Try giving her this every morning," while she scribbled some long, undecipherable name on a piece of paper. When my mom read the brochure, she was aghast. It was a drug for anorexia nervosa. I heard her say to my grandmother, "My daughter's not anorexic!"

"She looks anorexic, " my grandmother replied. "No wonder the doctor is desperate, too!"

For a while the new prescription helped. My face got a little rounder and the muscles in my arms and legs also got a little rounder. There were promising signs but my mom thought I couldn't live on medicines all my life, that whatever it was, it was a temporary solution to the problem. I had to come out of it myself. Encouraging me to eat was not an option because that wasn't what I needed. I had to find pleasure in eating, like some kids she knew. Eating was an adventure, not an obligation. As my grandmother would say I had to live to eat, not eat to live.

Since my mom was a professor in physical education, she thought maybe I should engage in a physical activity. So she got me into sports. This was not just to increase my food intake, but also to help me gain confidence in myself, as I was painfully shy, or so they said.

When I turned four, she enrolled me in an artistic gymnastics class. I loved it. I got to know kids my age. I also got special attention from the coach. And not for long I was consuming more food than before, since my stomach was growling by the time my training was over. Even before break time, I was hungry.

"Ma, I want some fish balls and kikiam."

Was she happy! Now, I was asking for food.

I also took up ballet because my mom was once a dancer. She felt that I should learn how to dance just like her. So I trained in ballet and carried on with gymnastics. In fifth grade, I shifted from artistic to rhythmic gymnastics because I was getting taller and I had long arms and legs, the perfect physique for the sport, in contrast to artistic gymnastics, which requires a petite build. I also learned how to swim and eventually started training for it after I quit rhythmic gymnastics in sixth grade. Along with my best friend, Mei-li, I engaged in aikido to learn self-defense the summer before seventh grade. I also tried jazz during the same summer as my aikido classes and I still continued ballet lessons. I took up two more sports, basketball and badminton. But team sports were never really my thing. I gave up ballet and everything else three years ago so that I could pay more attention to my studies, as my high school required a grade point average. But I still participated in school plays and musicals where I danced. Then more than a year ago, before my high school senior year started, I tried a new hobby, sport climbing, which is my main interest up until now.

My background in physical activities worked to my advantage. I'm more flexible and I have developed my strength. My friends sometimes tease me for being as strong as a guy, but I don't mind. I'm sort of proud because people stop to think twice if I'm a sissy or not. And I love it when I prove to one and all that I can match up to guys in physical and mental strength. The sports that I've taken up not just improved my body but also my mind. I've learned to think critically, and I'm more disciplined in mind and body.

In addition, I've also come out of my shell. I've developed my social skills, making me more active in school. I am more confident, a result from joining all those competitions and winning every now and then. I know that I am capable of doing lots of things. I have never experienced not having anything to do after class, because I am always up to something, like working out three times a week at the gym or just hanging out with a large group of friends. I now feel the need to get out and do something that would be fulfilling. I am no couch potato like other kids my age today, who stare into those black boxes that stream out images to watch all day long, and sometimes even into the night.

Of course, I now eat to help my body gain the energy that I need for my sports activities. Mealtime has become my favorite part of the day. I see the importance of food in my everyday activities, because if I want to continue doing what I love, I have to have the energy for it. I have also noticed that while most of my classmates get sick at the slightest change of weather, I'm almost never affected.

My work in the physical realm has ceased to become the quest for a better appetite. It has turned into a passion to do all sorts of things and eat and not get overweight.

And my mom is the happiest mother on earth. The "Carnation babies" in ballet class have grown to become chubby teenagers with weight problems. The guys don't take a second look and that is the biggest problem of all.

Me? I have remained skinny, but strong, standing tall with what they say is a model's figure. The guys look and look again, and I smile, hold my head high for while I have no passion for guys yet, I now have a passion for food.

"MAAA!!! Is there cake left in the ref?"

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