EATING AS A RELIGION, OR NOT? –
Oct. 18, 2022 – Food had long been a fraught subject in the Maxwell household. Her parents were also bigger-bodied and dieted frequently. They belonged to a fundamentalist Baptist megachurch where gluttony was seen as a sin. To eat at home was to navigate a labyrinth of rules and restrictions. Maxwell watched one time as her mother lost 74 pounds in six months by consuming little more than carrot juice (her skin temporarily turned orange). Sometimes her father, seized with a new diet idea, abruptly ransacked shelves in the kitchen, sweeping newly forbidden foods into the trash. Maxwell was constantly worried about eating too much. She started to eat alone and in secret. She took to chewing morsels and spitting them out. She hid food behind books, in her pockets, under mattresses and between clothes folded neatly in drawers.
Through Maxwell’s teenage years and early 20s, eating became even more stressful. Her thoughts constantly orbited around food: what she was eating or not eating, the calories she was burning or not burning, the size of her body and, especially, what people thought of it. Her appearance was often a topic of public interest. When she went grocery shopping for her family, other customers commented on the items in her cart. “Honey, are you sure you want to eat that?” one person said. Other shoppers offered unsolicited advice about diets. Strangers congratulated her when her cart was filled with vegetables.