I loved hashbrowns.
My Mom used to make them by cutting up chunks of potatoes and frying them to a crisp in a pot. I never really went crazy on them but they were always my favorite part of a homemade breakfast. Eggs were always a little too soft to be my favorite.
When mornings were really busy before elementary school we would go through the McDonald's drive through and order hash browns and egg McMuffins. Eventually, I started not wanting the sandwich. I just wanted hash browns. I could eat 2, 4, 5? I was only 7? 8?
Hot, salty, soft on the inside and crispy on the outside. I remember why I loved them.
I also remember holding the bag in my lap until we got to before-school care and seeing that the oil from the food had leaked out onto the bag, and onto my pants, and hoping it would dry. I didn't care. I still couldn't wait.
I managed to stay away for a long time after learning that these kinds of fried foods are just plain bad for you. Like cancer-causing, heart attack-causing bad. Not "bad" like I would be a bad person for eating them, although eventually, I felt that way too.
When my commute to school became over an hour, and I had 8 a.m. classes, I struggled. I struggled with the change, the demands of full-time school and work, and the growing compulsion to eat that came with it. I wonder if when you read this you will realize that this was only a year ago, and that I am still trying to heal from this. I wonder if you will be surprised that even though I am nutrition student, and I've lost a lot of weight, and I've created a life of love and intention, that I found myself in the McDonald's drive-through.
The first time I was starving. It was 7:30 a.m and I hadn't had a lot of dinner the night before. I was stressed, and sad. I was dieting on Whole 30. I felt the intensity of my own shortcomings. I told myself, "Just this one time." If it hadn't been a decision, it would have been an accident.
I wasn't a regular. I just went occasionally. I lied to myself a lot about how often I found myself showing up for hash browns.
I would tell myself the entire drive to school that I would NOT stop. I would go straight to school and find something healthy at the grocery store later. I could manage my hunger for the morning until after class. I stopped. I swear sometimes that my steering wheel turned of its own accord. To this day, I can't really explain it.
McDonald's enters their orders of hash brown in a very tricky way. One "order" of hash browns is two hash browns. The first time I realized that there were four hash browns in my bag, I thought it was an accident. I looked at my receipt and realized I had gotten what I paid for, and wondered why I wasn't even paying attention to what I was paying for. I decided I didn't care. I ate them.
Another time after that, I decided to see what I could get away with. I ordered three hash browns. I wanted to see if I would get three or six. It was like a mental game. I wasn't ordering six hash browns, if I got six it would be a mistake. I had a problem. I was disappointed when I received three. The next time, I ordered four.
That day, I received 8 hash browns. I remembered feeling like if I stretched myself any further across my schedule, I would just rip. I would fray. Shred. My seams would come undone and I would just float away. I think that day it finally happened.
I wasn't there.
I wasn't there when I ate them. It must have taken me all the way from the time I received them, until after I parked on campus, maybe 15 minutes to eat them all. I can't remember. It wasn't me.
I was the one watching the wrappers pile up.
I was the one watching the grease stain spread on the brown bag.
I was the one who was late to class. I was the one screaming to stop and get my ass out of the car.
I was the one who woke up in my car an hour later, ready for class, with a neat plastic bag of trash that included a hidden and tiny crumpled McDonald's bag.
I felt sick. Dangerously ill. I had a headache, a stomachache, a soul-ache. I felt low. Lower than any other time.
I felt like an absolute failure. Every mean thing anyone ever said about me, every mean thing I ever thought about myself, it was all true. I had made it true.
I was alone, ashamed, and sick.
If hash browns were heroin, I'd be dead.
Binge-eating wasn't a big part of my history, but it created a landmark in my life that I will not soon forget.
I think it's important to say that this event was not about the food. It happened because I was not emotionally well. I was not talking about my feelings. I was lonely. I was feeling sad. I was dieting. I was trying to control every aspect of my life to keep it from hurting me. I was hanging on so tightly to everything else, that I ended up losing control and hurting myself.
I was ignoring my mental health and it demanded my attention through disordered eating.
If you take anything from this story, please be reminded that your mental health comes first.
Get help with the heavy stuff. Get help, period.
You can chat with someone from the National Eating Disorder Association online to ask for help.
You can text NEDA to 741741 for help in a crisis.
You can call NEDA at (800)-931-2237.