Eating a Twix
I’d gone two whole years without even a trace of chocolate when I eventually fell off the wagon. Times were desperate; so desperate in fact that the combination of four items placed on my dinner tray at 6pm was the only thing worth prizing me off the sticky, plastic mattress that clung to my pathetic excuse for a body.
I crumbled for the undeniable pleasure of caramel-covered biscuit and fell victim to two sticks of factory-produced confectionary – commonly known as a Twix. The irony of the situation was definitely not lost on me. What better way to ease the painstaking monotony of life on an eating disorders psychiatric unit than to add a chocolate bar to your evening meal?! Just because I’d spent the last year riddled with food obsessions in a desperate bid to control my weight, it didn’t mean that I stopped liking food. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner on the anorexia ward weren’t exactly exotic, nor did they ever change for the entirety of my stay/imprisonment. 8am marked breakfast time, and on my gravy-stained tray sat two Weetabix, 500ml of microwaved, full-fat milk, 150ml of concentrated Robinson’s (or Sainsbury’s own- brand equivalent) and a solitary banana.
Lunchtime varied in its levels of tolerability. The chickpea, spinach and sweet potato stew was a firm favourite with most of us, although the nurses were deeply suspicious as to the reason for our preference. It was tasty; filling and not coated in seven layer of cheese like everything else – that was it.
By the time dinner time came around, I was always ready to eat again. Every evening was the same sensory story; two slices of brown bread (I’d asked for wholemeal); half a tin of tuna; a tomato and a few lettuce leaves; 200ml of watery squash; one Activia yoghurt (usually peach flavoured) and one squishy apple. Sometimes, if I was feeling really bold, I’d be cheeky enough to enquire about dessert options. Eventually, I’d mastered every combination of flavoured yoghurt and fruit and, to my amazement, I actually found myself longing for more. Well, not more, but rather a difference.
Often I’d catch Jenny sneaking off to her room after an evening visit from her mum, bouncing down the corridor, legs akimbo, as if she’d just crapped herself. Turns out, it wasn’t crap – it was chocolate, unsubtly hidden in her pyjamas. All patients were strictly forbidden from bringing any food onto the ward from the outside world. We’d only chow it down in secret before spewing it up moments later…apparently. Only, Jenny had every intention of keeping those six Twix bars firmly in her system. There was only one way to get out of there quickly and she’d be damned if she was getting there without chocolate. Anorexics like chocolate too, you know.
She had a point. In fact, Jenny’s logic was the first time in months that I recognised rationality in something other than a weight loss equation. Yet, despite my commitment to weight gain and the full-fat milk I’d been slurping at hourly intervals, the thought of chocolate still terrified me.
Day after day, I’d watch Jenny work her way through dinner before happily nibbling chocolate off the side of her Twix fingers. It took a while, but sure enough she gobbled up the entire bar without so much of a guilty flinch. If she could do it, so could I, right?
“I’d like a chocolate bar added to my meal plan please,” I tentatively asked the dietitian. That evening, I walked up to collect my plastic tray and sure enough, there it was. The crinkled gold foil stared me straight in the eye as my mind galloped through the calories, sugar and fat that I was about to consume. Terrifying, but oddly exhilarating.
With my jittering legs falling victim to my anxious mind, I ripped open the Twix packet and noticed the one and only thought running through my mind like a possessed firecracker… fuck it. With a single bite, I was instantly transported back a few years. A time when food was uninterrupted; uncomplicated and decisions based on nothing more than pure satisfaction. It was the first time in a year that I had granted myself permission to wholeheartedly enjoy food and my god, had I missed it.
Every day, for the next six weeks, I ate a Twix after dinner. It was the only chocolate bar available for us on the ward, and I wasn’t about to do a Jenny and shove some Oreos up my whatsit. When the clock struck 6.45pm; I’d munch down the same tuna on toast, wash it down with the same squash, sitting opposite the same stern faces. I would then dedicate a full five minutes to my two, whole fingers of Twix. Weirdly, I never grew bored of that last bit…
Eve Simmons is a journalist and writer and the co-founder of the Not Plant Based website, ‘A place for the troubled eaters’.