Junk food - a love/hate affair



I haven't been binge-watching these days so much as binge-EATING. Like a lot of people, I suppose. In the early months, everyone joked that the '19' in Covid-19 referred to the number of extra pounds we stockpiled like so many rolls of toilet paper. No one seemed overly worried because it was assumed that the weight would simply fall away when life got back to normal (as we assumed it would, before too long). Well, a year has passed and, as Morrissey said, that joke isn't funny anymore. It's too close to home, and it's too near the bone. Too many people have died.


A year has passed during which my husband's belt buckle has slipped a notch. When online shopping for new pants a few weeks ago, I resigned myself to buying a size up. Gaining weight isn't a tragedy (obviously). But all that sourdough consumption has to go somewhere. A minute on the lips... When taken with the indolence of the past 12 months, The pandemic has left definite dents in our overall health and wellbeing (especially given that once you get on the wrong side of 40, poundage tends to stubbornly stick to the middle, the most dangerous place.)

Sure, some keeners have reportedly taken advantage of the lockdown to up their fitness game, who've used the time wisely to create rather than hibernate. Yeah, I don't trust those people, either. The vast majority of us are not at the peak of our game. Rest assured, there will be no opus or great masterpiece at the end of MY pandemic, and you know what? I'm done with beating myself up over it. People are dying. So excuse me if all I want to do is eat chips.

Which is why my favourite read this month wasn't some erudite scholarly treatise or the latest Booker-winning novel, but an Ode to Doritos. The ultimate exercise in pathos. I laughed. I cried. I saw myself in every sentence! If you are some weird freaky being like my husband—who virtuously claims he "doesn't do" junk food—this article will leave you cold. If you are a kindred compulsive snacker, then you are in for a treat. What sets us apart, I wonder. Why do I feel the burning desire to stuff my piehole full of sugar and sodium and saturated fat while my spouse does not? The answer is glaringly simple, actually. Junk food brings me joy. Or at least I think it does until my fingertips scrape the bottom of the chip bag, which is like hitting rock bottom of the world itself. And the switch immediately flicks to self-loathing and the awful realization that I WASN'T EVEN HUNGRY TO BEGIN WITH. So it's not boredom, then, not joy as we know it. Or perhaps desperate times, when our joys are so limited, call for small pleasures wherever and whenever we can find them.

My snacking like any addiction (yes, it's not too strong a word for eating that is in no way tied to actual hunger) is simply a response to different triggers. Most often boredom. But also stress brought about by certain life events. It used to the same with wine, in the old days before wine became the devil. Here, you deserve this, I'd tell myself pouring a perfectly chilled glass of Riesling as I prepared dinner (that was a respectable time to start, right?). Then another, to take the edge off the day. No harm done if everyone is doing it. But, I can almost hear my aunt say, just because Johnny jumps off a bridge, doesn't mean you should, too. When it comes to addiction, there is no strength in numbers.


Snacking doesn't make me sick the way wine once did. But it was the same thing in a different package. A permutation of every mindless stress response I have ever had (nail picking/drinking/social media). A means for control and escape. A temporary reprieve and a longing to self-soothe until the hard or mind-numbingly dull moment passed. It's just Doritos, you might say. What can Doritos possibly have to do with our current existential crisis? We have no control over this pandemic. We follow the guidelines and stay locked, vaguely afraid, at home, but none of us can say how long it will last. Or what we will lose in the process. So we take control the only way we can. We reach for the top shelf until we find the bag that crunches and crinkles. (If only my stress response involved raw carrots and running shoes!)

Some say the answer to addiction is meditation. If we can gain enough distance from our thoughts, we will come to recognize our stress triggers for what they are. And once we can see our triggers objectively, we can rewrite our reward response so that we don't automatically find ourselves reaching for junk food/booze/social media the minute we feel bored or stressed.


Any seasoned meditators out there? How does it help you battle your personal demons—and do those demons happen to be triangularly shaped and coated in artificial cheese? Pray tell.