Food: Friend or Foe?

Anya Heminger, a Junior at Herron High School, has kindled a complicated relationship with food throughout her life. Learning  her story can help us all to see the world of food as more than just sustenance.

Food tells a story about each of us. What we ate last night for dinner can explain our morals, our religious identification, or maybe just whether or not we like asparagus. For Anya Heminger, this story includes, but is not limited to, this vegetable.

“There was one time I remember sitting down just gagging trying to eat asparagus,” she reminisced. When the 16-year-old junior at Herron High School was younger, she was the typical picky eater that could hardly down a brussel sprout. However, when she reached age eleven, her mom forced her to branch out and try more than just cereal. At this point, Anya came to terms with her love for food. Picky eater became an identification of the past, and the young adventurer kindled a new love for not only pumpkin and sweet potatoes, but none other than her old enemy…asparagus!

Anya chows down on an Asian veggie bowl from the Laughing Planet Café. “It’s so good!” she exclaimed. Roughly an hour later, she confessed her excitement for dinner. “I hope I can find somewhere that has pasta,” Anya mused. She crowns pasta her favorite food for the versatility and ease.

Though Anya branched out in her diverse interests, she found herself inclined to stay away from meat. “It just tasted gross to me, like every time I ate it I felt like it was something that wasn’t necessary,” she explained. On Anya’s twelfth birthday, she explained to her mom that she was going to become a vegetarian. She had become self-conscious of what she refers to as “pizza face,” or severe acne that appeared earlier than most of her peers experienced. This, paired with a passionate desire to help animals and the environment, led her to make this life change. She explained her rationale perfectly in a simple sentence: “Not only am I helping myself, but I’m helping the world.”

For two years, Anya’s relationship with food was going gloriously. She experienced the iron deficiency and relapse that are typical for a beginning vegetarian, but she quickly learned how to maintain a balanced diet in the absence of meat. This went well until she reached age fourteen, when her body image and, consequently, her relationship with food began to suffer. “There were days where I would just not eat. There were days when I was just so insecure about my body that I would just be like ‘I need to lose five pounds this week.’” Anya did more than that; she lost sixty pounds within a year.

Soon after she began to struggle with her body image, Anya signed up for track in hopes of reaching her goal of ninety pounds as a freshman in high school. She faced a paradox in that food became necessary as a functioning athlete. Even though she was eating, the runner began to feel powerful. Track was shaping her physically and mentally into the ghost of the girl she had been striving to be. One day Anya stepped on the scale searching for double digits, but she instead saw a long-forgotten number: one hundred and twenty pounds.

“In that moment I literally shut the door and started bawling; I was so sad and I was so upset with myself,” Anya recalled. Her life had become centered around numbers that now seemed so out of reach, and at that point she felt like giving up.

Looking for help, Anya called her friend Cooper. She blamed him for convincing her that food was necessary, and in her head it was partially his fault that she had failed. He rushed over to her house to comfort her. He helped her to realize that she had not gotten fatter but stronger. He showed her that her calves, her shoulders, and her thighs were something to be proud of and accept.

“That was kind of the turning point for how I looked at body fat,” Anya described. “In order to be healthy you can’t stop eating.”

Though it’s been a difficult and demanding journey, Anya has come to terms with the numbers she sees on the scale. As a junior in high school she stands at five foot five and one hundred twenty pounds, and she’s excited when she steps on the scale to see herself at one hundred twenty five. Digits she was terrified to see before have become something she’s proud of. “I’m terrified to lose weight now, that’s scary to me. It’s like, ‘Oh man I’m getting back to the place where I was before and I don’t wanna get there,” Anya proudly explained.

Through coming to terms with body, Anya has rekindled her relationship with food. Her favorite food is pasta due to the endless options, and she loves cooking Indian and Mexican food. One can tell how passionate she is once again about her vegetarian diet, which she has now maintained for four years. Anya’s story is one that has morphed her entire life, and it’s a story with a delicious happy ending. “Two years ago I was starving myself,” she concluded, “and I’m really excited for lunch right now.”