I Had To Go All The Way To China To Finally Understand My Wife’s Eating Disorder

My wife has a long history of eating disorders, and I’ve been with her since 1997, so I’ve watched her face some real struggles over 18 years. I’m happy that she’s been in recovery for a long time now, and so proud of the way she’s helped build platforms like this one that have reached so many people. But even though I’ve seen her difficulties with food firsthand, I always had to listen to her verbalize those feelings and try to sympathize. 

That all changed when I took my first trip to China.

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I make documentaries for a living, and was excited that I got assigned to a project that would take me to southern China, in Guangdong province. You can read all about the amazing experience here. A big part of the trip revolved around food. Our host, and the subject of the documentary, is a man that the Chinese internet dubbed “Brother Orange.” He owns a restaurant in Wuhua County which is near Meizhou, the Hakka capital of the world. Hakka means guest, and I’ve never felt more like a guest in my life. We were treated to all of the best hotels, the best activities, and of course the best meals that the area had to offer. 

And it was at one of those meals when it hit me like a lightning bolt…if I didn’t eat enough, my hosts felt responsible and that made me feel really, really guilty. 

I was already being “difficult” because I’m a vegetarian, and on top of that I tend not to eat much when I’m shooting. So when delicious noodles, and greens, and eggplant, and pumpkin, and everything else was being served by my hosts into my bowl…I felt like every bite I didn’t take was a personal affront to them. The only time I saw Brother Orange disappointed was when I left the dinner table with a full bowl of food in front of me.

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To have food so intertwined with love, and to have people visibly disappointed in you if you didn’t eat what they considered to be enough…how could you not develop an eating disorder? So despite having one of the most amazing experiences of my life, I did feel like a bad guest for not eating enough food at pretty much every meal. 

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But I do feel like I now have a more empathetic relationship to my wife’s issues with food, and a bit of a thick dumpling skin of my own.

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Abe | Los Angeles, CA

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