When Black Angels Show Up on Church Steps at 2 a.m.

“Sneak out,” I heard through the tiny speaker on my flip-phone. One of the older, junior class boys was on the other line.

“I don’t know if I should,” I said, referring to both sneaking out and the fact that I was talking about it in the kitchen with my parents in the other room. “You live kind of far for me to be walking by myself.”

“I’ll come get you and walk you home after.”

“Okay,” I said, my pulse racing a little bit. “After my parents go to bed.”

This was not about the boy on the other end – I had no attraction to him nor did he have any towards me. This was more about my freshman, 14-year-old self that wanted to fit in, to rebel, to shed any image that might make me look innocent to my older classmates.

It wasn’t hard – my house is big enough that I could slip out the back door without so much as a peep. No creaky floorboards or echoing footsteps; rather, as I walked quickly up the street I was a little disappointed. It was too easy.

The bright blue screen on my phone lit up with his name. He hadn’t even left his house yet.

“I’ll meet you half way.”

“Okay…” I say, slightly aggravated and slightly scared.

I walk past the church at the top of my street, past the family-owned deli that had long closed and a few blocks to where he said he’d meet me. He wasn’t there. I called him in a panic.

“Where are you?”

“Relax. I’m almost there.”

After a long ten minutes of mentally scolding myself as I stood by myself under a streetlight, I see him show up. “Let’s go.” I noted the coldness in his voice and realized all at once that this was not worth it.

I knew he was always like this, I was pretty good friends with him and I was in no eminent danger, but still; if I was going to risk getting grounded for the rest of my life, I would hope it would be with someone nice.

We walked back to his house where we sat on his couch for 10 minutes before he declared we needed to walk to his friend’s house to “get something.” After looking at the tiny bag that was quickly passed from his friend to him, I knew I was way out of my league here.

He shows me the bag and smiles.

“I thought it would look different,” I said.

“Like what?”

“Colorful or something.”

“No, you see the colors after,” he laughed. “Want to?”

“I don’t think so, I think I’m just going to go home.”

“I just walked to your house to get you, though!” he protested.

“You half walked to my house,” I corrected him. “Anyway, I’m just going to go.”

“Well, I’m not walking you back now, you just got here.”

“That’s fine,” I said, hastily, knowing that this kid would never be worth another ounce of my time.

I made the trek back to my house thinking about the deep, quiet things that only turn up in your mind when you are walking home alone in the dark. I realized there was a rebellious streak in me that could get me in trouble someday, maybe already did.

Walking by the church at the top of my street, I see a boy propped up against the arched doorway of the cathedral, dressed in baggy black pants and smoking a cigarette. I keep walking for a half a block and then turn around. I know in my head that this is wrong, that a boy a few years older than me smoking a cigarette on the church steps at 2 a.m. is definitely sure sign of Stranger Danger! but I commence anyway.

After an introduction of myself I ask him what he’s doing there, anyway. He explains that he lives across the street in a house with about 10 other kids that were kicked out of their houses. He said that one of their moms took them all in, but is never around, and they all take turns sleeping on the beds or the floors or wherever they could find space. They partied a lot and he just got sick of it, so he came to sit by the church sometimes, just to get away from it. He said it had been months since he’d seen his parents or his home.

I walked away wondering if I’d ever see him again and knowing in my heart that if I did see him, it would only mean that I was definitely somewhere I didn’t belong – like on a dark street at 2 a.m. by myself. I get home just in time to hide behind a bush while I see my sister turn off her bedroom light. A second earlier and I would’ve run into her as she came home from her late shift at the bar. A minute earlier, and I would have been grounded for life.

I thanked God that I didn’t get grounded. Although I may have deserved it, I already learned my lesson about where I did and didn’t belong after midnight. I realized the type of people I didn’t belong with – the ones with the tiny bags of illegal substances and the ones that hang out in church doorways late at night. I thanked God that I wasn’t one of those kids in that house with no parents, just partying and smoking cigarettes, entirely on their own at too young of an age. Something would always separate my world from theirs; I had parents that cared enough to ground me — they didn’t.

Lastly, I thanked my parents for giving me a conscious to what is right and what is wrong, because ultimately, as you grow older, you might think you’re calling the shots but it’s really something built within you. It’s how you are raised. There was a reason why I crossed the line that night and quickly turned around. I was curious, like any 14-year-old would be, but somewhere deep inside I knew my curiosity had to stop somewhere. There were limits wired into my brain with every tiny ounce of discipline my parents put forth.

I wonder about that night sometimes – if things had turned out differently would I have taken a different path? If there was no tiny bag, if he showed up on time, if there was no homeless boy on the steps, would I felt more comfortable sneaking out? Would I have gotten the wake up call I needed?

Throughout the rest of my teen years and my young adult life I would first grow to resent my morals and then learn to be thankful for it. Rather, it was more of a resent-them-at-the-time kind of thing and a sigh-with-relief-later kind of thing.  Either way, I never wound up living in a parent-less house with 10 other kids at the ripe age of 16 – so there’s something to be said about being raised on this side of the tracks.

Can we curb obesity without promoting restrictive diets?

I came across an article from TIME.com today which speaks about a new method that is “proven to stop teens from drinking soda.” The article and research argues that if teens knew how much they’d have to walk in order to burn off the caloric content of a soda, they are more likely to pass up on soda or drink less.

Coming from a person who has had problems with restrictive eating in the past, this was a red flag for me. I understand just as much as anyone that we need to work on the sky-rocketing obesity rate in the United States, as obesity had once (and still kind of is) my biggest fear. However, I think this tactic is extremely dangerous and can lead teens down a path that would point directly towards eating restrictions and eventually eating disorders. I mean, really, that’s a huge problem already.

See, part of my unhealthy thinking about food was that I felt like the least amount of calories I got in a day, the better. Makes sense, right? Aren’t calories these big, scary numbers? Can’t we just avoid them all together – or at least, restrict them?

The answer is simply no. We need calories to survive, to think, for energy, etc.

While I do not think that we should all just say, “Let’s consume as many calories as possible!” I do not think comparing your caloric intake to the energy you would need to exert to get rid of calories is dangerous. Here’s why.

When I was going through the scariest part of my eating disorder (ED), I believed that the amount of energy I needed to exert had to be more or at least equal to the amount of calories I consumed in a day.

To reinforce this way of thinking, I was surrounded by people that would constantly remind me how many calories were in certain types of food and I was well aware of how many calories I would burn working out.

Because I could not burn that many calories working out, I decreased my caloric intake drastically. I felt it was the only way to maintain a healthy weight.

For  example, I knew that croutons had about 25 calories in them so I never ate them because I knew the work it would take to make up for it, even though I liked them. (Seriously… a fucking crouton gave me anxiety.) That is just one simple example. My rules included cutting out anything food that would bring me any amount of joy from taste.

The problem is, this spins out of control very easily. Eventually, I basically felt uncomfortable eating anything that was not a vegetable.

Everything has calories (okay, most things). At the end of the day, it’s just energy. Everyone’s body is different – which means that calories are a very vague indication of the weight you will gain by consuming them. Because roughly 3,500 calories equals about one pound of body weight, I think we need to stop with all this calorie stuff. It’s just creating a crazy anxiety and promoting unhealthiness.

Why don’t we just teach teens how to take care of their bodies without giving them strict rules for their diets?

It turns out that once my body bounced back to it’s normal weight, it has stayed there. See, when I started eating normally again, I cut all my rules. Advised by nutritionist, I started “intuitive eating” which is a method that promotes listening to your body (I know, sounds so philosophical and “out there”). She promised me that if I used this method, I would not keep putting on weight. I was so skeptical at first because I’ve been taught all these crazy restrictive rules, and it’s still a struggle to trust this, but I’ve found that so far, she’s right.

This is my own opinion, but I found it’s true: Do you know how the minute parents tell teens not to do something, it suddenly sets off an alarm in their head that makes them want to do it even more? I’ve found that when I set rules for myself, the rebel in me wants to break them. That’s perhaps why I have been into guys that are so unhealthy for me and why I kept going back to the guy my family disliked so much. Well, I think this behavior applies to food, too. The more you tell yourself you can’t have something, the more you will want it. When you finally give into the craving, you’ll know you are breaking a rule. What happens when we break rules? We go all out. We eat 2 pieces of cake instead of one because we know that we can’t always break the rules, so while we’re breaking them we mind as well make it worth it, right?

I exercise but I don’t pay attention to calories. I eat but I don’t pay attention to calories. Basically, I eat when I am hungry and I stop when I am satisfied. I do not overeat. If I want to drink a goddamned soda I will, as should teens. Perhaps if we teach teens to recognize how drinking too much soda will affect the way their bodies feel, they’d be able to know when enough is enough.

From my experience, I’ve found that over-eating is perhaps the biggest problem and the reason most people gain weight.

I use a hunger scale from 1 to 10. When my hunger drops to a 3, I eat until it is between an 8 and a 10. If I am just eating a snack to hold me over, I eat until I’m around a 6 or a 7. Sometimes, if I’m really enjoying my food I’ll eat past a 10 because that’s what people do. It’s not every meal, though. I’ve found that I feel shitty when I eat more than I need to eat, so I really don’t do it often.

Anyway, my “method” won’t work for everyone and I understand that. I’m in no way a nutritionist, but from my past experiences, restrictive diets seems to either lead to an ED or lead to people just throwing in the bag and going on a binge where they eat whatever the hell they want.

I just think there’s a better way that people can maintain healthy weight and enjoy the foods they love. I wish we could promote that way instead.