Like water for dinner

Maggie Ryan Sandford
Maggie Ryan Sandford: It sounds like a diet trend; for some, it might be.
Courtesy of Maggie Ryan Sandford

Maggie Ryan Sandford is a writer and performer whose work has been seen and heard at, the Onion's A.V. Club, the Guthrie Theater, and the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre.

Have you heard about "eating water?" It's this thing that people do when they don't have enough food. They stave off the hunger by filling up on water.

It sounds like a diet trend — and, ironically, it might be. In fact, a BBC report from Syria reminded me of this phenomenon the very same day that the Facebook page for the book "White Girl Problems" posted the satirical confession, "I literally just ate so much water."

I first heard about eating water when I was little, from this friend of mine we'll call Anna, whose parents were immigrants working multiple jobs for minimal wage. One day at school, my spoiled 8-year-old belly told me that I was hungry, and I told Anna. She told me, "Drink some water."

"That's not the same thing," I said.

"Well it works," Anna said, her voice getting quiet. "My mom makes us do it all the time: When you're still hungry after dinner, drink some water and go to sleep."

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I thought about this. In third grade, I was only starting to realize that my family wasn't rich — in fact we weren't even middle class. "Working class," was the term I learned later: the kids who are on reduced lunch, who go to summer camp on scholarship, who learn not to ask for things at the store because the answer is always "We can't afford it right now." I thought my friend and I were in the same boat — a boat that was actually a Latch-key bus, that took us home after 6 so our parents could work a few extra hours. Still ... I'd never had to eat water.

Not, that is, until I was an adult. I ate a lot of water in the years after I graduated from college. During the first year I lived in New York City. The year I left New York for St. Paul, too, when my boyfriend-now-husband left the hospital with a $34,000 bill. In fact, I know a lot of people who eat water these days: between paychecks, when the rent is due.

My friend, whom we're calling Anna — she's rich now. Not long ago, we met for lunch in downtown St. Paul, at a fancy French place of her choosing. Halfway through the meal, I noticed she hadn't touched her water. I said so.

"Oh," she said, "You shouldn't drink water with your meal — it turns your food into calories faster."

"Only between meals, then?" I clarified.

"God yes," she said. "If I never had to eat again, I'd be happy."