As I lie on the hospital bed, I can still feel the bacon grease and maple sriracha aioli sliding down the back of my throat. I wipe away the remaining Cheetos dust clinging to the corner of my lips and wonder, where did it all go so wrong?
Only a week ago I was a regular person who had sad desk salads for lunch—you know, the kind that are premade, inoffensive, and a silent cry for help. But then a friend told me she scored free meals, thanks to her popular Instagram account. She was a “micro influencer,” which meant she built up the “credibility” and “audience” to “attract” “niche” “brands,” or something.
Whatever it was, if it meant I could get free food, I had to be a micro influencer. Plus, a billionaire once said women should lean in, and I was a woman. And I could lean. And I figured, “leaning” may as well be me leaning in to take flawless flat lay photos.
“You just need to pay for trendy foods out of your own pocket first, until you get enough followers to attract brands,” she said.
“It’ll be life-changing,” she said.
I should have known that “life-changing” was a term that also applied to laundry hacks and adult coloring books.
I started off small with a sushi burrito. This Frankenfood was suggested to me by another Instagram user who said, “the combination of two sacred foods” had made him “twice as blessed.”
The monster seaweed roll was stuffed with handline-caught tuna, piquillo peppers, creamy avocado, and the most unnaturally pink sushi rice. As I bit into it, Kewpie mayo, Cholula, and a streak of Sriracha for good measure, squirted out of the sushiritto and oozed onto my hand. I took a quick shot of the repulsive mess, which surprisingly gave me 20 likes! #foodporn
Something felt strange about seeing a white guy in the kitchen giving me a nod as his hands folded a burrito with a bamboo sushi mat. But I scarfed the rest of the food down anyway, suppressing a guilt I could only assume white people felt victimized by on a daily basis.
The Pop-Tart doughnut I had next—a one-pound (yes, literally) colossal creation stuffed with crushed Pop-Tarts and S’mores and topped with chocolate fudge and marshmallows—helped me deal with my feelings. And by that, I mean the hot flashes and sweats got so bad that I did not have time for feelings because I actually thought I was going to die.
But an influx of 30 more “likes” brought me back to life. Like prison did for Martha Stewart. I felt immortal. It was thrilling. I was hooked.
What transpired over the next six days was nothing short of a dystopian junk food fever dream. I filled my days with mac ‘n’ cheese eggrolls stuffed with Spam, quadruple stack fruity pebble pancakes held together with Nutella and cream cheese frosting, and ramen waffle sandwiches with beer-battered chicken and fried eggs (with a Sriracha aioli on the side). I also had ten different variations of Sriracha, including strawberry Sriracha margaritas, Sriracha garlic bread, deep fried pickles with Srirachup, and PB&J Sriracha chocolate chip cookies with Sriracha ice cream (you can’t make this stuff up).
In my search for eaternal truth, I discovered four rules that got me the most internet points and followers: 1) The more unhealthy and massive the food, the more likes, 2) It doesn’t matter if it tastes good as long as it looks good, 3) You don’t have to know the difference between a corretto and a flat white—you just have to make sure you get something with milk art, and 4) You can never go wrong with pizza, eggs, sushi, unicorn foods, pizza, pasta, rosé, ramen, tacos, or pizza.
Sure, in between my gourmandizing and writing captions like, “I’m on a low-carb diet. Whenever I feel low, I eat carbs,” and “I believe in fitness—fitness pizza in my mouth,” I felt light-headed and wheezed a bit. But I powered through, thanks to my womanly perseverance (and because I was skinny enough not to be fat-shamed).
On the seventh day, I rested over healthy pours of bottomless blood orange mimosas and a plate of smoked blue crab and avocado eggs benedict. I didn’t know brunch would get me so #eggscited, but halfway through, my heart was beating so fast I physically had to take a break from eating.
I should have listened to the signs. I should have quit cold turkey instead of having it in bourgeois sandwiches.
But the burger joint next door was advertising their most Instagrammable burger, and I let FOMO get the best of me. I found myself in front of a double artisanal Applewood-smoked bacon burger, stacked with onion rings and vintage cheddar cheese in a Cheetos-encrusted brioche bun. Though a little nauseous, I still took a few big juicy bites, and the next thing I knew, I woke up in the hospital to a doctor talking about hyperglycemia, cholesterol levels, and me being a metabolically obese, normal weight individual.
“ARE YOU OK??!?” my Instagram foodie friend messages me.
“I ALMOST DIED. HEART ATTACK. ATE TOO MUCH FOR INSTA (cry emoji) (broken heart emoji),” I respond.
Then, in a revelation that could have saved my heart (and hundreds of dollars in food expenses), she says, “You’re not supposed to eat EVERYTHING! You’re supposed to throw the food away after taking a photo!”
It hurts to know I was so close to living my best life. Instead, my journey into the instafoodie scene sizzled out faster than the bacon that now choked my arteries.
But you know what? I will not let this define me. I am an Instagram foodie survivor. I will share my story to help those who can't help themselves, those who are often caught between a smartphone and a unicorn latte.
For media inquiries about my life-changing week, please email [email protected].