I Eat French Fries with a Fork | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness

I Eat French Fries with a Fork

By Michelle Cohen

I eat French fries with a fork. You may think that’s a little strange. Not many people do that, and those of us who do usually face comments about our “weird behavior.” Many times, it’s easy to play off — I grew up doing it, I say, which can then launch a discussion about my family and get us off the topic, or I say I didn’t have time to wash my hands before sitting down.

I don’t say that when I was little, I couldn’t touch food without washing my hands. If someone else passed me a French fry, I’d bite the part they hadn’t touched and then find someplace to hide the rest. My lap was my usual go-to since it was easy to slide the fry over into my pocket. If the fry-passer had big fingers and touched a lot, it’d be disappointing because I’d only get to eat a little. But even my love for fries couldn’t overpower my unwillingness to accept one from someone unless I saw them wash their hands.

It’s a little thing to most people — but growing up with OCD meant that this wasn’t little to me. Something so small could turn into a whole thought process that kept me up at night. And so, I eat French fries with a fork.

These fries I’m trying today are a sign of me being brave. I’ve never had beer-battered fries before, and trying new foods is as hard for me as it is for a toddler. Just the thought of trying a little bit can make me incredibly anxious, even if it’s something most people have had a thousand times. I try to ration it, and I have all sorts of solutions for upset stomachs of different kinds, just in case. I even have some stuff in my purse, just in case one of my valiant efforts goes wrong. I tried pizza at age 14, mac and cheese at 18 and I’ve always eaten French fries with a fork.

It’s not quite a compulsion, but it came from one many years ago, when I was a little girl trying to learn the difference between obsessive thoughts and normal ones as I mastered the ABCs. I never had to eat French fries a certain number of times or anything, but on vacation, I had to have my routine: plain pasta for dinner one night, French fries the next, because that was all I’d eat for dinner. At home, it was just pasta, but on vacation, I branched out. I still eat French fries with a fork.

I’m in my 20s now — and I’m successful, according to the benchmarks of American culture. I have a job, I live on my own and I can pick apart the thoughts that come through my head with relative ease after so many years of practice. It’s still a messy process, but I’ve gotten to the point where most days, I can toss away the obsessive thoughts I don’t want and choose others to harp on for hours. I like to choose my stories and whisk myself away to a world of my own imagination.

And yes, if you go out to dinner with me at a place with not many vegetarian entrees, I’ll still eat French fries with a fork. But there’s so much more to see and learn; Just like any person living with a mental health condition, I have a story that goes far beyond the things you can see, whether they’re big or little. 

I hope the next time you see someone doing something a little bit strange, you’ll think of their story too.


NAMI HelpLine is available M-F, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. ET. Call 800-950-6264,
text “helpline” to 62640, or chat online. In a crisis, call or text 988 (24/7).