Instagram Cooking Videos Soothed My Morning Sickness

Intensely visceral how-to videos served as a sort of ASMR-inducing therapy early in my pregnancy.

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Oct 12 2018, 6:06pm

Illustration by Adam Waito

In the days after learning I was pregnant, the sheer terror of bringing a child into the world in 2018 was quickly overshadowed by the relentless morning sickness—a misnomer—that stayed with me 24 hours a day, even during sleep. Imagine that someone has built a science-project volcano inside you: the baking soda and vinegar mix is spreading from your stomach into your veins turning you into a human balloon on the verge of exploding. You are heavy, slow, and scared to upset whatever balance is keeping you from erupting at any moment. It’s like the worst New Year’s Day hangover you’ve ever had except you can’t wait it out on the couch with a Seamless order, so you just have to keep going to work and pretending a passing whiff of street trash isn’t going to make you pull over and barf against a decorative little sapling.

Outside of pregnancy, nausea indicates something is off. You’ve ingested arsenic or bad ham, or you’ve had one more dirty martini than are allowed at a work event, and you usually don’t even drink dirty martinis. But in the case of pregnancy, nausea doesn’t mean anything is technically wrong. So even though, mine was especially bad, I just had to just ride the wave, day in and day out, hoping to make it to 7 PM so I could get in bed with Forensic Files and a grilled cheese from the corner deli. Naturally, I was not alone in that bed—Instagram was there too.

During my early evenings in repose, I would obsess enviously over friends’ Instagram accounts. I coveted their images of rooftop rosé or oysters, but also the simple things: someone merely reading a book and having a cup of coffee would make me feel so sorry for myself. My jealousy was insatiable. I hated other people’s barbecues and dog hikes, and was on the verge of deleting the app, until, strangely, it became my savior.

I have always loved those Buzzfeed Tasty videos. Something about pre-cut onions in ramekins tossed into oil pleased my senses, relaxing me the way someone French-braiding my hair would. A pinch of herbs sprinkling onto a melting pat of butter in a pan, lightly falling like snow, would give me the same shiver I used to get as a kid when a friend would bop her fist on the top of my head and whisper into my ear crack an egg on your head and let the yolk run down, let the yolk run down, as she pitter-pattered her fingers down my back. In those days, this mysterious sparkle induced a fresh euphoria that almost felt forbidden. Thirty years later, that same comforting tickle was relieving my morning sickness. Miraculously, after watching a pair of floating hands make a rose out of bacon and thinly sliced potatoes, I was able to fathom eating food again.

Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response—ASMR—is that special tremor you get as a reaction to some touch, sound, or movement that your brain finds especially pleasing. Though there is no hard science behind ASMR, studies find that its effects reduce anxiety and slow heart rates, can make people less sad and can even relieve chronic pain. Scores of videos are available online featuring people whispering, fingernails scratching terrycloth, and hands stretching Play-Doh. In the days of surviving morning sickness, I found I could add another positive side-effect of ASMR to the list: appetite recovery. And while the jury is still out on whether or not it’s safe to use pot during pregnancy—a remedy commonly used to treat nausea among cancer patients experiencing the side effects of chemotherapy—Instagram was definitely not on any do-not-use lists. I could binge on endless casserole-construction videos without any negative side effects.

Buzzfeed Tasty content was just a gateway to better, more intense ASMR-inducing food preparation videos. Soon, the wormhole lead to me to some accounts of Turkish restaurants in Istanbul, where the ASMR really kicked in. Beloved was the Sirali Kebap handle, where you can watch dishes be made start to finish with no music to distract from the delightful and sexy noises of cooking. Watching a sharp knife lay waste to a clove of garlic, followed by a jalapeno, followed by a sweet onion soothed my stomach. The dull thump each time the heavy blade connected with the cutting board was enough to at least consider dinner. Rosemary caught in oil, like little twigs in amber. The thwap of a meat filling being thrown onto a freshly rolled circle of dough, a topping of bouncing cubes of cheese being dropped from above. The crunch of that dough, now a crust, being cut into slices. My senses rejoiced at it all as if it was the good old days and I was about to drunk-eat a cheesesteak.

BreadFace made me want carbs. RacletteNYC reminded me of the comfort of melted cheese while I giggled watching a video of a knife shave a top layer of raclette goo onto a pile of fried potatoes as if being tickled by a ghost. But oh, those Turkish restaurants. OBGYNs should write prescriptions for them. While I floated on my sea of morning sickness misery, a quick trip to the Sirali handle was my remedy. For ninety glorious seconds, it was just me, my phone, and peppers bathing in olive oil. My synapses screamed.

I no longer have morning sickness—my coworkers, my fellow G-train riders, my husband, and myself are all overjoyed that the phase has passed—but you don’t have to still suffer in order to evangelize. Maybe next time your stomach is upset, skip the coconut water and go straight to the Sirali Kebap’s Instagram account for some ribs slapping a cutting board. You might not find yourself pregnant this year, like I did, but we could all use a go-to cure when you feel like you might throw up.