Considering all that I have going for me, it’s easy to dismiss whatever else I have going on as something minor. I mean I guess, in the grand scheme of things, it kind of is. I wake up, I go to work, I come home, I talk to my boyfriend, I watch some crazy-ass show on television and I go to sleep. My car is not perfect, but it’s paid for. The people in my life are amazing. My cat is a big, healthy fat-ass who shadows my every step. On the outside, it’s true, I do look like I have it all together. But on the inside, I battle with a lot. Trauma that happened to me fifteen years ago still rears its ugly head occasionally – nightmares wake me every once in awhile and I spend an evening every six months checking over my shoulder to ensure my continuing safety. I have an addictive personality, which means I have to watch how much I drink, I have to watch the things that I eat (because even the silliest thing can start a “craving” that goes on for months), and I cannot smoke because if I do, I start wanting a cigarette when I smell one. I am slightly obsessive compulsive – meaning that I have to have things a certain way or I’m not comfortable.
I also suffer from a mild case of anorexia. That’s right – I have an eating disorder. For the most part these days, I keep it under control. This wasn’t always the case, but truth be told, I like food a lot. People joke that I am the skinniest fat girl you will ever meet because I enjoy both cooking and eating the things that I cook. I am also not the girl in the steakhouse that only orders a salad or the girl sitting at a family meal with the tiniest portion sizes on her plate. As a general rule, when I am not having a relapse, I eat quite normally, and I don’t feel guilty about it later.
I remember how it started –as an issue that was partially derived from a need for control and partially due to a suicidal inclination that I didn’t have the nerve to proactively instigate. It started with the reduction of food intake and progressed into simply not eating at all. On good days back then, I’d wake up, have a glass of chocolate milk. I’d go to school, save the lunch money that my father had given me, and would eat a package of crackers from the salad bar. At night, I’d take a few bites of dinner but because I don’t eat when I am upset, and because I was always very upset back then, most of my food got pushed around my plate and I’d finally give up and go back to my bedroom. On bad days, it would just be the package of crackers – if anything.
Even when things were better and I wasn’t suicidal anymore, I’d not eat just to see how far I could take myself, how much I could go without. If someone commented that my jeans were too tight, I took it as a sign to eat less (even though I was already wearing a three in the slim-fit). Emotional non-eating became addictive. The challenge became addictive. The rush I got from fitting into the smaller jean sizes was my reward. And when my mother would look at me with worry because I didn’t eat, I felt like I had some of the control that I craved.
I did, finally, stop that pattern after about eight months. It was much less dramatic than the stories you hear about on TV or the ads you see on billboards – my mother got worried, she told my doctor, who told me that if I did not start eating solid food that they were going to have to feed me with an IV. I do not like needles. I do what I have to do, at least when I can, to avoid them. The threat was enough to get me started again – slowly. I was still very thin all through high school, but I was eating. By all appearances, it looked like that I had gotten over that particular bump in the road.
But, ultimately, this “I don’t want to eat” mindset is an addiction. And like any addiction, it’s not something that you easily just “get over”. Fifteen years later, I still struggle. But the constant in all of it is the emotional not-eating. If I get angry, if I feel like someone is angry with me, if I’m sad, nervous, really let’s just say exposed to drama, I don’t want to eat. Sometimes I can legitimately chalk this up to being busy. I don’t process hunger the way that most people do anymore, and haven’t since I was a teenager – it is not a debilitating feeling for me. I can be hungry, but I rarely notice it. I get busy and the hunger goes away, I continue doing whatever it is I’m busy doing and find that by the time I’m not busy anymore, I’ve forgotten to eat that day. The drama that really affects the addiction, though, is the negative kind. If I’ve been fighting, for example, or, like in the case of 3.0, if I feel like there’s something wrong, I simply refuse to eat. It’s not so much out of rebellion now, or even so much out of a desire to make a statement… I simply just don’t feel hungry when I’m in the middle of it. And unfortunately since situations like that can last for days, consequentially I don’t eat for days. It becomes addictive. When things are better, I still don’t eat – the hunger has to be cultivated and food re-introduced gradually so that I don’t get sick.
The simple solution to this would be, logically, to keep the stress to a minimum. And I do. If stress were the only trigger, then I’d be fine. But there are others. The company I work for has lunch catered frequently. Early on, I was forced to go to these things because they would be accompanied by “meetings” (though they never were). I don’t eat catered lunches – the food is too cold, it’s often got ingredients that I’m allergic to (seafood of all kinds), and the forced socialization is something I don’t handle very well. To compromise and keep myself from getting sick, I’d go to these things, sit there, drink water, and simply not eat. My schedule didn’t allow for a second lunch, and so I wouldn’t eat that day.
Since I never brought lunch into work, I got a reputation for “never eating.” That was fine with me. But as I got more comfortable with the place, I WOULD start bringing in food. No one said much for awhile. But as I continued to do this, finally, comments were being made: “Is something wrong?” “Oh my god, you’re eating!!” “Since when do you eat breakfast?” Now, a normal person could laugh these off easily. For me, however, I got self conscious. I stopped bringing my breakfast. And furthermore, stopped wanting to eat, entirely, again – I took the jokes seriously… WAS something wrong? Was I eating too much? Should I not eat breakfast? When I stopped bringing it in, more comments were made. My friends there told me not to pay attention to it, I try not to, but the damage is done. I don’t eat at work anymore.
Perhaps the worst thing you can say to me, though, especially when I’m going through one of those phases, is to comment on how much weight I’ve gained. Because it does not matter how thin I am (at 5’9 and 115 lbs, I am not a fat girl). When I look in the mirror, my eyes add five to ten pounds to whatever I see. I don’t look at mirrors often. I didn’t buy a scale for a decade because I knew I would obsessively stand on it.
If I gain a pant size, I quickly start trying to lose it so that I can fit into the old sizes again. In a lot of ways, this isn’t a bad thing – I am conscious about what I weigh, conscious about what I put into my body, and as a result I do not wear anything larger than what I wore in high school – my prom dress still fits! If it’s PMS time and I am slightly bloated, even if it’s not noticeable, I see an elephant in the mirror. It hasn’t been long ago that, in order to fit into those smaller sizes, to get rid of the bloating, I’d starve myself. Every day that I went with minimal to no food I considered a victory. I’d take a laxative once a month to do a “cleanout” – dropping several pounds in about 24 hours from the frequent trips to the bathroom and the consequential starvation. And then, a couple of weeks later, I’d magically be back in those jeans I’d grown out of.
I realize this is not healthy. You’re probably reading this and thinking, “Why doesn’t she just quit?” It’s not that easy. Quitting is a total “reprogramming” process – I have to not only reprogram the way that I look at myself, I have to reprogram the way that I react if I don’t like what I see. It’s something I’m working on. First things first, I started letting my friends in – my closer ones. Accountability is a good thing… it keeps me honest. I still feel the need to lose weight. I’m attempting to do it more responsibly – dieting, exercising… what is called “normal”. It’s not been all bad. The exercise does get me outside more often, which in truth I probably need. I count calories, as well. Probably a little obsessively – but my thought is that counting them, as long as I’m consuming them, is better than not consuming any at all.
The good news is that it’s working. I dropped four pounds last week. And while this isn’t as fast as the alternate way I used to lose, I feel better. I’m getting outside more, spending more time with Spotify while I walk, and enjoying the scenery. The time I spend on the track clears my mind – I’m less stressed.
I eat out less, too, which not only helps me preserve those precious calories I allow myself to eat daily, but is also saving money that I can use to tackle all my student loan debt (another demon). I am still tempted, sometimes, when I get on the scale to just have it done with – not eat, lose the rest, gradually re-introduce food back into my system, call it a day. But I know it isn’t healthy. I know what it does to me. And I’m too stubborn to let it control me like that.
So, slowly, I’m reprogramming. And trying to forget that those smaller sizes of jeans are still hanging in my closet.