ED is a fickle master. Like its sung in the old Cole Porter hit, once it gets under your skin, it gets so deep in your heart that it’s really a part of you…and that’s when things get rough.
I started high school at 97 pounds. I was fortunate enough to have a good group of friends who didn’t ask questions when I only brought half a peanut butter sandwich and a grapefruit for lunch, and who didn’t press me into joining them for pizza-and-candy-filled sleepover parties. I wasn’t able to exercise at all, since my knee was constantly in pain from a benign (and as-yet inoperable) bone tumor, so I kept my girlish figure (literally–I had no breasts, hips, or any definingly womanly features) through calorie restriction.
I had my bone tumor removed in January of 2002. I was convinced, for some reason, that I was going to die, and so upon unexpectedly awakening from anesthesia I underwent a change of heart. I wanted to live. I wanted to feel like I was alive. I wanted…chocolate.
The inclusion of such incredible food choices as the other half of that peanut butter sandwich, or my daily pack of Peanut M&Ms led me to hit 110 pounds by sophomore year. The number on the scale began to freak me out (but not enough to keep my paws out of the peanut butter jar!), especially because of O.
O. was the girl I wanted to be. The physical manifestation of ED. She was 105 pounds (I had somehow gleaned this fact from her when we were lab partners in biology the previous year) and impossibly pretty. She always had better grades (usually by tenths of a point), and she never seemed to have frizzy hair days. She was also a varsity athlete.
I decided that I had to be as good as O. (lose the weight, get at 4.5 GPA–yes, it was possible–defrizz my hair). I had to become an athlete. As the perennial and stereotypical drama kid, I lacked the ability to coordinate my hands, feet, and eyes, unless choreographed by someone else. So, taking a cue from my marathon running mother and stepfather, I found a sport that required no skill but forward motion: I joined the cross country team.
Our cross country team wasn’t known for its speed or its skill, so I wasn’t completely alone in tortoise-like abilities. I can still remember my first cross country practice: Coach G. had us run 3 laps around the school. It took me 40 minutes. (Not as easy as it sounds…It was a large faux-university-like campus. It was a long run. Really. Don’t judge.) Our cross country team wasn’t known for its wins or for its stellar running talent, but we were nothing if not pluggers. On my first run, the senior who I ran with (and came in last with) assured me that we could be slow running partners–at least we were out there doing it.
But coming in last on a JV team wasn’t going to make me as good as O. So I worked. Hard. With ED as my internal coach, I started running twice a day–once at practice, and once after dinner. I forced myself to run with members of the boys’ team, because they were faster and the threat of being teased for being slow made me want to keep up with them. I pushed myself as hard during practices as I did during races. By the end of the season, I was the second-fastest girl on the team. The following year, I was named team captain.
As I increased my prowess on the cross country course, I also increased my food intake. Every day, in addition to my post-lunch M&Ms, I also made sure to consume a Clif’s bar before practice. I “carbo-loaded” before races (which was just how I justified my desire to go for thirds on spaghetti night), and sometimes ate a second dinner after my second nightly run.
I ate constantly and ran more to make up for it. Without ever having heard the refrain of “calories in-calories out”, I was already learning the twisted dance that would become my signature for years to come.
By the end of my high school cross country career, I was 125 pounds, up two pants sizes, and dangerously confused about how to be fit, thin, and healthy while battling a compulsively large appetite.
I still wasn’t O. And now, I began to hear ED taunting me: “Don’t you know little fool, you never can win?” ED was fully under my skin.