Just before I start this next post, I wanted to let you know why I’m bothering to detail my history with ED: I know that I am not the only person who struggles with her relationship with food. You’d be surprised by how many conversations I’ve witnessed between people who don’t have clinically diagnosed eating disorders that sound like they’ve been recorded from the disordered voice inside my own head:
“I started going to the gym twice a day because I need to burn more calories. I love the treadmill–really.”
“I’d be vegan/vegetarian/skinny/different/better if I had the discipline/willpower to stop eating the things I like.”
“I had that piece of cake/candy bar/bag of chips. I couldn’t help it. I am disgusting. I feel so guilty.”
“I was on [insert crazy restrictive diet or insanely difficult exercise regime here], but I just couldn’t stick with it.”
I’m writing about my experiences because I want you to know that you’re not alone in having these thoughts, even if they may not have taken over your lives in the way that they did mine. I want you to know that you’re not alone in feeling bad, guilty, or wrong about the foods you choose to eat or the way you do or don’t exercise. I want you to know that you don’t need to be having these thoughts: You are beautiful. You are strong. And, above all, ED is not your friend.
The fall of 2006 was a rough one for me. I decided that it would be my last semester at my (outrageously expensive) college, so I spent the entire time brooding, dreading my last day.
I transferred to a state school the following semester, and I was so deep in my own self-pity that I immediately alienated myself from the few high school friends who had reached out to me there. I was fortunate to find a sort of home in the theatre department, but I was not a theatre major, so I was never fully a part of my new family.
So I started running.
Now that I was living in quasi-rural central Florida, I had plenty of sidewalk and fresh air available to me. My route took me in an “out-and-back” from my apartment to the main road, a good two-point-something miles in total. I ran every morning before the heat and humidity began to set in.
In addition to going on daily runs, I changed my diet. New York City had Ollie’s Noodle Shop and Koronet Pizza, all tantalizingly and conveniently within walking distance and usually available until the wee hours. Here, if I wanted to eat, I had to drive the three miles to campus and battle the horrible college-town traffic–or I could just go to the Publix (“where shopping is a pleasure!”) around the corner and make myself something healthy. Ish.
By March, I had dropped back down to a size 4. I had discovered the school gym. And I had free access.
ED was back.
That summer I stayed on campus to take a science course, but I ended up spending my days caught up in food math. I even carried around a little notebook in which I wrote down every morsel I ate, just so I could see what a huge fat pig I was. (My thinking then. I also didn’t know anything about calories, per se. I just knew that by writing down my food quantities, I could keep myself in check.) My days looked like this:
Eat 1/2 cup of oatmeal with blueberries.
Bike 3 miles to school gym.
Do 50 minutes of Stair Climber or stationary bike while reading Astronomy textbook.
Do 3 sets of 10 pull ups on the assisted pull up machine.
Bike 3 miles home.
Eat two lightly salted rice cakes (Publix brand!) and an apple (Braeburn or Fuji…Gala in a pinch.)
Read a book or work on writing a play.
Eat 2 cups of broccoli slaw with 1/2 cup of black beans.
Read or write some more.
Eat an apple (see: above)
Bike 3 miles to gym to play tennis with Saie or Jo.
Bike 3 miles home.
Eat two lightly salted rice cakes with all natural (also Publix brand!) peanut butter.
Hang out with friends until morning.
And so it went. And so went my body. I could actually feel myself getting thinner. My clothes started to hang off of me. Boys started paying attention to me again. In fact, one young “gentleman”, who I had briefly dated at the start of the semester, showed up on my doorstep drunk one evening, and proceeded to tell me, in no uncertain terms, that I was “much hotter now that [I] lost weight.” Direct quote. (He then let himself into my apartment to puke in my bathroom. I never saw him again.)
While I was busy disappearing my body, my brain was hard at work. I was using my free time to write a play about Tudor/Stuart England…and it just so happened that my school was offering a summer term in Cambridge dedicated to the study of the very same. I started packing my bags. I didn’t realize that ED was planning to follow me to England–my only thought was: “I am finally beautiful again. (I just hope that terrible British food doesn’t mess this up for me.)”
It wouldn’t–not if ED had his say.