…but it’s no excuse to starve yourself.
I spent six weeks studying Shakespeare and friends at Cambridge University during the summer of 2007.
Back across the pond, I was not a vegetarian, even though my diet consisted mainly of black beans, peanut butter, and apples. Even so, I had been known to dabble in Chicken Pad Thai (loaded with sriracha sauce and red pepper, of course), in Thanksgiving turkey, in Tuna sandwiches with sweet potato fries and a pickle at Lindburgers. I had only banished red meat (and I had never touched pork or shellfish to begin with).
In England, however, I had to become a vegetarian out of necessity. Our program included two meals per day in the fees, so I was at the mercy of the Cambridge dining hall cooks. The breakfast was served buffet-style, so I was at least free to graze on eggs, cereal, and fruit to my heart’s content…but dinner was another story altogether. If one did not specify that one was a vegetarian, one was likely to be served some sort of lumpy meat against one’s will. To specify that one was a vegetarian wasn’t much better; however it ensured that there would be a greater chance that the meal might be edible.
I placed the “I’m a vegetarian” card that they handed out at the start of the term on my plate each night, garnering jealous looks from my fellow meat-eating classmates as they dug into their lumpy pot-pies and I into my portobello-mushroom-smothered-in-cheese concoction. Needless to say, I ate mostly salad and bread. In fact, it got to the point where I eschewed the dinners altogether, offering it up to anyone who had to suffer the injustices of the non-vegetarian meal.
For breakfast, I stopped eating the runny eggs and stayed away from the cereal (although I often grabbed a few of the mini-boxes of Frosted Flakes to eat for dessert in my dorm that evening). I ate only half a grapefruit for breakfast–or a whole one if I was feeling really ravenous (although I would feel guilty for eating so much once I had finished).
Since I was on my own for lunch, I invested in jars of peanut butter, bags of rice cakes, and satchels of apples on my trips into town. Every day, I would eat exactly two rice cakes with peanut butter, and I would finish my feast with an apple. I ate a second apple for a snack in the afternoon, each day later and later, delaying the magical burst of fructose until I could be sure it would “tide me over” until dinner. Because I was “trying to save money,” I turned down all invitations to join my classmates for lunch. I ate by myself in my room, savoring every last bite of peanut butter before getting to work on my homework.
I also managed to continue working out, even without the luxury of the school gym. I work up with the sun every morning (usually before 5 am) and went out for a run. I was on my own, because “no one in my program cared as much about fitness as I did.” (I had gone for a run with my friend Tom on the first day, but he was prepared for a much more leisurely jog than I had planned. I left him in the dust, and so lost my running partner. I convinced myself that I didn’t want to run with anyone anyway.)
In town, I bought a jump rope with weighted handles at a sporting goods store. After dinner (and before my cereal dessert), I would go downstairs and do sets of 200 reps until I reached 10,000.
I spent a lot of time alone on that trip.
By the end of the summer I was wasting away. Not only was I losing my body, but I was losing myself. I had built no lasting relationships. I had done nothing but work out and read. Looking back at the pictures now, I see a skeleton–but then, looking in the mirror, all I saw was too much flesh, too much fat, too much…me. I wanted to waste away. ED hated me, and so I hated me. The less of me that was there, the less of me to hate.