British Food is Bad…

…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.

Freezing cold beach day

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.

Last night at Cambridge

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.

Exhausted from simply being in my body

One thought on “British Food is Bad…

  1. I’m part of the casting/booking team for a major news network in NYC and we are searching for teens who are on a quest to be thin. The program, in general, will focus on beauty and body image and will feature a major celebrity! I reached out to you because of something you posted under the tag ‘eating disorders’ and I was wondering if you were interested in talking to me about your experience. If so, message me back in my ask box on tumblr or just email me at for more info. Thanks!

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