Eating and Me: II
In my mind, I’m a skinny person. When I’m in a dream at night, I’m thin. I forget — until I look in the mirror or see a picture of myself — that I’m actually overweight. My body doesn’t feel like my own, as though I’m in denial about the size of it. At the same time, I’ve always assumed I would eventually get in shape, and my physical form would match what I see when I picture myself.
The closest I ever got was when I was fourteen, and I realized that restrictive dieting was well within my reach. My mom and I got Chinese one Friday night and I ate until I nearly threw up. A common occurrence now, but I think that was one of the first times I’d ever consumed so much food in one sitting. I felt so disgusting that I decided I wouldn’t eat again until I couldn’t hold out any longer. I spent all weekend researching how to not feel hungry, and when Monday morning rolled around and all I’d had was water, I felt successful. I felt like I’d achieved something. I was hungry, and that was good.
I counted calories and hung out on eating disorder message boards. I made friends with people much skinnier than me, and I learned all their tricks by pretending I was already in the throes of my own eating disorder. I suppose I actually was. I talked my mom into getting a treadmill so that I could exercise — and then would lie about how much time I spent working out. I tried to stay below five hundred calories a day.
It worked pretty well. Except for when I would fall off the wagon and binge eat my way through the cupboard, because my teenage body was starving. I tried throwing up a few times, but what they never tell you is that purging is painful and takes a long time. It’s not like a stomach bug where your body expels everything all at once, it’s almost like clawing each mouthful out of your stomach, which I wasn’t cut out for — I stuck to severely restricting my intake.
The frightening thing is that crash dieting is really effective, in the beginning. The weight melts away. Once I lost ten pounds in three days while fasting, just because my body was in shock. But being that hungry puts you at risk of gaining it all back again the minute you start eating, because your body thinks it needs to survive a famine. You lose some, you gain some.
I managed it on and off for about a year, and despite the violent swinging between binging and restricting, I reached 175lbs. Realistically, I was only about twenty pounds away from a healthy weight for someone my height, But because other, smaller, more dainty girls could weigh 115lbs, I wanted to as well.
I never got there.
I remember the catalyst, the moment I slipped. My mom was upset about something, so she brought home cookies, and I caved. I helped eat the whole packet in one sitting, and from that day I gained weight steadily until I was about twenty-two. It accelerated when I got my first job, because I had disposable income for the first time. I would just spend money on junk food, every day. This coincided with the very first years of my depression, so I leaned into my Sad Habits with full force. I wasn’t sure why I didn’t care about school or my friends anymore, so I ate my feelings to cope with it.
Ten years later my relationship with food is so messed up that I don’t even know where to begin fixing it. I still relish feeling hungry, because it’s like I’ve achieved something. I also realized that, in my mind, eating is no longer related to hunger — food is for when you’re sad. If I’m sad I’ll binge eat until I feel sick, but if I’m having a good day I’ll forget to eat until late afternoon because if I’m not sad, why would I eat?
The idea of set meal times and food as fuel or nourishment for the body feels so foreign to me. But these are things I need to learn again. I don’t think it’s true for everyone, but the idea that diet, exercise, and weight are linked to mental health is true for me. I’m tired a lot, so I get no exercise, and then because I’m unfit, I’m even more tired. It’s a downward spiral that feels impossible to reverse.
I’ve started a food journal for therapy, to help keep track of my eating patterns. I’m trying to do a little exercise every day. A lot of the time I fail at these things, and I remember that I’m on the bottom rung of a very long, very tall ladder. Thinking about the distance I have to go, and the hard work I’ll need to put in to get healthy is so daunting that I really do just need to take it one step at a time. One meal at a time. One moment at a time.
I really hope that one day I match what I think I look like. I want to feel at home in my own body, for the first time in my life.
I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
Sad Habits Girl