In the annals of this deeply personal blog, there are two subjects I have resisted writing about: my relationship with my restraining-order Ex, John, and my eating disorder when it was at its worst.
Which of the two should I try to tackle now, while I feel the urge to write…?
Writing about John would require re-reading my files, both legal and personal, and I just don’t think I have the emotional fortitude to revisit that time of my life today.
So, let’s talk about the anorexia. I believe that it is a tale which must be told.
(What I’ve written about it in the past, you can find under the tag category “How to Not Eat.”)
There is a reason I’ve avoided discussing this in depth: it was so painful, horrific, and sad that I don’t like to think about it. The medical establishment classifies eating disorders as mental illnesses, and I believe that taxonomy is accurate.
I developed mine within a year of starting my PhD program, for completely predictable reasons: I was in an academic pressure cooker, I was isolated and without a support system or any meaningful personal relationships, deeply unhappy, and my constellation of personality traits practically dictated it: perfectionism, addictive personality, masochism, over-achievement, and a complete lack of sympathy for myself and an indifference to my personal suffering. I’m a textbook case, with the exception of coming from a working-class background.
It started with wanting to lose 10 or 15 lbs…I was about 140 lbs at the time, which is normal for a girl who stands 5’10”, but I wanted to get my old body back. The body I had before my breakup with John. I honestly believe that part of the disorder was a subconscious desire to return to a previous state–the state I was in before that trauma.
Well, dieting is difficult, and “healthy eating” just wasn’t producing the effects I wanted. I’d never dieted in my life, so I had to learn how to become good at it.
Apt scholar that I am, I started to learn.
You have to sacrifice. You have to change. To master the art of deprivation.
I began to whittle away at my eating habits. The first to go were snacks/candy and full-calorie beverages (except, of course, for the whiskey I was soaking my poor hapless brain in every night I wasn’t writing). No juice, no smoothies. No sugar in the tea–drink it dark and bitter…not unlike my heart.
Everything in the fridge becomes the diet version: fat free cheese, reduced-calorie bread, skim milk.
Then, breakfast. Breakfast was easy to give up, because I’m never hungry in the morning.
The turkey sandwich packed for school doesn’t NEED that cheese. That salad does not need dressing.
I don’t mind telling you that it was the hardest lesson I’ve ever learned in my life–to completely redefine my eating habits. To give up common things, like the slice of pizza at a party or a pastry provided at a faculty meeting. To give it up….and then learn to accept the loss. To accept that these foods are not for me.
But I was finally getting results.
I bought a calorie handbook and started keeping records of everything that went into my mouth. Not just the calories…the carbs, the grams of fat and protein. I carried a notebook in my purse.
I stopped eating in public.
I also started over-exercising. I bought a membership to New York Sports Club, so that I could go there when the university gym was closed. I did weight training four days per week, and I started on the treadmill. At first, it was three miles. Then, I made it a minimum of five miles…every day. And that doesn’t count all the walking I was doing around campus or New York.
I began to go to the gym twice a day. To relieve anxiety, I told myself…but it was driven by anxiety. By terror.
I bought Slim-Fast shakes and started to drink those in place of solid food.
The food logs I was keeping in notebooks were replaced by Excel spreadsheets. I know how to manage data. It was part of my formal training.
I lost 30 lbs in approximately four months…
…and when I was officially starving, I lost my mind.
I started to read cookbooks for recreation. I bought Gourmet and Cook’s magazines and pour over the recipes in bed, or at my desk late at night.
I would eat whole jars of pickles, because pickles have no calories, and I craved something salty.
I passed out in public a few times–once, on the quad. Another time in Penn Station, right after I got off the escalator.
I would buy food and pretend to eat it. Then I would pour bleach on it to make sure it was inedible and I wouldn’t try to dig it out of the garbage can.
When I was in Manhattan for work, I would buy food from stores and then almost immediately throw it into garbage cans. (Once, I bought an ice cream cone and at it in a bathroom stall in the train station, sobbing the entire time. That was definitely a low point.)
I stopped menstruating.
I would dream of food. I would steal crackers from my roommate in the dead of night.
I took photos of myself in the bathroom mirror at night, when I was finished with my work. I was fascinated by my bones. None of my rings would stay on my fingers anymore.
I got down to 108 lbs. I took a million photos of the scale.
I started to throw up when I had dinner dates–either professionally, or with a guy I was seeing for fun. I’ll have you know that I’ve puked in the bathrooms in all of the very best restaurants in Manhattan! I’ve puked in Masa and Per Se! Take that, bitches!
I carried Rolaids to chew in order to neutralize the acid and bile and save my teeth. I hated to throw up, and didn’t do it often (because I seldom ate meals), but I knew it was murder on tooth enamel because I researched it online.
But, I looked like a teenager again. What an appropriate and telling allegory. Been starving all my life.
The Surgeon loved it, and became critical as soon as I started to gain weight again….but that’s another story.
And while all of this was going on…nobody said a word. I mean, my pants were falling off because they were suddenly too big, and nobody said a thing.
That was the hardest lesson of all.