To most people, food is just a form of sustenance, perhaps a source of enjoyment. But for me, it was an evil.
Ever since I was eight, food was always associated with guilt and regret. I remember my grandfather commenting on how I should stop eating so much, after I had just eaten 15 McNuggets and a packet of fries. That used to be a normal meal for me. Even as I type this, I can relive the shame and disgust I felt toward myself after hearing that snide remark. He probably didn’t mean any harm, but to me, it just meant that I was a fat little girl with zero self-control. From that day on, I decided to control my food intake.
When I was 13, I went on my first serious diet. I wasn’t fat to begin with: 5’4”, 125 pounds. But it wasn’t all about weight. Eating less than my friends made me feel superior and special. No one had more willpower at resisting food than I. For over three years, breakfast was a fruit and a soft boiled egg. Sometimes, if I were lucky and my mum wasn’t looking, I would break the egg and wash it down the sink. On rarer occasions, I would throw my orange into the neighbor’s garden. An empty stomach usually meant that the day was off to a good start. I had not sinned. Lunch never existed. I would sit with my friends, order a drink with ice cubes, and chew on the ice. I always made sure that I was busy talking, at the center of attention of all conversations. Too busy talking to drink, let alone eat. Dinner was easy to escape. I would tell my friends I had to go home for dinner, and then tell my parents I had already eaten with my friends. Stomach rumbling? That’s just the sound of success. On top of that I would run everyday for almost an hour. It’s amazing how I never once passed out.
Of course, my social life started to suffer. I had my first boyfriend at 13. He was taller but skinner than I was at that point of time. However, he never made me feel fat. In fact, he idolized my larger-than-average boobs and toned legs. I broke up with him after six months, as our relationship came down to nothing but petting sessions. Friendship-wise, I slowly realized that I could not hang out with friends. What if we were going out to eat? I could not risk gaining any weight. My second boyfriend, a really sweet guy who I was not interested in but had no heart to reject him outright, brought me to a pizza buffet to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Come to think of it, it just showed how little he knew about me. All I had was a few pieces of pineapple and chicken picked off a slice of pizza, and some watermelon off the desserts section. I felt really bad for making the meal awkward, but nothing was more important than not gaining weight. It’s amazing how once you take food out of your life, there really aren’t many social activities that you can partake in.
I fell into a downward spiral of avoiding friends and feeling like I was too weird for them. However, I valued the physical effects of not eating far more than the loss of my social life. In school, people started to talk about my eating habits. It only spurred me to push myself further. The isolation was bearable, as long as I did not gain weight. After all, I was superior to all those lazy, weak-willed fatties. I fully embraced the anorexic lifestyle, allowing it to consume my entire being. My already-altered skirt, 22 inches at the waist, was too loose. I can never forget my measurements at my thinnest: 19-inch waist, 13-inch thighs and 69 pounds of muscle and bones. I loved feeling so clean, so pure, so perfect.
When I was 15 and looking like a walking skeleton, my parents decided to force me to eat. The more they tried to supervise my meals, the more I tried to get rid of the food they made me eat. I would stuff food in my pockets, in my underwear, inside the sofa stuffing, you get the idea. One day, when I was feeling so frustrated at being forced to eat, I decided to commit suicide. I sat on the 11-story parapet of a condo, legs dangling in the air. Deep down inside, I knew I did not have the guts to jump, but I was so afraid of the thought of eating normally. I didn’t jump in the end, the police came and took me to a mental hospital.
That was a turning point in my anorexia. I don’t know how or why, but on Mother’s Day next year, I just thought, f-ck it, I’m just going to eat. To this day, I cannot explain the sudden change in mindset, but I think it saved my life. I gained 70 pounds in the following month, and wasn’t too upset about it. Who knew eating could be so easy?
For a few years, I maintained a slightly above average weight. I didn’t hate myself for it, but I avoided taking photos. However, as much as I hate to admit it, my attitude toward food was still far from normal. Having deprived myself of food for so long, I wanted to eat everything and anything. It’s amazing how much I could eat. In a day, I could easily consume three normal meals, with a pint of B&J’s, a packet of Doritos and perhaps a few Nestle Crunch bars. There was no holding me back, the insatiable monster in me had been awoken. I had an all-or-nothing mindset. This continued on an almost daily basis, and it’s amazing I don’t have any health problems now in spite of the copious amounts of sugar and salt I consumed.
When college started, I began my quest to eat healthily and lose some weight. I didn’t intend to get back to where I was; my goal was just to fit comfortably in a size 2 or 4. Ninety percent of the girls at my college were stick thin, and that alone provided enough motivation to lose the flab. I had continued my habit of running on a regular basis, and increased my mileage to about 35 miles a week. For the first month or so, I ate very cleanly; fruit for breakfast, salad for lunch and a well-balanced meal for dinner. However, with the self-imposed pressure to get top grades, find a real boyfriend and have a social life, I had no place to escape from myself. On top of that, my efforts to lose weight healthily didn’t seem to be working well. I lost a few pounds and that was it.
On a particularly rainy night, at 4 a.m., I woke up due to an irrational urge to eat. Anything would do, I just had to have some flavor and texture in my mouth. Having only fresh fruit with me, I ate an apple. At that point, I thought, I’ve already eaten when I’m not supposed to. Screw this. In the pouring rain, I walked out to the nearest 7-11 to satisfy my cravings. A loaf of bread with Nutella, a pint of B&J’s and a packet of crisps. I inhaled the whole lot in less than half an hour. It felt so comforting, but in less than five minutes after eating, no words could describe the fear and disgust I felt. I could not let that whole load of calories erase all my hard work for the past few weeks.
I decided to do what I told myself I would never do. And I had to be quick. Not so to not wake others up, but because the calories would be absorbed if I waited too long. I tied my hair up, leaned over the toilet and stuck my finger down my throat. The ice cream came up so easily, it was still cold. Next came the crisps. Orange bits, cutting my throat with their rough edges. But the pain felt good. And though I was sure that I had not gotten everything out, it did alleviate my guilt. I promised myself that this would be a one-off mistake. With my eyes tearing slightly and a tooth mark on my right index knuckle, I crawled back to bed.
Strange how the urge to comfort eat makes it so easy to forget the guilt and despair that follows. I didn’t even wait until the next day. By dinner, I decided to order a large frappucino and carbonara pasta. Why? I really can’t answer that question. I wasn’t hungry to begin with, it had not been a particularly stressful day, my throat was still sore from the morning. But forbidden fruit tastes the sweetest, and though I did not plan to make myself throw up, I just couldn’t allow the food to sit in my stomach. I did not even bother to check whether anyone else was in the toilet. The food HAD to come out immediately.
Gradually, this became a weekly occurrence. All my money was spent on food, and God knows how much time I wasted eating and puking. I started to only eat food that was easy to come out, which was basically ice cream. Obviously, I didn’t lose weight, but I didn’t gain any either. It was a cheap thrill for me to be able to satisfy my cravings without gaining a pound, so this continued for a few months. My health wasn’t too badly affected. I was still able to run, except that my stamina dropped slightly the day after a binge. My hair fell out a bit more but wasn’t serious enough to warrant any action to be taken. I had once again, isolated myself into a vicious cycle of self-destruction. Food provided all I needed to cope with the stresses of life. Lunch appointment with a friend? Nah, I’ll pass. Impossible to puke immediately without arousing suspicion and I didn’t want to be judged for eating while I’m still fat.
When I began my finance internship, I just simply decided to stop this as I could not afford to screw up. I was tired of feeling tired from puking, and did not want to go to work looking like crap. It really wasn’t easy. The urge to binge never went away. I did give in to my cravings sometimes, but I set it at a maximum of one binge per week. And I tried to scare myself by looking at rotten teeth of bulimics. To be honest, it wasn’t that difficult to stop making myself puke. I hated going through the whole process.
Instead of purging, I decided not to eat the day following a binge.
I wouldn’t say I’m able to eat healthily now. Maybe one day, I’ll be able to eat normally. Maybe one day, I’ll be able to deal with emotions and stress in life without turning to food. But for now, the occasional binge will just have to make do with being followed by a day of starvation.