I always tell people that you don’t need alcohol or drugs to live, but you will always need food to survive, which is why when you’re in the suffocating grips of an eating disorder you feel as if you may never escape.
Fourteen years later, I am proud to say that I eat healthy, live healthy, and no longer feel like a puppet in the arms of an eating disorder master. But the fact is anyone can live with an eating disorder or disordered eating as I like to call it—even naturally thin people like myself. I grew up thin, am built thin and petite, and went for years eating whatever I wanted. It wasn’t unusual for me to kill two burgers and extra-large fries in high school. Thankfully, I don’t eat that way for my own health, not weight anymore. Never once did someone call me fat or chubby and in my career on television and stage, all of my co-workers were positive about my body image and told me I looked great. There was never a day in which someone said to me, “Lose weight,” or you won’t go on camera.
But that didn’t stop me from living as a prisoner to food. You think you know fear? Try being afraid of the box of Wheat Thins in your kitchen cabinets. Try avoiding parties and events for that all-encompassing fear that you might—gasp—eat!
The eating disorder (I vacillated between eating very little, to over-exercising, to binging and sometimes, purging) had very little to do with weight and everything to do with control. I had dropped out of college to pursue my dream of being on television. The ups and downs of life as an actor, comic, and television personality was a lot for a naïve twenty-something girl like me, not to mention I was struggling to repress and deal with memories of numerous bad sexual traumas and relationships that I felt like I was cracking. I didn’t love myself, I was afraid I wasn’t good enough (so deeply afraid), and my heart was on my chest. I was more fragile than glass. Controlling my eating gave me power and the false impression that I could control everything around me in order to not get hurt or be vulnerable.
And these 5 things are something that everyone recovering from an eating disorder can achingly remember but hopefully, never experience again.
1. False Power
“Look at me! I kept my calories under 1,000 today!”
You think you’re a god or goddess because you didn’t submit yourself to gluttonous eating like your friends and family. They ate all the fixings when you were out and you? You ate the salad. You are the freaking champion, and they are just the losers in the contest of who can eat the absolute least, even though they’re not interested in your sick little competition.
You think you’re winning when in reality you’ve lost everything to the power of your brain and its bizarre need to control.
2. You’re Really Thin
When someone tells you you’re looking very thin, it doesn’t matter if that person plasters on a concerned face or not. You think to yourself, “Yes! I am thin! Someone noticed!”
That statement is fuel to your “not-eating” fire. Your concern doesn’t make someone with an eating disorder stop to think about his or her problem. It pushes that person ahead to be even thinner, and better!
3. Fear Of Food
You don’t just avoid eating food, but you’re afraid of it. I remember passionately loving Wheat Thins. I would buy a box and then try to eat just the recommended serving on the box, but if it had been a long hard week of restricting my food and exercising until I was blue in the face, I could demolish the whole box. Finally, knowing I had these evil temptations, I would throw tons of food out in order to avoid the temptation of food. Just one box of Wheat Thins looking at me in the face was enough to put the fear of God in me. The fear that I might succumb to hunger.
It had been a month of more of severe food restriction for me and I was wearing children’s clothes. I remember how proud I felt knowing I could buy a size ten kids; now as an adult, I can wear some children’s items but not because I’m starving myself to death but because I’m a healthy small person. I looked like junk and one of my male love interests had even told me, “Yeah, you’re too thin man,” as they looked at my naked body, but I felt like I had superpowers.
One lonely night, ( I forgot to mention I was also severely depressed and lonely) I headed to a favorite restaurant and bar of mine all by myself on a Friday night, telling myself I would just get an appetizer but that appetizer turned into something more.
Quesadillas. Spring Rolls. Salad. Pasta. Martinis. Bread. Chocolate and Vanilla Crème Brulee. There I was sitting at the bar while all around me were friends and couples, while I sat alone. They were all laughing and chatting, but me? I couldn’t stop to breathe. I had to keep eating. Each bite felt orgasmic. I had to fill myself up. Chicken, cheese, tortilla, spring rolls, Caesar dressing, croutons, pasta, grilled chicken pieces with cream sauce, watermelon martinis, sweet butter, sour dough bread, and luscious, luscious mouth-watering, lips-licking Crème Brulee.
I told myself I would stop at each thing the waiter brought out, but I didn’t. Then I told myself I would take one bite, but I didn’t. I ate it all. Every single damn thing. I was so utterly full, but as I made my drive home I felt so utterly empty.
I went home and sobbed myself to sleep, considering for a few moments, suicide. I was a loser. A pathetic piece of crap who had lost it all. I was going to become fat now! After so much dedication and conviction, I had given in and been a “sucker” just like everyone else. I was a fat disgusting pig in my size ten children’s clothes who had ate like five people, not one. Not one super human.
The self-hatred was so thick, I could taste it.
5. Avoiding Social Situations
I turned down parties, hang-outs, and anything that involved food if I was feeling particularly religious about my devotion to being the thinnest woman on the planet. And eating in front of someone? Talk about Chinese water torture. It was a battle to eat the least amount lest someone call me out on my slovenly hog-like ways of eating.
If you know someone suffering with an eating disorder, know that this is not about being beautiful or being thin. This is about control. About wanting to be perfect. About wanting to shelter yourself from other people so you don’t get hurt. So you don’t feel hurt anymore.
I thank my lucky stars that I still get my period, that I ended up able to have a child and not struck with infertility thanks to my former eating disorder, and that most importantly, I am free of that demon and that Wheat Thins don’t scare me anymore.