A Day in the Life with an Eating Disorder
I’m asleep, and dreaming of food. Foods that I want to eat, mainly. Lots and lots of them. Ice cream. Cake. Cookies. I wake up, and my stomach churns as I recall everything I think I ate during the night. Holy shit, I think, if I truly ate all of that, I am going to have to begin to plan my day around food much more meticulously than I normally would. Thanks, eating disorder, for making my day so frustrating and exhausting. Already. Damn you, eating disorder!
Slowly, I become aware that my all-consuming thoughts are a direct result of the dream I had, and aren’t real. I breathe a sigh of relief as my sense of panic begins to pass. Just another day in the life of having to share brainspace with my eating disorder.
I get out of bed, and begin to contemplate breakfast. I would have definitely skipped breakfast if I had eaten what I would consider a sizable amount during the night (for me, sizable means the total calories I consume during the night are estimated around 400-500 calories and/or higher). My rational mind knows that I should actually follow my nutritionist’s advice for once, not just maintain my pattern of skipping breakfast because I don’t feel hungry. Of course you’re not going to feel hunger, she said, your body and metabolism aren’t running as they should (i.e. my brain is confused: it hasn’t been fed properly in, oh, ten years).
Hold up. Let’s take a step back. Time to rewind to where it all started.
When my eating disorder and I first met
When I was a junior in high school, I dated my first boyfriend, and a few months later, decided that I was better off on my own (who hasn’t been there?). After our breakup, I found myself eating more food than I usually did. I attribute this to feeling incredibly uncomfortable in my own body. I felt lonely and awkward (teenage years…), and I had trouble expressing my thoughts, feelings, and emotions to almost everyone. I also felt that I was constantly being judged by my entire friend group. I quickly put on 10 pounds. The extra weight didn’t really bother me, until I approached the end of senior year. I had gone to a party with my friends and couldn’t stand the way I looked in my pink, long sleeved shirt. My stomach seemed to jut out, what felt like way too many inches from my body. I couldn’t stand to look at the pictures from that day (I still can’t, by the way). I wasn’t prepared for how challenging my life was going to soon become.
My eating disorder started during my first few weeks at college in 2007. I became friendly with girls who lived on my floor in my dorm. We ate meals together, went to parties together, solved some personal problems together, etc. So it seemed natural when we all decided to go to the gym together. There were five of us. A few weeks later, only one of us was still at it. Surprise! It was me. Now with exercise in full force, our little sisterhood began to eat healthier. For me, ‘healthier’ meant salads with just vegetables, a protein, and dressing (balsamic vinegar was only 10 calories per serving, and was the only choice once I realized most other dressings had 200-400 calories per serving…).
Then, I started cutting out breakfast - I would go to the dining hall with friends, and just get coffee. Gone were the chocolate chip bagels I was used to eating. When lunchtime rolled around, I only saw three choices:
- eat one of my ‘salads’
- buy a pre-made diet meal
- just eat a low calorie cereal/snack bar, maybe an apple
It was around this time that I began to realize that I was in way over my head. Did I care? Not even a little. My eating disorder was ‘working’ for me. I was shedding those 10 pounds I gained (and more), getting good grades, and still had an active extracurricular and social life.
My eating disorder takes the wheel
It’s suddenly second semester, and I notice that my grades start to drop a little. To me, this is super unacceptable. I begin to eat a little more and my grades got back on track. It was also around this time that my friends noticed that I was losing weight rapidly. Twice that semester, two different RA’s pulled me into their respective rooms and either tried to get me to eat in front of her (Grape Nuts, I clearly remember) or find out if I had eating issues. I denied, and kept up my same self-destructive behaviors. Alright, you piece of shit eating disorder, I already know you have a one-up on me. “Go to hell”, I whisper to myself. Not a moment later, “Actually, don’t. I need you.” I knew then that my eating disorder had become a coping mechanism for dealing with intense emotions and stress.
The rest of college is pretty easily summed up by this graphic:
This is what happens when you deprive your body of food for a long period of time. Your body goes into starvation mode and tries to save you from yourself by making you consume more food than what is “normal” because it doesn’t know when you are going to properly feed it next. I ended up losing the ten pounds I gained in high school, and when I went abroad my junior year I knew I wanted to lose more weight. I was living in London, and my restricting kept getting worse and worse. There went ten more pounds off of my frame. People in my program caught on to the fact that I wasn’t eating much, and they knew better than to ask me more than once to be involved in cooking or baking things together and then eating the finished product with them – my reaction was severe enough for them to not push the issue further. I’ve lost control.
The struggle continues
Flash forward to today. Its the fall of 2016, and I still struggle on a daily basis, but in a different sense. I know that my eating disorder isn’t working for me anymore. Rather, its the opposite. My career, relationships, and personal life have all been negatively impacted by my behaviors. These days, I wake up, and once again, think of my nutritionist’s advice. I say to myself, “Alright, self, you’re used to this, let’s try and hold off on food for as long as you can.” Most days, that’s what happens. But I am also more willing to challenge my eating disorder than I have been in the past. I’m proud of myself for the effort I put in on those days - I truly want to beat this disease, and vow to treat myself better from now on.
Suddenly its time to go to work. I arrive, and the hours tick by. While getting work done, I see coworkers having snacks and meals whenever they want to: socializing with others at the same time. I’m envious of people who make eating all kinds of foods look easy. My relationship with food is so convoluted, and therefore it takes me hours to decide that I’m ‘allowed’ to eat something - I go through a matrix of questions, before I grant myself permission to eat - “How hungry are you? Are you sure you want to eat that? What about calories? How will this impact your eating later today? What have you already eaten today?”
If not today, tomorrow
Racing through my mind all day and all night are thoughts of, “Did I eat a fear food today?” Fear foods are foods that cause my thoughts to race with panic, anxiety, and fear before and after eating them. Some of my fear foods include: bread, pizza, anything from a food truck, Italian food, etc. Foods that are safe (and therefore aren’t fear foods) to me don’t cause panic, anxiety, or fear when I eat them.
If I do eat a fear food, my brain is on overdrive wondering what impact eating this certain food will have on my eating for the rest of the day. And potentially tomorrow. Will I binge, because I’ve already ‘messed up’? What foods should I cut out later today and/or tomorrow to make up for this ‘indulgence’? All of these thoughts and food rules are draining, intrusive, and time-consuming. Thoughts of ‘needing’ to lose weight constantly course through my brain - tearing unabashedly at my mind. My weight and appearance literally consume around 90 percent of my thoughts each day.
In bed, I dream about all of the delicious foods I prohibit myself from consuming; I fantasize about how fast I can lose ‘X’ number of pounds. I wake up the next morning and begin the same exhausting process all over again. And while I might not have won the battle against my eating disorder yesterday, I am comforted that today is a new day and that I have plenty of chances to beat this monstrous disease. I consistently try to do the next right thing. Step by step. One day and one bite at a time.