I think my battle with food started around my senior year in high school. My boyfriend at the time was an aesthetic, and very disciplined with his dietary habits. I was intent on gaining his approval, so I adopted his philosophy of eating.
I started cutting out the starches, sweets, and most things that were processed. My boyfriend was proud of me. But because I was extremely athletic at the time, eating was something that I needed to do. It fueled me to win races and praise.
One day he suggested fasting.
“You can purify your body and soul if you fast for a day,” I remember him suggesting.
So, I tried it one day before my shift as a cashier at Du-Pars Restaurant. It was rough, because I didn’t have much insulation to begin with, and now I was surrounded by bear claws, donuts and pies.
Around 9 p.m. I thought I would pass out. I was shaking and a bit light-headed, but I had made it through the day without eating. But I also knew then that fasting wasn’t for me. Still, I continued on my anorexic path, intent on burnishing all food sins from my diet.
I thought I looked good as I cleared my body of everything that I thought was impure. Gone were the fats, oils, sweets, anything that was fun to eat. I start dropping weight. I thought I look great. When others would look at me, I thought they were reveling in my svelte beauty. Little did I know that they thought that there was something wrong with me. There was.
At 5’8” I got down to 111 pounds. My period had disappeared. A bit of my hair started falling out. I was running five miles before breakfast, and swimming a few miles mid-morning. I felt like I had repelled gravity as my body started looking like a14 year old again. No fat, no breasts, no period. I was a god. Even when my family was falling apart in my teens, at least I could control my weight.
My mother had been a dancer. Being thin was a requisite. I remember when I got a little chubby that she kindly told me so.
“Well, you look fine Mary, but I wouldn’t put on any more weight, “ she admonished. Nothing like a parental warning to boost your confidence.
And then I went to college, and got on birth control. I started packing on the pounds. You’re not going to finish that grilled cheese? I can’t let that go to waste. What’s another helping of ice cream? Endless lasagna in the dorms? Why not? Soon my pants were getting tighter and my busts were blooming. Maybe it was just the birth control?
I blamed my weight gain on my happiness with my boyfriend. Surely he’d still love me with a bit of heft. But I didn’t look like the freshman he had met.
He eventually broke up with me, and I thought it was because of the weight. I still don’t know. We were only 21, and relationships at that time rarely stand the test of time.
I had a new boyfriend a few years later, and I remember crying after eating lox, bagels and cream cheese.
“What’s wrong?” he pulled me closer.
“I feel guilty…that lox, bagel and cream cheese had over 800 calories. Maybe I should go for a run.”
I regretted the indulgence. He assured me that I looked fine, but for an anorexic, you never feel like you look great. You always look at the mirror and you see a fat person, no matter what other people tell you.
Exercise was my usual remedy. After inhaling tenchocolate chip cookies in college, I rode my bike from Isla Vista to downtown Santa Barbara and back. Surely that would be ample penance for my sin.
My weight has finally stabilized, and I only vacillate about five pounds in either direction. But the anorexic shadow is always with me. I analyze the world through weight. I can tell if someone has put on a few pounds, or if they’ve lost a bit. I should be one of those weight guessers and make some money off of my finely honed skill.
Right now, I feel like my pants are a little bit too tight, but maybe it’s that post menopause bump. My friends tell me that this just naturally happens as you get older. I could get rid of it if I exercised my ass off, but I’m not about to do 300 sit ups every morning just to get rid of it.
They say having little extra weight is good as you get older. I guess it helps to insulate you if you get sick. My sister’s cancer was a firm reminder of that.
I am finally learning to balance my love of food, with my war with food. It’s a constant challenge. If I eat too much, I just cut back a bit for the next day or so.
The battle is always with me, but I’ve learned to give myself a bit of latitude. So what if my pants are a little tight? At least I’m not cold in winter.