At the time, when I was merely an emotional binger and exercise bulimic, I stupidly congratulated myself on having not yet gone to the dark side of throwing up after I ate. “Sure, I can’t approach food without counting the calories, torturing myself with the options, and planning to burn off whatever I put in afterward, but at least I don’t do that. I’m not that far gone,” I would tell myself. “You’re so smart, Callie.”
Was I? I can now ask myself, as an eating disorder survivor who is committed to helping others banish their own food demons. I was still starving at times. Putting away an entire jar of peanut butter at others—when my hunger, irritation, and impatience would overwhelm me, and in response, I would crash into the bottom of that brown, creamy hell. Heaven? Hell? I can’t decide.
Sadly, one very unfortunate side effect of even just a brief distortion of what food is and what it means to your body can, in some cases, never be undone. Once you see food as the enemy and decide—no matter how bad you crave it—it must be loathed, chastised, and purged, it’s very hard to go back to “eating normal.” Every calorie is mentally counted, every gram of fat, before the food item is ever ordered, purchased, or unwrapped, much less eaten then purged. “Grabbing a bite to eat,” is no longer just part of a normal day.
Whether to eat, when, how much, what you should eat—and, the most important factor: how you’re going to get it out—is a thought process that torments every hour of your every day. I’m not kidding. The disorder consumes your thoughts. It’s astounding—if you are one of the lucky ones who finally recovers and are able to look back and see—the enormous amounts of time you spent wasting on this very unnecessary aspect of your life when you could have used that time to paint a masterpiece, learn to tango, go to Bali, write a damn book, what-the-hell-ever-else besides counting and cataloging your input and output. It’s exhausting. And totally and completely unnecessary.
I distinctly remember hearing another eating disorder survivor say how embarrassed she felt looking back and remembering one of the most important thoughts on her wedding day was how many calories she had taken in and how many she needed to purge out.
On her wedding day.
And, she’s beautiful. She has the kind of body we imagine as we’re sticking our fingers down our throats and heaving. It is called a disorder for a reason. Because it makes no rational sense. It’s completely counterproductive and, the saddest part, it is also dissatisfying and damaging.
The very outcome we all are trying to accomplish—a nice body—is the last thing that will come from re-wiring our body’s response to food. Rather than taking it in frequently as healthy, necessary fuel, you teach your body (because you starve it for long periods) to store, rather than burn, what little you give her. Then, when you cave and binge (because we all have bad days and do that), your body savagely grabs whatever fat particles it can first and stores those, first, because it knows those will be the first to go when the starving begins again.
So, despite all of this massive effort you are putting in, your body remains squishy and tired. Because it is!
To me, it seems a lot like sex. Something you should naturally crave, need, have, and enjoy in a frequent, healthy way suddenly gets perverted when it is used as a means of punishment, of power, of unhealthy pleasure. Once you’ve re-wired your need, desire, and entitlement to food, it is hard to just revert back and do it like normal, for the right reasons, at the right dose, at appropriate times because it has mutated into something different for you. The normalcy and healthy necessity of it has been stripped, leaving your desire and use of it perverted.
And, unfortunately, this often means that even if you eventually solve or overcome whatever initial problem triggered your eating disorder—a break-up, divorce, a career or financial stressor perhaps—and that aspect of your life is now mended, your food issues remain, because they are simply now part of your psyche, part of your every day.
Am I going to binge today or not?
You’ll start to think about it when you wake up. Both the intoxicating pleasure of it, the burden of hiding it, and how you will somehow get enough sustenance to remain in your body that day to still feel skinny but not pass out, while you’re waiting to do it. These are serious thoughts that circle through your brain on a conveyor belt, going round and round.
Even on your wedding day.
Perhaps especially on your wedding day, because that’s a day you need to feel your most beautiful and skinny, right? Hope you don’t get any vomit on that pretty white dress when you puke up your wedding cake. And it will probably be just the one mouthful that you will feel you need to purge because you unfortunately had to swallow it as part of that whole stupid smash-some-cake-in-each-other’s-face bit.
What an annoying food jam?! A cultural ritual that forces you to eat cake! On your wedding day?! As if you actually wanted to eat any of that damn cake. Well, keep it down rather. No matter how much you may want it, you can never keep any of it down.
Are you crazy? That shit goes straight to the thighs!
But, secretly you know, banishing everyone from the reception hall, unzipping your dress, and sitting in the corner stuffing the entire cake in your mouth by hand, each heavenly-sweet, frosting-coated bite after another, would bring you far more pleasure than your husband ever could. I can guarantee you: any bride who is thinking about binging and purging on her wedding day derives more pleasure from food than from her spouse. I can say that because I’ve been married, while honing and hiding an eating disorder. Boy, was that frustrating? And exhausting. That’s why it had to end.
The marriage. Not the eating disorder. Are you crazy? Don’t worry. We’ll get there.