TRIGGER WARNING : This post contains material that may be a potential trigger for some. It’s contents include talk of eating disorders and self-injury. If you are sensitive to this material, please use your discretion before reading.
I am by no means a thin woman. As a matter of fact, according to my BMI, I am actually slightly in the overweight range. It’s not really unusual for a person who lives in the good ol’ US-of-A. Obesity is considered an epidemic in this region of the world.
I have bad body image. This started as a very young child when the other kids would pick on me for being overweight. At that point, it wasn’t my fault. I wasn’t responsible for my diet, and my family had terrible eating habits. In fact, as I started to notice while my parents were watching my child, they encouraged recreational eating for lack of other engaging activities. As a result, I ended up a fat, miserable kid.
I remember I stopped eating my lunch at one point. A lunch aid came over and asked what was wrong. I recall telling her, “I’m on a diet.” She looked shocked and appalled. Now that I’m an adult, it’s completely understandable. I was eight, and I was confessing that I was unhappy because of my weight. To her credit, she attempted to explain to me that I had a lot of years to grow into the weight, and it was unhealthy to deprive myself of food.
Essentially, she was trying to talk me out of developing an eating disorder. Unfortunately, talk is too cheap when you’re eight.
Eventually, people close to me stopped mentioning my weight. And I continued to grow. By the time I was in the fifth grade, I was obese. I was eleven, 4’8”, and weighed approximately what a fourteen year-old 5’1” teenager should have weight in a healthy weight range. My clothes continued to shrink rapidly, and the only excuse my mother could come up with was that I was just “having a growth spurt”.
It wasn’t lost on my peers or teachers, though. While I had the brains, I didn’t have the body. And the outside was all that mattered. Summer break came, and I was about to enter middle school. It was at that time that I decided that I would shed my “baby weight”, as people were so eager to call it, and become a slender woman.
That was the summer where it all began.
The real secret is something I’ve hinted at throughout the last year, but could never bring myself to actually come out and say. Even now, I find myself typing and retyping the sentence that will start to change everything. It will change how people think of me, and how people treat me. It will have people worry and watch me like a hawk. And those are all things that I’ve tried to avoid over the years.
As a child, it developed from recreational eating into comfort eating. I would gorge myself far beyond bursting, to the point of where it felt like the contents of my stomach were backing up into my throat. The act of eating was comforting and satisfying. The sensation of fullness seemed to fill this hole inside of me. It took away the emptiness that I had tried so hard to fill with accomplishment. Even for a moment, I was full. I was whole.
That led to another problem. Childhood obesity. And the lack of friends I had resulting from my obesity and the intimidation of my perfectionism and accomplishment created an even bigger hole. What started out as a small snag in the woven fabric of my life started to unravel into a gaping hole, threatening to tear seam to seam. Comfort eating turned into binge eating and created a cycle that continually fed into itself.
The summer before middle school, I decided to start dieting. How absurd – an eleven year old on a diet. I restricted my food intake to half of what I was eating. I refused to eat between meals. I started both biking and running once a day for at least an hour. When my clothes started to become loose, it only served to encourage all of these behaviors.
I was a child on a mission. I started only eating half of what I was eating, leaving me eating meals off of saucers. I added running stairs onto my exercise regimen. I would spend a half an hour each day running the basement stairs, as to not bother my parents. My clothes became so loose that I became reduced to wearing my 90lb mother’s clothes.
I had done it. In fact, I had done so well that most of my peers didn’t recognize me anymore. Many people started referring to me as “the new girl”, as I didn’t have any friends to correct them. And much to my surprise, those shallow little girls I had come to despise welcomed me to their clicks with open arms. I was no longer intimidating or disgusting.
Throughout the years, my weight bounced up and down. I would binge and then go on an exercise craze. In my mid-teens, I discovered those ephedra pills that could be found at any gas station. Friends and I would take handfuls of them and stay up, bouncing off of the walls, for 72 hours at a time. I remember lying in bed just vibrating, desperately mentally exhausted, but completely wired.
My relationship with my first love, my high school sweetheart, started going south around the time that I was seventeen. And the binging started once again. I hated myself for it, and I watched myself grow out of my clothes once again. I knew he had to have found me repulsive, and I knew he was eyeing other women. But, it only served to make it worse.
I will never forget this. I had my eighteenth birthday at my boyfriend’s place. I was surrounded by many of my friends, and we ordered several pizzas that I paid for. I watched all of the girls daintily eat one or two slices of pizza, when I realized that I had gorged myself on four. I looked at their slender bodies with envy. What a disgusting pig I am! I thought. No wonder I’m so fat!
I went to the bathroom and locked the door. I leaned over and stared into the bowl. I was about to do something that we all had accused and ridiculed thin cheerleaders for. It was this, or being doomed to a life of obesity and loneliness. I extended my index finger and pressed down on the back of my tongue.
The vomit came pouring out like a fountain into the bowl. The taste was awful, like orange juice mixed with something foul. But, the sensation was incredible. I could feel the load lightening, and my stomach shrinking. I did it again, this time making myself gag harder, almost to the point where I made an audible noise. It felt like all of the awful feelings were just pouring out from inside of me. It was almost like cutting, but without any noticeable tell-tale scars.
I purged until there was nothing left but stomach acid. I sat against the door, breathing heavily and relishing in the hollow feeling in my belly. There was something so beautiful about feeling that emptiness. It ached, along with my raw throat, and the bitter aftertaste of vomit in my mouth.
This doesn’t happen regularly. It only happens when I have a severely awful body image. My clothes start to get tight, and automatically, my stomach starts to churn, as if it knows what’s about to come. If I’ve eaten just before a fight with someone, I find myself getting queasy and running for a bathroom. If I am rejected, I automatically assume it’s because I’m not attractive. I find myself hell bent on getting back a body I once had.
But even worse is when I do it as a form of self-injury and control. I binge, feeling the sensation of my belly swelling with all of the emotion I can’t experience. The contents rise into my throat, without a place left to go. I excuse myself and wrap myself in an awful embrace with that cold, unforgiving porcelain. For a moment, just a brief shining moment, I stare into the bowl, trying to talk myself out of it. There’s no other way. I lean in, and the deed is done.
And each time, the whooshing of the flush brings shame to my already teary eyes. I stare at the bloodshot eyes, ringed with raccoon eyes. My face is red and looks exhausted. All I can do is take to cleaning up the mess I created.