Last week, it turns out, was National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Until I read about it later on Huffington Post’s lifestyle page, I was not aware of this awareness event, but that doesn’t matter, because I’m always aware of eating disorders.
They’re everywhere. I’m not just talking about the classics, good ol’ anorexia and bulimia. That’s way too narrow a definition. There are so many different ways for someone’s eating to be dis-ordered. As in, messed up.
I can count on one hand, two lady fingers, and a chicken wing the number of women I know who don’t have some kind of weird shit around food.
Boy, was my eating disorderly back in the day. I could write a book of examples. Not that this is short, but here are some snapshots to give you an idea.
I get mono and tonsilitis. I use the attending sore throat as a license to keep my own pint of Ben and Jerry’s Heathbar Crunch in the freezer. For safety, I lick the spoon and stick it back in, and let the family know that the ice cream is officially contaminated. I eat about a pint a day, a habit which lasts well beyond the mono.
This may be normal teen eating behavior. But pair that with a year of skipping gym — which I get away with because the school nurse is a pushover — and I’m struggling to snap my Girbaud jeans. I’ve been weight-conscious since I was 5, but now I’m desperate. The stage is set.
Summer after 11th grade
I spend a month in Cannes, France. The family I lodge with locks all the pastries in an armoire at night so I can’t get at them, which is just as well.
During the day, I decide to eat nothing but a green apple so I can save calories, along with all the money my parents gave me to spend. Every night, I eat fish soup or a tomato and tuna salade – French for salad – without the dressing. This works well.
Jeans (now beat-up Levis) finally hanging loose. At parties, I bring my own liter of Diet Coke and swig from it the whole time. I won’t even look at pizza. I start going to aerobics classes every day after school. On the way to the bus, when a classmate stops and buys a Snickers for a snack, I think, “Really? A candy bar? Who eats a candy bar any more?”
Summer before college
I get a job scooping ice cream at Steve’s, home of the original mix-in. I never have a scoop myself. Not once, the whole time. Instead, I pick up a soft-serve frozen yogurt from Zabar’s and eat that on what is supposed to be my ice cream break. I really want some ice cream, but as a booby prize I get to be self-righteous serving it to other people and thinking how fat they’ll get.
When someone orders the Medium and complains that I didn’t fill it to the top, I say, in a very Church Lady voice, “Oh, I’m sorry, did you want the full half pint?” Because that’s how much is in a medium cup. 8 ounces. Half a pint. Pigs.
Freshman year, college
I keep a little Weight Watchers scale and a measuring cup in my dorm room so I won’t go overboard and eat more than 3/4 oz of Special K with 1/2 cup of skim milk for breakfast.
I spend lunches in my room so that instead of being faced with all the fattening choices in the cafeteria, I can put together a delicious sandwich of fat-free turkey slices on Peperidge Farm lite bread, with mustard. Every part of this sandwich sticks to my teeth, but I think it’s heaven. I keep all the ingredients in my mini-fridge, along with cans of Diet Sunkist. For dessert, I get sugar-free orange or grape Bubble Yum.
On snack nights, when everyone gathers in the hall for chips and cookies and pizza, I emerge from my room with a bag of carrots, a carrot scraper, and my waste basket to catch the carrot peel. They have their snack, I have mine. Scrape scrape scrape. Bags of peeled baby carrots don’t yet exist.
Sad thing is, I’m not the one to worry about on our floor.
Three doors to the right is Vicky, who does aerobics in her room while defrosting Birds Eye vegetables on her radiator. She doesn’t let anyone in there, but when she opens the door a crack and pokes her head (and terrycloth headband) out, you can smell a mixture of sweat and broccoli.
Two doors to the left is Marla, who keeps a giant Binge Basket next to her bed. It’s full of Ho Hos, Ding Dongs, Doritos, Fritos, Twinkies, everything you can imagine eating and regretting. She makes no secret of the fact that she throws it all up every day, mostly because there’s no way to keep it secret. Her feet are always turned the wrong way in the bathroom stall, facing the toilet. And when she walks down the hall, she has to grab onto the wall for support because she’s dizzy from whatever imbalance constant barfing leaves you with.
And then there are the gals at the end of the hall, who gain 20 pounds each from ordering from Domino’s every night. I have to hide my smile when they weigh themselves and scream at the end of the semester. I hug my carrots to my chest. Yay, carrots. Yay, me.
I live with 9 other housemates in a place called Low Rise, which is a complex of ugly beige units around a central courtyard. From that courtyard, at any time of day, people can see me through the sliding glass doors of our living room, sweating away on my stationary bike. Every time I chow so much as a handful of Cheerios, I climb back on the bike and pedal off the calories.
I start running 9 miles a day. I run so hard, my toenails fall off. And then my treat is: a giant salad for dinner, with fat-free ranch dressing, and for dessert, a Weight Watchers ice cream sandwich. When my housemates go on Baskin Robbins runs, I go along and ask for tastes on the little pink plastic spoons. I never buy any. Not an option. I just come back and have my diet treat. Even if I’ve run extra miles, no real ice cream, except for bites of other people’s. Like a panhandler, I go around asking each housemate for just a taste, and everyone grunts and asks why I didn’t get my own. Because I can’t eat real ice cream or I’ll get fat, that’s why. Can I have another bite?
One housemate, Kelly, buys a half gallon of Hershey’s ice cream one night, has a dainty bowl of it, and puts the rest away with her name on it in Sharpie pen. After everyone is asleep, I creep downstairs, and eat a spoonful or two right out of the freezer. Barely make a dent. The next night, I do the same thing. And then the next few nights after that. I never take enough for anyone to notice. Except that the next time Kelly is fixing to have herself a nice bowl of ice cream, she opens the freezer, and finds the carton empty. All that’s left is a sad little mound, clinging to the side of the carton like it’s trying to hide from me. She’s furious. I’m like, Wow, who would do something like that?
Summer abroad, Junior year
I spend 6 weeks in Florence, Italy, studying Italian. The program I’m on gives us vouchers for a number of local restaurants, but I don’t use them. I eat a little baby gelato every day, and spinach for dinner. I have pasta once. In Italy.
I order everything with extra mushrooms and tomatoes, because I like them and they have almost no calories. Late nights at Lucky Strike, a bistro in Soho, my usual order is a plate of spinach, steamed, no oil. And a jar of mustard, please. Paaaarty!!!
I never, ever skip my Aerobox class – not even for a single Saturday to meet my boyfriend’s grandmother. No matter how much he says it would mean to her. And to him.
My eating has gotten a lot less weird over the years, especially since I married someone in the restaurant business. None of this rice cakes and lite ice cream crap. I eat good food now, and I eat what I want. I order the thing I like from the menu, even if it has butter or cream.
I still have some *stuff*. Like, I don’t love to go out to lunch. To me, it’s a waste — I’d rather save my calories for later. I’m happy to have a dumb, nothing lunch, like a protein bar or a yogurt, so I can have a big dinner. I know that’s not so normal.
But I also know I’ve come a long way, and I’m glad I won’t be spending the rest of my life the way I used to.
We had dinner recently with some friends in their 60s – a couple – and the wife only ordered an appetizer. That’s what she always does. The Sides section of the menu offered “A Good Pickle,” which I ordered with my burger. I was looking forward to it. When it came, they put it in front of the wife, and she ate it as her entree, with a knife and fork. I watched her cut it into tiny little bits, and wondered if I should order another. Nah.