Trigger Warning: The following contains specific details regarding anorexia and restricting diet.
Whenever I talk about my eating disorder, I struggle with identifying the exact moment it started. Was it when I began restricting my caloric intake? When I would circle the dining hall at college literally dozens of times before emerging with a handful of carrot sticks and a scoop of hummus on my plate? Or was it earlier than that — was it the first time I contemplated skipping lunch in high school? Like a lot of mental illnesses and addictions, it’s hard to name the precise beginning.
And even when I was fully immersed in my anorexic behaviors, I wasn’t aware of having a disease. I didn’t think that there was anything wrong with me. In my mind, I was fully in control –- I knew exactly what I was doing and I thought I could stop anytime I wanted. Only in retrospect do I understand the truth. I wasn’t in control at all; it was completely the other way around.
Incidentally, there’s a lot of talk about “control” when it comes to eating disorders. Some people are quick to assume that eating disorders are all about control, that people just want to exercise some kind of power over a world that is completely chaotic. Other people assume that eating disorders are all about wanting to be thin. They’ll blame the fashion industry for giving ordinary people unrealistic body ideals. But to say an eating disorder is pure vanity is to discount the serious psychological nature of the illness. It’s not all about being thin. And it’s not all about control.
Obviously, all eating disorders are different. They shape-shift, depending upon the individual. For me, it was about proving that I didn’t need anything. I was tired of relying on other people. I’d grown exhausted with being let down by friends, and I was tired of broken relationships and broken people. I wanted to show myself that I didn’t need anything at all — that I could exist with as little as possible.
I spiraled into full-blown anorexia in just a few months’ time. I went from 130 pounds at 5’4” to 120, to 110, to 100, to 90 in less than a year. Looking back now, it’s hard to imagine that I didn’t know what I was doing to myself, that it didn’t register until almost a full year of restricting that I was sick.
One of the things I look back on is the material aspect of the disease. So much of my time, energy, and money went towards adding fuel to my eating disorder. Anorexia is all-consuming in that it takes over every aspect of your life. It’s completely paradoxical but even though I wasn’t conscious of the fact that I had an eating disorder, my disordered eating was all I could think about.
I recently calculated just how much money I spent during my senior year of college, and the numbers are a little scary. I’m sharing them here with the hope that someone might understand, connect, or relate. That is the only reason I talk about my eating disorder now — with the goal of maybe helping others.
Here’s exactly how much money my anorexia cost me in one year:
“Safe” foods: $2,500
Despite having a meal plan at college, I went grocery shopping a lot. There were very few foods that didn’t give me a ton of anxiety, and I needed to make sure I always had them on hand in my dorm. Additionally, my meal plan only covered 2 meals a day, and I became anxious about not eating breakfast. I was afraid to get “too” hungry, because I didn’t want to feel like I might binge. I had to start every day with a Dannon Light & Fit yogurt or a Special “K” cereal bar.
New clothes: $3,000
As I lost weight, I was constantly needing new clothes. Additionally, I was obsessed with going shopping at the beginning. When I first started losing weight, all I wanted to do was try on size 2s and 0s and stare at myself in the mirror. However — and this is a big however — that quickly turned into embarrassment and shame when literally nothing fit. The summer after graduation, I had to buy a black polo for a restaurant hostess job and I had to buy it in the boys’ section of a department store. The clerk who worked there told me to eat a hamburger. There was no pride in that.
Two Scales: $40
One for my dorm, and one for my bedroom at my parents’ house. I checked it every day and wrote a number down in my journal.
I chewed gum ALL the time to suppress hunger or to have something to do when offered food. I chewed so much gum during my senior year that I eventually developed a lot of pain in my jaw. I actually haven’t chewed gum in years now (upon orders from my dentist).
Like the gum, I developed a huge coffee habit in college with the goal of trying to suppress my hunger. I’d always been a big coffee drinker, but that increased tremendously during the height of my eating disorder.
One of the things about having an eating disorder — or any addiction for that matter — is that the word “recovery” is always present tense, not past tense. Recovery is an ongoing process. You can be free from the behaviors and mentality, but it will always be a part of you. I’ve learned that I can take that piece of myself and try to help others who are going through the same thing. Ultimately, while an eating disorder is part of who I am, it’s not all of who I am. It doesn’t have to define my identity as much as what I choose to do going forward.
De is a New Yorker turned Bostonian and a lover of all things theatrical. In addition to writing, she is an actress/singer/dancer/teacher and owner of the fluffiest cat imaginable. She is on Twitter.
Image via Unsplash