I want to tell you what it’s like to be me. I want you to feel my heart quicken when I encounter a treat – or, sometimes, any food at all. To experience the blood pounding in my ears, the clamminess of my palms. I want to share the thoughts that freight-train through my mind, chugga chugga, chugga chugga. It is always about food, whether I am in fear or in want. Even when it’s not about food, it becomes about food.
I had a bad day at work, I was yelled at, I felt worthless in my job; I fell down in the parking lot and scraped my knees; I spilled Diet Coke on my new pants; I am tired, I am hungry, I need comfort. I want something to fill me, make me feel whole; something warm and heavy like a comfy blanket. I want pasta and breadsticks, chicken-flavored stuffing and macaroni and cheese, meatloaf and mashed potatoes. I’m nervous about an exam, about talking to a boy, about putting a presentation together; I’m anxious because of family drama, because I’m late for work, because I don’t know how to best help this ailing client. I want something to nibble on, to keep me busy and distracted; small bites, so I can put them in my mouth with the same speed as the anxious thoughts. I’m coughing and sneezing and sick. I don’t want my mommy, I want comfort food. I’m happy and carefree and ready to take on the world. Give me a celebratory meal, with three courses and cake at the end. I’m hungry… oh, god, I’m hungry.
Hunger gives me panic. It feels like a disaster movie, and the hero is still across town, racing to save the day but he’s trapped and he’s screaming and there’s fire and blood and oh my god is he going to make it on time? The familiar gnawing in the stomach begins, and there starts the anxiety. Will I eat soon enough to abate the growling, so it stays a baby lion cub and doesn’t become a full-fledged king of the jungle? Will I get enough to eat, or will I be unsatisfied and have to pretend otherwise for the sake of normalcy? I put food in the oven, the microwave, the toaster. While I wait, I reach for the closest, quickest thing I can put in my mouth – crackers, chips, cereal, a piece of cheese, cold leftovers. By the time my meal is ready, the gnawing has subsided. And there’s still more to eat. I eat my meal for a variety of reasons – because it tastes good, because it’s soothing, because I enjoy it; because I feel guilty for wasting food; because it’s there. I can’t turn down food sitting right in front of me. The nine-year-old who went to bed hungry doesn’t understand the concept. Sometimes I eat because I’m still empty. I stuff myself until I’m in pain, and I groan and maybe even cry. And when I’m empty, I pick the plate back up and eat some more. It doesn’t matter how hard my heart is pounding, how sweaty and hot I’m getting, how the room spins and my stomach flips.
Food, in the absence of physical hunger, gives me panic. My palms start to sweat. It might be from clenching them in fear, or perhaps these two things occur simultaneously but separate from one another. My breathing quickens. The light looks brighter, sounds are louder. If there is a spread, oh god forbid a buffet spread, the images before me will start to melt together into a panorama of meats and cheeses and breads and desserts and drinks and will it ever end? Even if I’m hungry, in the presence of such catastrophic abundance, my breathing will stop. And start, quickly. Then stop again. As I try to discern my next move, I can’t control my involuntary biological reactions. It’s too much for my body to handle. The thoughts tumble against one another, too close to make out individually.
Toomuchfood; whatdoIdo?; Icaneatjustalittle, canIreallyeatjustalittle?; Idon’tknowhowtoeatwithpeople, whatiftheyseemeeatingfasterthanthemorthewrongfood?; Ohgodwhyisthisohardforme, Imustbesomekindoffreak, normalpeopledon’thavethisreactiontofood.
Sometimes, I’ll walk away. Running away might be more like it, at least on some specific instances. Some days, the fear will overtake me, even without a visible meal or buffet to trigger the fear. The thoughts will creep in and even thinking about eating makes me queasy and anxious. I’ll go days without eating, proud of myself for keeping the fear at bay. Proud of myself for being “strong enough” to accomplish such a feat, to master my pain in this ninja manner. It is after a couple days of this that I start to think about the weight-loss benefits of restricting. They say your body gets used to the low food intake and slows your metabolism down eventually, but I’ve seen pictures of anorectic girls – they are small and thin and have gaps between their thighs and arms that don’t flap, so their diet must be working.
I wish I could explain to you how all-encompassing these thoughts are. How they consume me daily and in my dreams, creating a full-time job in trying to evade and manipulate my way through them. I want you to feel what I feel, to see what I see, to live what I live, if only for the moments your hands are on this book.
But sometimes, I wonder if that’s possible. If I’m the only one who feels with the intensity of one thousand emotions at once. If I can ever eloquently describe the horror that is an eating disorder. If you’ll understand anything, just one thing, I am describing.
I want to tell you so I’m not alone. So that, if you can relate to what I write, you realize that you are not alone either.
Debbie is an addiction counselor and yoga teacher in Indiana. She is an avid reader of any genre, and has published fantasy short stories; she is still working on the elusive novel. Recently, Debbie has ventured into non-fiction writing, in hopes that discussing her life with an eating disorder will help someone in need. Debbie’s loves include her niece Lillie and her girl-cat, Emilio Estevez. She is passionate about mental health awareness, especially related to addiction and eating disorders.