‘Alright? What are you up to today?’ Goodge asked as I walked into the kitchen.
‘Same. Want to go to the library together?’
We spent the day side by side at the library, typing away and occasionally getting up to get more books. When the library was about to close I turned to Goodge. Pulling out my headphones I poked him, ‘Wanna do one?’
‘Yeah,’ he said, closing his laptop. ‘I’m starving … you hungry?’
‘I suppose I could eat. I’m not very hungry though.’
‘What have you eaten today?’
I paused and pretended to think about it, though I knew exactly what I had eaten. ‘A cup of tea and an apple.’
‘Is that it?’
‘How can you do that? Aren’t you starving?’
‘Not really, I haven’t been doing anything all day but sitting around so it’s not as if I’ve worked up a massive appetite.’
Don’t I know it. I actually wasn’t hungry. I can go ages without eating and it’s only when hunger suddenly strikes that I realise I haven’t eaten all day.
As we walked outside I pulled my gloves on. ‘Where do you want to go?’
‘Want to eat in college?’
I scowled. ‘College food is atrocious.’
‘Yeah but it’s cheap, innit?’
‘Would you rather go somewhere else?’
‘Nah, I can always cook something later.’
‘Pot noodle isn’t cooking. Don’t pretend like you cook, I’ve seen your cupboard – there’s nothing in it.’
‘That’s because I eat out.’
‘I know, but I’m lazy.’
We made our way to the canteen for tea. I watched as Goodge piled his plate with just about everything he could get his hands on. I didn’t even bother grabbing a tray, just picked out a Diet Coke and stood in front of the salads and sandwiches, checking the nutritional information for a couple minutes before settling on a hummus wrap that had 363 calories in it. It still only brought my daily total up to about 450, but the wrap was the only thing that looked vaguely appetising to me.
We sat down in hall and I was mildly disgusted by Goodge’s plate. Different foods piled on top of each other. I don’t like my food to touch on the plate, let alone for it to all look like one massive concoction. He began devouring his food, barely coming up for air in between bites. I looked down at my wrap. I hated watching people eat. Almost as much as I hate the sound of people eating. It turns my stomach. At that point my stomach was turning because I was hungry, so I pulled the wrap out and started eating. I peeled away part of the excess tortilla and pulled the olives out.
‘Is that all you’re going to eat?’ Goodge said, mouth half full.
‘That’s not enough. Want a piece of pizza?’
‘No thank you.’ I said, frowning at the pizza that was buried under a pile of chips. ‘How’s your heart attack on a plate?’
‘Delicious. I’m really lucky, I never gain weight. I physically can’t.’
‘Really? Because you’re looking a bit chubby.’ He stopped mid-bite and looked up at me, a look of shock on his face. ‘I’m kidding!’ I said, laughing.
‘Bitch.’ He said and then continued chewing. ‘Well, you should be careful … I heard Diet Coke makes people fat.’ He raised his eyebrows and looked down at my drink.
‘Diet Coke doesn’t make you fat. The five Big Macs you order with it from McDonalds makes you fat. That statistic is bollocks.’ I didn’t drink any more of the Diet Coke.
We left the canteen and parted ways. ‘Pub later?’ Goodge asked.
‘Yeah, sure. Laters.’
It wasn’t that I thought the Diet Coke would make me fat. I had just started remembering the days where I wouldn’t eat or drink anything but Diet Coke after five o’clock in the evening. I don’t even particularly like the taste. I had just ordered it out of habit. It was one of many habits at one point.
In a Past, Not So Far Away:
My hand was hovering over the speed setting on the treadmill and I pressed it up to six and a half miles per hour as the time switched to 45:00. I had to do it at that very second. Everything had to be done in time segments that were increments of five or ten. I turned the music on my iPod up and thought about my breathing.
You’re not tired, you’re just holding your breath. Breathe. Your legs are fine. Keep running. I thought to myself. You’ve gone this long, you can go longer.
I put the speed down to three and put the incline up to ten.
This is the easy part. Drink some water and keep going. Fifteen more minutes.
You’re not tired, your heartbeat is only at 142. Keep it under 150. Fat burning zone.
Speed up to three and a half.
Last fifteen minutes, make it harder every five.
Incline up to twelve and a half.
Incline up to fifteen, the maximum.
Breathing hard as I walked I grabbed my iPod and shuffled through to find a good last song. I settled on ‘Reptilla’ by the Strokes.
I stared at my water. I had been thirsty for the past seven minutes, but irrationally I only drank at times that were in segments of fifteen minutes. I hadn’t taken a sip since 75:00.
My left foot hurt.
My hand was resting on the bar in front of the control panel. That makes it easier, you know. Don’t hold onto the bars. As it went to 90:00 I simultaneously pressed the decline buttons for speed and incline. Speed to two and a half, incline to zero. I grabbed my water and finished what was left what had been a Robinsons bottle of squash but was now just a label-less bottle of water.
My heart rate slowed quickly. I switched the song to something more mellow and yawned as I warmed down.
Speed up to three. The treadmill only went to 99:59 before it reset itself. I took great satisfaction in the moment it went to 0:00.
I watched the clock for another four and a half minutes, and as it approached 99:58 I put my finger on the stop button.
I pressed stop at that very moment. It always irked me if I let it go a second over 0:00. I pressed another button which went through how far I had gone and how many calories I had burned. Almost 800.
I got off the treadmill and walked through the gym towards the changing room. I was soaked and starting to get cold quickly. In the changing room I took off my sweaty clothes and pulled on a pair of track bottoms. I turned towards the mirror in the changing room and stared at my reflection. My hair was wet and my face was red. I turned to the side and sucked my stomach in as far as it would go. It made my rib cage look massive. I exhaled and pushed my stomach out, slouching. It was equally unattractive to the sucking in bit. I grabbed a dry shirt and threw it on before anyone walked in and caught me being a spaz. I washed my hands and then pulled an apple out of my bag. I sat on the bench next to my bag and ate it.
I rode my bike slowly, knackered as I reached college. When I got back to my room I poured some squash into my water bottle, filling the rest with water and then downing half of it in one go. I sat down at my desk, checking my email and finishing the rest of the squash. I wrote the apple down in a notebook, quickly tallying the calorie count for the day. It was close to 520. I wrote ‘total’ in block capitals and triumphantly put the 520 next to it.
My stomach felt full as I had just put a litre of liquid into it. I’m not even hungry. I bet I could eat less than 500 calories tomorrow. I got up, walked over to my bed and collapsed onto it, falling to sleep immediately.
When I woke up again there was dribble on the duvet where my head had been and my left foot was dangling off the side of the bed. I groaned and turned over, both feet now dangling above the ground. I sat up and looked around the room. My lights were still on and I had no idea what time it was. I grabbed my phone and pressed a button.
Shit! I had so much work to do. My hips hurt. I sat for a second, still half asleep and contemplating what to do. Work in the morning. Sleep now. I looked down at my feet, blistered and losing toenails. Disgusting. I got up and switched the lights off then walked towards the bed and pulled the covers out and got into them. I didn’t care that I hadn’t showered, I’d wash the sheets the next day. I fell back into my deep sleep.
And, we’re back …
It doesn’t take a doctor to know that this little game of ‘how low can I go?’ with my calorie intake and ‘how long can I go?’ with my treadmill obsession couldn’t last long without some serious repercussions. Though I had quite the run of it. The rate at which my addiction accelerated didn’t give me time to realise what was going on and before I knew it my life had become a never-ending running tally in my mind of calories in, calories out. It also doesn’t take a doctor to realise that I have an extremely addictive personality and anorexia was just the flavour of the week in a longer list of obsessions I’ve taken too far.
Am I better now? Yes. Am I cured? Absolutely not. There’s no way to stop myself from quickly running a mental tally on what I’ve eaten every day, but more often than not it prompts me to get up and get food than it does to victoriously write down some obscenely low number in a journal. I don’t weigh myself. I haven’t been on a treadmill in over a year – I only go for runs outside, and rarely for longer than half an hour, because when I snapped back into reality I realised that running is boring and should be reserved for when one is being chased. I generally eat like a normal human being, but that doesn’t come without anxiety and I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that even last week I resolved not to eat for two days after having a massive dinner one night. I made it thirty-six hours on a bottle of wine and a pack of peanuts before I concluded that I was being downright idiotic.
Anorexia for me had little to do with how I looked or the comments I received when I lost weight – which were usually, ‘You’ve lost weight.’ Statement, not necessarily praise. As in You’ve lost more weight? in a sceptical tone. A sure fire way to know if someone is anorexic lies in one question, ‘You’ve lost weight, what have you been doing?’ If the immediate response is, ‘I’ve been eating,’ then the person is probably not eating. I tried desperately to hide my insanity, which is hard when it manifests itself in your physical appearance, but it was a constant need to prove something to myself. I’m not sure what starving and running proves, aside from the fact that I’m mental, and I wish I could give you a more reassuring breakdown of exactly what went wrong, but I honestly do not know.
My awareness of these tendencies is what has saved me. I had created this illusion of control over myself when the reality was that a serious addiction had taken over me.
* * *
I give advice better than I can take it, so please do not hesitate to contact me if you are suffering from an eating disorder and need someone to talk to. I moderate all comments left on the blog and if you send me a comment with your email address I won’t publish it, but I will most certainly talk to you. I’m lucky that I have an extremely supportive group of friends (just yesterday I was dragged to dinner by Lad Boy who commented, ‘You look hungry. Drinks on you, meal is on me.’), and I have come out of the other end of this with their help. Writing this has been extremely difficult, as even momentarily slipping back into that state of mind makes me remember how easy it could be to just stop eating and start counting, but if it can help one person it will have been worth it.