Disordered Eating

‘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.’
‘You’re mental.’
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?’
‘I suppose.’
‘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.’
‘Expensive habit.’
‘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.
‘Yes, why?’
‘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.
Stop complaining.
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.
80 calories.
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.

18 Responses to “Disordered Eating”

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  1. Anonymous says:

    >Dear Oxy,

    Thank you for your excellent blog. I am sure writing this post must have taken a great deal out of you and I can only commend you for still putting pen to paper (or fingers on your keyboard) because I know your blog is being read widely and I am sure it will help people.

    Still, make sure you take care of your body by feeding it healthy, nutritious food and it will take care of you. After all, you need to keep your strenth up for all your SAO business…

    Thanks again and goodluck in staying healthy and happy! Lil'Eve

  2. Phoebe says:

    >That was such a poignant and very personal post, SAO. I applaud you for sharing your story and I am sure you will help a lot of readers, anonymous or not to look at themselves, raising awareness that even they might not have noticed that something might be wrong, because when it's yourself, you don't take it in compared to reading about someone else when it suddenly clicks.
    I can't imagine how it must have felt writing about it and how easy it could be to slip back into your old ways.
    I felt SO bad reading about you on the treadmill, that part really moved me with your need to do things in order and nothing before, denying yourself water because of the timings, very powerfully written.
    It was very hard to read that you went through that and how you can remember those moments which hinted that something is definitely wrong.
    I am just glad that even though you'll never be completely over your compulsive counting, you got the help you needed and brilliant friends to help you through any down days you might have or when you might slip back into it.
    But you are not mental, SAO. I'd hate for you to label yourself as that even jokingly, because you don't know where or why your counting and burning calroies started, but you are not mental.
    I've not experienced anorexia myself, thank goodness, but calorie counting is so easy to do and tally up that I could tell you what every meal or snack I eat adds up to and I have to balance it out to reassure myself, and it's not for anyone else but myself. I think it's a very personal problem and battle which is why it can go unnoticed for so long, so I am SO glad you got the help you needed to help you get better :)
    Well done for sharing, SAO.
    Much love, Phoebe xx

  3. Paula says:

    >Congratulations on your starting to overcome this :) It was really brave of you to post about your illness in order to help other people who may not receive the support you received from your friends.

    Besides, it was magnificently written. I would like to know if you usually write short stories (I mean, fictional ones). I guess you probably do because it seems like writing runs through your veins (I still wonder if you study English ^^).

    If this is the case, what about posting them in another anonymous blog? I would definitely like to read them if you are willing to share them with your readers. Think it over, SAO!! I'll read through your comments in the future to see if you've replied to my suggestion :)

    All best,

  4. Hope Springs says:

    >I am writing as the mother of a girl recovering from anorexia. Incidentally I also went to Cambridge – albeit some time in the 18c – and so understand a little of your life there. I am glad you have self awareness of your addiction, but please do not think that makes you immune from the effects of not eating: your brain will already have shrunk and your thinking will be impaired. You don't state your weight (sorry, I haven't read all your posts and so may have missed it) but the fact that sucking your stomach in makes your ribcage look vast implies that you are already much too thin to be attractive (sorry to be blunt) or, more importantly, healthy. Please, please, please don't throw your life away lightly. Just eat properly…3 meals a day which can be just as healthy as you like (hummus wrap is fine if you also have a big pile of couscous with roast veg and a banana and yoghurt afterwards, and then a hot chocolate before bed). I know I sound like your mother – or like she would sound if she knew what you were doing to yourself – but make no apology. Don't hurt yourself, don't hurt those around you. You are absolutely clever enough to consider the long term consequences (osteoporosis, kidney damage, irreversible heart muscle damage), short term consequences (stinky breath, soft hair growth on your body, bony ugly form) and to measure them against any possible benefits (? feeling one up on your mate who is a bit chubby, feeling proud of being able to stick to self imposed rules) and realise that it just doesn't stack up.

    You are a girl who is making interesting choices (eg writing this blog) and is clever (viz place at Oxbridge) and privileged. Please write tomorrow saying that you have eaten a good 2000 calories today. Actually, as you probably know, once you have been very thin you need a lot more calories than other people just to maintain your weight so you probably need to aim for 2,500 or even 3,000 if you are taking a lot of exercise.

    My heart was being broken this time last year by Waif. If you were her mother (she is 14 so I know this requires a suspension of disbelief!) is there any part of you that would wish her to be back that dangerously thin?


  5. Anonymous says:

    >Wow!! good read there. I know this ain't ur normal blog but it was good nonetheless. When i read time for sexy in ur twitter post i expected sth different in this blog lol

  6. Anonymous says:

    >It's really good to hear someone speak openly about this. It must have been difficult. At the risk of sounding patronising, well done. And thank you.

  7. Anonymous says:

    >I just wanted to say that I think writing this must have been very hard for you but I think it was a very, very good thing to do.

    You give a different perspective to anorexia as people mostly assume the person just wants to be thin. Although I never suffered quite as seriously, on my gap year I got to the point where I wasn't eating very much and tried to make it less and less every day. It wasn't necessarily because I wanted to loose weight, more that I needed to be in control of something, as everything else in my life was out of my control at that point.

    I've never told anyone what was going on but I think people do need to talk about it more, even anonymously – as you are – because I don't think many people understand it.

    That was a bit of jumble, but thanks basically xxxx

  8. Anonymous says:

    >You're incredible SAO. Truly incredible. I take my hat off to you.

  9. Andrew from Oregon says:

    >SAO, you are fantastic. Thank you for writing and posting this. It will help someone, likely many someones, and I think you can be proud that you have the strength of character both to fight it yourself and to openly share your experience with others.

  10. Ailsa says:

    >Thank you for posting this. Not an issue for me at the moment, but so many people struggle with eating problems – I hope that, if they're reading, they'll reach out to you, or friends who can help them.

  11. MissEm says:

    >I'm a devoted (erlack, such a cliche word) fan of yours and I truly enjoy your writing. I think your blog witty and clever, and most of all, real!
    I'v suffered of eating problems for several years now and though I'v come a long way I still blame myself for every "extra" mouthful I eat. I can't really say that I feel good about myself unless I starve myself and get that (awesome) sense of control. I hate the days when I don't have lectures until the late hours of the evening and have to spend all day indoors near the kitchen cupboards.
    So what I mean to say is that I feel you

  12. Anonymous says:

    >You deserve a lot of respect for sharing your story. I hope that what you've said resonates with any readers who may be suffering from an eating disorder. I'm sure you'll be able to help anyone who asks. xoxo

  13. Anonymous says:

    >Thank you for this very personal and real account of your story. I definately find myself calorie counting and spending alot of time in the gym, it has become a habit after I went through a hard breakup over a year ago. I am much better than I was and have put on weight but to hear someone else finds it so easy to slip back into feeling bad after eating just one big meal is very supportive. Keep up the excellent work on eating again, you are doing great xx

  14. Chelsea says:

    >This is such a poignant post and I know how difficult it would have been to write. Although I don't suffer from an eating disorder, I am incredibly thin and have (self-diagnosed) OCD and constantly feel paranoid about people labelling me an anorexic. I totally understand the perfectionist/ocd thing when you get really fixated on something and when near enough is NEVER good enough. I'm never happy with myself, be it my looks or my study or whatever. However, I've come to a point (after suffering from a severe mental breakdown during my last year of school) where I realise that I set the most ridiculous standards for myself. For me, the best thing to do is to *try* (although it's not easy) to see myself in a different light, be it from my parents, who provide unconditional love, or friends who love me just the way I am. Thinking about my talents and passions is another way I try and pull through those times that I think I'm a failure just because something isn't perfect, as well as thinking about all the good things yet to come (which for me is starting university in 2 weeks!).
    Chelsea xx

    P.S. I've been reading your blog for a while and absolutely LOVE it!! (And I'm sorry it's taken me this long to comment.) I'm all the way in Sydney, which shows how relevant this blog is to all young people around the globe. Good luck with everything!

  15. cokey says:

    >What an inspirational post. Really well written.(Don't have much else to say really, sorry for the rubbish comment!) x x x

  16. Anonymous says:

    >this was hard to read, but I am so glad that I did. this is me all over – een down to monitoring the water intake, like you this irrational control over my life has slowly crept up on me over the past four years at Edinburgh University. You say you are better but not cured – I wonder whether you have replaced the food monitoring with another form of control – after realising the self-destrcutive nature of my obsession with control and the need for perfection, physically and mentally, I have been trying to convert the bad into good…into health over vanity. The healthier I eat, the more energy i have each day, the silkier my hair looks means I am winning. Again, I of course appreciate that even these habits are still unhealthy, but for now it's the best I can do. I am hoping that life after academia in a job and world that does not fill me with bordem and the need to add my own structure my need for these things will lessen. Again, thank you for this blog…so well written X

  17. Anonymous says:

    >My sister's like you, beautiful and clever, and she's going through something similar now. I'm so sorry not to be able to get through to her, or say the right thing to change her mind and help her relax and accept her appetite and her figure, but it's good to know that you managed to get your head around it. Thanks SAO. x


  1. […] I did write about this a couple of years ago – Disordered Eating – and I still speak to some people who reached out after reading it. I am always here to […]

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