TRIGGER WARNING: disordered eating.
One, two, three, four.
Purple in the morning, blue in the afternoon, orange in the evening, and green at night. Just like that. One pill, two pills, three pills, four pills.
The repetitive and obsessive routine of a prescription pill addict in Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream is similar to the mantra you must use when living with an eating disorder. After all, disorders like anorexia nervosa or bulimia are in fact addictions. It is a compulsion of constant calorie counting and tormenting yourself on what your body is ingesting. According to the National Eating Disorders Organization, 20 million women and 10 million men will suffer from an eating disorder at some time in their life.
My eating disorder began when I was 15, and like most people suffering from this disease, I had no idea what terrible road I was starting to head down. Even after my recovery, it is a constant battle I deal with every day, and one I have accepted. Now at 22, I have learned how to be a stronger person in dealing with the disease, and I have grown as a human being. But when I look back on the lowest point in my disorder, it is like venturing down the rabbit hole all over again.
As a sophomore in high school I began to hate what puberty had done to my body. Transitioning from a tall lanky pre-teen to a curvy “woman” was not something I was ready for. I hated having larger breasts, wide hips, a new jiggle in my thighs, and stretch marks from growing too fast. Comparing myself to girls in my class was a new habit I formed. My body became my insecurity; it was uncharted territory for a girl who once had a fast metabolism, shoveling down anything and everything, to develop a hatred for food.
Purging was my first compulsion.
One: Don’t eat all day.
Two: Eat as much food as possible.
I don’t remember where I got the idea from, but I remember the feeling of desperation: binge eating out of depression, than purging over the toilet until I felt I had rid every speck of food from my stomach. Tears in my eyes, a splotchy red face, and puffy cheeks was the look I sported after my expunging. But I didn’t care—I felt thin. I felt accomplished.
This was my dirty little secret. No one could know what I was doing; I couldn’t even admit it to myself. Soon I developed tricks to keep my secret safe: turning on the bath water when purging, binge eating in my room so no one saw my food intake, and brushing my teeth immediately afterwards. Eventually I began losing weight. My stomach felt flatter, my boobs became smaller, but I couldn’t tell the difference. In my own mind, I looked exactly the same, and loathed it.
The purging became exhausting, and I wanted to find a new way to reach my unrealistic goal. By convincing my parents to let me join a gym later that school year, I rejoiced at the new chapter in my weight loss voyage.
Four: Another workout.
I limited my food intake each day to one apple, one granola bar, one banana, and a small bowl of cardboard-tasting carbs that had zero calories and zero nutritional value. My food consumption was at most 800 calories a day that I strived to work off at the gym. The sad part was that my complete and utter attention was solely focused on my body. My relationships with friends and family began to whither away with each pound I lost. I never hung out with anyone in fear of missing a workout or being watched as I ate food in public. By age 16, I weighed about 100 pounds at my 5’7” height and still thought I could lose more. People asked if I was sick; they stared and made “too thin” comments I ignored. My addiction didn't have to do with a need for attention so much as a need for control over my life.
“You look like a Holocaust victim.” That one line is what snapped me out of my delirium. If a friend of mine didn’t tell me that I looked so emaciated, I don’t know if I would have begun my recovery before it was too late. Like any addiction, the person has to want to change their life. I was exhausted, lonely, and slowly killing myself. Most of all, I was tired of not enjoying life.
It has been seven years since that time in my life, but even though I do not act on the disease, it is always going to be a part of me. I was fortunate enough to have friends who helped me get through it when I needed to talk and to support my recovery. My method of recovery was simply focusing on becoming healthy again: eating full meals with nutrients I had been depriving my body of, joining the school's swim team, and really directing my energy towards loving myself. I have my bad days; all recovering addicts do. But knowing that I can enjoy eating a bowl of ice cream and not hate myself is one of the best feelings. My weird tics and tricks with food still subconsciously pop into my life: eating alone, counting calories, excessive working out, etc. What gets me through the day is being aware and knowing that I am stronger than the disease.
One: Admit your problem to yourself.
Two: Seek help.
Four: Love yourself.
This article was originally published on December 12, 2016.
Cover Image via ShutterStock
Alyson Zetta Williams