I was thirteen, standing in our garden watching my step-dad turn over our compost pile.
“I like your shirt,” he said, “but you might not want to wear your nice clothes out here. They might get dirty.”
I looked down at my outfit — my favorite pair of bell-bottoms and a striped knit shirt.
“Okay, you’re right. I’ll go change.”
As I turned toward the house, he said, “By the way, you’re getting quite a spare tire.”
I felt my heart skip a beat. “What?”
“Your stomach. You’re growing an inner tube around your waist.”
We were sitting at the breakfast table the next morning, steaming hot bowls of Cream of Wheat on each placemat. I scooped some margarine out of its container and plopped it into my bowl.
“If you want to lose some weight, butter is the first thing you should get rid of,” he said.
So the next time we had biscuits, I covered mine with applesauce instead. No more butter on hot cereal. No more chocolate sandwich cookies from the pig cookie jar.
I’ve worried about food since that day, thirteen years ago.
I’m twice as old now as I was then.
Half of my life, supremely distrusting food.
In 2008, my junior year of high school, I started skipping breakfast. I remember waiting in agony for Bible class, the last period before lunch, to end so I could get finally something in my stomach. I danced around in misery waiting for the cafeteria to open, and I was always at the front of the line. I was afraid that if I had to wait even ten minutes for my food, I would pass out on the spot, or that if I let everyone else go ahead of me, there would be no food left.
And yet, when I got my plate, I’d eat about half of it and throw the rest away.
And then when I was alone in my dorm room, I raided my roommate’s Cheez-It box until I figured the amount I’d taken was definitely obvious. (Sorry, Amanda.)
2010. My first year of college. I bought a huge bag of Fuji apples from Wal-Mart. I didn’t eat anything else for an entire week.
In 2011 I learned my way around a gym. I also found the app MyFitnessPal. Now I was not only obsessed with calories in, but with calories burned as well. I did my best to exercise my way into a deficit every day.
In 2013 I learned about protein, carbs, and fats, and that the only acceptable foods on earth were chicken, fish, broccoli, sweet potatoes, and egg whites. I ate nothing but these things for a couple years. (I’m still burnt out on sweet potatoes.)
In 2014 I ate seven candy bars in one day. One right after the other, hopelessly out of control. Thus entered the era of binge eating that lasted for three years.
A landslide of tragic behaviors, triggered by a 64-year-old man telling a 95-pound girl she was gaining weight.
Some may say I’m being dramatic by attributing my history of disordered eating to one childhood comment. But that moment, and several moments thereafter, are permanently etched in my brain, as vivid as they were thirteen years ago.
Years later I still hear, What about your spare tire?
As nice and clean as it would be to say, “I starve myself because I want to be skinny,” those of us who have suffered from eating disorders know that’s usually not the case.
Being skinny, if and when we finally get there, does not solve our issues.
It’s a much deeper issue than “I don’t feel pretty” or “I can’t see abs.” Doesn’t it have to be something tremendously more significant, for us to essentially tell our body to eat itself and shrivel up?
When you starve yourself, you’re telling your body you want to kill it. Perhaps you don’t consciously take it that far — you want to be thin, not die — but your body doesn’t know any difference. It thinks it can’t trust you.
When you starve yourself, you feed your demons.
When you starve, you tell yourself that food is not safe. You are not safe.
And when you feel betrayed by one of the few things you absolutely need for survival, what else can you really trust?
That’s why starving feeds your demons. They take advantage of your weakness, your confusion, your belief that survival is not as simple as your instincts make it out to be. They feed off your fear of full, vibrant life.
To kill my demons, I had to fight them with the very thing I was most afraid of.
When I found a nutrition program called Eat to Perform in July of 2016, I was in the middle of the deepest, most devastating binge cycle of my life. I was searching high and low for binge eating recovery programs, courses on intuitive eating, any golden nuggets of truth for fixing eating disorders. I filled journals with quotes and writing prompts and suggestions for fighting cravings. I was open to pretty much anything that would give me some structure and sustainability.
The Eat to Perform website had a calculator to help you see what your baseline calories would look like under their program. I input my height, weight, and activity level and was shocked to see their suggested starting point.
1,700 calories? No. I have a slow metabolism.
But then I realized I was capable of eating at least twice that much in a typical binge session. So I paid $20 for the coaches at Eat to Perform to write a customized nutrition plan for me. Anything was better than what I was currently doing.
From July to November, I was half-assed about following the plan. I was still apprehensive about eating that much food. Some days I ate too much, and some days I didn’t eat enough. Some days I ate a bunch of ice cream; other days I ate chicken and vegetables. But I needed the safety net, and it did help alleviate the anxiety and guilt I felt towards eating.
Over those few months, I learned that consistently eating a satisfying amount of food each day wasn’t making me gain weight — in fact, I was actually losing.
One little glimmer of hope was all I needed. Maybe I had finally found something that would work for me.
Maybe I can finally put my eating disorder behind me.
In November of last year, as I lost more weight and my coaches increased my calories, I decided to fully trust the program, to follow it as close as I could. It hadn’t let me down thus far, and my hopelessly-screwed up metabolism seemed to be repairing itself.
In December, I bought a package of Oreos and put them in the pantry. They sat there for three whole weeks, and I wasn’t even remotely tempted to eat them all in one sitting.
Now, here is where I get vulnerable.
November 2015. I weighed around 150 pounds; I’m not exactly sure because I didn’t own a scale. I was binge eating, but trying desperately to maintain to a regimen of 1500 calories a day and between 50-100 grams of carbs.
November 2016. I weighed 138 pounds and I was eating between 1500-2000 calories a day. I was allowed to have 250 grams of carbs on my high carb days.
Today I weigh 137 pounds and I eat between 2500-3000 calories every day. My high carb days allow me 435 grams.
Food’s not my enemy anymore.
Don’t believe anyone who tells you that recovery is a speedy process.
It’s taken me a full year, a year in which I have eaten at least 730,000 calories, to feel like food doesn’t control me.
I still eat something sweet every day, because I feel somewhat deprived without it. But I believe that will fade too. Just like I lost my obsession with toaster strudels after I allowed myself to have them.
My body has forgiven me now.
My body trusts me, because I trust food.
Food is safe, and I am safe.
A well-fed body is no place for demons.