***TW: eating disorders
This is a continuation of my previous post where I gave some background on my body image issues.
On top of my ongoing issues with my body that I packed and brought with me to my dorm building in the lower east side, I also unpacked and resided in trigger city.
I had already felt bad that my pre-college diet was in all accounts unsuccessful, I was still heavily influenced by the thinspo I was following on social media, and my mothers voice replayed in my head like an overplayed pop song on the radio every time I went to take a bite of food. I was good at putting up fronts and pretending to be confident and self-actualized as I had done for a long time. Nevertheless, my body image issues were further forced to the surface when I realized that all the girls I lived with had really unhealthy attitudes about their bodies as well. The only difference was that they didn’t mind sharing.
I watched as my roommate routinely restricted her calorie intake to only 500 calories a day and agonized as she stared at her reflection in the mirror every day as she got dressed. My suite-mate similarly kept anal accounts of her calorie intake and measured herself daily to see if any parts of her were decreasing. Too many of the girls I went to school with were also so openly fretful about their weight and size. The kicker was that my roommate was half my size and my suite-mate about a third of it, along with most of the girls in my classes for that matter. I frequently offered hypocritical words of encouragement to try to ensure them both that they were beautiful just the way they are, and I honestly thought they were, but it was impossible not to consider myself, being noticeably bigger than they were.
Calorie-counting became taxing and tedious to me now that I was faced with a full schedule and a sizable amount of homework. Some days I would eat only small bits of food and other days I would starve myself throughout the day. The days that I starved myself, I found that my morale would go way down and I’d just associate the negative feelings with having a bad day, because I frequently did have bad days, but not with the deprivation. My favorite cure for a bad day was to watch Netflix alone late into the night.
Whenever I watched Netflix, I never just watched Netflix.
Before long, I was in a steady routine: I would starve myself during the day or eat very little, come back home from school feeling horrible, so I’d go to the Walgreen’s and buy snacks and go to the corner store and buy ice cream and on top of that I’d either order food from the Seamless app or find a fast food restaurant nearby. I’d often buy more than I intended to eat, telling myself that I would save money by getting a couple things and saving some as leftovers for the next day, but each night I would eat what I wanted to eat and what I didn’t want to eat. I ate even if I wasn’t hungry. I ate past the point of being full. I ate even though the food didn’t taste good or like food at all. I ate until everything I could get my hands on was gone. I ate even though I didn’t want to eat. I ate in the dark while my roommate slept on an empty stomach. I ate and I ate and I ate.
The moment I would stop eating I felt like the world body-slammed itself back onto my shoulders. Usually I would cry, feeling guilty for reversing the progress I thought I had made after eating very little or starving myself that day. I would write about my self-loathing in my diary and cry myself to sleep.
Not once did I ever think about how out of control my overeating was. It didn’t happen every day, but it was usually at least 2 times a week.The days I didn’t do it I didn’t think about it and the days I did do it, I didn’t think about what I was doing until afterwards when the guilt set in. All I knew is that I had pain and I wanted it to go away, and momentarily it did, but right after everything came back in my face full force.
I had only ever heard the word “binge” in reference to the compulsory eating of someone with Bulimia Nervosa in all the many instances that we learned about it in school and usually the word “purge” followed. The word binge had also been just recently adopted to describe watching all the seasons of a show on Netflix in an obscenely short amount of time. If there was any binge-ing I knew I was guilty of, it was definitely the binge-watching. I didn’t consider the uncharacteristic amounts of food I was consuming in short periods of time anything but just that.
So it continued this way throughout the entire semester. It continued when I had to leave The New School after that first semester because my family could no longer afford it. It continued when I sat at home feeling like I hit rock bottom after having to leave my dream school. It continued when I got a job at the Walgreen’s near my house and isolated myself from all my friends because of how embarrassed I was by the setback. It continued when my mom got my best friend’s mom to talk to me because she thought I was depressed and made it a point to have her point out that it may be the cause of the obvious weight gain. It continued when one of the managers pointed out how I may have had trouble finding jobs before (because I did) because of my size. It continued when I was physically sexually harassed by one of my customers. Even though I stopped starving myself or trying in any way to lose weight, it continued in secret and unacknowledged for about 6 months steadily. It felt like a normal part of life.
The first time that the possibility that I may have a problem ever crossed my mind was when I became a feminist. New to the feminist movement, I was working on trying to be more intersectional and I found myself reading about eating disorders and about what they are and what they’re not. I only expected to be reading about Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa; I was surprised when I saw a third disorder listed: Binge Eating Disorder (BED).
I had never ever heard about BED ever in my life. As I slowly scrolled through the article I had the stark realization that the characteristics of the disorder were painfully familiar. At first I dismissed it, feeling like I was just being a hypochondriac and looking for problems that weren’t there. I pretty much dismissed the disease in general feeling that if the “binge” wasn’t followed by a “purge” then it’s not actually an ED.
Still I couldn’t completely dismiss the fact that I frequently did everything that the article said I did. I began to promise myself to assess my motives every time I went to eat; I made myself promise myself that if I’m not hungry, I won’t eat, and if I am hungry, I’ll stop when I’m full. For a little while, I was able to deal with the problem that I still couldn’t fully admit to myself that I had. However, it wasn’t long before the next big trigger drove me back into old habits.
By the end of last year I think I finally fully accepted what it was but still to this day I haven’t ever said it aloud or told anyone. Even though I have coping skills that I’ve employed and tactics I use to avoid triggers, I still struggle with it from time to time and I know it’s largely because I have to seek professional help. Being African and knowing how my family is in particular has been largely what deters me from seeing someone about it because I know how important familial support can be with ED’s and I know that I won’t have that.
But like the hypocrite I am, I urge that if there’s anyone reading this and you do have an ED or you even speculate that you have one, please please PLEASE, go talk to someone and go get help. Trying to deal with it on your own is never the best option and, for many people, it does not work at all. Know that ED’s or any other psychological disorders are not your fault. Know that even though they can be triggered by your environment and/or emotional trauma, it is not a choice, it’s a disease. And know that most importantly, recovery is possible!