An Average Anorexia Story (Serious, there is no big surprise or plot twist)
by Amanda Li
This granola bar has 200 calories. That’s about a fifteen minute run. Or twenty minutes of jump rope. Oh wait—it’s only ten minutes of burpees.
Wow…that burrito looks really good… Wait, there’s salad on the menu too? You know exactly what you have to get.
This bag of almonds says these are good for weight loss…so why is there 200 calories in a serving? I won’t be fooled by these marketing ploys.
Thoughts like the ones above plagued my mind constantly during my middle school and early high school life. From a young age, I was taught to always do the best I can. I fixated on academics because that was the only thing I could make perfect in my life; in doing so I became that weird, nerdy Asian girl in her middle school class that people didn’t hate, but positively pitied. My peers were overly polite yet they didn’t invite me into their social circle or get-togethers. I didn’t blame them; I wore glasses, had bad hair, and was dotted with pimples. Disgust in myself bloomed, and it showed through my unimaginative wardrobe choices constituted by oversized sweaters and baggy pants. Unlike the vain, popular girls, I didn’t look drop dead gorgeous or radiate sex appeal. Being brought up to be a “perfect child” wasn’t exactly the best way to alleviate those thoughts of insecurity. In fact, the demeanor of a perfectionist became the perfect breeding ground for them. The one thing I did know, I made better grades than others, and that brought me solace.
However the thing that was perfect in my life—grades—soon didn’t stay. When I received that first C- on my essay, my world crumbled. Grades no longer made me better than others, and my parents were appalled at my grade. Through their dissatisfaction, I felt as if I had failed at my purpose in life, that I had failed them.
After this grade, that mindset of a perfectionist took over every corner of my life, and soon, it turned towards my body. I had to find another way to be better than the popular girls, than everyone. Since my grades were no longer the answer, I looked in the mirror and saw myself. Suddenly, I saw so many things I could fix. I wasn’t as perfect as I thought I was. My stomach could be flatter, my thighs could be thinner, and my waist could be slimmer. Everything could be better if I just dropped a pound or two. I stared at the person in the mirror contently, because now there was a goal I could reach that I knew would make me better. Whereas everything else seemed to be out of my control, I knew I could control one thing better than anyone: my body.
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It was easy at first. No one noticed anything, and they congratulated me when I told them about my weight loss. My dad told me I looked great while my sisters asked how I did it. The praise felt so overwhelmingly good, and I had never felt this happy in my life since that time. I had healthy habits too: oatmeal in the morning, workout after school, and a plentiful salad with a variety of proteins- fish, chicken breast, or beans for dinner. I became fit and was the first girl who finished the mile in gym class. The boys looked at me differently. All this praise and attention was euphoric. I finally felt satisfied with myself, and for once, I felt I was better than anyone else. So, I figured that since I got this much praise from losing this little weight, I could get even more if I lost more.
This is when everything snowballed. I started restricting my food even more. That thing is gonna make you fat. Not a bite, nuh-uh, unless you want to look like a pig. The sight of an apple made me blanch. There was a caloric label to every edible thing I saw, and my workouts became longer, harder, and more frequent. They became a punishment instead of a supplement. Rather than working out because it made me feel good, I began feeling that if I don’t work out, I would be committing an unforgivable sin. I would be getting fat—losing control—every second I didn’t work out.
Oh, I ate a Fiber One bar? 140 calories is about ten minutes of jump rope, go do it now.
Oatmeal is too many calories. I think water is a good enough breakfast.
You lost ten pounds! Good—Wait, you don’t look like that model in that magazine. You’re not good enough.
The sight of the weight dropping was better than any straight A report card. I set a goal to lose five pounds, but when I reached it, I knew I could lose even more. And more. And more. Soon, a goal weight didn’t exist for me. Instead, it became a boundless game of losing as much weight as possible. I started working out harder, eating less, and eventually, I lost my period.
I began throwing away food. I hid my workouts from others and how long I exercised. I started browsing on Incognito Mode to learn how to lose weight faster. Throwing up scared me, even in my darkest hour with anorexia—I couldn’t ever bring myself to throw up, because amazingly, even during any irrational moment, I was rational enough to know that I didn’t want to destroy my esophagus and brilliant teeth (because if I had good teeth, that made me better than someone with bad teeth). Even after a weekly binge, which was supposedly my “reward,” I couldn’t make myself sick. In reality, this cycle created more guilt and shame.
Everything came to head when my sister caught me throwing out food. By that time, my family knew about my issue with weight loss from seeing my progressive skinniness and skimping on dinner. They didn’t think it was as serious as it really was—that I was in fact falling even deeper in. I remember crying and shouting after my sister as she ran downstairs to tattle to my parents. I knew I had to fix this when my family threatened to send me to a shrink or, heaven forbid, a recovery camp for people. Just. Like. Me. It was horrific. I couldn’t imagine myself going to one of those camps, because that would provide one more thing for people to pity me about, and I hated that idea. I thought losing weight would give me praise, not more condescending words and patronizing pats on the head. I realized something else too, I would still get everything I feared if I continued to be anorexic: those same smiles of pity I was trying to avoid. That’s when I know I had to change.
Recovery was more of a mental struggle than a physical one. Every corner of my brain was tainted by anorexia, I couldn’t help but cry when I ate something with more than ten grams of sugar. I nearly relapsed in my early high school years, but luckily, I had a lot of support around me. At first, I thought I was alone. My sisters glared at me because of my poor eating habits. I labeled my parents as child abusers when they placed two slices of pizza in front of me to eat.
Slowly, I began to see the change around me and within myself, partly through growing older: high school was different than middle school, and I began to see the value in not only academics, but health as well. I remember feeling self-conscious in Health class when we were on the topic of eating disorders, as if people knew about my past with anorexia. When my teacher started going in-depth into the horrors of anorexia, my throat grew dry and it was difficult to swallow. But more importantly, I finally began seeing the pure form of anorexia from outside eyes, the teacher showed pictures of protruding backbones and hip bones on the presentation in front of the classroom. I was there. I looked like that. And that was by no means my vision of perfection. It was nightmarish.
Eventually many factors caused me to start seeing the light. The introduction of college instigated a feeling of continuity in life. Life continues after consuming. I knew that I had to consume more knowledge and information to continue successfully, but that meant I had to consume to nourish myself, and my mind—not to reward myself. High school was full of hormonal teens, so of course weight and appearance was still an issue, but I slowly began to break out of my anorexic shell. Everytime I walked through the lunch line and noticed the perfect Barbie doll cradling a salad displayed, I faltered and considered throwing away my sandwich. But I took deep breaths and looked at the energy, protein, and vitamins I would receive from my meal. Again, I was starting to see things as an outsider, beyond the anorexic lens.
I discovered that my weight wasn’t the only thing that made me an acceptable human being. I still worked out, but gradually, the workouts felt less forced, instead I worked out because it made me feel good afterwards, not because it made me feel worthy. My family hosted many good feasts for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other celebrations. I still remember feeling unsure of the ice cream cake during my own birthday. The smiles of proudness around me caused me to see that it was a celebration. I lived a year longer, only because I fed myself. Fatness didn’t define death for me. I had to feed myself and continue breathing.
It was a struggle. The simple thoughts that kept me going was the vision of the future. Sure, I may one day look like a model if I continued my patterns, but I will only be young for so long. So many opportunities (jobs, games, boyfriends, parties) were available to me right now, and I didn’t want to waste all of my time on losing weight anymore. As my mind grew, my body had to grow with it, and I knew I had to feed myself. Also, it just sucks not having a period and to look like a little kid all the time. As I walked on the road to recovery, I rediscovered how important my body was, how I only had one body, how my weight didn’t define how much I was worth, and how—the greatest, lasting thought—food tastes damn good.
“This granola bar had 200 calories. That’s about a twenty minute run.”
As I’m writing this, I’m eating a container of Chobani Greek yogurt of the same caloric amount. The only difference between now and then, however, is the following thought: instead of shame, guilt, and disappointment, I feel nourished, satiated, and, well, happy. I can eat a burger and fries without feeling as if I’m on the top of the grim reaper’s hit list. It would be a lie to say I have 100% let go of my body image issues, but I can say that I have body issues of a normal, eighteen-year old girl (i.e. how my boobs aren’t big enough), and that I am not anorexic any longer. That’s a step in the right direction.