Eating disorders are not just losing hair, feeling hungry, or suffering dizzy spells. Eating disorders–the obsession with food, with perfecting the day with food–consumes all of your mental space, making it difficult to engage in LIFE.
This was a typical day before I began a raw food diet:
7am: Wake up—you must wake up early so that your food schedule is correct, so that you are tired enough to fall asleep early to avoid eating at night.
Weigh yourself after going to the bathroom. The scale is hidden and since everyone is still asleep you are able to weigh yourself without anyone seeing you. If they found you doing this—or even found your scale—you would feel ashamed. You pretend weight doesn’t matter, but you know that the number determines your mood for the day.
7:05am: Drink as much water as possible to feel full. It’s hard to force water in right when you wake up but you must do this to avoid gaining weight from unnecessary extra calories.
7:15am: You’re famished. You went to bed hungry so that you’d be hungry in the morning. Every part of breakfast must be exact—half a banana, 1 cup of oatmeal, 2 cups of milk, 1 tablespoon peanut butter. Measure out a cup of cereal to bring to the cafeteria and pour it into a bowl so that you can learn to measure with your eyes, so that you know where a cup of food should stop in the tiny black bowls. There is shame in having these measuring cups. Hide them in the drawer of your room.
You yearn for a bite of a waffle again. You dream of the day when you will be able to heat one of those suckers up on the waffle press. You give yourself false hope that someday you will eat one again—a huge one with sweet sugary maple syrup, rich creamy peanut butter, and little chunks of chocolate chips. But that hope is just to keep you on track for now, because you know deep down that there is no way you’ll let yourself have that again.
You leave the cafeteria still a little hungry but you tell yourself that hunger will go away, just concentrate on your homework. Drink water—drink lots of water. That will keep your stomach full.
11:20am: You force yourself to down a bottle of water because you must fill your stomach as much as possible before eating.
11:30am: You try to eat a slightly smaller meal for lunch: a fist-size portion of protein or a cup of beans, a piece or two of fruit, and then load up the rest of the plate with green vegetables. You can only have a small amount of starchy vegetables like carrots. You tell your teammates you are just sick of carrots when you leave them on your plate. Eat only green vegetables. Sneak a napkin, walk away from the table with your plate like you are looking for something else, and quickly wipe off any traces of oil you think the cafeteria may have put on your food—even if it’s not really there. You never know what they could sneak in your food.
1pm: You wonder why you’re hungry again. Didn’t you just eat? You munch on bread and nuts you have in your backpack, feeling guilty, and wonder what you could have done wrong at lunch. But you tell yourself you can burn it off at practice.
3:15pm: cross country or track practice. Run anywhere from 5-10 miles depending on the day. Enjoy the time to get away and feel free again. You are fast.
5pm: Dinner, the smallest meal of the day. You hate this meal, you absolutely hate it. This is where the restricting really begins. This is where it gets uncomfortable. You give yourself lots of vegetables, skimp on the protein, and eat a fruit or two for dessert (two is pushing it). You feel like everyone is watching you eat, and you hate it. They laugh at your vegetables, call you “Veggie Queen.” You laugh along with them, or smile at least, and wonder why you cannot eat like other people do–why you seem to gain weight eating the food they eat.
You love your new friends but you feel lost in your own world at the table. You are constantly thinking about the food, constantly counting and re-counting calories in your head because you think you might have made a mistake. You pretend to laugh and engage in conversation, and it’s nice once in a while when you really do feel like part of the group. But there’s a part of you constantly thinking about the food you could eat, or shouldn’t eat, or shouldn’t have eaten, or will someday eat when you can allow yourself to eat it.
6pm: Leave the cafeteria to do homework. You still have a slight emptiness in your stomach but that was the last meal of the night. You have to work on homework now and ignore the hunger pains later, as always. This is not restriction. Restriction would be a measly 500 calories a day. You’re just a wimp. You just have to have more discipline, because you are messed up, because your body is messed up. You have always eaten too much. You have to do this because you overeat if you don’t control this.
6:15pm: You go online to calculate your calories for the day. You already have a good estimate in your head but only this website will give you security. You log your food as diligently as you log your miles, retracing your steps and referring to the list of food you’ve written down in your school planner or on your phone. You wonder if you’ve forgotten to include certain foods, if you measured incorrectly with your eyes at lunch and dinner. You can’t concentrate on the rest of your homework until you know you have everything, absolutely everything down for certain.
9pm: You’ve been chewing gum for hours to avoid eating food but the moment you come back to your room you want that apple sitting on your windowsill and you tell yourself you can’t have it, that you will be able to eat when you wake up tomorrow morning, just hold on, please hold on. You can’t stop thinking about it after you spit out the gum, cursing yourself for leaving food in your room like this.
Something had to give.
Order your copy of Running in Silence: My Drive for Perfection and the Eating Disorder That Fed It here.