I know you want to hear a number, but I’m not going to give one because numbers are part of the problem. If I say, “I lost x pounds in a month, and this is how I did it,” I might mean it in a cautionary way (“This is how I fucked up my body,”) but when I was fucking up my body, I would have seen it as a how-to. I judged everyone by how much they weighed, and I took what people had to say about health less seriously the more they weighed. So I’m not saying anything about numbers.
What I will say is that when I was in sixth grade, I put on some weight. It’s called puberty, and it happens to everyone. And I was horrified. I tried dieting, but I wasn’t very good at it at first, and I kept gaining weight. I was still thin, mind you, although puberty had hit me a bit earlier than it had a lot of the girls at school, so maybe I was self-conscious about that. I’m not sure. But in seventh grade I decided to take severe action because I did not want to be fat.
First, I gave up snacking. I lost weight. Then, I started calorie-counting, trying to keep myself at or under a very low number of calories a day, and I lost even more. I ate normally around my parents, but the rest of the time, I basically didn’t eat. A couple of times I faked being asleep so that I wouldn’t have to eat even with my parents. I did spend two hours a day working out, though, which my parents accepted because I was in physical therapy. I don’t remember most of this period – semi-starvation and the misery that comes with it’ll do that to you – but two moments stand out.
One night, I received an award for some charitable work I’d done (longer story there). I put on a tiny, slim-fitting cocktail dress and headed out with my family to the awards ceremony. Before we went in, we had a pizza. I was really hungry, so I had two slices. I spent the whole night feeling awful, sucking in my stomach because I couldn’t bear the fact that I’d eaten and how fat I knew I looked. If you see the girl in the pictures from that night, you’ll notice that her thighs don’t even touch. But I was warped enough at the time that that wasn’t good enough. I looked at Holocaust victims’ pictures with envy. Yes, I wanted to be on the death camp diet: Who cares what they do to you as long as you lose weight?
Now, I was a fairly intelligent, sensible girl. I knew what anorexia was and that it was unhealthy. And deep down, I did know that I had it (after all, my periods stopped) – but I pretended that I didn’t. It was just a diet. All women diet; wasn’t it great that I was good at dieting! My two best friends were on diets, too, and we were all fine. At least, until the day that one of them, annoyed with me for some reason (maybe that I couldn’t talk about anything but food?), snapped that at least she wasn’t starving herself. I pretended not to hear her, but I did. I think that’s when I admitted to myself that I had an eating disorder.
After awhile, I started eating normally again. I’m not sure how I managed it, and I don’t remember making a conscious decision to do so. I do know that I don’t weigh myself anymore. I do know that I’m terrified of becoming that girl again, the one who’s so obsessed with food that she thinks of nothing else, the one who won’t let anyone take her picture because she knows she looks fat, the one who reads a story of starvation torture as a collection of diet tips. I’m not proud that I was that girl. But I’m proud now that I’m not, and I wish that every woman who’s ever been envious of an impossibly thin person realized how terrible it feels to have an eating disorder, how impossible it is to enjoy being what anyone else would consider “exceptionally thin” when you’ve made yourself sick to get there. I like my body now – I eat reasonably and enjoy working out and that’s great. But my body isn’t my life anymore, and if it takes my very last piece of willpower, I won’t ever let it be again.