One day, when I was fifteen, I hit puberty and developed a layer of fat on my abdomen approximately one centimeter in depth. This made no sense to me, as I had spent the entirety of my life in the bottom 20% percentile for both height and weight and had never considered that I might one day actually fill out a size 0.
So I did what any normal 15-year-old overachiever would do: I went on a crash diet. The problem is, it worked. I had a healthy appetite before starting, so it wasn’t that hard to eat less without anybody noticing. And I got results really fast, probably because I was still growing. I didn’t care, because, real talk: it worked like a charm. And worked and worked and worked, until amenorrhea set in the next winter. Well, actually, it worked then, too.
The highlight, though, was freshman year of college. I didn’t really have much reason to crash diet specifically at this time, but I decided to do so. My diet consisted primarily of: apples, plain bagels, raw spinach, and vodka.
One Tuesday night, after having only eaten an apple and a packet of Fun Dip all day, spaced out and slack-jawed, because, doye, hypoglycemic to the max, I suddenly felt high as shit. I had discovered the secret to permanent check-out from life. I felt pretty smart. Then I stood up to walk down the dorm hall to the bathroom and… I missed the door. As in, the door to the bathroom, and I walked straight into the wall. I hit it with my right shoulder, nose, and cheekbone.
A few days later, I realized I would have to either start eating or drop out of college.
I feel like my crash diet story is almost taboo, because at first, I “succeeded”: I was skinny, for years. But, and I cannot stress this enough, it ruined high school and college. At least the first two years of college. My high school GPA would probably have been at least 0.5 higher. I would not have had to spend the latter two years of college working my ass off to graduate with a decent GPA. I might have been able to make meaningful personal connections before senior year. Heck, I probably would have gone to a better college. Because even when crash diets “work,” they ruin you. They impair you mentally in ways you will not even realize until you are stunned by a wall.
It literally took years for my body to recover—my digestive system was slowed, my intestines shredded. To this day, I can’t use laxatives: my tolerance is so high that even a double dose has no effect on me. And even after my body was normal, my mind was a mess. I had no sense of how to prepare and eat a proper dinner, because I literally had not ever done that for myself. I had spent high school trying to figure out how to get my mom not to cook for me. [tagbox tag=”crash diet”]
But I was left with one good thing: I have never dieted again. I’ve thought about it, said I was going to, I’ve exercised, etc. but underneath all my intentions I have a deep fear of being that person again, and feeling my digestive system shut down, followed not so gracefully by my nervous system. Even my flirtation with the lemonade diet ended after one day, not because I thought it wouldn’t make me skinny, but because I realized one day while chugging straight salt water (the less-advertised, but crucial part of that diet) that for all of history it has been a well-known fact that drinking salt water will literally make you insane—so why do it? So I sat down, ate an apple, poured the rest of the salt water down the sink, and went on with my life.
I’m perfectly healthy and average now. Recently, I’ve been living with family, including a 13-year-old girl cousin who is a wonderful athlete and already thinks she’s fat. I eat Goldfish crackers with her and watch her like a hawk. Crash diets are dangerous for everybody, but especially for teenagers, who continue to need a lot of fuel as they grow. We owe it to them to be positive about our own bodies and theirs.