TW: Eating Disorders and self-harm ideation
I want to preface this piece first by saying that I am okay. I am on a path to healing, and while it may not be linear, I am working on fostering a healthier relationship with food and my body. Reflecting back, quarantine has severely impacted the way I see food and my body, and this short creative non-fiction seeks to provide some insight into what I was going through at the time. For anyone who has struggled or is struggling with body issues and disordered eating, I want you to know that I hear you, I see you, and you are definitely not alone. I wish you the best on your journey to recovery. I know how hard it can be and I’m proud of you! If you are fortunate to have never experienced anything similar to what I talk about in this piece, I hope that you can at least enjoy my honest reflection and be more conscientious about the way you talk about food during this holiday season to look out for those of us who are still working on our relationship with food.
I don’t have an eating disorder. Or at least I don’t think I can call it that. I’m not diagnosed; I’m not sticking fingers into my throat to make myself vomit in the bathroom. I’m not bone-skinny thinking I need to lose just a bit more weight to be of value.
I’ve never even seriously lost weight. Every time I try, I end up quitting halfway before the results show because I love food too much to give it up for beauty. I love the flavors exploding in my mouth like tiny fireworks sending happy chemicals to my brain. When I feel empty inside, it keeps my stomach full, and that’s close enough to the heart to make it hurt less.
But I know what 1200 calories look like. I know where to look up the exact calorie content of each of the ingredients in my meals and snacks—even the fruit—and I know it’s better to drink cold water to help metabolize faster. I know how to quickly add up the numbers in my head without saying them out loud like I do in math class, how to shove smaller heaps of food into my mouth and count to at least twenty while I chew, ritually. I know how to excuse myself from the table, to drink the extra 25 calories worth of Yakult to get rid of the 500 worth of my lunch sitting in my intestines. I know the bedtime rumble of my stomach far too well I’ve learned to mistake the hurt as fullness.
I didn’t think anything of it, at least not until I blacked out for half a minute getting up from what was probably a knee push-up. I had been working out then, thirty minutes a day at first, and then forty-five, and then an hour or more. I racked up my calorie expenditure as much as possible, tackling HIIT circuits I wouldn’t have dared to try otherwise just to burn an extra hundred. I stood up and the room disappeared from before my eyes. Next thing I knew, I was on the floor; my head missed the table by a quarter of an inch.
I was eating around 1200 calories a day and burning 300 from work-outs in the office. I was constantly cold. Incessantly anxious. Restless but tired. I craved pizza and bubble tea and all the high-calorie foods I convinced myself I couldn’t have. I didn’t eat after 7:30 pm—I tried intermittent fasting too. My body was protesting hard but I refused to see the signs. I needed that calorie deficit, more than anything in life.
I don’t have an eating disorder. That’s what I keep telling myself. But I binge eat and feel disgusted by myself and try to eat only 1200 calories the following day, ignore the emptiness in my stomach that became pain, work out till I have to will myself into not passing out. I look in the mirror and hate what I see. I’ve tried diets, thought about eating bananas—a single bite of which would give me hours of gut-wrenching pain, literally—to induce diarrhea, imagined taking a pair of scissors and cutting out the flabby tissue I didn’t want to see on me.
I know 1200 calories are not enough, but how I want that model body fit for bikinis on the beach.
*1200 calories is the calorie requirement of a typical toddler. An average healthy adult who exercises moderately needs around 2000 calories daily to maintain weight.
**I lost 7 pounds over two and a half months during quarantine in 2020, after which I stopped counting calories.