TRIGGER WARNINGS: Eating disorder and calorie talk.
If you have ever been around me when I’m intoxicated you probably already know that I have deep rooted eating issues. I am, by nature, an emotional drunk that likes to let every issue in my life pour out of me the moment I’ve had more than three glasses of red wine. My problems with eating started when I was around 16 years old. I had a friend group who, in my head, were all elegant, dainty and thinner than me, looking back at pictures of us I’ve come to realize that no, I was never enormous compared to them, we were about the same size, I just had the self esteem of a porn star who refuses to make nude content. Well, moving forward, because I thought that I was much heavier than them, I had to find a solution to be able to “get to their levels”. That solution was, at first, fairly healthy and actually improved my mental health quite a lot. I was eating healthy food and exercising at the gym everyday. Nothing too intense, just some running and basic ab workouts, I was never a bench beast or anything like that. After several weeks of this I came to the daunting realization that a healthy diet and exercise takes forever to show results.
I became frustrated and started looking online to try and figure out what the problem was or if there was something I could do to speed up my progress. After hours of digging through the countless advice articles, forums, and websites dedicated to weight loss I eventually stumbled on the subreddit /r/1200isplenty. Before finding this subreddit the only time I had heard of calorie counting was during that whole Toddlers in Tiaras controversy, the one where one of those soul sucking abhorrent monster mothers who shove pageantry down their young daughter’s throats and parade them around on a borderline pedofilic show was in some sort of scandal for counting her 8 year old daughter’s calories. It’s a little hazy, and I don’t want to go on a tangent. Bottomline is that calorie counting was nothing more than an abstract idea until I found the /r/1200isplenty subreddit. I started reading post after post of people in pure ecstasy and excitement over their huge weight losses and how eating 1200 calories a day changed their lives and made them beautiful. Every day I would wake up, eat a banana (110) for breakfast, go to high school, eat lunch which was usually a bagel with cream cheese and onion (350) or a slice of pizza (450), then I would go to the YMCA and run for half an hour (-300) and do some ab workouts (-90) or maybe a nice yoga class if I was in the mood (-200). After the gym I would go to Trader Joe’s to get a free sample (50) with my friend Alisha and then go home and eat whatever my mom made for dinner (400-600). This diet is probably fit for a sedentary office worker, not a growing 16 year old girl who exercised almost every day. Counting calories had become my religion and /r/1200isplenty was my gospel. My entire life became about what I ate, how much I ate, how many calories was in what I ate, and when the next time I could go to the gym to burn off any excess that I had shamefully eaten. Of course this affected my relationship with my friends. They were worried about me, rightfully so, but in my sick little head they were just jealous of me and didn’t want me to lose weight so they could feel superior over me. They became my competitors and I became fixated on doing everything in my power to win this one sided game of chess. One day while browsing my glorious subreddit I came across a post.
“A lot of the stuff on this subreddit should honestly be on a proED forum”
What is proED? I had never heard of it and immediately looked it up. Suddenly I was completely bombarded by so much confusing slang and terms. UGW, GW, EDNOS, thinspo, ana, mia, etc. I remember binging content in that subreddit for hours. These people understood me. They knew what it was like to feel like a pulsating blob of anthropomorphic flesh. They taught me that my weak minded mistakes can be reversed by shoving a cheap toothbrush down my throat. They understood the anger and depression that I constantly felt watching other people be comfortable in their own skin, watching others scarf down pizza (400) without any kind of shame or eating more than one cookie (200) without feeling as if everyone around them was seething judgement through their pores. They knew the frustration of having two lives but not being able to live either of them. When you spend all of your time focused on your food, your weight, your body, and your exercise you enter into a state of perpetual nonliving. Nothing gives you joy because all you can think about is food. You can’t be excited to go on a trip with your family because you’ll have to eat restaurant food that is loaded with inaccurate calorie counts and self loathing. You can’t be excited to go to a party with friends because alcohol has a lot of calories in it and you’re going to have to pull your hungover self to the gym the next day. Nothing brings you joy other than seeing the number on the scale inch down. I don’t want to Lifetime Originals my story too much for you, god knows we have enough stories about middle class white girls with eating disorders that discover the “scary internet.” Jesus, when I write it down, I’m actually such a cliche. Anyway like all intense bouts of mentally ill unsustainable behavior it had to eventually end. My parents went on a trip for a few weeks in the winter and I only ate bananas and carrot noodles for two weeks. For those of you who are unaware, carrot noodles are not actual noodles, they are only shaped in the form of noodles, not really a substantial food. Gym, carrots and bananas ended in an underweight 16 year old Elis almost passing out on the bus. I remember standing up and everything started in flashes of white and black. I managed to crawl onto the bus seat to rest for a second and once I had enough energy, chugged some water. After regaining myself I hopped off of the bus, thought fuck all of this, took an Uber home and ordered strawberry pancakes (800) for delivery. I wish I could say this was the end of things, I wish I could say that after consuming those decadent pancakes I finally felt freedom from my harsh self made reality. All those pancakes did was make me notice that I had more problems than I thought I did. I stopped going to the gym for a few months after that and stopped going on my favorite proED forum as well. The thing Lifetime movies ignore about the middle class white girl who gets an eating disorder is the recovery process. In all of those movies she is in a clinic and is never resistant to treatment and then she is fine and her life goes on. Lindsey can eat pasta now! Be like Lindsey! What these movies don’t show is that yeah, Lindsey can eat pasta now, but she still thinks about the numbers in the pasta. She still knows that it’s making her fatter but she has to eat it or else she’ll get sick or be a disappointment. She swallows the gulpfuls of spaghetti and holds back tears, longing for the days with her internet friends, longing for the time where she felt a false sense of power.
My purpose behind this article is not to “tell my story” or to garner sympathy. The reason I am writing this is because almost all the women in my life suffer from some sort of eating issue. Varying lengths of extremity, but it’s always there. I understand that many of the men I know probably suffer from these issues as well but I want to focus on girls, because that’s what I know. Growing up we always hear about how teenage boys have such an appetite! They are burning so much energy and need to eat eat eat! Why the hell do people think teenage girls aren’t the same way? Women are taught their entire lives that they should have some sort of shame around food. They are taught to eat small amounts, not to eat junk food, that a way to a man’s heart is food. There are so many food related details ingrained in the minds of women to the point that food often becomes a silent competition. “Wow you eat breakfast? I can never eat in the morning” or “Wow I can’t believe I’m an extra small!” or “oh my god I could not eat all of that!” I want to be clear, when I mention these things I am not saying any of these statements are inherently bad statements to make, I’m just trying to emphasize the amount of uncomfortable microaggressions women use towards other women to try and have some weird sense of dominance and to make other women feel bad about how much they eat or what size their clothing might be. The definition of food-shaming is “To judge someone’s food choices and comment on them, making them feel ashamed of those choices.” This is most definitely just a random definition someone wrote on Tumblr but I do believe it is a very real thing in our society. Besides language is arbitrary anyway so I welcome new words and definitions even if they weren’t websterdized. Back to my point, once you’ve experienced food-shaming a few times it starts to internalize and you feel like any comment others make about food, whether it be intentional or not is a direct attack and that they think you are a pig. It is having anxiety when you’re making yourself a snack and you hear someone walking into the kitchen, because you fear any judgements or comments they might make. It is ordering a side of salad at a restaurant when you really want fries because you fear the people at the restaurant are going to make silent, nasty mental remarks towards you. It is being terrified of going to a birthday party because people are going to watch you eat cake, and that will make them think you’re a blubbery slob and if you say you don’t want any cake you’ll be considered rude. All of these very first world anxieties buildup overtime, and that buildup turns you into an exhausted shell of bottomless worry.
I don’t know how we as a society can fix food-shaming and food anxiety issues, but what I can do for myself is to reframe food to its exact definition “any nutritious substance that people or animals eat or drink or that plants absorb in order to maintain life and growth.” Today I made myself oatmeal and I put two pieces of a Sinterklaas chocolate E in it and one big spoon of peanut butter. I didn’t think about the calories in it, I didn’t think about having to burn it off. All I thought about was how eating it made me feel joyful, it was tasty and filling and I was feeding my body. My body that exists to keep me moving, my body that can run, swim, rollerskate, and dance. My body that fights diseases for me, lets me move my fingers to type out articles no one is going to read, and deals with the aftermaths of overdoing it at wine nights with friends. My body is not an abstract concept, it is me and it deserves respect from my brain. I am not going to lie to you and say I fully love every part of myself. No one has to like every part of themselves to accept themselves. It is impossible, in my opinion, to achieve 100% acceptance but what is possible is to come to the realization that, as cliche as it is, life is short, I’ll probably be ugly in 30 years, and I don’t really care. If my time now is spent on vanity it’ll result in me becoming a boring old woman with no stories to tell. That to me is vastly more terrifying than not achieving my dream body. My once beloved proED forum has been deleted, I no longer have a YMCA membership, and I weigh the same I did in high school. So much and so little can change in a few years, I am proud of how far I’ve come since I was 16, I don’t know if i’ll ever have a fully healthy relationship with food or not, and I’m not sure that even truly exists. All I know is that I am no longer in a state of nonliving and I refuse to let myself fall into that abyss ever again.