Content warning: eating disorder, control
When people find out about starving myself, they assume it’s because I hate my body. They say things like “Oh you’re already so skinny,” “But you look so good!” “you’re perfect the way you are”, and while these are nice things to hear, I already know them. Yes, I am skinny enough to avoid getting criticized for being fat, and I’m perfect the way I am because I’m me. But neither one of these things give me the sense of control over my life that I feel when I’m rejecting food.
I’ve been restless since I was a teenager. Somewhere between the transition from playing with Play-Doh while watching The Wiggles to fielding homework assignments day in and day out, I became the image of worry, constantly stressing about every bit of my life. Every test feels like the obstacle between me and success, that feeling of contentment that is supposed to accompany life. But each A leaves me empty, my eyes searching the paper for a feeling that’s not there.
Exercise and food help in a way they’re not supposed to. When I work out I do it until I’m dizzy, barely able to stand on the treadmill, and sweating through my layers like a pig. Then I fill my belly with homework, a deluded sense of fullness being derived from my studies. I am very careful when I eat, pushing my limits far enough to challenge me but not far enough for me to pass out. When I first began restricting my food, I aimed for less than 1300 calories a day. Now I’m unfortunate if I reach 500.
Every food has a number. I count them religiously, my finger dancing around my dinner plate. 80 for my apple at lunch, 200 for mashed potatoes, 300 for the steak, and 50 for the asparagus. I nibble on the asparagus and laugh at my sister recalling a very public fart at school today, expending energy I didn’t know I had. She looks at me with surprise a hopeful smile.
We’re clearing off the table when she turns to me, “Lily, do you want to go ice skating with mom and I tonight?”
Her Bambi eyes stare into my soul. I want to say no, to stay home and fill myself with academic assignments.
“It would only be an hour, and it’s really fun!” she says excitedly, convinced her investment in my participation will persuade me to join.
“I don’t know…”
“Please? You never come.”
This is true, and something I wouldn’t feel bad about if it didn’t mean disappointing my sweet baby sister. I sigh, “okay, yes I’ll come.”
“Yay!” she jumps for joy before taking off to get dressed, returning in horrendously long socks, leggings, and a very pink puffy coat.
The cold air of the ice arena hits me square in the jaw, demanding my attention while my sister tugs on my arm to do the same. She stumbles on to the ice in a hurry, pulling me and my wobbly legs along. “It’s just like skiing” she says, something we’ve done as a family since I was young. I take her advice and push off my feet, gliding further and further each time.
I begin to skate aimlessly around the rink, calmly circling it over and over again as I contemplate all the stressors of my life. I think about my classes, the assignments I have to complete, the work I have to do for applying to colleges. But instead of panicking I list it out neatly in my brain, identifying each task with a clear and conscious mind. I feel the breeze in my hair and the icy air on my eyelids, and although my shins are on fire, I’ve discovered a sense of peace. For once, my world doesn’t seem so out of control.