Flashback Friday: Anorexia

Have I ever told you about the period of my life when I was anorexic?

It's difficult for me to say when, exactly, it began. When I was a freshman in high school, I stopped drinking pop because I had heard it leached calcium from your bones and made you more susceptible to injuries that way. I was running cross-country and track and the last thing I wanted was to be sidelined by injury, so giving up pop was not that big of a deal.

Then I decided to stop eating candy, but only during the cross-country and track seasons. Soon, however, "candy" was redefined as "junk food," which, to me, meant any food that derived more than 30% of its calories from fat. And I didn't eat any of it. Not a single bite, not even butter on my English muffins.

Then I decided to stop eating meat. I had already given up ground beef a couple of years earlier so it wasn't so hard to cut it out altogether.



In the meantime, I was involved in strenuous training for cross-country and track during those seasons, and running several miles a day on my own during the off-season.

Still, I don't know that any of the above was really a problem. I got a little anemic after a year of no meat (not surprisingly, as a 16-year-old I was not savvy enough to get the nutrients I needed from alternative sources) and started eating it again, but only very sparingly. I lost a little weight somewhere in there and that was nice, but it wasn't anything too extreme. At least I didn't think so at the time.

But sometime around the middle of my senior year of high school, it all went wrong. I stopped eating. Or rather, I stopped eating except for when it was absolutely necessary. And I kept a tight reign on the definition of "necessary." Necessary, at times, meant half of a bagel for the whole day, and then a six-mile run thrown into the bargain.

What's interesting is that you can get along OK doing this kind of thing to your body, for a little while at least. But there's a price to pay. I was skinnier than ever and in the past, being skinnier had meant running faster. This time, however, I was moving in the other direction. My race times were getting slower.

I was irritable. I was exhausted. I was sad. I had boy troubles. I crashed and burned at the district championship track meet. I fainted at the senior prom.

I didn't feel like myself and the problem was that I couldn't remember who this "myself" was.

The summer after graduation, I weighed 85 pounds. And it wasn't even that I felt fat. I don't remember feeling fat or thinking I was fat. I just craved that feeling of absolute control I achieved by not eating, more than I craved actual food.

Just as it's hard for me to pinpoint exactly how my eating problems began, I'm not entirely sure where they ended. It happened gradually. Things got better after I left for college, which was a surprise for everyone since we had considered me not going at all. If I had to choose a moment when the fog lifted, I think I would say sometime during the summer of 2000 when I was in Japan.

I lived with a host family in Kyoto that remains very dear to me. I learned a lot of things during my time in that country, not the least of which was that (and this was from my 9-year-old host sister) you're not done at the dinner table until your tummy is as fat as your chest - "pon-pon" is the word she used for it. She reminded me to check for pon-pon at every dinner time. She was so young and always suggested this so entirely without guile and assumption that it always made me laugh. And when I laughed, I felt like that elusive "myself" again.

Of course, getting over anorexia wasn't as simple as taking her advice, but then again, for me, maybe it was.

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