I’m in a taxi with two pears in my bag.
Staring out of the cab window at the evening drizzle, I feel a sense of pride at my little accomplishment of having gone without both my mid-morning and afternoon snack. This means apart from my lunch of bland vegetable soup, I have saved 57 x 2 calories, a bonus to the 300+ I hope to burn at the community center gym where I’m now headed. While the running track opposite my apartment is my usual method of torture, the present downpour points me to Option B (the nearby gym). Option C involves me sprinting up all 40 flights of stairs in my apartment block—twice over—but this is only reserved for occasions when for some reason or other I don’t make it to either track or gym promptly and I need a quick-fix high-intensity workout. There’s also an Option D, consisting of light weights and gym ball calisthenics in the comforts of home, but that also isn’t my favorite option since I prize fat-busting cardio training above all others. When in doubt, do cardio.
As we stop at a traffic light, I gaze at pedestrians crossing the road and motorists in neighboring vehicles. The truth is, people no longer interest me as unique beings. In my single-minded aim to be and remain skinny, achieved through undereating and overexercising, the next person on the street becomes just another object I scrutinize and heap judgment upon. That sweaty, panting guy done with his jog? Good on him that he’s gotten his cardio out of the way—he knows his priorities. That oafish office lady snacking on a pastry? She’ll soon learn the truth—that one could never outrun a doughnut (the idea being that eating fatty foods will trump any efforts at exercise—assuming she even exercises). It’s appalling to me how ill-disciplined people are, on the whole.
By the time I arrive at the gym, I’m disappointed to see that the treadmills and ellipticals are taken up and that I’m left with the stationary bike which, in my opinion, will not burn my desired number of calories within the 45 minutes I have to spare. But beggars can’t be choosers, so I hop on, consoling myself that at least I didn’t eat those pears. They’re still in my bag, now slung over one of the bike’s spongy handles. Why are we here, they seem to ask, in a gym instead of inside your tummy? Indeed, why?
I realize I’m presently wasting time being existential over two pears in my bag, and roll my eyes in disgust. My mission is to finish that workout and log that entry into the MyFitnessPal iPhone app, which will do its auto calculations and then determine how much I’m allowed to eat later at dinner. That’s my life—reduced to an equation.
As I pedal away, I stare at the clock on the wall, fantasizing about my reward later: a hot meal of meat, fish, and veggies (never with rice or noodles). But my real prize is collapsing into bed with my baby son and letting sweet slumber take over. It is only during this time that I’m no longer occupied with thoughts of my weight, calories, exercise, and food. How sweet it is to remain in that place, I think. How freeing. If only I could stay asleep forever, if only just to escape the prison of my waking life.
But I’m so far gone in my prison routines I’ve developed a sort of prisoner mentality. Life is very straightforward when one lives and breathes by these black-and-white rules. What lies beyond the walls of my cell? I shudder to imagine. Because I am so fully committed to and consumed by my self-styled regimens to a T, I scarcely have the mental bandwidth to contemplate a life that deviates even slightly from it. I identify closely with Brooks from The Shawshank Redemption, the elderly man who hanged himself because he was unable to adjust to the outside world after 50 years in jail. Where another sort of existence is akin to certain death. So what, then? My only instinct is to keep going until I eventually manage to get a grip on my ‘gluttony’ and ‘slothfulness’. The day will come, I convince myself, when I have successfully starved/exercised myself into a utopian state of skinniness—when I’d have transcended my primal instincts to eat and rest. That’s the basis of my delusion—the thought of getting somewhere, the idea of reaching an actual destination. Ultimately a relentless pursuit of an outright fallacy.
Simple fact: mess with biochemistry and you’ll be sorry. You get to be drill sergeant for only so long until your body takes a rain check and says, “You know what? Enough.” And it took awhile (2 whole years) until my body eventually fought back. That was the fateful day when I realized the very thing I’d been trying to trying to control had taken on a life of its own and was, surprise, surprise, controlling me. That day, I learned the hard truth—that you don’t get to be the boss of you in an ED. Not ever.
In my case, what does rebellion look like? It’s an ugly, deformed product of a marriage between an ED and a battered body that decides it’s payback time. With body and mind no longer in sync, neither will listen to the other, and chaos ensues.
My body literally goes into survival mode, in which it refuses to shift the weight, no matter the amount of exercise or how little I eat. My reproductive cycle grinds to a complete halt. I no longer can discern physical signals that tell me if I’m hungry or full—now, I’m always hungry and never sated. Worst of all, without my realizing, I have swapped my heretofore sense of self-control with a self-soothing mechanism: binge-eating. I am now licking my wounds with food—all manner of rich, fattening foods. And the guilt and panic following every binge only fuels the vicious cycle.
Since food is both my nemesis and savior, what’s a girl to do? To assuage my guilt from ingesting the bad food, I try to mitigate the damage by cutting out the good food completely. I fast all day at work, and afterward I exercise like a maniac until dinnertime. What’s for dinner? Doritos, peanut butter, cookies, chips, and bread are my drugs of choice. The bliss, however, is shortlived. Only later when I see the empty packets and wrappers strewn across the table do I emerge from my food-fueled stupor and realize just how much I’ve eaten, and how far removed I am from any semblance of self-control.
Here’s another thing about EDs—people around you are in denial just as you are. Whether out of fear or plain indifference, those around you keep a discreet silence or assume you just need time and space to ‘get your shit together’. That is true to some extent: I did despise any well-meaning probes about my weight loss and got wildly defensive when anyone commented on my dodgy behavior around food. But deep down, I wanted nothing more than for someone—anyone—to address the elephant in the room. To have heard the words, “I know it’s hard” might’ve made all the difference in helping me come to terms with the fact that I actually wanted to be helped.
My 45 minutes on the exercise bike is up. The pears are still in my bag and the questions persist: What are pears for, if not to be eaten? How is it that in your world, pears are not to be eaten?
Their continued presence both torments and irritates me. In a fit of frustration, I grab the pears from my bag and chuck them into the nearest bin.
I’m done thinking about pears today.
[To be continued]