I was skin and bones. So thin that every body part of mine appeared toned, defined, and sculpted. My thighs, for the first time in my life, did not rub together, my abdominal muscles looked like I had a six-pack, and my butt was finally tight and proportionate to the rest of my figure.
I had dug myself into such a deep hole that climbing out seemed virtually impossible. I was in a paradoxical predicament. I knew I looked terribly frail and unhealthy. I felt weak and distant. However, I was feeling quite a sense of accomplishment in a world that felt so chaotic and out of control. This exhilarating experience continued to outweigh the damage and destruction I was causing to my body and mind.
It was winter break after my fall semester of my sophomore year. I had slowly eliminated more and more foods from my diet, deteriorated in weight, and developed an eating disorder, anorexia. I was at my all-time lowest number on the scale. As a result, I had been receiving intensive psychotherapy and taking antidepressants for four months. The final few weeks leading up to break, I admitted I needed to gain weight and incorporate foods back in my diet. However, it was one thing recognizing it, and it was another actually acting upon it.
Imagine swimming in the shallow end of the ocean. You are able to comfortably feel the sand on your feet. It is a reassuring feeling knowing you can walk or swim back to shore if you need. Now, you begin swimming past the rope that is placed there as a boundary. As you swim further from the rope, you can no longer touch the bottom, so you start treading water. Your blood pressure rises because you’re slightly nervous and anxious that you may have gone too far from the safe zone. All of the sudden, you think you feel something circling around you. Is it a shark? Panic sets in.
In the ocean, you were only attempting to step outside your comfort zone. That is exactly how I felt when I tried to introduce a new food back into my diet. It was the scariest experience of my life. My breathing became faster, and as a result of the anxiety, I was able to feel my blood pressure spiking. After depriving myself of certain foods for so long, I believed my body would go into shock, pain, and discomfort when reintroduced. I truly believed that one tiny bite of pizza was going to instantly change the number on the scale, and gain enough weight to be considered obese. Completely irrational thoughts, but ones I was not able to ignore.
So, for the month leading up to winter vacation, I had set minuscule goals each week. I agreed to buy new foods to keep in my apartment. I drove to the grocery store and bought items my psychiatrist and I discussed in detail. He emphasized the nutritional values of each item. I purchased a jar of peanut butter, box of granola, package of regular yogurt (as opposed to fat-free), and string cheese, a few of my “old” all-time favorite foods. I ensured him that I would begin using them. We talked about putting peanut butter on my banana, granola on my fat-free frozen yogurt, and adding a string cheese as a snack at some point throughout the day.
But, I failed. Miserably. I thought about each one, looked at each one, and knew I was supposed to follow through with my promise. But, I was unable to even go near the items, let alone attempt consuming them. Finally, my parents, who had been so involved and infinitely worried, became desperate. I had an appointment scheduled before the New Year with my psychiatrist and both my parents to all discuss strategies and issues. They all had hoped I would have been able to show signs of progress before returning back to school. But, I had not. Not even an ounce.