The Hunger Shames
It’s “Love Your Body Week” on campus.
I don’t love my body. Let me get the jargon out of the way – I struggle with an eating disorder.
I’m not alone, though. Reuters recently reported that 31 percent of teens have binged or purged. The surprising fact is the only people surveyed for the study were teenage boys.
I always associated eating disorders with women, and that’s the image we are fed on a regular basis, but ignorance to my own vulnerability made it easier for me to fall into an obsessive cycle.
Senior year of high school, I decided I wasn’t going to be chubby anymore. With the arrogance that only a young adult can muster, I told myself that in preparation for college, I needed a new look. It should have been easy.
My best friend at the time dropped serious weight in a few months, and while I was proud of him, I’m ashamed to say I was jealous.
I envied all the attention and the compliments, and when it came to weight, we couldn’t relate to each other anymore. I didn’t take into consideration that my friend lost an unhealthy amount of weight in an unhealthy amount of time. Phrases like anorexia, bulimia and depression whizzed over my head – those were problems for other people, right?
I’m a stubborn person, and I started off my journey cold turkey. I went a week eating a couple apples every day. I remember sitting in my living room with barely enough energy to change the channel, staring at my TV playing “Platoon” and feeling that weird sense of peace zealots strive for with week-long fasts.
Two pounds. Four pounds. Ten pounds.
That’s how the first few weeks started off. I was amazed — dropping weight was easy, I just didn’t have to eat (who would have thought?). I kept up the pace and dodged suspicion by eating in other rooms or saying I just wasn’t very hungry. At this point, it was easy to skate by because I’d been overweight for years and people accepted that I had a good grasp on putting food into my face.
Ten pounds. Twenty pounds. Thirty pounds.
Shirts started fitting better, pants became looser, and I was content. My parents started to clue in at this point, and what started off as pride that I was looking healthier became concern at how quickly everything was happening. I went to the gym five times a week, ate almost nothing except a can of tuna, and fought off waves of nausea and irritability.
I knew I had an issue. What started off as (in my mind) a mature, rational decision to thin out became an obsession. Counting calories became a favorite pastime, and during class I ignored lectures to plan out my meals — a pickle for lunch, and maybe an orange or two for dinner.
Forty pounds. Fifty pounds. Sixty pounds.
By graduation I weighed in at 140 pounds, down from 200 three months earlier. The haunting side of an eating disorder — besides the possibly devastating physical effects — is the way it twists your mindset.
In my head, I was doing the right thing. People kept heaping compliments on me, and while the path to those compliments was scarring me, the ends justified the means.
In college I started purging to ease the pressure. I would go into the bathroom, turn the shower on so my roommate couldn’t hear and vomit in the toilet if I thought I ate too much that day. My collarbones jutted out, my clothes hung on my body, and I nearly fainted every time I stood up.
I was on a path of self-destruction, and I didn’t confront my choices until last winter break, when I broke down in front of my family. I admitted I was wrong for years, and I did the last thing I wanted to do: I asked for help.
A month later, I was taking pills for anxiety and actually talking about my problems with people rather than pushing them back into my mind to fester.
Yes, I’m stubborn, but I realized that sharing your issues takes the weight off – no matter how embarrassing. And rather than literal weight, losing the weight of your problems actually offers some peace of mind.
During “Love Your Body” week, let’s remember that it’s okay not to love your body, but it’s also okay to ask for help.
Haidar is a junior majoring in journalism.