It has acutely come to my attention that there is a subdivision of psychology devoted entirely to food and peoples’ relationship with it. They (the governing body of all things psychological, I suppose) have creatively named it “Food Psychology.”
I’ve been desperately searching for tried and true tricks to intervene before I subject myself to a situation like the episode I had last week, and the psychodynamic side of me feels that searching for the origins of my peculiar relationship with food would be helpful in selecting an effective treatment, because, frankly, I’m done being the kind of weirdo whose biggest concern is what she is going to eat today and lives in constant fear of losing control of the abundance of food around her. It’s time to be a different kind of weirdo.
In the beginning, I was a chubby kid. I loved KFC and pasta with parmesan cheese, sue me. It just so happened to deposit itself right on my abdomen. I was a hopelessly picky eater, and refused to eat all things produce and lean protein. Though my parents never said anything, I could sense their concern-even from a young age. I was NOT a happy camper. Ever. Still to this day, you can see the sadness in my eyes in the sparse stack of photographs from my youth. I didn’t like me, and lived in a constant state of self-consciousness, always trying to make myself disappear, though not through starvation means quite yet, which would account for the sparse stack of photographs from my youth.
In the interest of time, let’s jump forward to adolescence; everyone’s favorite life stage. Moderate body dysmorphia is relatively common among young teenage girls, but what I experienced fell far outside of the bell curve. I can’t remember a time in my life where I wasn’t self-conscious, but my early teenage years were certainly the most severe in this regard. It was at this time in my life that I had finally gained the motivation to transform myself into the only thing that I thought could make me happy-skinny.
As soon as I turned 13, I signed myself up for a calorie counter account, and began logging every bite. Anorexia had reduced my calorie intake to a mere 250 calories per day, and my diet consisted mostly of baby carrots and a fourth of a cup of Multigrain Cheerios.I weighed myself seven, eight, nine times per day. The rapid weight loss was energizing-I was above hunger, above the need for food. I was strong and I was beautiful. And people were noticing. I was 5’2, and 72 pounds.
My eyes had sunken in, my hair had thinned, I had constant goosebumps, and every vertebrae on my back was both visible and palpable. I remember making my own mom cry one day when she accidentally walked in on me changing my shirt.
The folks dragged me to therapy, but my therapist left a bad taste in all of our mouths, so I was only forced to attend the initial session. While all of this was going on, my parents had begun seeing a personal trainer and nutrition coach, so food and exercise dominated a lot of household conversation, which reinforced my preoccupation with “healthy” eating.
I remember spending a lot of time in the kitchen. I’d bake sweets for my family on almost a nightly basis, the aroma of the baked goods forcing me to salivate, but I was strong. I never gave in. I ate the exact same food every single day, at the exact same time, and in the exact same quantity.
Sleep was hard to come by, initially due to the audible pleading of my stomach for sustenance, but later due to hunger pains that only increased in severity as the night wore on.
I wish I knew what exactly made me “snap out of it,” but eventually (and thankfully), my body took over my prefrontal cortex, and forced me to slowly restore my weight to a sustainable range. Strangely, I don’t remember much of the weight restoration process, but I can imagine that it was excruciatingly devastating to watch myself gain the weight that I had worked so hard to starve off.
My level of self-consciousness has remained fairly constant throughout my development into adulthood. Today, I am right smack in the middle of the “healthy weight range” according to the BMI chart. But my relationship with food is nowhere near healthy.
Last semester, I took a 20 credit hour course load. (Full-time is 12.) However, I couldn’t bring myself to focus on anything school-related until I had a Maddie-approved meal plan prepared for the day. I’d spend upwards of an hour per night just packing food for the next day, because my anxiety would be far too severe for me to cope with if I didn’t.
Every time I visit the ladies room, I will spend 2-3 minutes examining myself, pinching various areas of my body in disgust, regardless of who might see. I have to forcibly pull myself away from the mirror before I burst into tears. I visit the scale multiple times per day, and threaten myself with starvation if I don’t like the number I see.
Sometimes, when my anxiety is unleashed, I hide in the pantry and scarf down entire boxes of cereal. After which, I go to the gym and attempt to purge it all with hours of cardiovascular exercise.
Weight gain is by far my greatest fear, and I structure my entire life around avoiding it. I have isolated myself in order to ensure that I don’t slip up. I am prisoner to my obsession with food.
I am ready for a life without this, but unfortunately, I won’t let me let it go.