When I was in high school, I developed a serious eating disorder.
I've alluded to it here and there, but I've never really written about it--or shared it with any great detail.
Speaking with a prospective client the other night dug up some memories for me, particularly when he mentioned counting raisins. You might think it's silly. Or unnecessary. Or any number of things. But me? I got it. Because I once did the same thing.
What are the odds that he'd find someone to talk to who had the same exact experience? Maybe the odds are pretty good, I have no idea. But I can share how it affected me to sit across from someone who is so compelled and consumed by counting calories, that he's missing a lot of his precious life. And how I remember being in that same position. I remember being that stuck in something that felt so exhilarating ("hey! Look how good I am at this! I am so damn good at depriving my young developing body and mind of essential nutrients on a daily basis!") yet exhausting at the very same time.
I know that, for as good as I was at the game, I never got any damn medals for my meticulous calorie counting. There are no Eating Disorder Olympics, unfortunately. No awards doled out for how many days my weight stayed the same, the needle never budging from that precious and--extremely--important number over which it hovered. I got no Honorable Mention for the amount of time I managed to take to consume a bagel. A bagel. On average, they contain about 600 calories, give or take. To most people who are conscious of their nutrition in healthy ways, plain bagels wouldn't be considered an option, mostly because they are 600 calories of pure carbohydrates--nothing of real value unless I was running a 10K. But to my eating-disordered mind--bagels were on "the list" and believe me, I wasn't running any 10Ks. In fact, I had to quit my high school basketball team my Junior year because my weight dropped so low I couldn't hold my own against opposing teams. If you know me today, you would find this unimaginable--I am pretty stocky and incredibly fucking strong. And I had been that strong as a kid and teenager, too, but not when I starved myself to the point of losing all my lean muscle mass--you know, the kind that makes us strong and, ironically, burns the most calories.
Never knew this. Wish I had.
Instead, I allowed myself to fall down the rabbit hole of a sub-clinical (called thusly because I was never actually hospitalized for it) eating disorder. It was, in many ways, the opposite end of a scale I had been on as a kid. I maybe ate a bit too much sugar and sweet stuff than I needed to. I probably carried an extra 10-15 pounds I didn't need between the ages of 9 and 15, but it never was anything the Doctor spoke to my mom about. But let me tell you, he certainly spoke to her when I went from 165 pounds to a drastic 118. I can't tell you how long it took to lose that weight--I think a few months. I don't have much memory of that time. I just remember being very hungry, very tired, very confused and very angry. Nutrient deprivation will do that to you.
I remember starving myself most of the day and coming home late at night from hanging out with friends and standing in my pantry counting out raisins in my hand. Or bingeing on dry cereal right out of the box--never making the connection that the massive amount of late-night calories I consumed off-set the "great work" I did during each day.
None of it was rational or logical. None of it made sense. But it was my friend--it was the best friend I had when my life felt extremely lonely and challenging beyond what my teen brain could comprehend.
Many years later, I have conquered the obsession with calorie-counting. I eat and drink every day with no real clue about the calories I consume. I eat nutrient-dense, organic food as often as I can because it tastes good. I do it for my health. I still love sugar, and so I have to be mindful when I eat it--because it's also a friend I reach for in times of stress and confusion.
I am glad I struggled with that eating disorder--that compulsion to control my food when the rest of my life felt unmanageable. I am glad, so so glad, I know the visceral reality of that experience so that when clients talk to me about it, I can say with total honesty, "I get it. I really do."
But I am also glad I worked my ass off to end it. And I am glad that when I pour boiling water into my plain instant oatmeal--flavored now with a nice swirl of pure maple syrup and a pat of organic butter---that I don't have to count the raisins anymore.