Author's note: I started my long and illustrious career with disordered eating at the age of 12. It wasn't until age 16, though, that I made myself throw up for the first time.
Eating disorders go hand and hand with shame. It is my hope that by sharing this story with you, here, that I can help not only myself but others emerge from the shadow of disordered eating. So I'll take a deep breath, and share.
You always remember your first time.
My first time, I was sixteen. We were alone at my parents’ house. We’d been flirting for a while, circling each other curiously. I didn’t know it was going to happen that night. It seems cliche to say it “just happened”, but when people say it to me now, I guess I have an idea of what they mean.
I’m talking, of course, about the full bag of Halloween candy I ate that night. I’d done that sort of half-hearted trick or treating you do when you’re a teenager, more to be out at night and get free candy than to show off any creative costuming. While people rolled their eyes, most of them did give us candy. And now I found myself very alone with it at my house.
It started out innocently--I decided I would eat one Reese’s cup and one Baby Ruth fun size bar, because I deserved a treat. It was, after all, Halloween. Of course, directly afterward I would do my exercise routine with a few extra minutes tagged on specifically designed to undo the amount of calories in my “treat”.
How, exactly, that fairly straightforward plan turned into a sea of empty wrappers including--dear god--even the universally detested Mary Janes, eludes me. It’s like I totally zoned out. Later on, I would learn about something called a Fugue in which people will go into a state and when they come out of it they’re in a different country or something. That is how it felt for me.
When I came back to reality, I wasn’t in a different country: I was in my body again. I knew that I felt sick, but even more so, I felt absolutely disgusting. I could feel those little calories (somehow in my mind they always swim like sperm that you see in health ed videos) swimming right to my thighs, my stomach, my ankles.
This food-fugue thing had been happening with increasing frequency since that an instance involving my eating too much pizza months ago. It basically went like this: I’d eat until I was beyond full, and then feel gross. Then I would then “make up” for the additional consumption by tallying how many excess calories I’d consumed, and reducing the calories consumed for the next several days, reducing the total as if it were my own personal National Deficit.
But this time, it was worse than usual. It would take weeks of calorie cutting and exercising to make up for this one. I had to rid myself of this problem. I had to throw up.
Funny fact: in health class they’ll show you videos about eating disorders so that you can detect warning signs and keep this from happening. But honestly, for many girls I feel like it’s a how-to primer. I don’t know if I honestly would have even thought of throwing up before having seen that Tracey Gold TV movie or hearing cautionary tales about Karen Carpenter. We didn’t have the internet then, so I couldn’t google “how to gag yourself to induce vomiting” as I would today. So I had to improvise, or as Anthony Bourdain would say, go system D on myself. Here’s what I did.
1. I stuck my finger in my throat. Nothing happened.
2. I stuck two fingers in my throat. Nothing happened.
3. I stuck all of my fingers on my right hand in my throat, really deep. I gagged and felt hotness in my throat, but still nothing.
4. In my room, I stood up and spun around in circles until I felt dizzy, then stumbled to the bathroom and repeated #3. I threw up. Not a whole lot, but definitely a little. I felt better.
5. I repeated until I felt that I had thrown up a respectable amount.
Were it just for this experience, I would probably never have made myself throw up again. It sucked. It tasted bad, it hurt, I kept on belching afterward.
But fortunately for my developing eating disorder, unfortunately for me, a short time later I happened to be at a drugstore with a friend. We were in an aisle and I saw something called ipecac. “What’s that?” I asked. “It’s what you give babies to make them throw up when they ingest poison”. Bingo.
I can tell you now, years later, that I was going to move on to do great things in life. I would start a quirky and unlikely business called CakeSpy which combined writing, illustration, and baked goods. I would travel the world. I would write books and go on book tours. But at the time in question, that was still all in the future. And on this day, I was thoughtful as I parted ways with my friend. The next day, I went back to that drug store and bought out their entire supply of ipecac.
Recipe for a Binge
- 1 cup low self esteem
- 1 pinch self consciousness at wearing an outdated halloween costume
- 1 cup boredom
- 1 cup loneliness at being at home alone, hearing people outside and not feeling part of it
- 24-48 fun-size candy bars
- various other crappy candies
Step 1: Vigorously whisk the first four ingredients until you feel awful about yourself.
Step 2: Instead of talking about your feelings, eat all the ingredients as quickly as possible.
Step 3: Make yourself throw up. By any means necessary.
Step 4: Don’t forget to hide the evidence.