After struggling with bulimia for many years, one day something magical happened. I threw up. That's not the magical part, though. The magical part is that it was for the last time. Ever, I thought. I would over succeeding years have 3 moments of relapse (eating binges) but for all intents and purposes, this was the end of my bulimia.
Life was good: I was a rising star at the refrigerator magnet company (yup) at which I worked. I was well on my way to getting married, Tiffany sparkler sending rainbows through the air whenever the light hit just right. I hadn't started my blog yet, but I knew that I wanted to start a business, and this desire ultimately led to the blog.
So, part of ditching the throwing up behavior was that I was on a Bona Fide Good Path. This had made my need to eat and eat and eat and then purge it all far less intense. But part of it, as you can read in this post about how I stopped making myself throw up, was that Ipecac, the emetic which I primarily used to induce vomiting, was taken away from the aisles in drug stores and put behind the counter. You didn't need a prescription, but you needed to go to the counter and ask for it. Amazingly, that small shift in availability was the biggest factor in me no longer throwing up.
At a certain time, I thought that I would be cured of my eating disorder when I no longer threw up.
And don't get me wrong, it was a huge milestone to no longer throw up. But I was far from cured of my eating disorder.
The thing is, while I wasn't throwing up, I was still insanely scared of becoming fat because my mode of purging had, in essence, been taken away. I was still scared that the desire to binge eat would take over, and now I would have no way to get rid of it.
My solution? Become super rigid and militant about every morsel that crossed my lips.
No more of that "just a bite of this" business. No more impulsive handful of nuts in the afternoon to keep the hunger demons away. Everything I ate had to be plotted out and accounted for.
Of course, it happened slower and more sneakily than that. It was like a cloak of fear descended on top of me, and I felt the need to reign everything in to deal with the total chaos that would be a binge without a means to throw up (I couldn't make myself throw up "manually"; I could only do it with the ipecac, which I was now too embarrassed to buy because I'd have to ask for it).
Without the possibility of throwing up any longer, I began to view every food as a potential fat-maker. And a series of checks and balances type of behavior began to crop up.
One of the big things that started to happen was that I began to count calories. I decided, for no particular reason, that 1700 calories a day was my official number, and I was going to stick to it.
I think that maybe if I was just calorie counting, it might have been a compulsion, but not necessarily anorexia. But in my militance about reaching exactly that amount or under, but never over, I became very strict about what I could and couldn't eat.
For instance, I would no longer order Diet Coke from the fountain, because what if the server forgot or was just evil and gave me regular Coke? That was hundreds of unaccounted for calories. Not worth the risk.
I was also wary of packaged foods which stated nutritional information. Was it really accurate? I couldn't be sure. So if a food said that it contained 200 calories, in my calorie counting, I would list 250 calories, "just to be safe".
I would round up other estimates for calories, too. For instance, even if I was eating a sandwich that contained 400 calories, I would mentally round up to 600 calories. Just in case there was really more mayonnaise than I thought, or if they had buttered the bread before toasting it. In a nutshell, while I was telling myself I was eating 1700 calories a day, I was probably eating more like 1200-1400 calories a day on most days.
Supposedly these behaviors were meant to save me from gaining weight in my post-binge life. But really what happened was that I transitioned from bulimia to anorexia.
As my wedding loomed closer, 1700 calories per day seemed like an awful lot of calories. It would be better to stick to 1500, and my estimates of how many calories each food contained went up, so I ended up eating less. An apple and a spoonful of peanut butter, once considered a snack, became a full meal. One exception was wine. I let myself have a glass of wine every day, and since I wasn't eating enough, it would give me a pleasant buzz. It was like my relaxed happy time of the day and I looked forward to it. The way in which I looked forward to it made me wonder if I was an alcoholic. I wished that I could go on a bender, but I was too scared of the calories. Alcoholic, interrupted.
I would have "treat" days. These would be days when I would go out with my husband to be, and I would plot for them all week. If we were going out to a restaurant on friday, I would reduce my calories all week so that I could really treat myself to a meal. I would keep a mental tally of how many calories "down" I was so that I could know how much it was "OK" to eat. Oh, the joy of eating 800 calories in one sitting to a starving person! It was like sex, seriously. I would look forward to these moments when I could eat all week. And it made me seem so normal. "You're so tiny but you have such a healthy appetite!" people would say. I knew the truth, but I liked the illusion.
Really, though, I was unhappy. (DUH)
The weight continued to fall. I went from a size 4 to a size 2, and then from a 2 to a size 0. I went wedding dress shopping, and fit into a designer size 0; it felt like the biggest and best accomplishment of my life.
My co-workers said that I looked too skinny. I nodded and said yeah, maybe I have gone a little too far, concerned. But inside, my spirits flew.
I wish I could say that after the wedding I came to my senses, was able to eat more without fear, and continue not throwing up. But it's not true.
My eating became more and more controlled, and more and more rules and restrictions entered my food-life. ANd it got worse before it got better. When I started my blog, I was at a very low weight and I am pretty certain that I was on the high end of the anorexia spectrum at that point. Ultimately, my blog proved a huge part of my recovery, but it was also a huge secret for a while: this girl who is making all the sweets is actually anorexic. I would eat sweets, but not much else, and it took a huge amount of planning. Yes, I would eat that beautiful butter cake I made, but I would restrict all day to make it "OK".
While it's interesting to think about why it unfolded this way, I can't really give you a definitive answer as to why I transitioned into anorexia.
I think that a lot of it was fear. I knew that I wanted to start a business, and I was about to get married when my anorexia had its onset. There was a lot of unknown ahead of me.
I was also unhappy. I don't know if I was unhappy because in some way I knew the relationship "wasn't right" (we did later on divorce), but I don't suspect so; I was crazy about him and I still consider him a very good man. Or maybe my job wasn't satisfying me. Or maybe it was a deeper unhappiness, tied together with the fact that I was always wanting more and had trouble appreciating what I really had. A fear of being not good enough.
But then again, and this plagues me, maybe a huge portion of why I became so unhappy and the disease thrived is because I just wasn't freaking eating enough, and caused a deep despair that was a huge contributing factor in the unraveling of my marriage. That thought kills me, even while I am very happy with my place in life now.
I'll talk you about my anorexia recovery, which is still ongoing, another day. But if I want to impart something right now in this post, it's that recovery is not something to white-knuckle. By making myself quit with the throwing up, I thought I had truly "recovered" myself. But without the proper support, I really just descended into a different disorder. If you want to recover from an eating disorder, DO take proactive steps to stop the harmful behaviors. But DON'T do it alone. Even if you don't have a therapist, have a support network. Have a crew. Have help. Have positive checks and balances, not compulsive ones like I did.