A story of one eating disorder
I am fit, and I am strong. I am all about body positivity and balanced nutrition.
I like running, but I also love lifting weights. I like pizza followed by a tube of Ben&Jerry’s, but I also like sweet potato toast and steak with a side of kale.
The only reason I am still not an aspiring Instagram model is that my photography is bad, and my phone is even worse.
I am also a hypocrite.
And every time I shamelessly devour the last slice of pizza, to the awe of everyone around, the part of me whispers in my head “you are so going to regret it tomorrow.”
I was never bullied because of my weight — but yes, I was overweight. Now I was bullied for a bunch of other reasons — my ethnicity, and the fact that when I was in high school, my mom paid our elderly neighbor to accompany me home — so “fortunately” my chubbiness was often overlooked.
But it was still an issue. In high school, I felt like an outsider — a loser. Girls around me were rocking low-waist skinny jeans, and if I had to put one of those on, it would reveal hefty rolls of fat right around the area which was supposed to be my waist. They could afford to go to Paris for weekend getaways, and back in school they’d share fancy make-up and spray each other with eau de toilette during breaks. My best luck was two weeks of grilling on a crowded beach in a low-cost resort, and metallic blue and black nail polish. I wanted to be a part of the punk subculture, but my mom did not approve of their clothes policy and hairstyles, so nails were all I got.
Nails, and of course “I don’t care” attitude.
I don’t care if I am fat. I don’t care if I don’t have friends. I don’t care if they laugh at me.
Did I mention that I am a hypocrite?
Of course, I cared, and of course, it was painful.
The only thing I really did not care about was a change. I did not see any problem with me being overweight and gasping for air after climbing a single flight of stairs. I did not see any problem with dunking Lays potato chips in ketchup for an afternoon snack. I did not see any problem with sharing the same pants’ size with my aunt, a mother of two.
There was nothing wrong with me in my head — but those kids at school, who did not want to be friends with me, they were the real problem. They were evil, ugly, and stupid.
I remember the very first time I realized that being fat was just not cool. I was soon to be 18, and we were on one of those summer vacations, in Croatia. Suddenly every girl around showed off a perfectly flat stomach and tight ass. I was growing up in Russia, and it was never the right place to walk around displaying body parts all year long. It was also before the social media hysteria — so I had no one to compare myself to.
Except for those mean girls from school — but of course, since they were mean, I did not want to look anything like them!
That entire vacation my cousin and I ate crepes with ice-cream for lunch and chicken kebabs with fries for dinner. Flat stomach and tight ass did not seem like reasons good enough to deny me of those pleasures.
But then we went on a boat trip, and at the end of it, some genius decided that it was a good idea to take a group photo. There was a family from Holland on the boat — parents and two children, an older boy and his sister. She was my age, and she was everything I was not: tall, large blue eyes, long blonde hair, and a physique of a Greek goddess. I stood next to her — I was wearing a mid-length orange skirt and a cropped top. First, orange was never my color. Second, bob haircut had nothing to do on my bloated round face. And third, that freaking top uncovered my perfectly tanned pot belly.
Myself standing next to that perfect Dutch girl was a freak show.
And suddenly it hit me — I was not just ugly and fat compared to her.
When people looked at me, that was all they saw.
Fat and unattractive young woman.
Now you have a choice between million diets, calorie tracking apps, and online communities of people advocating for body positivity. Twelve years ago none of these existed — in Russia anyway. I did not know how to lose weight other than… well, not to eat.
It was my first year in university when I decided to get thin — somehow I quickly established somewhat amicable relationships with most of my classmates, but it did not change my attitude towards my body, or self-esteem for that matter. I had friends, we were going out, skipping lectures and having fun, and I still felt like the ugliest piece of shit in the world.
My not-eating was not going as planned either. I could go the whole day without having a single bite, and then at home, I would gobble down an entire roll cake with chocolate frosting.
That lasted for months. My weight lowered slightly, but so did my mood and intellectual capacity. I could not focus, and my grades were at best mediocre.
Then that social media thing went full throttle at me.
I don’t know if someone still uses it but back in the day LiveJournal was huge. I signed up for it because since the punk culture did not do it for me, I decided to be emo. And through random search in Yahoo (this is how old I am — I remember using Yahoo over google), I have found a community of like-minded folks.
One of those folks happened to be a Russian girl.
She was also anorexic, and… proud of it?
I don’t know even how to describe whatever madness we have both signed up for.
She had a blog on diary.ru (a Russian version of LiveJournal), where she monitored her “success.”
“I ate nothing today!”
“I flushed my school lunch down the toilet!”
And her recent photo in every post. Sunken cheeks, pale skin, and ribs sticking out.
If you think this is bad enough, try this — she was also a moderator in a whole other online community of girls glorying their eating disorders. They were not just happy to be skinny; they were never “skinny enough.” Food was not the enemy — it was also an object of shame. Most of the posts were recollections of all those occasions when the food had won — and how awful and loathsome the feeling of satiety was.
They encouraged each other to starve and shared advice on how to do it “better” — “drinking more water and chewing gum can help.” One girl recounted how she dug her meals in a plant container after her mother had discovered that she was throwing them in the trash bin.
“What a brilliant idea!”
“This is a game changer!”
I found a solution to my problem there as well.
I discovered that if I could not give up eating altogether, I could… vomit whatever I did eat.
In the second half of my freshman year, we had lectures from 9 AM till 6 PM twice a week, with an hour-long break for lunch. I followed my friends to cafeteria only to watch them eat, while I chugged water glass by glass. Occasionally someone asked if I were at least a little hungry, and I’d instantly shake my head “no.”
Yes, indeed — lucky I was.
My mother caught me once puking after dinner — I always had the water running to mute the barfing sound, but I could not do much with capillaries breaking on my face and swollen red eyes. She cried, begged me to stop, and asked me what she had done to deserve it.
I cried with her.
By that time I was no longer attending classes — I had no energy during the day and spent nights staring at the ceiling to the rumbling of my stomach. I stopped menstruating. My skin started to crack, because of how dry it was, and horrible lesions formed on my hands and face.
I was avoiding friends — because being around people who could enjoy food was unbearable.
I envied them; I wanted to eat — I ate and then I threw up.
I looked exactly like the girls from that diary.ru community. Even skinnier than some of them. Skinny, sick and scary.
But whenever I looked in the mirror, I saw that same unattractive and fat young woman whose image once horrified me.
I wish I could give a definite answer to how I got out of that vicious circle.
Of course, seeing my mother cry that day and on many other occasions after, helped me realize something — I could have continued to torment myself till eventually, my body would have given up on me, but my mother did not deserve any of this. Nor did my grandparents. Or my sister.
I could be a lier, a hypocrite, a sick person — but I could never be cruel to my family.
My life has never belonged to me alone — I am a part of my mother’s soul, my grandparents’ hearts, my sister’s best friend.
Yes, my sister… what example was I setting for her?
I dropped out of university in my second year and took several months to “heal.” I deleted my account on diary.ru. I obsessively searched for any information on diet and nutrition. I started doing yoga and running.
Of course, I overdid running — injuring my knees and ankles multiple times, and pushing through severe pain.
Of course, I overdid calorie counting — and every damn calorie above the limit had to be burned off on the treadmill.
I tried, and I failed. Over and over again.
I should not be even using past tense — because I am still trying.
That trip to Croatia was 12 years ago. Twelve years ago and sometimes I still hate looking at myself in the mirror. Sometimes I hate catching a reflection of my thighs in the gym dressing room.
Sometimes I wake up, and I am bloated all of a sudden, and I hate myself.
It almost feels as if there is another person inside my head — a psychopath who blames me for a piece of chocolate I grab now and then, tortures me whenever a pair of jeans does not fit the same way it did a week before.
I can be enjoying a spontaneous takeout with friends, giggling and feeling comfortable and carefree.
And then I hear a voice in my head -
“you are so going to regret it tomorrow.”