For a full year of my life, I could not eat.
Every time I tried to digest anything more substantial than almond milk, I threw it right back up. I threw up seven, eight, nine times a day. I threw up so much and so often that I shredded my esophagus and found myself in the hospital pumped full of the fluids I kept losing.
I have no explanation for this phenomenon. Perhaps the hospital’s gastroenterologist was correct, and I simply suffered from an extreme form of the acid reflux which had plagued me for years. Perhaps the problem was stress, and I simply needed to exercise more, as another well-meaning yet foolish medical professional tried to coach me.
Perhaps the problem was one bout of bulimia in high school, one bout of anorexia in college, followed by another bout of bulimia, followed by massive and immediate weight gain after a torn ligament halted my four-miles-per-day running regimen.
Or maybe. Maybe the real problem was that at the age of 22, I had no earthly idea how to eat. No one had ever taught me! My mother remains borderline anorexic at 105 pounds, and has steadfastly refused sugar for the past four decades for fear of binging. My father lived on fewer than 1,000 calories per day on average. This was not a recipe for success.
I grew up so terrified of food and weight gain that I became fat because I could not help it. I developed curves and immediately decided I was about to become the Incredible Hulk. Rather than shrug and assume my soccer/softball/gymnastics/horseback riding regimen was plenty of exercise for a growing girl, I began power walking around the block and swimming laps to keep the nonexistent excess weight off. Simultaneously micromanaging every bite I took managed to quickly push me into a full-fledged eating disorder.
I wish I could speak directly to young girls beginning that slow slide into the awkwardness of adolescence. I know that some of them must think, as I once thought, that an eating disorder is the answer. I know it must seem like an easy way out of the confusion, the panic, the generalized hysterical feeling of being out of control.
Yet what goes up must come down, and a body that starves and starves for years on end will eventually find its balance by plunging in the opposite direction.
I had so destroyed my metabolism by the time I began to eat anything resembling a “normal” meal that I immediately gained weight. I gained a shocking amount of weight, 100 pounds in only a few years. The weight stayed with me whether I went weeks on end without ingesting more than a few kombucha drinks, or tried to eat brown rice and lentils to be “healthy,” or simply threw up my hands and ate whatever I wanted. The weight stuck with me as a reminder, perhaps a necessary one, of what I had done to myself.
I have an extensive experience with this disease, including three years of group therapy with other beautiful girls trying to kill themselves. What I’ve noticed is that anorexics go one of two ways. The first way is, they eventually begin to eat again, really eat, and immediately gain 40-80 pounds. The second is, they continue to lose weight, try and fail at eating disorder rehabilitation centers, try again and fail again, until eventually, prematurely, they die.
When people talk about the obesity epidemic, I hope they understand that a huge percentage of this population has been yo-yo dieting for years, probably decades. They have tried working out more, tried eating macrobiotic and vegetarian and anything else you can imagine. It has not worked.
The only thing that has ever worked for me has been to honestly take account of what I eat, when I eat, and why I eat. I have been helped by the simple reality that, after being physically unable to keep food down for an entire year, the ability to simply sit down, eat a meal, and then get back up again is a huge milestone. It feels to me like a minor miracle.
I am proud to say that I have been able to eat three full meals every single day for eight months. I have taken long walks, I have started swimming laps, I take yoga and pilates. I am also seeing a nutritionist, whose main advice to me is, “Eat more, especially protein and veggies!” Thanks to her, I have finally remembered that the energy to work out requires energy put in my body.
I am studying to be a writer because I know my experiences are shared with so many young women out there. I believe my story can help them. I want to teach young girls that there are better ways to be healthy than to starve themselves, and that the strongest, prettiest, or smartest little girl is not the same as the thinnest. I want to teach those other young girls, the ones who see their bodies as the enemy, that there is pleasure, happiness, and joy to be had in what those bodies can do. Maybe they feel fat and awkward and ugly and unlovable, or maybe they are overweight and don’t feel they have any friend in the world other than food, but they are not too far gone to be saved.
They are not lost. They are not forgotten.
I see them. I remember them.
I know I will succeed in achieving, and then maintaining, my fitness goals. I can feel my body becoming stronger, faster, and more easeful by the day.
Having a goal that really, truly matters to you, in your heart, is enough to drive you through the pain. Love gives you the determination to be strong.
Those girls need someone to be strong for them.
I will be that person.
I owe it to my friends, my friends whom I loved and who died of anorexia and sadness and sexual assaults no one witnessed or acknowledged. I owe it to them to remember, and I will.
Ariadne Wolf works cross-genre in Creative Nonfiction, Fantasy, and Experimental Fiction. Her creative nonfiction essay “Mermaids Singing” was initially published in Rascal, and Rascal has nominated the essay for the 2019 Pushcart Prize Anthology. Perspectives has nominated her short fiction story “Granny in the Forest” for the 2019 Best Small Fictions Anthology. Wolf’s publishing credits include DIN Southwest Literary Magazine, Ashoka University’s Plot Number Two, and others. She has many credits to her name as a journalist in the Corvallis Advocate and the Willamette Collegian. She is an MFA student at Mills College, and is hoping to pursue her Ph.D in future.