My conflicted relationship with my body and food started early, especially for a time when the internet and social media weren’t around to distort the beauty standards that much as it can today. Eastern Europe in the eighties: we didn’t have Western culture, we didn’t have Western brands, people could only travel with travel leases issued every couple of years, mostly to the Soviet Union – to avoid the capitalist epidemic and all its negative effects. Good times.
My body image issues didn’t come from the media or teen magazines. It came from inside.
I started my first diet at 10. At the time a kid being on a diet wasn’t a horrible thing. I stopped eating bread, chocolate and meat altogether. I’m not sure what I was eating. But I know I hated it all. It was a downward spiral, causing me endless moments of frustration, with intermittent reinforcement of temporary success.
In my twenties, I discovered bulimia accidentally and it quickly became my go-to method complementing any diet plan I was doing. I was hooked on the relief it gave me after having a cheat meal. I was relying on its effects to keep up with my diet plans. I liked that I was in charge of my metabolism with laxatives.
I always told myself, whenever I threw up another meal or took a huge dose of laxatives to purge myself, that this was the last one. I won’t do it again. I lied to myself and to everyone for a decade. I convinced myself it wasn’t an eating disorder. I was a disciplined addict; I could go without it for months, following a very strict diet (anorexia), running 10 miles every morning (orthorexia), almost fainting at work from exhaustion, calorie deprivation and depression.
No one ever noticed.
Was I that good at hiding it? Or was it that no one really cared? Not sure which sounds sadder.
If you are fat and you have an eating disorder it doesn’t raise flags – after all… you shouldn’t be eating anyway.
I made one attempt to confessing it. It was 2005. We were going away on a romantic getaway with my then-boyfriend to Venice, Italy. We had been together for 2 years and I thought he would pop the question – everything suggested that.
I thought if he wanted to marry me, he deserved the truth.
He didn’t pop the question. And he didn’t take me seriously enough when I told him I was fighting an eating disorder and sometimes I make myself throw up. He shrugged me off with a very pragmatic “I don’t get it, you look good.“
Learn to take a compliment, no matter how shitty and off it is, right? I never talked about it ever again. Not with him, even though he did marry me years later. Not with anyone else.
I kept struggling with my body image but I started to make healthier choices. Life gave me pregnancies, a divorce, an abusive relationship, PTSD, anxiety and depression — they kept my weight in balance, without me focusing on it. Eventually, I started to eat healthier, to exercise and take better care of me. Reaching 40 will make you do that – reassessing, reevaluating your life and priorities.
Today, I am happier with my body than I have ever been in my whole life. I love it. I appreciate it. I treat it right. I am grateful for it. I am running and exercising not to punish it, but to reward it with dopamine and endorphins, and to challenge it. I am eating well because I like it and it makes me feel better and lighter, less drowsy, more energized.
I have been clean for years. But it still lingers above my head. I still think about it, as something I could go for if all else fails. I grew up. I grew out of it. But it’s still with me. The bulimia… I don’t think it will ever go away. It’s an addiction. A mental illness. You learn to live with it. You arrange your life around it. My daily choices allow me not to resort to it, but it’s still there. I am still thinking about it. I still feel it’s a solution, even if I know rationally that it’s not.
Like an alcoholic. Deciding on not getting his fix one day at a time, and making his life around it, never forgetting it’s there, waiting, looming in the back of his mind.
I have been clean for years.
Except for that one single occasion last month. But I swear, that was the last one.