Getting Better

Measuring growth in approach, not in pounds
By CAROLINE KNAPP  |  August 6, 2010

This story was originally published in the January 1, 1995, issue of the Boston Phoenix.

"Do you ever really get over something like anorexia?"

A friend asks me this at a restaurant. I shrug and say, "Oh, sure." And then I return to my menu. I stare at it, obsess and calculate. Should I be a loathsome, self-indulgent slob and have the bacon cheeseburger and a heap of fries, or should I be a good girl and order the puny Greek salad, dressing on the side?

So there. The easy answer is yes: of course it's possible to "get over" something like anorexia. And the real answer is no: not really, not completely.

I've been thinking about this question a lot lately, perhaps because I'm coming up on an important anniversary: 10 years ago this month, I started therapy with an eating-disorder specialist, thus beginning in earnest the long and slow recovery, such as it is, from anorexia. Ten years ago, I showed up in his office wearing black boots, a matchstick-size pair of black jeans, and a gray sweater, my colors at the time. I weighed about 95 pounds, which was 12 pounds more than I weighed at my very lowest, and I felt fat.

Today? Hmmm. I saw the therapist this morning. I was wearing black boots, a pair of black leggings (slightly bigger than matchstick-size, but not much), and a cream-colored sweater. I now weight about 108 pounds, another 13-pounds of improvement, and I feel fat only intermittently.

So: cream instead of gray, 25 pounds, and a slight loosening of my definition of "fat." Is that recovery? It may not sound like much, but in many ways, yes: that's exactly what it is. Gradual and slight. Two steps forward and one step back. Miniscule changes, one ounce at a time, that begin to look and feel like substantive changes only after you've amassed enough of them.

--

Once or twice a year, I get together for coffee with my friend Joan, whom I met in a support group for women with eating disorders about five years ago. She's since moved to Texas with her husband, but she comes back to visit when she can. And she always calls me. There is always a moment of strange, mutual inspection when we meet: we size each other up, quite literally, mentally marking weight gain or loss, subtly checking to see if we can feel each other's ribs or shoulder blades through our sweaters when we hug. I last saw her a few months ago, and when she called to tell me she was coming to Boston she said she wasn't doing too well. I asked her what that meant and she summed it up in three words: "Eighty-four pounds." I gulped -- I weighed 83 pounds at my very worst -- and I automatically dreaded seeing her. Stuck, I thought. Starving, obsessing, counting every calorie. She must be a mess.

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