Food as enemy

By CAROLINE KNAPP  |  August 8, 2010

On good days, I also felt superior. I would look at people on the street — shoppers carrying bags of food, couples eating at the café — and I felt detached from them. Above them. They were giving in to appetites I had transcended, impulses I had conquered. At a time when I felt essentially worthless, starving was the one thing I could say I was good at.

* * *

I was very, very good at it. My normal weight is about 120 pounds. By the end of 1984, I weighed 85. I have a photograph of myself finishing a six-mile road race that fall. In the picture, my knees are wider than my thighs.

* * *

A little background on "typical" anorexics: about 90 percent are women. Most come from well-educated, affluent families that emphasize achievement. Most are young, 12 to 25 years old. And from what I can gather, most are excessively driven, perfectionistic people with abysmal self-perceptions, people who derive what little esteem they have from pleasing others.

I grew up in an upper-middle-class family, went to a private prep school, then an Ivy League college. I was pretty, popular, got straight A's, and won lots of academic prizes, none of which ever meant much because I tended to see anything good that happened to me as the product of something external — a fluke, warped judgment on the part of others, "luck." Inside, I was pretty certain I was flawed.

* * *

I wasn't ever fat, though. Growing up, I rarely gave much thought to what I ate, and until I created one, I never had a weight problem.

Then I lost some weight during college, almost by accident. I didn't consciously diet — I didn't think about food or obsess about it. It was a rough time, I felt depressed and stressed out, and I just remember not eating much in response.

I also remember that people noticed. Girls said, "Oooooh! You're so thin!" And "How do you do it?" And I think that planted a seed: becoming very thin was a way of standing out.

I ate less and I lost more weight. It was easy. I'd go to a bar near campus with friends, and I'd watch them dive into bowls of buttered popcorn. I wouldn't eat the popcorn — not even a kernel — and I felt very disciplined by comparison. Not eating made me feel strong.

Then, for a long time — and like a lot of women — I was just plain weird about food, After college, a boyfriend I'd been living with moved to California and I was living by myself for the first time. I hated my job and I was lonely. Sometime I was very rigid with my diet. Other times I ate for comfort: cookies, huge salads full of meats and cheese, tuna melts, salt laden soups. My weight fluctuated a lot, and my hunger signals started to get screwed up — I couldn't tell when the hunger was the real, physical kind and when it was the more manic, frantic kind, the signal of some other kind of emptiness. For the first time I started to understand what was going on with women I'd see at dinners and parties, women who seemed excessively preoccupied with food and diets and weight, women who expressed an almost palpable anxiety as they reached for a second slice of cake or an hors d'oeuvre and said, in voices a little too loud, "Oh, I really shouldn't." For the first time, my self esteem started to get hopelessly tied up with the feel of my stomach and my thighs and I started to worry about being fat.

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  Topics: Flashbacks , Mental Health, food, Eating Disorders,  More more >
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