Food as enemy

By CAROLINE KNAPP  |  August 8, 2010

No one at work knew I did this, even though the paper I worked for was small and quite collegial. Actually, that may not be completely true. I imagine lots of people suspected something was wrong, but I wouldn't let them close enough to do anything.

I kept them at bay mostly by lying, by creating illusions of normalcy and contact. I'd lie about spending time with friends in order to hide how isolated I was. I'd lie about some huge breakfast I'd eaten — French toast or bacon and eggs — in order to establish in their minds that yes, I was an ordinary, functioning human being who ate regular meals. I told them that big lunches made me sleepy, that I just liked yogurt. And even though they said things to me — "You're so skinny!" "You must eat like a bird!" — I got good at deflecting concern. "Birds actually eat twice their weight every day," I'd say. "Did you know that?" End of subject.

* * *

Going home was harder. I lived with two friends during this time, and hiding it from them took almost as much energy as actually starving. I was anxious all the time. I would walk home at night praying that my roommates — whom I genuinely liked — would be out. If they were, I could just shut myself up in my room. If they were home, I had to act. I would make a point of keeping my bedroom door open, not wanting to expose this wish, this need, for isolation. If they were eating dinner, I would make a point of joining them in the kitchen for at least 20 minutes. Then I'd perch up on the counter, a safe distance away, and listen to their various sags, trying to feign genuine interest. "A raise? Great! You did Terrific!"

Ignoring their meals was the hardest part. "Oh, no thanks," I'd say lightly, when the offer came." "I grabbed a sandwich on my way home from work." Then I'd watch as they ate. It amazed me how casually they treated food. One of my roommates used to recline in her chair after dinner and smoke a cigarette. Almost invariably, she'd leave some of the food on her plate untouched and while she smoked, she'd pus the uneaten portion around the plate with her fork — taking a bite of chicken, for example, and making little swirling patterns over the leftover sauce. I found that sight, the lack of reverence for food, astonishing.

Because all I could think about was food. When I was alone, I read food magazine and cookbooks the way other people read porn. Wednesday was one of my favorite days because the paper's food section came out. I still have a collection of recipes I copied down during that time, painstakingly, on index cards: they're all for breads, cakes, chocolate desserts, things with the richest fillings. Things I longed for and wouldn't let myself have.

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