But there are no guaranteed ways to change. You just do. I stopped starving in the smallest ways: eating one and a half bagels in the morning instead of one because I simply couldn't stand to be so hungry; introducing cream cheese. In 1985 I stopped weighing myself altogether (and I haven't weighed myself since). In 1986 I took up sculling on the Charles River, a difficult and demanding sport that gave me something to master besides my own appetite. Later that year, I joined a support group for women with eating disorders. Each step teaches you something: slowly, you learn that relinquishing rigidity does not mean losing control; you learn that there are other, more sustaining ways of feeling strong; you learn that involvement with other people may feel burdensome and risky, but that it's a hell of a lot better than being alone.
Which are tough lessons. The process of giving up all that sharp angularity means giving up a range of other things: a blanket of protection, a deeply ingrained, safe, familiar lifestyle, a way of defining yourself. For a long time, I simply didn't trust myself around food: could I sit in front of a plate of cookies and not eat all of them? For a long time, I just felt conflicted and hopelessly confused: I'd refuse a dinner invitation and not know if it was because I was afraid of eating, afraid of interaction, or because I genuinely wanted to be alone. And for a long time, even when I knew exactly what I was doing with food, exactly where the impulses to starve or binge came from, there were terrible middle-points when I simply didn't have access to any other responses.
But managing food is like managing life. Factor in some time, some self-knowledge, some courage, and a lot of support — slowly, you learn how to cope. You learn how to feed yourself, in all senses of the word.
These days, I would have good days, bad days, mediocre days, and — probably best — days when I don't think about what kind of day it's been at all. I can't remember the last time I used food to make a decision. I can't remember the last time I went hungry for more than a couple of hours. Which doesn't mean I never worry about food or weight. I'm still highly conscious of both, and I still wonder if I'll ever be completely "normal" about food — but then again, if normal means self-accepting, I'm not convinced that any woman in this culture is completely "normal."
I am convinced of something else, though: recovering is almost as hard as starving — but not quite. About a year ago, on the heels of a disastrous relationship, I wrote something down in a notebook about how useful starving had been, how well it had shielded me from things like disappointment and anger and loss. Then I crossed it out and I wrote, "This is hard, but it's not as hard as starving. It's not as hard as starving."
For anyone who struggle with an eating disorder or knows someone who is, that's an important fact to keep in mind. Anyone who has the strength to starve has the strength to change.