Written by Dieuwertje Hehewerth
**Please note, this text may be triggering for those affected by eating disorders**
It’s been seven years since the day I got so sick of feeling inadequate that I decided to stop eating. Six years and 364 days since I began ten-kilometer hikes across Wellington’s waterfront and over its sheltering mountain on an empty stomach.
Six years and 363, 62, 61 days since I began sculling diet drinks to trick my stomach into being full – full of fizz, caffeine and fake sugar to erase hunger aches.
Six years and 360, 59, 58 days since I began counting every calorie I ate, every calorie I burnt, always making sure the ratio would be more energy burnt than gained.
Six years 357, 56, 55 days since (x) divided by 4.2 became my most practiced calculation as I scanned every food package and translated kilojoules to calories to measure every bite I ate.
Six years 354, 53, 52 days turning 51, 50, 49 kilograms into genuine surprise that my jeans were loose; before suddenly becoming nervous of how I appeared; before my parents began making small remarks that sent my heart racing; my head into an exhilarated panic. Did you know you could lose weight so fast?
48, 47, 46 kilograms before I started realizing this process was no longer wholly in my control.
45, 44 kilograms before I got my first scare of being sick: a simple cold sending me bedridden, unable to stand up.
43 kilograms as a full day of university became impossible; as arriving home, dragging my body over the doorstep, became an accomplishment, a relief and simultaneously a moment of panic – had I walked enough?
43 kilograms as a stranger on the street yells, “I HAVE TWO QUESTIONS FOR YOU: ONE, DO YOU EVEN EAT? AND TWO, IF I WOULD FUCK YOU, YOU WOULD FUCKING SNAP!”
(Of course with no confidence or energy to yell back, “THAT LAST POINT WASN’T EVEN A QUESTION!”)
43 kilograms as the word “anorexic” follows me around in whispers on the street. 43 kilograms as one morning, eyes glued shut from a flu my body had no energy to fight, I call my mother, asking her to help.
And 43 kilograms does not even reach the greater extremes. Some getting down to 34, 33, 32, 1, 0. Flatline.
Waistline constantly measured, compared, re-measured. Eat; measure. Shit; measure. Graphs kept. Food lists stored. Comparisons made. Maintaining an eating disorder under the now careful watch of worried parents becoming a full-time job. Banned from working till “you get better.” Walking, running, rain or shine, till “you get better.” Family dinners becoming daily tortures until “you get better.” Arguments turning into screaming turning into, “IF YOU WOULD JUST STOP CARING THEN I COULD JUST GO DIE.”
(Yes. (Melo) dramatic.)
6 years since, “I only weigh myself in the morning -on the upstairs scales- with no pajamas on, and only if I have gone to the bathroom and taken my plate out. I never trust what the scale says if I weigh myself after a shower because I’m scared that the moisture on my skin will weigh me down.”
5 years since, “Perhaps I weigh less because I have less hair than I used to, so I could be ‘healthier’ now than when I weighed this much but had long hair.“
4 years since, “people say I look better and they are proud of me but I feel like shit because I take the compliment as meaning I have put on weight. I often wish I was at my lowest again so that at least I know that I have anorexia, and not just some half attempt of it.”
And back to the top. Less eating, more walking, sculling, lying, panicking, attempting to vomit – vowing not to vomit – counting, calculating, weighing, measuring, weighing again, measuring again, and all the while the constant message being, “You’ll never have a normal relationship with food again,” as if a relationship with food is something to strive for. As if this obsession is comparable to a diagnosis of cancer. And believing it. And wanting to believe it. And enjoying believing it. Because this hyperactive obsession keeps this weight down, and under no circumstances does it feel okay for that number to creep up again.
43, 44, 45.
Tired of counting yet?
Tired of standing in the supermarket, scrutinizing the 2 calorie difference between this 100 ml of yogurt versus that 100ml yogurt at the other store, and do you really want to force your way out of this supermarket empty-handed once more?
Are you tired of pretending to yourself that you are gluten intolerant, lactose intolerant, meat-industry intolerant, cutting out entire food groups to shrink the supermarket so the plethora of food that is on display becomes unreachable? Unthinkable? Untemptable?
Are you tired of being scared of the feeling of hunger, filling your stomach with fillers thinking, “as soon as I’m full then I won’t have to eat anymore?” The fear of food warping into a fear of hunger making you eat more to take away the fear that came out of the fear of the food you are now using as a solution to solve the fear of eating?
Are you tired of looped logics making your head spin so much your stomach curls into a ball, so sick to your stomach you almost feel hungry or violently ill but you no longer know the difference?
“I have started a new nervous habit: beginning at the furthest reach of my arms – at my ankles; the insides of my shoulders; the recesses of my spine – I dig my fingernail into the soft, upper layer of my skin and begin drawing deep lines up the length of my legs and along the creases of my ribs. Upon reaching a natural end, I stop, clean the skin from beneath my nail, and start again. I finish when I am covered in red scratch marks; or when the time spent on the activity becomes more nerve-wracking than the state of mind that began it. I dress, and continue my day with the surface of my limbs and back stinging.“
It’s not called Anorexia Nervosa for nothing. But then An – “without” + orexis “appetite” does not make sense because I’m constantly hungry. It’s not that I don’t want food it’s just that I can’t have food – can’t have food without this great panic spreading under my skin so nervous and filled with energy that it pushes outwards, pushing at the boundaries of my skin till it feels so tight it could burst. If only there was less beneath it to make some room, to release this tension, “just a small buffer.” Just some breathing space. Just one less number, one movement downwards so I know I’m moving in the right direction. Down, not up. Less, not more.
It’s been seven years since that day.
Every seven years every molecule in our body is renewed, so shouldn’t this be a new body? Shouldn’t this “new” body be able to escape the fears the “old” one had, the one disposed of, one molecule at a time; the one that started the panic? The one that decided that the way to deal with anxiety was to shrink? That the way to deal with feeling incompetent was to slowly disappear? That the best way to feel nothing would be to cease to exist?