**WARNING: The following content contains graphic descriptions of eating disorders. My writing is in no way intended to harm or offend any individuals. Please proceed at your own risk.
Today, I ate a chocolate chip cookie and the world did not end.
It was fluffy, moist, and chewy with just the right number of chocolate chips in there. Granted, if Grandma had made it – or perhaps if they had pulled fresh out of the oven mere minutes prior – my taste buds would have danced a little more. But the cookie had God knows how many calories and it was chock full of fat and carbs and maybe two grams of protein, if that. I couldn’t care less, though. I took a bite, smiled so big everyone could see my chocolate-laden teeth, and then I took another, and then another, and another until that whole cookie made its way into my belly. Then I dusted the crumbs off my laps, stood up calmly, and went on living my life.
I ate a big ass cookie and I lived to tell the tale.
I know what you do when no one’s looking. There’s a demon inside of you that I’m all too familiar with. You gaze longingly at the food in your fridge as you open, shut, open, shut the door. It takes every ounce of willpower you have in you to not think about cakes, ice cream, bread, and cereal. I don’t deserve it, you think. Nothing tastes as good as thin feels. The skinnier I am, the happier I’ll be. You repeat these thoughts in your head over and over until you start to believe it.
You stand in front of the mirror naked and stare at yourself with such contempt. You think you’re disgusting. You caved into temptation earlier today and had three bites of toast; you must be a weak, filthy, fat, disgusting failure. The number on the scale, no matter how low, glares back at you, shouting you’re still not good enough. You have to hit the Magic Number, of course, before your life will turn miraculously around for the better and you’ll open the box of Eternal Happiness. So you skip meals, dodge social gatherings, and spend more and more time alone. Is your stomach growling? Good. You love that feeling. You want more of it.
The stunned look on your friends’ faces as they see your sunken cheeks and your hipbones jutting out through your saggy jeans makes you beam with delight. Their horrified gasps only encourage you to keep going. Oh no, I already ate – I’m not feeling too good – I’m supposed to eat with my family later at home, but thank you so much for the offer – yes I’m sure – you’re armed with a laundry list of the perfect excuses not to eat with anyone. You’ve reached your goal weight but you somehow feel less happy. But of course, that’s only because the Magic Number was actually three more pounds away, right? Size double zero perfection, here you come.
Or perhaps you do something else. Perhaps you inhale food multiple times a day. And I don’t just mean that you have a big appetite. I mean when you eat, you get your hands on all the unhealthy foods you can get a hold of. There’s no such thing as a casual, leisurely meal in your book; every bite is panicked, anxiety-ridden. That cheesecake, sitting there so pretty and creamy? It’s gone in three minutes flat – and before you realize what you’re doing, you’re digging through your cabinets for more. Your heart’s racing and you’re upset, but it’s as though you’re no longer in control of your own body. You’re an outsider watching from above as your physical body races around the kitchen, your shaking hands knocking over containers as you reach for that loaf of bread. And when that’s gone, you’re still not satisfied. Your belly aches and you look eight months pregnant, but that’s the last thing you care about right now. You quietly tiptoe out of your house, car keys in hand, and you race across town at 3a.m. to the 24-hour store because you have to have a family size bag of m&m’s all to yourself – now.
When all is said and done, you’re crouched over the toilet on the bathroom floor with your finger stuck far down your throat. I hate this I hate this why did I do that why did I let that happen again I hate myself I suck I’m a piece of shit – the self-loathing does not stop. Your face is mere inches from dried splashes of urine on the rim of the toilet bowl and you’re begging your gag reflex to kick in. You try not to think about how many calories you’ve just consumed in one sitting – probably upwards of 4,000 on a mild day and well over 10,000 when you really mean business – as you vow to yourself yet again that this will absolutely be the last time. You were supposed to leave for work eight minutes ago but there’s no way you’re going anywhere until you get at least one good purge. You call in sick, you cancel on your clients, and you reschedule meetings because you’re just not feeling well and you think you might have the flu. In reality, you are indeed sick, but not in the way you want others to believe. Your eyes are swollen and bloodshot and your throat aches and your whole body reeks of vomit and the rest of the day has been ruined. The only important job now is to make it through the remainder of the day while successfully muffling that incessantly screaming voice inside your head. Oh, and one more thing: replace all that food you ate before anyone notices that the gallon of ice cream has been wiped clean.
Hello, Ana. Hello, Mia. How kind of you to rudely trespass into people’s lives. Into my former life. Thank you for having stripped me of any self-esteem and any inkling of self-worth I so desperately needed to enjoy a healthy, happy upbringing. Thank you for making me envy others for being able to eat when they were hungry and stop when they were full and not think about food every single minute of every damn day. Thank you for slowly peeling away my bubbly personality and briskly putting out that bright sparkle in my eye. Thank you for the misery, the loneliness, the desperation, and the tears. I do believe you have grossly overstayed your welcome and I would not mind if you never, ever came back.
Not familiar with my longtime friends? I can describe to you all about what it feels like. I can draw parallels left and right, paint a picture, and illustrate analogies ‘till the cows come home. I can explain to you the sensation for hours and hours – but until you’ve actually lived through the hell of it all, you will never, never know what it’s actually like. And that, dear reader, is a damn blessing. Stay far, far away from Ana and Mia. They are not friends you want to be associated with.
My name is Sohee Lee and I’m recovering from anorexia and bulimia.
And as I write this, I am nine years removed from the darkest times of my life.
If you have crossed paths with Ana or Mia, my heart aches for you. I am infuriated that there are still people out there – both men and women alike – who struggle to make it through each day in one piece and fight their battles in secret. They keep their horrible friends stashed away, and sometimes they’re begging for help without even realizing it. It breaks my heart to know that there are those of you whose fists clench tightly together in anxiety and you hyperventilate in your car before you meet your friends in a restaurant for lunch because you know you’ll have to be seen eating. I know there are some of you who have thought more than once that you’d rather be dead than continue living like this because you’re convinced there’s absolutely no way out. I know this because once upon a time, that used to be me.
I write this to you because I have been there. Because I have been in your shoes and I have suffered through it all. But I’m not just writing to you, oh no – I’m reaching out to you from a place of health, peace, and happiness. These are all states of being I thought would never embody me again, yet here I am on the other side. There’s nothing quite as empowering as hitting rock-fucking-bottom and clawing your way slowly back up.
(‘xcuse my French.)
I’m still here today and I’m thriving.
Why do I say that I’m still recovering? The answer, dear reader, is that I believe that Ana and Mia never truly go away for good. I can kick them out of my life and disown them all I want, but they will always linger at the outskirts of my circle, peering longingly in. They’ll try to make a re-entry when shit hits the fan and the stress piles up, cleverly disguised as Comfort and Reassurance. It’s my job, in every minute that I’m awake, to make the conscientious decision to do the right – and sometimes the harder – thing. It’s been years, but you never know when Ana and Mia will threaten to rear their grotesque little heads in and knock down my front door. I must always be aware.
So. You. You’re not alone. You got that? You’re not. And if you think you can make it through this all by yourself, you’ve got a whole new thing comin’.
So about that cookie that I ate today. I did not have heart palpitations; my palms did not sweat. I enjoyed every last bite of that cookie and I did not go back for more. I did not order a croissant or get a box of macaroons to go. Why is that such a big deal? If you’ve ever been acquainted with Mia in the slightest, you will know the answer. And the answer is that to be able to do something as simple as consume a cookie with my heart beating at an even 60 beats per minute is actually quite difficult. But to do so and end right there – for that not to have triggered a one-man eating contest – that is harder than you can imagine.
It takes practice, and it requires a whole lot of self-lovin’. I deserve – you deserve – to be respected. Never forget that your body is the only thing you have to live with; you’d better damn well treat it right.
This is my call to arms against eating disorders that plague the men and women out there. This is my stance against the demons that trick people into believing that they’ll never be good enough. Everything you are right now, at this very moment, is enough. You are beautiful just as you are.
Love yourself. Be kind to your body. Grab your damn pitchforks and take a stance against Ana and Mia.
I’m here. Come join me.