Eating disorders are real, complex and devastating conditions that can have serious consequences for health, productivity, and relationships. Eating disorders are not a fad, phase or lifestyle choice. These disorders are serious, potentially life-threatening conditions that affect a person’s emotional and physical health. These disorders also differ from person to person. People struggling with an eating disorder need to seek professional help. In the United States, 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, or EDNOS. For various reasons, many cases are likely not to be reported. By age six, girls especially start to express concerns about their own weight or shape. 40 to 60 percent of elementary school girls are concerned about their weight or about becoming too fat. This concern endures through life. All of these facts and more can be found on the National Institutes of Mental Health's website. The creative short story below takes you through the life of a girl struggling with an eating disorder.
The Lies We Tell Ourselves
There are so many choices, but none of them are safe.
Silly girl, you are recovered. You don't care about safe anymore.
Three hundred and fifty-two, screams the bagel…
One hundred and fifty, says the breadstick…
Fat, threatens the pizza.
Lunchtime in this cafeteria is just another Golden Corral. There are wilted greens in the salads, wilted people lined up to eat them. The bread, like always, is stale, the conversations made over it even staler. The chocolate cake causes the familiar feeling of wasps in my stomach to rampage about inflicting pain and swelling as well as increasing my heart rate. All the food seems cloned, nothing fresh, nothing new, nothing appealing. The lunch ladies mutter you're welcome to every half-hearted thank you. The heating lamps buzz and the boiling sauce spits. A cookie crunches under a combat boot. The cash register rattles with change. A girl behind me talks about the party she held last Friday night. I pick at my cuticles and stare at my shoes. I am recovered. I am recovered. I am recovered.
I choose a salad.
I am recovered.
I take ranch dressing, and it's not even fat free.
I am recovered, don't you see?
I am a real girl now. I am skin and bones and hair and teeth and eyes, and yes, I am fat. I am no longer the curve of my collarbones. My ribs which once protruded now retreat back into my body. My cheekbones are muffled by a layer of blubber. The twin arcs of my hips can't impale somebody who gets too close anymore. The veins on my arms no longer constantly peek out causing alarm to those around me. The curly bundles of coarse, damaged hair no longer swirl in the shower and clog the drain. Even the constant tap-tap-tapping of my foot has ceased. I am recovered. Really, I promise I am.
The hand that hands the cashier woman money has stubby fingernails painted pink. It used to be that blue was my favorite color, but blue is sick. Blue is ill. Blue is history. No more blue for Sarah, because I am pink now. Pink cheeks, pink skin, everything once blue has faded. I locked it away so that it cant control me anymore. I can roll chocolate in my mouth and marvel at its flavor. I am no longer controlled by the taunting inside my head. The little ghosts that haunt the back of my mind can shut up, because it tastes like warm blankets and crackling fires. Chocolate is my mother's kisses on the tip on my nose. It's like my daddy tucking me into bed at night, safe and non-threatening. I had no reason to tremble. The sprinkles on my cookie were no longer the monsters that hid under my bed.
I can eat chocolate, I can eat chocolate, I can eat chocolate. I can drown out the little white ghosts with sweets and smother them with fat because I am recovered.
I never wanted to be like this; it wasn’t just as if I woke up one morning terrified. Society placed the ever-looming pressure for perfection on my shoulders, and unlike my friends I was too weak to carry it. I collapsed under the weight no longer able to enjoy life; all that I could focus on was this disease. Yet now I am OK, don’t worry; I told you I recovered.
My friends eat at a table by the windows. It's snowing outside, the white flakes cover the cars with a six-inch down blanket. The roads barely visible covered by the tarp of snow. If it keeps snowing like this we will all be trapped in this prison till the day we die. I used to have to carry a blanket to school because my skin would turn blue from the chill of winter. But I am pink now, not blue, and I don't need the layers because my weight makes the chair creak when I sit down. I used to be so light I could float.
Careful, Sarah...You are recovered, remember?
Yes, yes, yes. I am recovered and I don't need my friends' worried looks. They only cause my heart rate to increase. I don't need surreptitious sideways glances at my salad. Each dart of the eyes asks so many questions. Is she eating? Is there dressing on that salad? Why is she chasing those peas with that fork? The sweat forms at the nape of my neck, and I can feel the familiar sensation of the wasps beginning to sting in the pit of my stomach. I do not want their pity. I do not need their concern because I am a real girl. I am pink. They would never understand my situation and the struggle I go through every time I sit down for a meal. I need my friends to shut up, please, because between them and the little ghosts I am almost too afraid to touch these peaches.
There are 135 calories in peaches. But I don't care anymore. Really, I don't. No more walking on water for me; I'll let Jesus take care of that. My hand trembles as I raise a spoonful to my mouth. The food can barely hold on before it reaches its destination. I try not to think about the peaches, I try and block everything out, imagine it's air, imagine it's air. Still, the stares of my friends burn through my skin. The spoon clatters to the table. Peaches hit the floor. My thighs seem to expand.
"Sarah," my friend begins, worry clouding her eyes.
"Don't worry," I whisper.
When I was in the hospital, the nurses forced me to sit at a table for four hours because I wouldn't…no, couldn’t…eat an apple. They stood around waiting like vultures and begged me to put it in my mouth. "Just chew and swallow, Sarah. You can do it." Their faces were furrowed with concern, and one lady even got her own apple and ate it with me, bite by bite. I choked it down with my nose plugged. After, they led me through the sterile halls and into my room with a blue blanket. The nice nurse tucked me in and smoothed back my hair exactly how a mother would.
"You can do this, honey. I believe in you."
I did it. I did it I did it I did it and now I'm a real girl, pink and pretty and warm. I may have ragged little ghosts fluttering around my head, but I also have hair and shiny eyes and fingers that don't shake. I have friends and I have fun and I am recovered, dammit.
I am a real girl now, and real girls eat their peaches without throwing a fit.
"Don't worry," I say again, louder. My friends smile encouragingly. Their tongues are stilled, their fingers clenched.
The spoon of peaches weighs a hundred pounds, more than I weighed when I was blue. The ghosts scream at me as I raise it to my lips, but I don't listen. The fruit slides into my mouth, syrupy sweet. I chew blindly, swallow in a gulp, and bring another spoonful to my lips.
Sighs of relief are released by the girls at the table. My friends begin their chatter again, their forks darting into their pasta and salads. For a moment, at least, no one is looking at me, for I am simply a normal girl eating her peaches.
I am recovered.