Are you sure you want to eat that? Prior to graduating high school, the majority of girls have probably been asked this question. By family members, friends, peers, co-workers, even significant others – this seemingly innocent question can be devastating to whomever it’s targeting.

Learning to hate my body image

I remember the first time I became painfully aware of the size of my body. I was about to get up off a couch and an unnamed family member commented, “One day, you won’t be able to get up at all.” I felt humiliated. I hadn’t even reached middle school, and yes, I carried a little chub around the middle; but, not nearly enough to deserve such a barbed comment.

Needless to say, which is upsetting in and of itself, I skipped dinner that night. Before reaching my teenage years I began counting calories, and restricting – I learned to hate my body.

How my eating disorder began

I remember with perfect clarity the first time I shoved two fingers down my throat and forced myself to vomit. I can even tell you what I ate: three steak fingers, mashed potatoes and gravy, a dinner roll, and whatever flavor the white Gatorade was – a typical school lunch. I told myself I shouldn’t eat that day and when I did I felt so ashamed. I remember journaling that day and writing, “I made myself throw up for the first time today. I liked it. I think I’ll do it again tomorrow.” As a seventh grader, I was actively damaging my body in a desperate attempt to achieve the figure of the girls in the magazines, on television, in books, on tampon boxes – it was impossible to escape this vision of how I should look.

Fast forward to high school: I remember doing a cartwheel down a hall for whatever reason. My shirt raised up a little and a boy who was walking with me told me I should “probably never do that again.” I decided that playing dumb would be the less embarrassing option, but we both knew that I understood what he meant. At that moment I slipped from restricting to starving.

The overwhelming hatred

I hated myself. I hated what I saw in the mirror. I hated the feeling of my skin beneath my fingers. I hated the way my thighs rubbed together when I walked. I hated the number I saw on the scale. I hated the overwhelming feeling of panic I experienced when I received a hug from a friend. Some days, I seriously considered just cutting it all off.

That was the extent my desperation had taken me.

Looking back

It pains me to think back to the way I was at my worst. I didn’t eat for two weeks. And when I say I didn’t eat, I don’t mean I only ate celery and lettuce, because I experienced those times as well; I mean I didn’t eat, period. I would get on the elliptical, getting off every two miles to do core exercises and then getting back on. Typically, I stopped after ten miles and just collapsed on the floor. I felt so triumphant, on top of the world. Every single day I got on the scale and a pound to a pound and a half would melt away. My mood directly reflected the number on that scale, and the days when the number wasn’t what I wanted were brutal.

Every time I stood up I would be on the verge of passing out. It felt as if the black dots obscured my vision a little longer each time. I remember walking with a friend to her brother’s car and stopping half way there. My body could not handle another step. It started in my legs and my entire body began to tremble and my legs cramped horribly before I admitted, “I can’t.” I fought back tears the entire ride home and crawled to my bedroom on my hands and knees. In just two weeks, twenty pounds disappeared and took my happiness and sanity with it.

My body could not maintain the agony I was putting it through. I had to eat, but when I did – and more importantly when the scale showed that I did – my hatred for myself consumed that much more of me.

I began to purge just about everything that touched my lips.

Recovery: regaining the control I had lost

I remember the first night I had to actively decide to kick this disorder to the curb because I could no longer deny that I was no longer controlling it; it was controlling me. My neighbors went on date nights every Thursday. This particular Thursday I was to be home alone so they invited me – with my parents’ knowledge – to join them. I couldn’t say no. We went to TGI Friday’s and I ordered ribs, French fries, and corn on the cob. Minutes after finishing my meal, it was like I could feel my body begin to digest the food and absorb the calories. I couldn’t control my anxiety; I just needed to get what I had put in me out, immediately.

When we finally pulled up to my house I actually sprinted up the stairs and was hyperventilating by the time I found myself on my knees before the toilet. I cried for hours; even if I could have stopped, I didn’t want to.

I don’t know why I decided that this was the point where I decided I had taken it too far, but I am so happy that it was.

An ongoing struggle

But that was not the end. Sometimes, I am afraid to work out because that can trigger me. I have purged in church, school, and restaurant bathrooms. I couldn’t trust myself to bring a scale to college. The number of calories in certain foods is burned into my memory. Occasionally, looking in the mirror will bring me to tears.

The words that fueled my disorder will never leave me.

Every single comment that has ever been made about my weight or about my appearance returns to torment me in my moments of insecurity. The people who made those comments probably don’t remember saying anything; they may not even remember me. But I remember. I can’t stop remembering. I write this now having the most positive body image I’ve ever had since jokingly being told I wouldn’t be able to stand up on my own. Yet, just today, I changed my outfit four times when I knew my only plans for the day were to go downstairs and watch Castle. Four times I put something on, looked in the mirror, and thought ‘fat.’ I felt disgusted enough that I was not able to wear a particular shirt or a pair of shorts in the safety of my own home.

My message to society:

How dare you digitally manipulate an image and tell women that’s what we should look like. How dare you use our airbrushed bodies to advertise your products. How dare you publish tips for a “perfect summer bod” in teenage girl magazines. How dare you glamorize eating disorders, making them a goal to achieve rather than a disease to fear.

This is what we are doing to women and girls today. This is what our words do. This is what the unattainable standard we put upon women and girls results in. And my case is far from the worst.

But, to answer your question: yes, I am sure I want to eat that. And it’s none of your goddamn business.