You Are What You Eat

By Alexia Tiches

Image Credit: Alexia Tiches

Image Credit: Alexia Tiches

“Are my thighs too big?” I ask my mom in the dressing room of a trendy adolescent store.

“Your thighs can’t be big; you’re 12.” She answers.

I was 12, but had had my growth spurt a few years early and played four sports year-round, so my thighs were indeed bigger than those around me. I was muscular, but I mistook muscle for fat and equated fat with being worthless. This brought me to the slow and creeping journey of an eating disorder.

It started with skipping meals. That was easy. I woke up too late so that I had to miss breakfast most mornings anyway. At school, there were no parents on my back to force me to eat, so I would avoid contact with anything edible. I spent my free time checking my butt in the bathroom mirrors, and staring at other girls’ legs. I counted calories in algebra, and poured serving sizes in English. My world revolved around food. I spent every hour thinking about what I would eat next and how many grams of protein were in that yogurt compared to the other.

I was obsessed and I loved it.

Being able to control one aspect of my life was fulfilling. I loved it. My eating disorder almost destroyed me, but I loved it all the same. Later in my life, after my eating disorder days, when my mental illness took on an amorphous and uncategorizable shape, I learned to yearn for the time when my only problems were tangible. Not to say that an eating disorder is good, only different than other mental illnesses. I knew why I was upset and I could fix it by starving myself. Sometimes I didn’t know why I was depressed and hence couldn’t help.

Yet the physical aspect of eating disorders is the scary part.

I never thought about what it was doing to my body. I didn’t want to think about it. After my parents noticed my eating habits, they took a more active role in my dietary habits. So, I turned to bulimia instead. I don’t know where I first heard about it, but I always knew that if you touched the little punching bag in the back of your throat, you’d throw up. The first time I tried it, I cried. It was terrible. Forcing your body to do something it doesn’t want to do feels like someone forcing themselves onto you. And yet I knew from that first time that I was hooked.

I started throwing up once a week, and then twice a week, and then every day. Soon, after every meal, I raced to the bathroom to relieve myself of the food I just ate. I was really good at it, too. At one point, I didn’t need to use my finger, I could simple retch and my stomach knew what to do.

I didn’t know it was a problem, even though I couldn’t look in the mirror without crying.

I didn’t think it was a problem, even though I hated myself.

I didn’t think it was a problem, even though I was sick.

I realized I had an eating disorder my freshman year of high school. I watched a documentary about a girl who died from bulimia.

“Bulimia?” I thought to myself, “What type of distant disease is that?”

It was my disease and someone died from it and that was terrifying. I wanted to tell someone, but I didn’t know how. To this day, I don’t know how my parents found out. They must have loved me an awful lot to be able to read the signs, for I was oblivious to them.

They started me in family therapy, which went as well as you’d imagine. The therapist was an hour away, and only my mom could go to the majority of them. Bless her, but her zealous nature to fix things overpowered my own chance to help myself. My therapist was a blunt, rude little sasquatch whom I nicknamed, “the Troll”. She told me that I would gain weight and I didn’t want to hear it.

This went on for a year. Then I went to another therapist for one on one sessions. I liked this much better. I avoided talking about my self-image and focused on other aspects of my life. I refused to do the exercises she gave me: write ten things you like about yourself day, look in the mirror today, eat something fattening.

And somehow, I was getting better. Maybe it was the opportunity to talk to someone, or maybe it was me finally understanding it. Throwing up every day became throwing up once a month. Yet, my bulimia transformed into something else. I had always had anxiety, but I never had frequent panic attacks like I had in high school. To relieve my anxiety the only way I knew how, I threw up. I tried to tell my parents that it didn’t have to do with my bulimia, yet parents worry and my explanation wasn’t a good one.

My eating disorder left the same way it came, slowly and without me noticing. One day, I woke up in the morning and looked myself in the mirror and didn’t cringe. Then I knew I was okay. I still thought I could drop a few pounds, and I could never eat that cupcake. I stared at other girls and envied them so much. I was done hurting myself. I can’t say I loved myself, but I was starting to like myself, and that seed of benevolence sprouted until it was a little plant. I nurtured it, took care of it. Sometimes I forgot to water it and sometimes it was a cloudy day. Slowly it grew to what it is today: a half assed attempt but an attempt nonetheless. Self-love is a long and rocky road, a journey unique to everyone. My road to loving myself is far from over, but I appreciate every twist and turn that has come this way. It has molded me into who I am today, which is far from perfect, yet miles from where I started.