Noone saw the raccoon-like circles under my eyes from skimping on sleep that I covered so meticulously with concealer. Noone saw the pounding of my heart from trying to sustain myself on nonfat lattes and the occasional piece of candy. Noone saw the tears that came on a daily basis because I never felt sufficient; the sobs that erupted unpredictably because I resented myself.
It is simple to look at someone’s seemingly genuine smiles and hear their uncontrollable laughter and presume that she is happy, but the truth is not always visible. I am not the happy-go-lucky person that my peers see trekking around campus everyday; I would even characterize myself as the opposite: anxious and depressed.
Previously I wrote a post entitled “On Disabilities, Relationships, And Gender Roles” in which I explained the effect physical disabilities have on one’s sexuality. I included an anecdote about my personal struggles with body image and obsession with weight loss. In that post, I eluded the notion that these are still battles I am fighting. It would be dishonest of me to say that I am better now and that I never restrict my calories or engage in any other disordered habits. My food intake is connected to my level of stress, happiness, and my perfectionist tendencies, so I am not the healthiest eater. I am the stereotypical “all-or-nothing” person; I can go days without eating, but eventually, I cave and gorge myself on anything I can find. The guilt that follows usually causes me to exercise (sometimes compulsively), induce vomiting, use laxatives, or fast, which allows the cycle to continue.
Upon the realization of my body image issues, people often say, “You’re thin,” “You look normal,” or “Weight doesn’t matter,” and these may be true statements; however, my disordered behavior is rooted in deeper psychological issues. Telling me to “Just eat healthily and exercise” will not rid me of the problems I face on a daily basis. I have anxiety and depression. In order to cope with these issues or any issues, I have always turned to food; whether I am over-exercising, under-eating, bingeing, purging, or using laxatives, I abuse food and my body. I could be severely underweight, morbidly obese, or somewhere in between, but my weight would not alter my relationship with food. This is because hunger pangs and uncomfortable fullness distract me from my emotions. If I feel lonely or neglected, I can starve myself and only be concerned with physical symptoms such as lightheadedness, an empty stomach, ringing ears, and shakiness. Noone wants to experience these symptoms unless their only alternative is acknowledging their self-loathing or their uncontrollable nervousness.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, when my blood sugar dips too low, my mood becomes depressed. At this point, I typically feel void of all emotions, and I fill that void with food. Unlike overeating, which most people have experienced (just think of Thanksgiving dinner), bingeing occurs when the person eating feels as if he is possessed by some outside force and cannot stop himself; during binge episodes, food is often consumed rapidly. It usually occurs as a result of a negative emotion like depression, stress, anxiety, fear, loneliness, or insecurity. Typically people are ashamed of bingeing and may hide wrappers, lie about food, or refuse to eat in public. In high school, I skipped lunch and would occasionally binge on snacks like chips or crackers, but in college, I am trapped in the cycle of restricting, bingeing, and sometimes purging.
I cannot think of a moment since I have been here that I was not consumed with the notion of food; I imagine eating it, calculate calories, plan my meals, and search for pictures of food on the internet. Whenever someone in one of my classes is eating (even something as measly as a granola bar), I lose my focus and am stuck thinking about food for the next half hour. Needless to say, my obsession with food is distracting; I have a difficult time concentrating on schoolwork when I am too busy considering what I can eat without surpassing my calorie limit, and it is challenging to connect with people when every event involves food or highly caloric beverages. Even when people are just “hanging out” in college, they will often make popcorn, order food, or consume highly caloric beverages. Obviously, this is a barrier for me; if I am restricting my food intake, I do not want my friends to intervene, but I also do not want to seem antisocial by locking myself in my room.
I do not expect my peers to change their habits to cater to my feelings towards food and my body, but I do think people should be aware of them so they do not mistake my withdrawnness for rudeness. As I begin to confront the underlying issues that have caused my problems with food, I hope that I can open myself up to friendship again and learn how to handle my emotions in healthier ways.