In one month and ten days I am going to be 26 years old. It will be ten years since I first developed a real, quantifiable eating disorder. Right now it is a year and three months since the last time I acted on disordered thoughts. This post isn’t about recipes, food pictures, or restaurant reviews, but it is important to me. It is also sappy and more than a little embarrassing. For everyone.
By some bizarre accident, and completely naturally, I was the fattest baby known to mankind. Look at this roly poly one-year-old:
My parents didn’t overfeed me, I wasn’t one of those children who refuse to eat anything other than doughnuts and sugar water. I was just a fat little bug. Doctors told my mother that she should worry, and she did. As a child I ate a lot of diet foods – Go-Ahead low-fat snack biscuits, Snackwell 50-calorie devil’s food cake bars, various types of ‘healthy’ crisps, all carefully measured out into appropriate serving sizes. I firmly believe that diet foods of all kinds are helpful to no one. They are packed full of chemicals and carcinogens; they taste terrible; they never, never fill you up. What I learned from these snacks was that I was different from the other kids, who could eat those packaged peanut butter crackers or the lunch trays full of salami and cheese or even bags of Cheetos. I learned that although I was always hungry, I never deserved more. There were treats in my childhood, too, and I remember them with almost pitiful glee. Eating pizza slices outside Price Club. Going to McDonald’s for breakfast with my dad when my parents split up. Being allowed a second cheese string at my grandmother’s house (amazing!). The long and complicated process of choosing my daily ice cream in Jersey, only ever allowed when we were on holiday. I remember also the utter, absolute, debilitating fear of still being hungry.
By the time I was seventeen years old I had a full-blown eating disorder. I lost sixty pounds in a little over two months, and spent the next forever trying desperately to lose more. I was cold all the time. I wrote the most awful poems and short stories about girls growing so thin that they turned into empty houses, or girls eating the flesh from their own skeletons. I passed out over and over and drank diet Coke endlessly and lied to everyone and cried about eating two small chunks of pineapple from the fridge and called myself grotesque names in my notebooks. On my best, most clear-headed days, I ate half a bowl of Bran Flakes with skimmed soy milk, and three egg whites, and one slice of brown bread, and nothing else. And I was so, so sad.
I’d like to make it clear that I did not lose enough weight to make me a twig double zero. I got to a certain point, the weight loss stopped. No matter what I did I couldn’t lose any more. It took me two years to accept that. Eventually I came to this conclusion: my body never wanted to be skinny. My body is one that loves food with all its heart. It loves exercise, too, and I was happiest when I was running, but not for hours on nothing but egg whites and self-loathing.
What does all of this mean for me now? It means that I am a whole hell of a lot bigger than I was when I was sick, and that it took ten years, but I don’t abhor my body. It means that I go to food extremes way too easily, and that I had a mini relapse last January and will probably have another one someday soon enough. It also means that I – for the most part – like to eat good-quality things that are exactly what I want at any given mealtime. Vegetarianism plays a big part in this, for me. By not eating animals, which I love, all of my meals matter a little bit more. Everything makes more sense to me when it’s explained in terms of bears, so I like to think about it like this: bears, the best animals of them all, are ginormous. They can weigh up to 1500 pounds, if not more. Why the fuck would they care about that? They care about providing their families with the food that nourishes them. Bears know where it’s at.
I try to have patience with sixteen-year-old Becca, but it’s difficult. I want to say look at all this freaking amazing produce grown to delight and sustain you! Stop being an angsty brat and pick up a plate of sushi. If someone had said that to me at the time, though, I would have punched them in the face. All I can do now is love what I eat and how I prepare it, and realise that each and every second I spend cooking is spent because I want to keep the big machine of my body cheerfully ticking along.