Hey, friends! I haven’t updated the Going Hungry series for a while, partly because I’ve been feeling good and not so up for dwelling on the less-than-pleasant past. That said, I’ve committed to telling this story because I think it’s probably the most important story I have to tell, and I think we’ve reached the critical point.
In the first installment, I talked about how my body changed when I was 18 years old, and how this promoted a change in my attitude toward my body. I began to believe that being slender was not only desirable, but actually attainable, and began to associate my new shape with my new, adult identity.
Then, I discussed how my relationship with exercise went from positive and joyful to more and more obsessive and unforgiving.
I wrote about how much misinformation we are all exposed to about how much nutrition our bodies need, and how this misinformation encouraged me to eat far too little.
I explained how my IBS symptoms often made me very uncomfortable after eating, which I mistakenly interpreted to mean I was eating too much.
And finally, I confessed that the less I ate, the more I obsessed over food, to the point that it overshadowed my ability to enjoy life.
Still, through my undergraduate yeras (2010 – 2014), I was doing okay. I was getting slimmer, but I was still a “healthy” BMI. I didn’t skip meals, I didn’t purge meals, and I still allowed myself some special treats like french fries or ice cream, although fewer and fewer of them as time went on.
But now we come to the part of the story where all these things that were going on, manipulating my relationship with food and exercise and body, collided in a big, ugly, anorexic bomb.
I graduated from college and went to work at a camp for the summer.There are so many stories I could tell about my summer there, and I’ve written many of these stories as essays for workshop in my graduate creative writing program. I learned a lot, I met some awesome people, I had a cool job, and it was a beautiful place, heaven on earth.At least, it would have been heaven on earth I hadn’t been living in my own personal hell.
You see, shortly before I arrived for the new job, I had had an awful attack of IBS. Probably the worst I’ve ever had. Like out, on my back, I-can-hardly-think-straight-I’m-in-so-much-pain, awful IBS. And I was traveling with my mom to a friend’s wedding, no less!The worst of the actual pain receded within about 48 hours, so that by the time this picture was taken, I was feeling well enough to enjoy the wedding, eat a light meal, and dance.
But in the days after the wedding, when mom drove me to drop me off at camp, I was dealing with a sensation that was almost as intense, but no less uncomfortable: bloating. At the time, I didn’t know what bloating was, so I called it by a different name: “stuffed.”You see, bloating and abdominal pain are both symptoms of IBS, and in retrospect, it’s clear to me that the two symptoms were just two sides of the same digestive coin. But at the time, there was only one explanation for the “stuffed” feeling. I must be overeating, I thought constantly. I must be overeating.
And here’s where all those disordered thoughts I talked about in earlier episodes started going crazy.
- My figure was, in my mind, one of my proudest accomplishments. If I’m overeating, I thought, I’ll lose that figure, and that would be a waste of all of my “achievements.”
- I was away from my gym and the step aerobics and weight lifting classes I held so dear, so that although I ran or did body-weight exercises most mornings at 6am, as well as walked literally constantly, everywhere I went, miles and miles each day, I was convinced I must not be exercising enough.
- I had come to believe that 1200-1500 calories a day was healthy, and eating even less couldn’t hurt. The meals served at the camp dining hall were much bigger and richer than what was served at home, but I took only very small portions and lots of salad, instead of whatever was being served as the entree.
- Ironically, despite being so convinced that food was so terrible for me, I also wanted, desperately, constantly, every minute of every day, to eat. That’s that obsession part I was talking about in episode 5: the less you eat, the more you think about eating.
And so, I developed an enormous, overwhelming fear that plagued me every minute of every day: I was absolutely terrified of not being hungry.
And the reverse of that: What I thought I wanted, more than anything else, was to be intensely, uncomfortably hungry. Because then, and only then, would I give myself permission to eat. And what I wanted more than anything else was to eat.Absurd? Of course. Totally.
But also not totally irrational. Between the IBS, my slowed metabolism and digestion due to years of undereating, and my body’s numbness in the face of the fact that I was literally starving, I rarely, if ever, felt the physical symptoms of hunger anymore.
As you can imagine, I responded to this bewildering absence of hunger by eating less…and less…and less…until by the end of the summer, I was down well under 1000 calories a day. And still convinced that I was “never hungry.”
At that point, I was 100% anorexic. And I was absolutely, 100% panicked.
I think I’ll take a break from the story there for now. In the next episode, I’ll share how I came to realize something was wrong, and why it took me so long to do anything about it, despite that realization.The (not so) funny thing is, although I eat much more now, and although I recognize that I must eat enough in order to experience regular hunger, I admit that I’m still, not-totally-irrationally, afraid of not being hungry when I’m “supposed” to be.
Gaining weight scares me a little, but not that much. Being judged by friends and family for overeating, developing terrible diseases due to improper nutrition, not fitting into clothes I like…all these things scare me less and less as time goes on.
But on days when I don’t get hungry when I expect to, I still get pretty upset. It scares me more than heights, more than snakes or spiders, more than the dark, more than tight spaces or cemeteries. In fact, the only things that scare me more are my completely rational fears like losing friends and family or being unable to find employment after I graduate. And yes, yes, that is absolutely absurd.
All I can say is, I’m still working on it.
Do unexpected hunger and fullness signals make you anxious? If so, which upsets you more: hunger when you don’t expect it, or the absence of hunger when you expect to be hungry?