I am a foodie. I eat whatever my parents want me to try, from the exotic snails to the mundane green bean—sorry, Mom, I'll never like those. I had always said that I loved food too much to ever get rid of it from my life, I spent hours baking cookies and cakes on the weekends, and I never turned down an opportunity to go out to eat.
How on earth could I possible find myself being anorexic?
At least, that's what I told my mom when she cautioned me about eating disorders in schools when I headed off to boarding school at the age of 14.
I had always been athletic, and through this I deemed that I could eat what I wanted because I exercised enough to justify it. But, by the time I got to school the fall of 2012, my attitude changed. I realized that the Freshman 15 isn't always an upward trend, but can also be a downward one.
To the outside perspective, I seemed like the least likely person to ever fall victim to one of the nation's biggest epidemics.
But people don't tell you what it's like to be in an unfamiliar place, with unfamiliar people, and with a sudden independence when you're only 14. I went off to boarding school optimistic for the opportunities that I could have, but found myself finding comfort in the familiar. I went to classes, went to practice, did my homework, watched some Netflix, and went to sleep. I began to fail to do the one thing I had always done before: eat.
I will give my school credit, they really tried to make meals a necessity to try and prevent these sorts of situations from happening. And don't get me wrong, I loved my school. My best friends were made there, and I still talk to them every day. I was the poster child for school involvement, and by the end of my senior year, I had acquired a course load that no one envied.
But when you have eight required meals, out of twenty-one, a week, things still fall through the cracks. I ate, but not with the freedom I once had. I felt every eye on me as I walked through the dining hall to get a cup of coffee.I felt as though everyone saw me eat that *gasp* half-cookie off the table at the very end of the meal, even though I tried to hide it. I felt with every pizza ordered and ice cream cone ate, that I was acting too comfortable in an uncomfortable place.
So I stopped. And then, the thing I had once loved, food, became my downfall.
It was easier than you'd think. Even boarding school, with parental supervision, sign-ins, family-style meals, and roommates, has its freedoms. Just because you were required to show up to meals didn't mean you had to eat. I would pick at my food, leaving plates of salad with only the chicken, or the carrots, or the cucumbers picked off it. As a freshman, not a lot of people know you. I sat at a table with seven other foreign faces, who didn't really have time in their lives to pay attention to a freshman, let alone what that freshman ate. I turned down opportunities to eat, and in turn, shut down opportunities to make friends.
They say anorexia destroys you, but what it really does is destroy relationships. You say no to going out because you don't know if your friends will be eating, and don't want the embarrassment of saying "No". Your friends will unknowingly judge you, asking if you are going to "eat that salad, AGAIN" or if you ever "loosen up" a bit. And they can't know, they won't know, but it starts to, ironically, eat away at you.
I lived like this for months. And when I say I lived, it was more existing. I went day to day, trying to find the energy to make it up past 10:30, to get out of bed in the morning, to even make it to dinner on any night when I wasn't forced to be here.
Each time I went home, I was praised for how I looked, getting thinner and "fitter", even though I was hardly healthy at all. If you had put me on the treadmill then, I wouldn't have had the energy to run a mile. And every time I went home, I baked.
Cookies, cakes, pies, anything that my family and friends requested. I baked all day, but I wouldn't eat a bite. I couldn't bring myself to even taste something that I had spent all day on. I longed to sit down and eat a slice of cake without feeling shame, without wanting to cry, without fearing the number on the scale the next morning because it may have gone up by .2 or .4 of a pound.
So I controlled. I controlled myself and my eating and my life until I couldn't control any more. I turned food not into tastes, but into numbers. In the height of my eating disorder, I could tell you exactly how many calories were in the salad I ate each day, the amount of fat in a serving of cheese, the carbs in a banana, and how many miles it would take to run off a scoop of ice cream.
But just as food got me into the place I was, it eventually helped me out. I was home one weekend, baking snickerdoodles for my friend's birthday. As I baked, and the cinnamon and sugar filled the air, I felt my stomach growl. I wanted one so, so badly, but I knew I couldn't. And then I thought - why not? What's the harm in ONE cookie? Won't I be fine the next day? And I think that was the best damn snickerdoodle I have ever eaten.
I ended my freshman year having lost 25 pounds. And before my freshman year of college, I hit my 'Freshman 15' by gaining 15 of that back. I'm not sure that I will ever fully recover from my fear of food, but I know now that I can eat a piece of pizza without wanting to throw up, that I can miss a day at the gym and still eat the same amount of calories as I normally do, and eating over 600 calories is not just healthy, its normal.
But I realized something far more valuable that year than simply the fact that the freshman 15 goes both ways. I realized that just being in an unfamiliar place can trigger unfamiliar feelings that make you want to feel in control. Giving up something you love, just as I gave food, doesn't make you feel better in a bad time - it makes you feel worse.
Maybe that's the reason why people eat comfort food—they find it is reminiscent of the feelings they have in their most familiar and comfortable place. And snickerdoodles will forever be my comfort food, because they remind me of a time that I found myself making a decision to make me happy.
I realize that my story isn't true for everyone, and it may not be noteworthy for a lot of you. But there are approximately 20 million suffering from anorexia a year within the United States. So the next time you find yourself saying "Oh, you are TOTALLY going to gain the Freshman 15", remember that those words can trigger a whole mess of feelings that may hurt someone more than you know. And sometimes, that Freshman 15 isn't gained, its lost. But when you lose it, you'll find something in yourself along the way.