Starving yourself is a lot easier than you might think. You start out with an itch, but one that comes from the inside, a feeling that fingers can’t reach. That feeling turns to pain, but not the pangs you’ve been promised. It’s a more hollow pain, like that ringing after you hit your head on something, the moment where everything hurts but is strangely clear at the same time.
After awhile, though, you just get tired. You find yourself wanting to go to sleep, even though it’s only 6:00 P.M. and you wonder why you feel this way. You had a full night’s sleep last night — actually, you overslept. You overslept the night before, too. In fact, you’ve been sleeping a lot lately. You stop to consider this fact and then you realize can’t remember the last time you ate. You know that you had to eat at some point. You just don’t remember it.
When you’ve gotten over the pain, staying in this third stage — the place where you don’t feel hungry, just empty and tired — becomes like a habit, the thing you use to feel death inside you. Some people smoke. You just don’t eat.
You used to pride yourself on this fact, your ability to go long stretches with almost no food. Growing up in a trailer without much money to go around, you know that food isn’t cheap, and you think of all the money you must be saving. You look in the mirror and feel an unexpected sense of pride when you see how white your skin is and counting your ribs is like counting the dollars in your bank account. Some people put money into savings. You just get skinny.
You tell yourself that you’ll eat later, when you can afford it and when you’ve worked for it. Besides, not eating is a lot better than eating Ramen noodles, but almost everything is better than eating Ramen noodles.
You use this promise of food as an incentive to push yourself harder and be more beautiful, being the kind of person who has earned a hearty meal. When you’re cramming for an exam or you are on deadline, you feel your eyes closing – well into stage three, for a length of time you don’t know how to count anymore – and you have another sip of coffee. You’ll eat when you get done. If you just power through and get this done quickly, you can eat.
When you don’t think you deserve food, you’ll find any reason you can to not eat. You’ll tell yourself that you’ve spent too much today or that you
ate so much for breakfast that you need to skip a meal – or a couple meals – to balance it out. When you eat again, you will attack your food like a lion feasting on prey in the jungle, and friends will say that they don’t know how you eat so much and stay so skinny. Your metabolism is sick. You’ll smile and keep eating because right now, food is the only thing that matters.
You’ll avoid putting a label on it or talking about it and it might not ever occur to you that you have a problem – until a friend confesses to you that she’s bulimic. You’ll say that you have something to tell her, too. You pause, because you know you should tell her something, but you don’t know what to say. You don’t know where to start. You’re silent. Everything hurts but is strangely clear at the same time.
Telling someone will make it easier and then it won’t. You will go through periods where you eat more and then you eat less again, replacing Vitamin supplements and diet pills with food. You look at the people on the label of the bottle, one that promises to turn fat directly into muscle, and you wonder if a six-pack is hiding under your abs, just waiting. You are certain this isn’t how it works, but it doesn’t stop you from trying. When you’ve barely eaten in days, almost anything seems possible.
It even seems possible that you might get better and that one day, you’ll be the person you wanted to be, and you don’t need to starve yourself to get there. You are certain this isn’t how it works, but it doesn’t stop you from trying.
You might not ever get better and you might get a little better. Better might not have a meaning anymore. Better might just mean different. You might become better at forcing yourself to eat, even when you don’t want to. You keep attacking your food, and you look in the mirror, expecting to look better to yourself. You want your body to reflect the progress you’ve made. But you just look the same. You will look different — but always look the same somehow — and when someone tells you how good or how healthy you look, the compliment will startle you, as if they are jumping out from behind a bush.
You will thank them, because you don’t know what else to say. You itch, but it’s a different itch this time. One day, you hope to know what to say. When you finally eat, almost anything seems possible.