A rainy forecast had forced the following day’s cross country practice indoors. When I got the news that I’d need to put on a swimsuit the next day, I was mid-binge and had already consumed thousands of extra calories. There was no way I was going to let him—or any of my other lithe, lean teammates, for that matter—see my distended belly in a swimsuit. How was I going to remedy my self-sabotage with less than 24-hours notice? I thought to myself. I couldn’t make myself throw-up—I’d never been able to. Still, I needed a quick fix.
Luckily, I had an idea, cribbed from the library of eating disorder books in my grandma’s guest room. She’d accumulated them in her quest to understand anorexia nervosa, the disease that had landed my mom in the hospital. I binged on their pages every time we went over which, of course, in retrospect, is problematic. Obviously. But my research into eating disorders had begun, innocently enough, at age 11.
Trying to shrink my “regular body” was already a keen interest of mine, even before middle school. I wasn’t a “beanpole” like my best friend and cousin who was born the same month and year. I gobbled up women’s magazines, especially if they had a diet on the cover. But my focus on those books at my grandma’s house wasn’t just about me—my obsession with them doubled as a macabre connection to my mom at my age. I’d only recently learned of her hospitalization for anorexia from my loose-lipped uncle, perhaps an attempt to deflect from issues of his own.
I alternated between perusing the propaganda at my grandma’s house and casually admiring my mother’s present-day discipline and restraint back at home. It wasn’t long before I became committed to the concept of thinness as a form of cleanliness or godliness. Thinness was palatability; the holy grail for womankind. My reading soon morphed into a full-scale, self-absorbed research project aimed at uncovering top-secret, field-tested tips and tricks from the most stringent among us. That’s how I learned about a woman who had abused laxatives to quickly lose weight.