**Trigger warning: Discussion of eating disorders**
The tiles were cold against my skin. In the pitch-black of the night, in our tiny box of a bathroom, I sprawled out. The scratchy blue rug – the old one my father had been begging my mother to throw away for years – acted as my only cushion.
I closed my eyes, took a deep breath in, and held it there for a few seconds. Back in the days of play dates and cartoon marathons, that had been my method for holding back nausea: a deep breath and the power of imagination transporting me to a better place. It didn’t work this time.
An hour before my bathroom jaunt, I was in the kitchen, scooping myself an ice-cream sundae. Peanut butter chocolate chip ice-cream – the name dripped with the very decadence described on the label. With all the abandon of a fourteen-year-old – lacking an understanding of moderation – I threw in a gob of peanut butter too and some Oreos. I pulled a chair across the kitchen and stood on it, rummaging through a cabinet for sprinkles. Chocolate syrup was the final touch to my masterpiece, drizzled in a spiral.
It was exactly the type of midnight snack I had eaten for years. As young as sixth grade, it had been my ideal comfort food. Bad grade on a test? Fight with my best friend? As I often uttered, the solution was to ‘go home and drown my sorrows in a bowl of ice cream’. I had been a revolutionary at age twelve, paving the way for my friends to find solace at the bottom of an ice-cream bowl. Fast forward two years though, and this treat that had once soothed any battle wound from the playground – both metaphorical and physical – wasn’t soothing the ache in my chest. I felt so alone.
Breathe in – one, two, three – and out.
I rolled my shoulders back, wincing slightly as I shifted my body. I wasn’t twelve anymore, and ice cream was not a treat to enjoy, and staying up until two am wasn’t cool anymore. There was nothing cool about how I felt; staying up this late just because didn’t make me a teenager. I was pathetic. Eating thousands of calories wasn’t exciting. It was disgusting.
I leaned my head away from the toilet and reached in my pocket for my pink razor cell phone. A moment later, my best friend’s voice found me. We had known each other since we were four. She had been with me through the good – Girl Scout meetings, birthday parties, swimming lessons, and successes – and the bad.
This was the bad.
We exchanged school gossip, talked about her new boyfriend, the exams we had to study for, and eventually, in a whisper, I told her the real reason I had called her.
At four in the morning, I moved from the bathroom floor to the couch in the TV room. ‘If I wasn’t so educated,’ I admitted with a distraught whisper, ‘I think I’d be bulimic.’ I knew too much though, knew the dangers of bingeing and purging, and knew that purging an ice cream sundae wouldn’t solve my problems any more than eating one would.
She talked the Best Friend talk, said I wasn’t fat and I did the right thing calling her. She gave me the strength to forget my self-imposed nausea, and at that point in my life, that talk was enough to stop any self-inflicted downward spiral.
I wasn’t overweight, and when that boy said I looked like I was going to obese when I grew up, he was just a jerk. I shouldn’t take comments like that seriously. Not being able to fit into Hollister or Abercrombie and Fitch shirts didn’t make me some horribly unlikable person. With my friend’s voice in my ear, I tried to believe that. I planted an upside-down frown on my face and for the most part I was fine. I abandoned my porcelain blanket for a real one, fell asleep, and woke up the next day a typically self-conscious teenage girl.
There were always the nights, though. The ones where I was alone and every self-doubt, every insult, and every unfulfilled dream crept into my mind until my feet led me into the bathroom. I couldn’t find peace in binge eating, and I knew that I couldn’t purge away the self-consciousness from my life. Years later, as I scrolled through friends in my contacts’ list – trying to find someone who knew me as well as that childhood friend I no longer talked to – I could see myself in a mirror: legs too big and stomach too noticeable and face too fat. I texted a different friend, talked about a movie, and went to sleep, wishing I knew what was wrong with me.
I didn’t hate myself. I wasn’t depressed, I got good grades, came from an amazing family, and there wasn’t anything wrong ninety percent of the time. I didn’t have enough problems to need help though or enough self-confidence to not have problems. No one understood that purgatory of self-consciousness, needing something to change but not knowing what or how. No one understood me.
Fast forward five years since that first bout of my almost-bulimia. My high school years were a movie montage of self-consciousness and hating my body, having best friends who treated me badly, and then finally finding the friends who treated me well. I worked out some summers and didn’t binge again. I found a boyfriend who called me beautiful and fell in love. For the first time in a long time, I looked in the mirror and liked what I saw.
College came, and the things that once mattered to me so much dissipated into the background. No one cared who was dating who or what everyone was wearing and “popular” was a distant memory. I made friends, and they liked me, and my new roommate instantly became my bffl (best friend for life). We worked out together, three times a week, and it wasn’t about losing weight; it was about being healthy.
A year passed, and I laughed, and I cried, and I went out for ice-cream with friends, and I found happiness there.
With the clarity of hindsight, I saw my distraught middle school nights as a thing of the past and realised – for the first time – that my weight had nothing to do with my unhappiness back then. A Facebook friend posted a link a few weeks ago, an article about a kind of eating disorder I hadn’t heard about. I skimmed it.
Binge eating disorder results in episodes of overeating causing emotional distress. It isn’t the same as typical overeating or being overweight, and it isn’t that uncommon.
I breathed in. I thought of nights on the bathroom floor, after having eaten way too much. I thought of wanting to purge, but not ever going through with it. I thought of feeling alone and thinking food could solve the problem. One, two, three. And I thought of my friends, falling in love, working out because it felt good, eating salads for fun and not because of a diet, and finally smiling at the sight of my own reflection.
Middle school was a long time ago, and I didn’t need a diagnosis anymore. After all, I had already found the treatment.