Content Warning: This post has triggering materials regarding eating disorders
There’s a carbon box in the right corner under my bed that I’d dubbed “The sin bin.”
I had saved the box from one of my impulsive Amazon purchases and had used it ever since to store any type of snacks that come my way.
You can easily expose my sweet tooth by traces of Rice Krispy wrappers, strings of licorice, scattered Laffy Taffy, covers of Russian chocolate bars, etc. These are the comfort food I’d prepared for bad days, for rainy days, for good days, or even for days where nothing special happened. The security of having a delicious treat in my hands within 5 seconds always calms me down. As long as I am warmly tucked in my bed, munching on a granola bar and watching my favorite Netflix TV show, life seems less overwhelming and more bearable.
“The sin bin” was not always a sin bin; for a long time, it was a safe haven, an indulgent, and a happy thought.
Coming from a predominantly white boarding school, I was always surrounded by toxic discussions of weight. The language that my WASPy friends used to describe their physical appearances reek of body dysmorphia and fatphobia. There was not a day that went by without someone I knew embarking on a new and obscure diet. Girls were spending hours on end in the gym, exercising themselves to exhaustion and then not eating for days. They unknowingly became accomplices in creating an environment that forced me to look down at my protruding stomach and thought, “This is repulsive.” I ate up the fat-shaming words like it was a rule to survival, not knowing that the internalization of these toxins would eventually rot me from the inside out.
Slowly, every time I reached down for the joy that laid in my food bin, I felt a tremendous sense of guilt creeping over every bone in my body. The amount of time that I had to talk myself into dropping whatever type of snacks that was in my hands kept increasing until I forgot the bin was there. And for a while, I was fine. I thought I had grown out of my habit of innocuous snacking. That was until I found myself ransacking the bin again, this time in a state of utter frustration, tears on the verge of breaking out. I cannot remember what my anger entailed, but it was terrible enough to resuscitate an eating habit that I had trained myself to quit.
I rushed to the bathroom. I kneeled down on the cold, hard ground, warm fingers down my throat on the one hand and holding my hair up with the other. What had just been real food in eye-catching packaging only five minutes ago had now become a pile of nothingness in the toilet bowl, waiting to be flushed down and wiped away, so that my dorm mates wouldn’t be alarmed and wouldn’t suspect what was happening. The strange thing was that I felt a sense of relief. I had attempted purging multiple time beforehand, none of which had been as successful as this time. I was never able to vomit this much before, and for a split second, I felt incredibly accomplished with the thought that this is how much food that would come out from now on. I turned the doorknob to get back into my room, and the sense of some twisted pride would still not pass. Ironic, I know. An established social justice warrior on campus that was always reading angry feminist prose, constantly correcting boys on their misogynistic comments, and continually advocating for body-positivity had suddenly fallen into the dark abyss of her worst demons. I had mistakenly taken pride in my eating disorder, praising it as my rebellion against the system. After all, I knew about the girls with the eating disorders that people discuss in the news: the girls that showed the signs, the girls that had something traumatic happened to her or heard a comment that didn’t sit right, the girls that felt terrible after they had committed the infamous act of fingers-down-the-throat. I was not any of them. I was in control. I was proud of my flat belly afterwards.
I thought I had unlearned how to condemn my body, yet I failed to acknowledge how deep-rooted my self-hatred was. I believed, at the time, that by purging my way to be a “better me,” I wouldn’t have been so uncertain of who I am. I’ll just be skinny and perfect.
When my happy place, “The Sin Bin,” suddenly symbolized the epitome of my self-loathe, I had to re-evaluate how quickly progress could be undone. As the anxieties of my high school graduation crept upon me, I was confronted with the realization that maybe what I have was not good enough. That I would need to drop at least ten pounds to “start college right.” That I would not always have control over whatever it was that was going on, that my existence has to be justified with the way I look and not the thoughts in my head. Or that I would bring out all that I have got in my best Sunday’s dress with utmost sincerity, and some cruel boy would still strip that innocence off of me because girls that look like me do not get to have an opinion.
Perhaps that was what prompted me to take matters into my own hands instead of letting the cruel words of others surprise me. If there was one thing I could have complete control over from that moment, it’s purging. I thought that I was “taking care” of myself in private, that conforming to a specific body type and looking a certain way would magically settle my insecurities and fix all of my problems. It made sense in my head, as messed up as it is. So I purged. I purged for power, for control, for denial. I purged for the magic of looking a certain way. God, how simple my life would have been.
I have never learned to love my body correctly. I am always either thinking about how others view it or about how I could improve it.
So the problem really is that I have never had ownership over this body; it had always belonged to some other force that had so much power over what’s supposed to be mine.
I had always been so gentle with the bodies of others, encouraging my friends to love the skin they’re in and to be proud of what their parents gave them. Yet, when it comes to myself, I couldn’t quite grasp these positive concepts that had seemed so simple. I need to put my ego aside and unlearn the false empowerment of my eating disorder. That somehow I’m in control. That somehow I am an exception, that I won’t let the situation turn into a downward spiral. I thought I was reclaiming my life when in fact, purging had reinforced a system that had put me out of power in the first place and will continue to brainwash me of self-love.
Maybe the first step is to admit that I am also a product of the system before trying to rise above it. I’m still not 100% comfortable with my body, but I’ve learned to appreciate the ways it helps me move through the universe and navigate this complicated world. I’ve also come to terms with realizing that not everything I learned was useless. There is no “correct” way to recover from an eating disorder, and it’s never a straight-forward path for everyone. I’m still working out a lot of issues and answering my own questions, but it’s nice to know I can read the stories of others like me through platforms like Unplug, platforms that offer a virtual yet genuine support system, and platforms that give people a place to voice their feelings instead of invalidating them. The best way is through, not above or below. So through is where I’m at, and through is where I will be for a while.
Before I started college, my mother had warned me about a boy she knew that was so stressed out from school he ended up dropping fifteen pounds, and I thought to myself, Good. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, reach out to National Eating Disorders Association (800) 931-2237.