Why I need a milkshake

September 12, 2008 at 6:39 pm (in my head, past, present)

This is not a story about an eating disorder, just a tale of the time when I flirted with one.

It surprised me how quickly it came back, the elation that comes with being so hungry I’m nauseated. Today, it was a mistake. I’d had breakfast early and waited too long for lunch. It’s not a terribly unusual mistake for me. If I’m working steadily or shopping, I sometimes forget to eat. If I’m upset about something, I forget to eat. If I’m stressed, I forget to eat. During the first weeks of my old new job, I’d get to the end of a 10 hour day having accidentally skipped breakfast and lunch. It happens. But today was different. Today I started to feel the pull. Today I was starving by 11 and made myself wait until 11:30 to eat. Today I started to get excited about the hollowness I felt.
I learned how to not eat in Paris. My flatmate had put on a little weight and decided to take it off before seeing her boyfriend around Christmas. We already had a gym membership (for very bizarre entertainment, I highly recommend a Parisian gym), but now she took on food and I went along for the ride. I had dieted most of my life – it’s just something that comes along with being an adolescent female – but this was new. 
We would walk the 30 minutes to and from school and work out for two hours every day. Every 7th day or so, we would work out twice. No matter how much we worked out, my calorie intake stayed faithfully under 1100 a day. I learned that hot liquids could hold me over for an hour. I learned how many green beans could keep me full until bedtime. I learned to love feeling empty.
For me, it was never about hating food. I loved food then and I love it now. For me, it was about control. Controlling my food intake became my measure of success for myself. I got positively high off it. A professor might not like my analysis of a painting, but I could always skip dinner. I might feel alone without my college friends, but being hungry made me feel somehow worthy of being missed.
I lost weight. I came home. People noticed. 
Slowly, very slowly, it went away. I don’t know how or when precisely, but I stopped living hungry. I was still careful about what I ate and would occasionally cut out sugar, or carbs, or some other arbitrary thing, but I didn’t long for the hunger. I started to see how close I came. I started to understand that like an addictive personality, my psychological makeup had me predisposed to an accelerated ride down a very slippery slope.
And still, for years, when something went wrong, I stopped eating. It wasn’t for weeks, or even days, it might just be for hours, but it was still about finding that clenched, screaming stomach that meant I was in control. It was my way of righting myself after a stumble. 
I moved to California two years ago and stopped paying attention completely. I ate what I wanted when I wanted it. Friends would tell me I looked good and ask what I’d been doing. It’s the “whatever-the-hell-I-feel-like diet,” I’d say. And I thought I was in the clear. Today’s hunger pangs were like the smell of smoke to a former smoker. 
I guess it will never go away completely. But today, I ate. And controlling that bizarre need for control made me fell a little high.


  1. Jess said,

    You know what’s sad, is that as I was reading this I kind wished that I could get that same high off of not eating.

  2. WendyB said,

    When I eat what I want whenever I want to, I gain 10 lbs in a week because all I want to eat is Cadbury Dairy Milk, cherry danishes and French fries.

  3. NH said,

    Frustrating, isn’t it? I’m sorry if I’m annoying to state this, BUT be very careful about skipping meals. I did not know this (maybe I’m alone in that), but it can contribute to becoming diabetic! Rob’s mom just got diagnosed last week, and the doctor let her know how very bad it is to skip meals. (If she gets busy, I guess she forgets to eat. It’s happened to me too, so I get it.)

    I hate that eating has any guilt associated with it. 😦

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