In the subsequent viewpoint, Georgie Binks, a writer in Toronto, describes her experiences with disordered eating. Off and on for more than a decade, she has starved herself or thrown up food she has eaten as a way to lose weight quickly. Binks describes the feeling she gets from disordered eating as "euphoric," and argues that what she is doing is not dangerous, but simply a bad habit.
As far as bad habits go, if I were a pack-a-day smoker who kept falling off the wagon, I'd probably be getting friendly advice from everyone--use the patch, try hypnosis, chew this gum and if none of those worked, maybe a smoker's rights group would work.
Drink too much? Well, as long as I wasn't driving and it didn't affect my job, my friends might simply take it as an appreciation of alcohol, especially if it was good red wine that had me by the collar.
But my bad habit is one that makes everybody's eyes widen when they hear it. It is not socially acceptable, and absolutely no one has a sense of humor about it. My bad habit is that I like to starve myself from time to time. The doctors say it must be a psychological problem. Perhaps I should be looking at what I am going through when I'm depriving myself of food. But I think it is just a very effective and enjoyable form of weight loss, one that I have had control over for years now.
I think if people understood how good starving themselves feels, they would understand people with eating disorders a lot better. They would also do their best to make sure no one ever got an inkling of the feeling, because once a trip has been taken down that road, it's a difficult trip back for most people. And that's probably why, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, there are 7 million women and 1 million men who suffer from eating disorders. (They report that 6 percent of all serious cases die from the disorder.) I am one of the fortunate ones, because I have always been able to stop before it became a serious problem.
I never made a conscious effort to use starving myself as a dieting tool. I was always a skinny child because I was utterly bored with food. But at 16, I discovered fast food. My first taste of a Harvey's burger was heaven. I used to lie to my parents, pushing my plate away at dinner and telling them I was off to the library, while my friends and I headed off for a cheeseburger with extra dill pickles. After a few months, we discovered a little crepe house downtown and began to frequent it without our parents' knowledge. I gained a bit of weight, but at 5-foot-7 and 107 pounds, I definitely had nothing to worry about. I had grown quickly and my weight hadn't yet caught up with me.
The First Flirtation with Starving
My first real flirtation with starving came during my second year at college. I admit that part of my problem was that I was in an up-and-down love affair. But it wasn't my first, so why would I start starving myself now and not for the other romances? At the beginning I simply didn't feel like eating. So for the first couple of days I just downed a Coke for breakfast and smoked a cigarette, the same for lunch and about a half a portion of dinner. After about three days I dubbed it the "Coke and cigarettes diet." After a month and a half I weighed 102, down from the 118 I had weighed when I arrived at the university. Cheekbones had replaced the baby fat on my face and my hipbones actually stood out. To this day, that is a memory. I cherish.
However, my boyfriend (the up-and-down one) told me I looked awful and fortunately I believed him. Or if I didn't, I heeded his comments anyway and started eating. That summer I gained back the weight and the cheeks during my job as a waitress at a Rocky Mountains resort.
It was not until about 10 years later that starving myself came in handy again. This time there was more going on in my life than usual, but I don't think that was the issue. It started out with stomach jitters over a failed romance and a move to a new city. Not eating properly for a few days gave me that great "high" I remembered from the Coke and cigarettes days. That was what had hooked me then and what was doing it now. Doctors who work with anorexics say it's not unusual. People in concentration camps who are starving feel euphoric, but apparently it's a transient feeling that goes away after a while.
"Normal Weight Vomiting"
During this little foray into starvation land, I lived mainly on apple juice and cigarettes. I'd mellowed in my choice of beverages, but the cigarettes were still an integral part of the diet because they were so successful at killing my appetite. This time I also started an exercise program, which helped put me down two dress sizes. In addition to that, I started what I thought was bulimia, but is known as "normal weight vomiting." (It's only called bulimia if it includes bingeing followed by throwing up.) I simply ate a normal dinner and then threw it up. The only problem with this was that while it was something I initially did on my own, it eventually turned into something my body was doing whether or not I liked it. It got to the point where I would simply eat dinner and then about 15 minutes later, I would feel ill and throw up.
I went from 134 pounds to 117. Physically, I felt great. But it had its downside. One night I was asked over to an attractive man's house for dinner. He served lobster and a beautiful creamy dessert washed down with lots of wine. It was obvious he had plans for me after dinner, but by then I was throwing up so regularly that my body automatically went into action. I started to feel nauseated and I knew I had to get out of there. Fast. I arrived home just in time.
By now I was calling my little throwing up habit the "taste it twice diet." My friends did not think it was funny. One pal who joined me on a business trip and saw my after-dinner regurgitations was very upset. "You'll ruin your teeth and you could choke, you know." I curtailed my vomiting for the rest of the trip.
While my friends found it both disturbing and puzzling, I actually was happy with my successful dieting tools. They were effective and the euphoria I experienced while starving was addictive. But it all came to an end abruptly when I met my husband. It wasn't that he made me so happy that I quit. It was just that when I told him what I was doing, he became very upset and pleaded with me to stop. I did, but I was under constant surveillance. For years, if I ever got stomach flu or ate something that made me sick, he was right in there as I was throwing up, lecturing me about eating disorders.
When he moved out a couple of years ago, I wondered if I would go on my favorite diet again. I didn't. In fact, it wasn't until this spring, when I started dating a man 10 years my junior, that the starvation diet started up. Initially I was just trying to lose weight fast. The relationship was progressing at a greater speed than I had anticipated. So I was down to eating practically nothing and swimming a half mile every day.
All of a sudden, that wonderful euphoric feeling was back again. I felt terrific. I looked terrific. For three months I ate just enough to keep from fainting. Then I ended the relationship because it was becoming just a bit too much. I started eating again, but with restraint. And that's where I am now.
An Erotic Feeling
But I'll starve myself again, for the sense of power over my body. It's almost an erotic feeling. I must admit that this summer, as I starved myself and fell in love again, I started to feel like Charlotte Rampling (feel, not look) as she wasted away in that isolated room with Dirk Bogarde in "The Night Porter." Feeling better about your body is extremely sensuous.
As I look back and read this, I notice that men seem to be involved in each one of these dieting episodes, although not in similar roles. Sometimes they are troubling, like that one during college. Sometimes they are absent and sometimes they are an exciting new beginning, as with the third. Not really any pattern.
But another thing I notice is that every bout has started off in the spring. Could the knowledge that a long Canadian winter is coming to an end be a catalyst for me to try to experience a rebirth as a new, thinner entity? Or is it just that as the parka comes off, my white, bumpy flesh is exposed to the world once again?
I think it's actually just circumstance. If I'm pushed into not eating for a day or two because of a nervous stomach, all of a sudden I find myself enjoying it. And so far, I've been able to control it, rather than have it control me.
If I'm this positive about it, would I want, say, my daughter to start starving herself? Definitely not. In fact, when she started to complain about her weight (which was perfect) a year ago, I told her all women feel fat--even the skinniest--so she shouldn't worry about it. And she stopped worrying. I don't want her to start because I'm concerned if she ever finds out how good it feels, she won't be able to quit. It is that kind of thing. If you can control it, it is a great dieting tool, but once it controls you, you're in real trouble.
I have friends who have starved themselves down to 80 pounds. I have known people who died because of their starving habit. So why do I play with it? I don't experiment with drugs that can kill me, so why do I dabble in such a dangerous dieting game? With anorexia and bulimia, I've always been on the precipice. As long as I can keep myself from tumbling off the edge, I have nothing to fear from it. And so far, I've been able to. So what's wrong with that?