At 25, I stopped eating.
Whether it was the ballet mistress who weighed me before class, the demise of my first marriage or the high school boyfriend who thought my thighs were fat, I simply stopped putting food in my mouth.
I’d flirted with eating disorders for awhile. When I hit 113 pounds in junior high school, I tried to make myself vomit for a week. In high school, I experimented with fad diets and tried to avoid my reflection in dance studio mirrors. In college, I ate boiled potatoes for dinner and obsessively counted calories.
But at 25 (and probably 125 pounds), I stopped eating.
In my mind, I had to. My life was out of control, and eating was one thing I could regulate. I drank coffee, smoked cigarettes, ate a few grapes for breakfast and maybe a salad for dinner. I drank a lot of gin (no calorie counting there) and took up morning aerobics to supplement my daily ballet classes. My weight sheared away to under 110 pounds on my 5’7″ frame. My ballet mistress held me up as an example to her students. I caught a chronic case of bronchitis.
And still, I thought I was fat.
About this time, I took a job as a copywriter at an advertising agency owned by a husband-wife team. The wife was the most beautiful woman I’d ever met. She was 6 feet tall, had long red hair and dressed in neon silks. She was articulate, ambitious and absolutely, totally, completely comfortable in her own skin. She wasn’t bone thin (I heard someone once describe her as “Amazonian”), yet no one could rock a skin-tight mini-dress the way she could.
I had the chance to work with her on a few key accounts. During the process, she began to intuit what was going on with the girl who hid her body in baggy prairie dresses and loose-fitting pants.
She and I took a business trip to Atlanta. We had a free day and decided to go shopping. She pulled out a skin-tight mini-dress at The Limited and told me to put it on.
I started crying in the dressing room.
“I can’t wear this,” I remember saying. “Look how fat I am.”
She made me come outside. She told me I was ill. She had me walk around the store in the dress. She had the sales clerks come and look at me. She tried her best to get me to buy the dress.
But she kept at me. As we became friends, she and her husband would meet me for dinner. They’d order for me. They had me over for dinner one night to make beef stew. We sat on the floor of their master bedroom, before a roaring fire, peeling potatoes and carrots and watching music videos on VH1.
“We’re going to put meat on your bones,” her husband told me.
After dinner, she sent all the leftovers home with me. “Eat these,” she said.
A couple of decades have passed since I worked with these people. Thanks to counseling and faith, I’ve recovered from my food disorder. In fact, I’ve come to love and respect food … the way it nourishes body and soul; the way it extends comfort and love to those you’re feeding. Most ironic, food is now my career.
Yet I’ve never forgotten how scary and out-of-control it felt to fear eating. I’m eternally grateful to the people who helped me climb out of that particular abyss. To the woman who cared enough to put meat back on my bones.