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How anorexia actually made me empathetic

What it's like to give up counting carbs and a jutting collarbone for love and health


I confused sickly and sexy for too many years. Now, I’m convinced you’re doing it, and I don’t want to be an accessory in your rendezvous with sickness.

Because I know that boatneck collar used to not be so big. I knew you when your collar didn’t slip and fall in a way so your right shoulder jut out like an alabaster boulder, as if to say, “I’m casual,” in a way you thought couture. But instead of speaking my mind — of preaching, of mothering — I turn to my boyfriend and say how I don’t want you to die, and he looks at me, all shaken, and carefully says, “You can’t save the world.”

But it kills me to see your obsession eat up your life.

So in anticipation of Eating Disorder Awareness Week (Feb. 21-27 in US, last week in Canada), when courageous men and women share their ongoing survival stories, I write this post for me,  I write this post for you, but truly, friend, I write this post for we.

We know that coffee is not a meal, but we do it anyway, because we want our energy low cal, or rather, Venti Skinny Mocha half soy two Splendas.

We tell our parents how much we’ve eaten that day — we even send them pictures to prove it — because they ask us to. We pretend it’s normal for parents to ask.

We get asked all the time to see a picture of what we looked like when we were anorexic, as if they can’t believe that YOU were ever a thin mint. We show them pictures of our once-lanky frame because it secretly brings us joy. We sense that precarious boiling point where joy too-quickly becomes nostalgia. We know joy can sometimes be unhealthy, because we’ve been burned by it too often.

We know what a single sprinkle tastes like. What it’s like to take a veggie patty between two napkins and squeeze out all the excess oil. We know which stairs creak at night — which ones to avoid when foraging in the freezer.

We know what it’s like for a girl to look you up and down on your first day of junior year in high school, when everyone’s hugging and squealing in the background, and tell you to go eat a sandwich.

We know how many carbohydrates are in a piece of Breadsmith whole wheat bread. We also know we’ve already used our daily carb allowance on Fiber One Originals.

Fiber One brownies are not brownies, they’re impostors. We’ve also forgotten what brownies taste like.

We know what it’s like to forget our favorite food. We remember when “food” used to not be a “touchy” subject in the house.

We know what discomfort looks like in our best friend’s eyes. We know that pulled smile, that isn’t so much a smile, but a face-tug, when they have nothing to say and they don’t have to.

We know what it’s like to ask waiters lots and lots of questions, and to disqualify 40 entree options instantly by the terms “saucy,” “fried,” “smothered,” or “cheesy.” We’ve memorized the lines “I’m not so hungry” when we return the menu to the waiter, and know to expect that look from friends.

We know what it’s like to disappoint.

We know what it’s like to buy more batteries for the green scale in the bathroom. We know what it’s like to buy more than one pack at a time.

We know what it’s like to have a bony pelvis peek out above your jeans, the sexy stuff Abercrombie and Fitch uses to sell sweatshirts on shopping bags. We know what it’s like to think you’re hot shit and to think others think your’re hot shit.

We know what it’s like to scream in pillows. We know the sticky feeling when we shower in tears — when hair sticks to the front of the chin when we decide to get up and become a person again.

We know what its like to fall in love. We know what it’s like to gain thirty pounds, and eat ice cream cake at 2 a.m., while being the happiest we’ve ever been. Still, we know what it’s like to think his legs are nicer than yours.

We know what its like to fill up a bra and say, “Okay, maybe this isn’t all that bad.” We know what it’s like to discover that jeans actually look better, for cheeks to glow instead of sucked sallow. We know what it’s like to go weeks without makeup. To feel raw and real and released.

We know what it’s like to share our stories again and again so that others won’t make the same mistakes, so that others know they’re not alone.

We know what its like to have popcorn nights and pillow fights, to hike all day without feeling weak-kneed and feel like we’ve conquered the world.

We know what its like to slip, and what its like to stand back up, and what its like to fall in love, and what its like for love to fall in you.

We know what it’s like to try to be superwoman, when really, we already are.


PS: You might be wondering what this post has to do with being an Orthodox Jew at a secular college, and the answer is, *drumroll,* NOTHING! Other than the fact that during every single end-of-the-semester class party, people still think I’m anorexic because all I can eat is Sprite.

This post was inspired by a good friend and fellow ED survivor, Kayla Rosen. Her vulnerability and authenticity to share her story of struggle and Herculean triumph is, without a doubt, impressive.

About the Author
Two truths and a lie: Eliana Block is a Zionist. She learned sex-ed really for the first time in college. She aspires to write her first novel while skateboarding around the world and sampling different peanut butter recipes. Lie: roller-blading*
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