Another something to share– I was recently asked by Smith alum Caitlin Scafati ’05, whom Active Minds brought to campus last spring to share her photographic exhibit (as seen on the Today Show!) of women in recovery from eating disorders, to write something for a project she is working on with psychologist and financial advisor Kathleen Burns Kingsbury. The project is entitled “Women, Weight and Wealth” and, according to Kingsbury’s website, aims to explore the often-troubled relationship between women, their bodies and their finances.

Cait put my piece up on the project’s Facebook page (“Women, Weight & Wealth”), where you can read it on the discussion board and see other articles and information she and Kingsbury have posted. Otherwise, here’s the text version:

On Doing Without

Like many women who have struggled with eating disorders and disordered
eating, I can easily point to the period of time in which my struggles
began.

I was 16, about to embark on a year-long exchange program in Western Europe,
where I was to live with a host family and attend the local high school. The
goal was to assimilate as much as possible, to adapt to the foreign customs
and culture that would surround me.

Cognizant of my female body as an entity that needed to be contained and
monitored, I assured myself with great conviction that adopting new ways of
eating and living would not prove impediments to maintaining my current
weight. I would not, I promised myself, gain an ounce while abroad, no
matter how much buttered bread and fatty sausages was pushed upon me.

At orientation camp weeks later in what would become my home for the next
year, I relied on a narrow and ill-informed understanding of proper
nutrition when selecting food from the buffet. Butter and margarine were
out, I had decided, but chocolate was not. Poultry and fish was to be
consumed in moderation, but pork and beef were off-limits.

And so, with only the slightest understanding of what was happening, I
became implicated in what would become a long-term struggle between myself
and my hunger. My desire for sweets, for savory– this became my enemy.

As I met anxieties about “fitting in” with a restrictive approach to eating,
I similarly and unconsciously applied such restrictions to my spending
habits, finding it increasingly hard to dispense money on non-essentials.

While frugality is by no means a negative quality, my thrift became
progressively handicapping, and by the time my family joined me at the end
of the year for a week-long vacation, I found myself a veritable scrooge.
Shelling out several Euros for entrance to the Van Gogh Museum felt too
much; trips to buy essentials at the grocery store resulted in tears. I
couldn’t understand why my mother insisted on buying two varieties of bread
when one would do just fine, and felt myself growing more and more anxious
as I imagined funds wasted.

Returning to the U.S. for my senior year of high school, money became less
of a tense affair, and food as well. By the time my eating disorder emerged
with a vengeance the following year, however, I found myself once again
battling a desire to scrimp and save at all costs. Rich pasta dinners with
friends at a local restaurant were off-limits calorically, but I similarly
eschewed any opportunity that involved an “unnecessary” purchase. Though I
had plenty of money in my bank account, spending dollars felt as impossible
a task as “spending” calories on a latte or piece of bread.

My disordered eating habits have yet to be entirely resolved, but I have
continually found that my attitude towards food is correlated with that
towards money. As I deprive myself of flour and sugar, I similarly deprive
myself of the ease with which to spend a lazy Saturday with friends, sipping
coffee and sharing exquisite pastries.

As I mend my relationship with food, however, I find myself easing up on
restrictions about what purchases are and are not appropriate. Buying a
beautiful book for a friend’s birthday is okay, as is the occasional
cappuccino at my favorite coffee shop.

There is, after all, a time for all things– sweets and trips to the museum
alike.

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