I’ve always been a reader, so it makes sense in retrospect that when I was first diagnosed with an eating disorder and put on medical leave, I spent much of my newfound free time reading everything I could about my “condition.”

While I had always been interested in the etiology of eating disorders, having sensed I suppose my own vulnerability to them, I had at age 18 finally earned my place within the stories and academic inquiries into what it was that would induce a person to develop such behaviors and rituals.

I was, despite my frequent protest that I was simply experiencing a “quarter-life crisis,” an anorexic, leaning on starvation in times of crisis. Starvation afforded me an otherworldly calm that nothing before had, and I was proud of my ability to control tightly my stress by abstaining from food.

So I chose books from the local library that promised to shed light on us “fasting girls,” that might explain what I suspected to be the case– that starving was no different than heroin or alcohol abuse, offering me respite from negative thoughts and emotions.

I began with the early works on the subject– German psychoanalyst Hilde Bruch’s “The Golden Cage”, Steven Levenkron (notable, in addition to his scholarly work, for his work with client Karen Carpenter), then moving on to Joan Jacob Brumberg’s “Fasting Girls.” From there I sampled Geneen Roth’s collection on overcoming overeating and other eating disordered behaviors, seeing myself in the Geneen she described at my age; a person wholly consumed by her body and her hunger.

Perhaps I should have pushed further with this material, pushed myself to write my own version, because I emerged from this exercise in literary immersion not terribly changed than when I had begun. To be sure, I now understood just how pervasive these issues were, and that I was by no means alone in my struggle. But I took a great deal of (unhealthy) pleasure in these books. They fed the connection I did not yet wish to sever with my eating disorder, allowing me to fantasize about restrictive measures that might have been, had I not been stopped by family and the college health center.

I compared myself to the girls and women described by Bruch, Levenkron, Brumberg and so on, holding myself always to the dimensions that these women had reached prior to treatment. I had earned in my flirtation with anorexia the coveted size zero jeans, but many of these girls had met thresholds I never got a chance to pursue– double digits, lanugo*, hospital feeding tubes. I was a straight-A student, relentless in my pursuit of most things, yet the success I might have had as an anorexic had been stymied by college officials and policies. I had been prevented effectively, I later articulated to my nutritionist, from becoming the “best anorexic I could be.”

Learning by way of osmosis everything I could on the subject of anorexia, I was able au moins to eliminate some of the shame I felt regarding my behavior. I was still entirely unsure how to respond to classmates when asked where I had spent my first semester of college, but I had the makings of a vocabulary to describe what I had experienced in that time. A gain not simply in weight, but in self-awareness.

To be continued…

* lanugo= “the fine white hair that grows on anorexics when they have no body fat left to keep themselves warm” (eatingdisorderexpert.co.uk)

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