This story is part of a series calledCraigslist Confessional. Writer Helena Bala has been meeting people via Craigslist and documenting their stories for over two years. Each story is written as it was told to her. Bala says that by listening to their stories, she hopes to bear witness to her subjects’ lives, providing them with an outlet, a judgment-free ear, and a sense of catharsis. By sharing them, she hopes to facilitate acceptance and understanding of issues that are seldom publicly discussed, at the risk of fear, stigma, and ostracism. Read morehere. Names have been changed to protect her subjects’ anonymity.
It was my tenth birthday and my mother threw me a big party. She invited all of my friends and I dressed up like a ballerina, with a pastel pink, shimmery leotard and a matching tutu. That night, the kids had a sleepover upstairs, and the parents stayed downstairs for adult dinner. I’d eaten cake and dessert all day, and even though I was supposed to have been in bed, I was still hungry and so looking forward to dinner. My mom had made a feast—all of my favorite foods and treats, and I hovered over the trays in the kitchen, trying my best to not sneak off a bite.
When they finally sat down to eat, I sat next to my mom and made myself a plate. I took a little bit of everything and started digging in, and that’s when my mom’s friend said, “she has such a healthy appetite!” And then she pinched a roll of fat on my belly and shook it a little bit—and I felt my whole torso jiggle. Everyone laughed, and my mom replied—pointing to my dad and then back to herself—“she eats more than the both of us put together.”
I felt humiliated. And I should have stopped eating and gone to bed because, the truth is, I probably wasn’t really hungry. But I didn’t. I finished that plate and I kept going. And I haven’t been able to stop.
I think about food constantly. I am ashamed of how much I eat, and I hide it from my family and friends. I eat secretly and I throw the wrappers out in a public trash can after I’m done. I am always on a diet, but never really on a diet. What I mean by that is: I know that people expect me to be on a diet, so I pretend that I’m being good. But as soon as I’m alone, I can clear out a whole fridge.
I have streaks during which I manage to watch what I eat and I get myself to the gym every day. It’s all about the salads and the homemade fruit shakes, and the treadmill. I’ve counted calories, counted macros, been high carb, low fat, or low carb, high protein. Then, something triggers me. It could be that I just had a bad day, or that I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, or that I saw someone running on the treadmill for half an hour and the thought snuck up: “that will never be you.”
And that almost makes the binging worse. If I have, say, seven good days of eating and then I fall off the wagon and put in a huge order at a fast food place, I feel even worse because I feel guilty for not being able to stay on it. So, if I have three bad days in a week, they usually end up doing less “damage”—calorie-wise—than if I eat clean all week and then I have one binge day. And I know this because I used to not track how much I ate during a binge, but now I do it as a form of punishment. I use an application that lets me input the calories I consume each day. On bad binge days, I easily consume more than 15,000 calories.
After a binge, I feel hatred for myself and for my body. I don’t respect it, and it makes it hard to “respect” anything else I do, if that makes sense. And I completely understand the thought process that goes into why I do this to myself, but I can’t conquer it. It’s the inevitability of falling off the wagon that makes it so much harder, because I know that no matter what I do, I will meet with failure at the end. And my brain processes this as, “you’re going to fail anyways, so why even try?”
It’s almost like a system of self-sabotage, in which I keep thinking that I don’t “deserve” anything because of the way I am. And it really is like sabotage because I often will have thoughts and memories that crop up throughout the day that taunt me—they’re like snapshots of every embarrassing food-related experience I’ve ever had. I often think about the night of my tenth birthday and it’s almost as if I can feel her pinch my fat all over again. And I don’t hate her. I don’t remember who she was, even. I hate myself, as I was back then, and as I am now. Just the thought of it makes me want to eat.
If you or someone you know is suffering with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline at 1-800-931-2237. It’s free and confidential.
Read more Craigslist Confessionals here. To share your story with Helena, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn how to write for Quartz Ideas. We welcome your comments at email@example.com.