As far as bad habits go, if I were a pack-a-day smoker who kept
falling off the wagon, I'd probably be getting friendly advice from everyone -- use the patch, try hypnosis, chew this gum and if none of those
worked, maybe a smoker's rights group would work.
Drink too much? Well, as long as I wasn't driving and it didn't affect
my job, my friends might simply take it as an appreciation of alcohol,
especially if it was good red wine that had me by the collar.
But my bad habit is one that makes everybody's eyes widen when they
hear it. It is not socially acceptable, and absolutely no one has a sense of
humor about it. My bad habit is that I like to starve myself from time to
time. The doctors say it must be a psychological problem. Perhaps I should
be looking at what I am going through when I'm depriving myself of food. But I think it is just a very effective and enjoyable form of weight loss, one
that I have had control over for years now.
I think if people understood how good starving themselves feels, they
would understand people with eating disorders a lot better. They would also
do their best to make sure no one ever got an inkling of the feeling,
because once a trip has been taken down that road, it's a difficult trip back
for most people. And that's probably why, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, there are 7 million women and 1 million men who suffer from eating disorders. (They report that 6 percent of all serious cases die from the disorder.) I am one of the fortunate ones, because I have always been able to stop before it became a serious problem.
I never made a conscious effort to use starving myself as a dieting
tool. I was always a skinny child because I was utterly bored with food.
But at 16, I discovered fast food. My first taste of a Harvey's burger was heaven. I used to lie to my parents, pushing my plate away at dinner and telling them I was off to the library, while my friends and I headed off for a cheeseburger with extra dill pickles. After a few months, we discovered a little crepe house downtown and began to frequent it without our parents' knowledge. I gained a bit of weight, but at 5-foot-7 and 107 pounds, I definitely had nothing to worry about. I had grown quickly and my weight hadn't yet caught up with me.
My first real flirtation with starving came during my second year at college. I admit that part of my problem was that I was in an up-and-down love
affair. But it wasn't my first, so why would I start starving myself now and
not for the other romances? At the beginning I simply didn't feel like
eating. So for the first couple of days I just downed a Coke for breakfast
and smoked a cigarette, the same for lunch and about a half a portion of
dinner. After about three days I dubbed it the "Coke and
cigarettes diet." After a month and a half I weighed 102, down from the 118
I had weighed when I arrived at the university. Cheekbones had replaced the baby fat
on my face and my hipbones actually stood out. To this day, that is a memory I
However, my boyfriend (the up-and-down one) told me I looked awful and
fortunately I believed him. Or if I didn't, I heeded his comments anyway and
started eating. That summer I gained back the weight and the cheeks during
my job as a waitress at a Rocky Mountains resort.
It was not until about 10 years later that starving myself came in handy
again. This time there was more going on in my life than usual, but
I don't think that was the issue. It started out with stomach jitters over a
failed romance and a move to a new city. Not eating properly for a few days
gave me that great "high" I remembered from the Coke and cigarettes
days. That was what had hooked me then and what was doing it now.
Doctors who work with anorexics say it's not unusual. People in
concentration camps who are starving feel euphoric, but apparently it's a
transient feeling that goes away after a while.
During this little foray into starvation land, I lived mainly on apple
juice and cigarettes. I'd mellowed in my choice of beverages, but the
cigarettes were still an integral part of the diet because they were so
successful at killing my appetite. This time I also started an exercise
program, which helped put me down two dress sizes. In addition to that, I
started what I thought was bulimia, but is known as "normal weight
vomiting." (It's only called bulimia if it includes bingeing followed by throwing up.) I simply ate a normal dinner and then threw it up. The only problem with this was that while it was something I initially did on my own, it eventually turned into something my body was doing whether or not I liked it. It got to the point where I would simply eat dinner and then about 15 minutes later, I would feel ill and throw up.
I went from 134 pounds to 117. Physically, I felt great. But it had its downside. One night I was asked over to an attractive man's house
for dinner. He served lobster and a beautiful creamy dessert washed down
with lots of wine. It was obvious he had plans for me after dinner, but by
then I was throwing up so regularly that my body automatically went into
action. I started to feel nauseated and I knew I had to get out of there.
Fast. I arrived home just in time.
By now I was calling my little throwing up habit the "taste it twice
diet." My friends did not think it was funny. One pal who joined me on a
business trip and saw my after-dinner regurgitations was very upset. "You'll ruin your teeth and you could choke, you know." I curtailed my vomiting for the rest of the trip.
While my friends found it both disturbing and puzzling, I actually was
happy with my successful dieting tools. They were effective and the euphoria I experienced while starving was addictive. But it all came to an end abruptly when I met my husband. It wasn't that he made me so happy that I quit. It was just that when I told him what I was doing, he became very upset and pleaded with me to stop. I did, but I was under constant
surveillance. For years, if I ever got stomach flu or ate something that made
me sick, he was right in there as I was throwing up, lecturing me about
When he moved out a couple of years ago, I wondered if I would go on my favorite diet again. I didn't. In fact, it wasn't until this
spring, when I started dating a man 10 years my junior, that the starvation
diet started up. Initially I was just trying to lose weight fast. The
relationship was progressing at a greater speed than I had anticipated. So I
was down to eating practically nothing and swimming a half mile every day.
All of a sudden, that wonderful euphoric feeling was back again. I felt
terrific. I looked terrific. For three months I ate just enough to keep
from fainting. Then I ended the relationship because it was becoming just a
bit too much. I started eating again, but with restraint. And that's
where I am now.
But I'll starve myself again, for the sense of power over my body. It's
almost an erotic feeling. I must admit that this summer,
as I starved myself and fell in love again, I started to feel like Charlotte
Rampling (feel, not look) as she wasted away in that isolated room with Dirk
Bogarde in "The Night Porter." Feeling better about your body is extremely
As I look back and read this, I notice that men seem to be involved in
each one of these dieting episodes, although not in similar roles. Sometimes they are troubling, like that one during college. Sometimes they are absent and sometimes they are an exciting new beginning, as with the third. Not really any pattern.
But another thing I notice is that every bout has started off in the spring.
Could the knowledge that a long Canadian winter is coming to an end be a
catalyst for me to try to experience a rebirth as a new, thinner entity? Or
is it just that as the parka comes off, my white, bumpy flesh is exposed to the world once again?
I think it's actually just circumstance. If I'm pushed into not eating
for a day or two because of a nervous stomach, all of a sudden I find myself
enjoying it. And so far, I've been able to control it, rather than have it
If I'm this positive about it, would I want, say, my daughter to start
starving herself? Definitely not. In fact, when she started to complain
about her weight (which was perfect) a year ago, I told her all
women feel fat -- even the skinniest -- so she shouldn't worry about it. And she stopped worrying. I don't want her to start because I'm concerned if she
ever finds out how good it feels, she won't be able to quit. It is that kind
of thing. If you can control it, it is a great dieting tool, but once it
controls you, you're in real trouble.
I have friends who have starved themselves down to 80 pounds. I have known people who died because of their starving habit. So why do I play with it? I don't experiment with drugs that can kill me, so why do I dabble in such a dangerous dieting game? With anorexia and bulimia, I've always been on the precipice. As long as I can keep myself from tumbling off the edge, I have nothing to fear from it. And so far, I've been able to. So what's wrong with that?