I was a Freshman in high school when my parents first gave me cell phone, a small silver pay-by-the-minute flip phone that I was to use to call them after basketball practice, or in case of emergency.
I was also in high school the first time I really discovered the internet. Facebook was a new thing, I made my first email account, and I began to use Google to search for resources when writing research papers or studying history.
Prior to high school, the only fitness or nutrition advice I was privy to came from magazines. I subscribed to Seventeen, and devoured every periodical my mother received in the mail—Family Circle, Women’s Day, National Geographic. I read my Great Grandmother’s Reader’s Digest and was a religious consumer of the comics section in her Sunday paper.
The nutrition advice featured in these periodicals was mostly watered-down fad-diet non-advice. A celebrity tells you how to lose weight. A body weight circuit, complete with pictures and endorsed by a “fitness expert” is supposed to help you lose the last ten pounds. Pair apple slices with a cheese stick. Popcorn is a low-calorie snack if you don’t add butter or salt. Stop eating fake nacho cheese sauce for dinner. Blah blah blah.
Because my eating disorder began when I was very young, I was inherently drawn to information like this. When I had easy access to the internet, my obsession multiplied tenfold. There was so much to learn, so much I didn’t know about how to control my body. So many ways to be smaller. So many tricks and tips to help me take up less space. The first time I made myself throw up, I was in high school, but I didn’t commit to such a grotesque act without doing my research first. I turned to the internet to learn how to throw up, how to starve myself, how to exercise enough. One afternoon, I sat at my family’s computer and typed, “How to be anorexic” into the browser. Thousands of results popped up, and I clicked on a site called myproana.com. The following items may be triggering, so please skip ahead if you are not comfortable reading pro-ana advice.
Some of the best and/or worst tips included:
-Dinner must be eaten by 7 p.m., after that there is no food consumed until 7 a.m. at the earliest.
-Three hours must pass between the last time you ate and the time you go to bed.
-Weigh yourself two times a day, you are always thinner in the morning.
-B6 and B12 will speed up your metabolism.
-Purge in the shower or in the sink.
-If you’re about to binge, chew gum and look at your fat.
-Drink a glass of water every hour.
-Eat at least one meal every day.
-Take caffeine tablets.
-Brush your teeth.
-Sleep at least 6 hours, any less and it stimulates your appetite by 15%.
-When you sit, fidget. It might not burn a lot, but it’s more than if you are just sitting still.
-Hit your stomach when it’s grumbling.
-Try to eat when people are around.
-Associate food with feeling sick.
-Never eat anything without nutrition labels.
-Save one dollar for every meal you don’t eat and buy yourself a present.
-Take a bath/shower.
-Always take your vitamins.
-Know when your trigger binge time is and avoid it.
-Watch fat people eat.
-Listen to loud music.
-Spinning yourself in circles decreases hunger.
-Drink lots of water. When your stomach is full of water there’s no room for food!
-Don’t eat out
-Don’t eat anything you don’t know the nutritional value of.
-Drink lots of tea.
-Chew your food until it dissolves.
-Drink sparkling water, or Crystal Clear, to fill you up more.
When I first read this inarticulate geyser of inaccurate and dangerous information, I swooned. “There are people like me out there,” I thought. “My habits aren’t that weird.” Plus, I learned some new tips. Chewing gum, for instance, became a huge habit. I’ve spent an absurd amount of money on chewing gum, caffeine pills, appetite suppressants, laxatives, sparkling water, fatty foods I desperately crave but refuse to eat. I’ve bought food just to look at it. I’ve made cookies and cake with real butter, sugar, and chocolate, and refused to eat any. And I’ve learned my own tips and tricks, simply through necessity.
For example, I was never fully comfortable with making myself throw up, as I shouldn’t have been, as no one should be. I have jammed my index and middle fingers down my throat. I’ve gagged, hanging over the toilet, as nothing came up. One morning, I was brushing my teeth, and ran the soft bristles over my tongue. I hit a spot toward the back of my tongue that instinctively made me gag, and my stomach heaved. This spot became my spot. All I had to do was push on it hard enough and I couldn’t help but throw up. If you think this sounds amazing, or cool, or like an easy way out, it’s not. I tried to throw up quietly, covering up the smell by spraying excessive amounts of Febreze, taking long bubble baths to ease my aching stomach, opening the window to dissipate the smell.
The worst part about purging was feeling so utterly, terribly, achingly alone. Alone, even when my family sat rooms away, watching reruns of Seinfeld or Everybody Loves Raymond. Alone, because I went home early from sleepovers, blew off my friends on weekend nights, refused to attend team dinners the night before basketball games. Isolated because of this thing, my eating disorder, that I didn’t even realize was plaguing me.
If someone would have said, “You have an eating disorder,” I likely would have laughed. I laugh at a lot of things, and I like to make people laugh. If you laugh, people think you’re okay. If you make people laugh, people like you. These were two things I wanted quite badly—to be okay, and to be liked. There is nothing good or healthy about this mindset. There was nothing good or healthy anywhere on myproana.com, or in any of the 1 million Google results that popped up so easily when I searched, hungrily, “how to be anorexic.”
P.S. If you or someone you love may be struggling with an eating disorder, contact the NEDA helpline at (800) 931-2237. A comprehensive, nation-wide list of Eating Disorder Anonymous (EDA) meetings can be found here. A list of top treatment centers in every state, courtesy of Eating Disorder Hope, can be found here. So much love to each and every one of you.