Here is the first chapter of my novel, What It Takes to Lose. It’s been edited a million times and still needs to be edited about a million more. But I finally like it enough to start sharing it a little- hopefully one day it’ll be in a physical book.
Ana is never going to leave. Neither are the scars on my stomach or the scars on my wrist or the voices in my head or the urge to vomit every time I smell frosting.
I don’t think there’s a single girl who has gone through middle school without feeling self-conscious about her body. I was no exception. From twelve to fourteen my friends and I critiqued our figures in front of mirrors at sleepovers and drank in images of stick-thin models in fashion magazines stolen from someone’s older sister. High school just added guys three years older than us to impress.
By my junior year, I was aching to be like the girls on the glossy pages. I mean, they were flawless. Their skin glowed and their flat stomachs didn’t stick out even a centimeter over their size-0 jeans. There was never a hair out of place or so much as a pimple to be seen on any of these women I began to idolize. I ached with longing as I stared at them, but I never did anything about it. I just continued to live my life the way any normal girl should. And I wish it had stayed that way.
Then came Matt Bradbury. And, like every great high school love story, I needed him and was willing to do anything to make that happen. Matt was the handsome senior who was captain of the baseball team and drove his dad’s old convertible and wore shorts no matter how cold it was outside. I had always known who he was (who didn’t?) but it wasn’t until that fateful day in November when I dropped my binder in the hallway and went home thinking I was on Cloud Nine that everything changed.
That day had been like any other, and as usual, I was trudging down the hall on my way to biology when I tripped over my own feet and my binder fell out of my arms. I reached desperately to catch it, but I was still holding three textbooks and a water bottle, so all I accomplished was looking like a fool.
I watched helplessly as papers and notes scattered across the floor, and I felt my face begin to burn with embarrassment. I was in the senior hallway, and while a hundred pairs of upperclassmen eyes stared at me, no one came forward to help. I leaned down and began gathering my things as quickly as I could when I noticed another hand scooping up my geometry homework. I looked up and found myself staring directly into a pair of beautiful hazel eyes. They had some sort of magnetic effect because I couldn’t seem to pull myself away. After a few awkward seconds, the person attached to those eyes cleared his throat. That woke me up and I looked away, my cheeks burning even more.
“Uh, here,” the person said, handing me several sheets of paper.
Finally gathering up the courage to look him full on, I turned my gaze to my rescuer.
Which was a terrible idea, because once I saw Matt in his entirety I was even more speechless than before. I couldn’t decide what I liked more, his flawless dark skin, his smooth, muscular arms, or those eyes that I couldn’t seem to get over. Another few seconds went by.
“Um…you okay?” he asked a little uncomfortably.
The frog in my throat finally left.
“Yes,” I gasped. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” he said, flashing me a brilliant white smile.
He stood up and offered me a hand. I grabbed it hoping I wasn’t sweating too badly.
When I had everything secure in my arms once again, I looked back at Matt and gave what I hoped was a grateful smile.
He looked back kindly, like I was a scared toddler. As he turned to leave, he paused and looked over his shoulder.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“Eve Allred,” I replied in a shaky voice.
Uh, why did I announce my last name?
“I’m Matt. Bradbury,” he said back to me. “See you around, Eve.”
I didn’t even hear the bell ring for class as I watched him walk away, unfamiliar with the feeling of excitement, fear, nervousness, and disbelief that swirled in my stomach.
My teacher scolded me as I walked in the classroom two minutes later, but I barely heard a word she said. As I floated to my desk all I could think about was Matt Bradbury and when I was going to see him again.
It turns out seeing Matt wasn’t too hard—we passed each other almost every day between classes. I had never noticed him this much before though (funny how that works), and to my surprise, he was noticing me too. Sometimes when we passed in the hallway he would smile at me, and on occasion he’d even say hello. My friends were in awe of my thrilling tale of Matt Bradbury acknowledging my existence. (“Are you sure it was really him?” my friend Brianna had squealed.) I even had a few freshman girls run up to me and ask if it was really true between fits of giggles. Among the junior class, I was practically a celebrity.
My brother Aaron was the one person close to me who was not impressed with my experience. Aaron was in the same grade as Matt and played baseball with him.
“Matt is a loser,” Aaron would tell me as I asked him how I looked before school. “I don’t know why you’re wasting your time on him.”
“You wouldn’t understand,” I’d say.
“I understand that he’s a player and a tool bag,” Aaron would scoff.
I’d roll my eyes.
However, my face-to-face conversation with Matt did not reoccur. The smiles in the hallway slowly diminished until I could only expect one every couple of days even though we passed each other between at least three class periods daily. I’d like to pretend I wasn’t too upset over it, considering we only had one conversation, but I was. It felt good to be liked by someone so popular. It was like I had finally become one of the girls in the magazines everyone wanted. And as people stopped paying attention to me, I felt everything I wanted leaving.
Three weeks after my encounter with Matt, I was walking down the hall to English with my best friend Brianna McIntyre when I heard Matt’s voice trailing around the corner.
“You go on ahead,” I told Brianna. “I forgot something in my locker.”
I moved to turn around, but as soon as Brianna had turned right, I snuck back to the corner and leaned in. Now a girl was talking.
“Seriously Matt,” I heard her say. “You could have literally any girl in this school, or any other school for that matter. I don’t understand why you’re still single.”
“You hinting at something Demi?” I heard a guy reply with a laugh.
“No, I was just saying what every girl is thinking,” Demi snapped back.
“Whatever happened to the junior girl you met a few weeks ago?” Another girl asked.
My heart leaped. Was he talking about me? He had to be talking about me.
“Yeah, you told me she was cute,” Demi insisted.
I held my breath.
“Oh yeah, Eve,” I heard Matt finally reply. “Yeah, she was cute.
I grinned from ear to ear, hardly believing what I was hearing. He thought I was cute!
“So, what happened?” the second girl demanded.
“Well she was good looking, but she was kind of, you know, …chubby,” Matt said.
The grin on my face fell and my stomach turned. He thought I was fat?
“Seriously?” I heard one of the girls ask. “She so was not.”
I felt a little better, until Matt spoke again.
“It’s not like she’s obese or anything, but when I hug a girl, I want her to fit in my arms and be all small and cute, you know?” he said.
“You are so shallow,” the girl said, but she didn’t sound too upset.
“Hey,” I heard Matt reply. “You and Sadie both have nice bodies. It’s not impossible, right? If a girl just puts some effort in, she can look that way too. And it’s more than just looks. I want someone who can prove she’s a hard worker, and I think not being chubby is the easiest way she can do that.”
I couldn’t listen anymore. With stinging eyes, I ran to the nearest bathroom and locked myself in the stall before I broke down crying. Matt had seemed so friendly. No one I had talked to ever had anything bad to say about him. Who would say something like that? Was he right? How had I not see this side? I thought back to Aaron and dropped my forehead to my knees.
I heard the bathroom door open, and two familiar voices walked in.
“…what he said about that girl. I knew he was particular about the girls he dated, but come on, she was not fat.” I heard Demi say.
“I know!” Sadie exclaimed. “I mean, she isn’t super skinny or anything, but she runs track, right? She has to be in good shape.”
“On the other hand…” Demi paused. “He has a point. It’s not that hard to diet or burn it off. I eat whatever I want and only exercise like once a week. Anyone can do that.”
“Well not everyone has the metabolism of a teenage boy like you, Demi. I have to bust my butt to stay like this. Like, count calories, cut out sugar, exercise almost every day, all of that. I guess it just means I’m dedicated.” The girls both laughed and left the bathroom.
I didn’t know what to think. It sounded like the girls thought what Matt had said about me was ridiculous, but it also seemed like they agreed with him.
For the rest of the day I couldn’t stop thinking about what Matt had said. When I hug a girl, I want her to fit in my arms and be all small and cute, you know? You and Sadie both have nice bodies. If a girl just puts some effort in, she can look that way too.
Maybe he was right. (I kick myself now whenever I think of this moment because I knew he was wrong. I knew that Matt Bradbury was a jerk and I had no reason to try to impress him and I wasn’t fat and I didn’t need to change anything about myself. I knew.)
After school, I went to the locker room to change before my daily run. I barely noticed anyone as I pulled on my pants and sweatshirt, still focused on everything that had happened that day. I thought about what Sadie had said about cutting out sugar, counting calories, and working out. I work out almost every day, I thought as I jogged down my usual trail. I can’t really change there. But I don’t count calories, and I definitely haven’t cut out sugar. I decided to do that.
When I got home I told my parents about my plan so they wouldn’t get suspicious later on. They were a little hesitant at first (“Honey, you don’t think you’re fat, do you?” my mom asked worriedly) but after explaining that I just wanted to be healthier (leaving out Matt Bradbury and my plan to no longer be labeled as “chubby”) they seemed pretty on board. My mom even volunteered to go shopping the next day and buy me a ton of healthy food. I went to bed that night happy and excited for my upcoming transformation.
I stuck to my new diet extremely well. This was just another track season—I was going to do whatever it took to make myself better. In just over a month I had lost five pounds and felt great. The abs I had once longed for finally began to show and I wasn’t embarrassed to wear tight shirts to school anymore.
After Christmas break my friends started noticing too. Compliments like “Eve, you look so great!” and “Looking fine, girl!” poured in from my girlfriends. Even some of my guy friends mentioned that I looked different (“Like, in a good way. Did you cut your hair or something?” my friend Brandon asked). One day in early January I could have sworn I saw Matt give me a second glance in the hallway, but I didn’t dare look at him in case I was wrong. Still, I held my head a little higher on the way to class.
I couldn’t believe my tiny bit of weight loss was getting this much attention. The thought popped into my head: If five pounds could do this, what could ten pounds do? My rational side quickly chimed in to remind me that I didn’t need to lose any more weight. I was healthy and happy.
Then I met Ana. One day before lunch I was heading to the cafeteria when a girl stepped in front of me. I had stayed late in class and the hallway was already empty, which was probably a good thing because it was the second time that year my mind went completely blank.
Ana was like nothing I had ever seen before. She was perfect in ways I didn’t realize how badly I wanted until I saw her. We were almost exactly the same height and had the same curly brown hair, but she seemed to fit herself better. Her hair was glossier than mine and cascaded over her shoulders like water over jagged rocks. Every bone in her body was highlighted around her skin-tight dress. I could even see her ribs through the fabric. Plump, red lips sat in a smirk between her hollow cheeks and drew my eyes to long black lashes and impeccably manicured eyebrows. Like an angel had come back from the dead, if that was even possible. Everything about her was small and in its place.
I became immediately aware of how large I seemed standing next to her and unconsciously drew my hand in front of my stomach. I didn’t know what to say—I felt uneasy and impressed at the same time.
“You must be Eve,” she said to me, holding out a hand.
“How do you know my name?” I asked.
Her laugh ran down my spine.
“Everyone knows who you are,” she said.
I couldn’t tell which way she meant it. I took her hand and shook it gently, afraid anything too hard would break her tiny wrist, and I realized I was jealous.
Like she was reading my mind, she smiled.
“You could look like this too,” she said.
“What?” I was taken aback.
“You could look like me. I’ll teach you how.”
I didn’t have to say anything to know that this girl was going to be with me for a long time. There was an urge in me to push her down the staircase right there, but I knew I wasn’t going to do that. I couldn’t.
I think she knew that too.
“I’m Ana,” the girl said.
I knew I didn’t like Ana, but I needed her to like me. She could get me back on top.
“I think you need to keep trying to lose weight,” Ana said.
“Oh, well, I lost the five pounds I wanted so I think I’m okay,” I responded.
Ana looked me up and down.
“Really?” She asked. “I’m sorry, I thought you didn’t want to be called chubby anymore.”
I felt stung.
“Do you think I look chubby?”
Ana looked at me like I was an idiot.
“There’s a reason Matt hasn’t asked you out yet, right?”
I rubbed my wrist.
“But hey,” Ana said. “He did look at you. So you’re getting there. You’re not a quitter, are you?”
My competitiveness kicked in.
Ana hugged me.
I went home that day excited at the prospect of more compliments, and maybe even Matt Bradbury, in my future. I didn’t tell my parents about my added dietary restrictions though. Ana said they didn’t need to know.
I was right about the compliments. In just a month I had lost another five pounds, and now even classmates I hardly talked to were telling me how pretty I was. “You’re so skinny” and “Eve, what’s you’re secret?” made it almost impossible to notice being hungry or feeling slightly fatigued. Every time I had a temptation to eat chips or have dessert I thought about the praise I was receiving and was usually able to stop myself. If that thought wasn’t enough, Ana reminded me not to be a quitter and kept me in line.
The compliments quickly became a drug. I didn’t even care that much about Matt Bradbury anymore. Thinking about him was just another obstacle in my race to perfection. I reduced my calorie intake every week and cut out as much fat as possible. Every snack I turned down was an accomplishment. I felt strong and powerful. My body had no control over me. Ana agreed.
In February the flyers went up announcing a lunch meeting for spring sports and Ana said I shouldn’t run track that year.
“What?” I asked. “I love track.”
“You’re too obsessed with it,” Ana said. “You need to focus on losing weight, not getting bulky and manly.”
“I do sprints. That’s just running—I’ll burn off tons of calories during practice.”
“And what happens when you don’t have enough energy to do well? You care too much about it. You’ll get weak and start binging and ruin all your progress just to win a stupid race.”
“And what are you going to do during all the fast food stops after meets? You have no self-control. You’ll stuff your face with everyone else.”
She was right. I didn’t put my name on the list. It would be worth it in the end. I still cried myself to sleep that night.
The next day my track coach, Mr. Kennedy, came up to me in the hallway.
“Hey Eve, why didn’t you come to the meeting?” he asked to my back.
“I’m not doing it this year,” I said.
Mr. Kennedy looked dumbfounded.
“What?” he asked. “You love track, and you’re one of my best athletes. You could get a scholarship if you work extra hard this season, and this is the year scouts will be looking at you.”
“I’m too busy,” I said, shutting my locker. “I have to go to class,” I muttered as I turned around and walked away.
Throughout the week several of my old teammates came up to me and began saying something about track, but I made up an excuse for having to be somewhere every time.
Ana kept reminding me that it would all be worth it.
“It’s simple, okay?” She said. “The skinnier you get, the more people will like you. No one likes a fat pig and everyone likes a delicate princess.”
She had been right before.
Aaron graduated on June 6th. I wore a white lace dress to the ceremony and got dozens of compliments from my friends. Strangely enough, I felt more insecure about how I looked then I ever had before.
“It’s because you need to lose more,” Ana said. “Once you hit your goal weight you’ll always be the most beautiful person in the room and you’ll never feel insecure again.”
On the last day of my junior year, I weighed 118 pounds. I was usually hungry and tired, but not so much that I couldn’t handle it. Even Aaron was telling me I looked great, which stuck with me because as my brother he lived by the unwritten code of almost never complimenting me, even while he was in school and hardly ever home from his heavy workload and baseball practice at the nearby community college.
As I waved goodbye to my friends and got into my mom’s car after school, I vowed to be an entirely new person when I came back in the fall. I was never going to be embarrassed about my body again.
I became obsessed. In June I lost another seven pounds, and in July I discovered some websites that gave me tips on how to eat as little as possible. At this point I still denied I had any sort of eating disorder. I met some girls through these websites who would send me encouraging messages about losing even faster and I became addicted to talking to them. Hearing their praise and Ana’s approval was everything to me.
Ana came to my house a lot. I started spending more time with her than anyone else. I wanted her to like me so badly I could hardly stand it. My parents started making comments about my weight but Ana said I should ignore them. I continued to eat less and less, usually skipping lunch as well. When I hit 108 pounds my mom and dad told me they were going to watch me every time I ate. To fight this, I would get up before my parents in the morning and tell them I already had breakfast, and I’d pretend to make plans with friends during lunch so I could skip it with no one knowing. Most of the time I would just drive to the gym and run for an hour. Concentrating on losing weight make it hard to keep in touch with my friends. Brianna texted a lot, but I was always busy when she wanted to hang out.
I tried to do this for dinner too, but in August my parents insisted I had to be home for dinner every night. I had to eat a normal amount of food during this time, which made me feel sick. One time after eating spaghetti in front of my parents Ana yelled at me in my room afterward for so long that I cried.
“Shhh,” she said as she stroked my arm. “Just don’t do it again. Go do some sit-ups.”
I learned to spend a long time cutting up and chewing my food so it looked like I was eating the same amount as my family. Ana warned me what would happen if I told my parents why I couldn’t eat and I was terrified of that happening. I was also terrified of becoming obese again if I overate.
“You’re basically obese right now,” Ana said to me once at the gym. “You’re not trying hard enough. You’re lying to me—you said you wanted this.”
“I do,” I insisted. “It’s my parents. I have to eat in front of them.”
“You know the least you can do is burns the calories you’ll be eating, right?” she said. “That’s another 45 minutes on the treadmill. Go.”
On August 12th, I reluctantly sat down at the table for dinner next to Ana, who was staying over. As my mom laid down dish after dish, I felt like I was going to vomit. She had made corn chowder, French bread with butter, and a heavily dressed salad. I saw Ana glare at me and I looked at my mother angrily.
“No,” I said. “There’s no way I’m eating that.”
“Yes, you are,” my mom said firmly. “You’re getting too skinny. You need the extra calories.”
“Do you have any idea how much fat is in that soup?” I insisted.
“Not enough!” my mom said back, her voice rising. “You hardly eat, you’re losing weight, you never seem happy anymore…You haven’t gotten your spikes outs in months. What’s going on?” she asked desperately, her eyes now filling with tears.
“Nothing’s going on,” I said back quietly. “I’m just not hungry.”
“Eve,” Aaron whispered.
I glared at him. As siblings we had an unspoken rule to never side with our parents against each other.
“What?” I snarled.
He didn’t say anything, but his eyes darted between me and my mother. Then he looked down at his plate.
“You should listen to mom. I—I know you aren’t eating. This is really unhealthy,” he said hesitantly.
My dad, who hadn’t said a word the entire time, suddenly spoke.
“We’re going to the doctor tomorrow,” he said to me.
“What?” I asked, tearing my eyes from Aaron.
“You’re sick,” my dad said. “We can talk to someone who can get you help.”
“You’re not sick,” Ana whispered in my ear.
“I’m not sick!” I protested. “Why are you guys worrying? Nothing is wrong with me.”
We sat in silence for a few minutes. I saw my parents exchange worried glances several times, but they didn’t say anything. Finally, my mom spoke.
“I guess corn chowder and bread isn’t very healthy…” she said quietly. “I have some leftover corn though. Could you at least eat that?” she asked.
I nodded, knowing I wasn’t going to get out of here without having something for dinner. My mother brought out a large plate of corn and laid it down in front of me. I felt Ana glaring at me again as I brought the fork to my mouth and chewed. I always used to like corn, but at that moment it tasted like giving up. I tried not to gag.
In a few minutes I had finished the corn and asked to be excused. My mom said yes, looking slightly relieved.
The minute I stepped into my room Ana began yelling at me.
“I can’t believe you ate so much!” she snapped. “Look at you! Look at your stomach. Geez, you’re disgusting. You need to work out right now to burn that off.”
“I’m sorry, I know, but what was I supposed to do?” I asked.
I began doing crunches but had to stop after thirty because I felt so dizzy. I rested for a moment, then stood up and walked over to the floor-length mirror on my door. I was 105 pounds, but all I saw that day was an overweight, frumpy looking teenager. My thighs were huge and my calves bulged and my stomach was covered in fat rolls. Ana was right. I was ugly and not worthy of eating. My eyes began to fill with tears. I was furious with myself.
“You’re not working hard enough,” Ana hissed.
“If your parents are going to make you eat dinner with them, that’s going to be the only thing you eat all day,” she said.
The next day my parents took me to see Dr. Knight, my usual doctor. I protested and put up a fight, but eventually gave in when my dad threatened to ground me. Not being able to leave home would mean I couldn’t hide the fact I was skipping meals and I wouldn’t be able to work out as much. Ana came with me as support. We sat in the waiting room for a few minutes until a nurse came out and called my name. As I stood up I couldn’t help but notice the look of surprise on her face as she glanced down at my file and then up at me again. She tried to compose herself as I walked over to her but still looked uneasy as she smiled and wished me a good afternoon.
My parents usually stayed in the waiting room during my appointments, but this time they both came in with me. Ana stayed behind. The nurse took my blood pressure and temperature, then asked me to step on the scale. I saw her frown as “104” flashed onto the screen. I frowned too. I had weighed 104 that morning.
I should have lost something by now. I thought.
“The doctor will be in as soon as she can,” she said cheerfully to my parents, but I saw the concern return to her face as she turned to leave.
I sat with my parents for a few minutes in silence. I felt a pang of hunger and I smiled again. Hunger was still uncomfortable, but it was also an accomplishment for me. It meant I was losing weight and that I wasn’t going to gain any weight. I felt powerful. I couldn’t always control things in my life, but I could control my weight. And I was doing just that. I felt a flash of anger towards my parents for bringing me here. Why weren’t they proud of me for being so strong? Instead they were upset that I was accomplishing something.
They don’t care about me.
I heard a knock on the door and saw Dr. Knight’s face peek through. I really liked Dr. Knight. She was young and friendly, and we always shared a joke or two during my appointments. But today, she was the last person I wanted to see, especially when I saw the same look of concern my parents had on her face.
“Hi Eve, how are you feeling today?” she asked me.
“Fine,” I said. “Honestly I don’t know why I’m here.”
Dr. Knight looked even more worried at that comment.
“Mr. and Mrs. Allred, could I please ask you to step outside for a few minutes?” she said to my parents. “You can go back to the waiting room if you like. I’ll come get you when Eve and I are done.”
My parents looked at me anxiously but obeyed Dr. Knight. After they closed the door, she looked at me for a few seconds. Then she spoke.
“Eve, what’s going on?” she asked me gently.
“Nothing,” I said, looking away.
Dr. Knight continued to look at me. “Eve, I have been a doctor for seven years,” she began. “I’ve known you for five. I’ve seen people lose weight because they’ve been sick, and I’ve seen them lose weight because of other reasons. Now, I know you’re not sick, at least not with something that caused weight loss out of your control. So logically, there’s another reason you are losing weight. I know this is hard for you, but I can’t help unless you tell me what that reason is.”
I refused to look at her. I felt ashamed because I knew she was right, but I was also upset.
She doesn’t care about you either, I could picture Ana saying.
We sat quietly for a few minutes. Dr. Knight spoke again.
“Eve, please tell me what’s wrong,” she pleaded. “You’ve always been so healthy. If you keep this up, things are going to get very serious.”
I didn’t say anything. Dr. Knight sighed.
“Fine, will you at least tell me how many calories you’re eating each day?” she asked, rubbing her temples. “I know you’re keeping track.”
I thought for a moment and decided I owed her at least one answer.
“600,” I said, still refusing to make eye contact.
She looked at me sadly. “Oh, Eve…” she trailed off. Then she stood up.
“I’ll be back in a few minutes,” she said as she left the room.
Ten minutes later Dr. Knight and my parents entered again. My mom and dad had the same worried expressions on their faces. All three of them sat down and faced me.
“Eve, we’re all very concerned about you,” Dr. Knight said. Then, after pausing for a moment, “I think it’s only fair to tell you what I told your parents. I am diagnosing you with Anorexia Nervosa, a dangerous but fairly common eating disorder. I have also suggested to your parents that they should seek the help of an eating disorder professional.”
She’s lying. There’s nothing wrong with you. I could hear Ana’s voice.
“Whatever,” I replied.
“I have also asked them to keep a close eye on you for the next few weeks and keep in touch with me,” she added.
That suddenly made me angry. My mood was very on and off lately.
“You have no business nosing around in my personal life!” I snapped.
All three of them looked shocked at my outburst. My dad started to say something, but Dr. Knight cut him off.
“That will be all, you three. Thank you very much for seeing me, Eve. Remember what I told you,” she added to my parents.
I wish I could say that the doctor’s appointment made me realize what a mistake I was making, but it didn’t.
A lot of people think anorexia is just losing a lot of weight. But anorexia is a mental illness, and losing a lot of weight is just a side effect of the illness. Cutting calories wasn’t my decision anymore. It was Ana’s. Every day she would tell me how worthless I was, how fat I was, and that the only way anyone was going to like me was if I was thinner. And I believed her. I had to believe her. She was perfect and I wanted to be perfect. I wanted to be a feather that could be tossed around by the wind, barely lighter than air. The risk of floating so close between Heaven and earth intoxicated me.
“You need me,” Ana said one night during a sleepover.
“One day you won’t be such a waste of space.”
I couldn’t wait until that day.
My parents wanted to put me into a rehabilitation center for eating disorders right away but I begged them not to. I told them I would get stuck in there and it would ruin my senior year of high school. I promised I would get better on my own and that if I wasn’t getting better soon they could put me in. Finally, they agreed. I had no intention of changing but I couldn’t go to a facility. They would ruin all my hard work.
When school started back up in September, I weighed 97 pounds. Remember how excited I was to impress my friends when I went back to school for my senior year? I didn’t care about that anymore. I had barely talked to my friends all summer. Most of them came to say hello to me on the first day of school, but the look of shock on their faces and short conversations made it clear they didn’t miss me too much. Brianna said something about being worried and wanting to help, but I tuned her out. I couldn’t focus on her and Ana at the same time. I was thinking about the ½ cup of grapes I had for breakfast that morning, wondering if it was going to make me gain.
“Skip the apple you packed for lunch,” Ana said.
“Yeah,” I said.
By the end of that first week of school, I had discovered even more ways life with anorexia was terrible. I would get exhausted from the simplest tasks, like walking down the hall to class or climbing the stairs from the first floor to the second. But sitting in class was even worse. Since there was so little fat on my body I had nothing to cushion myself from the hard plastic seats I spent my entire day on. One class period would leave my tailbone bruised and sore. Sixth period left me wincing with every step. My hip bones had also begun to jut out so much that I would catch them on desks and corners constantly. I got new bruises every day. I was cold no matter where I was. I would wear my winter coat to every class and I’d still spend the whole day shivering. And the stares. The whispers. The giggles. I began to wear baggy clothing to hide my body, hoping it would stop. But it just brought out new jokes comparing me to a homeless woman and a 90s teenage boy. Did they think anorexia affected my hearing? My old self would have stood up to them but at this point I was so tired and hungry and indifferent to everything that I stayed quiet.
“They’re only saying it because it’s true,” Ana would remind me.
Every night at dinner my parents tried to get as much conversation out of me as possible. I never felt like telling them anything, but I quickly realized the more I talked the less food I had to eat without suspicion, so I became chattier than ever in the evenings.
The only person I felt like talking to was Aaron, but even that feeling was waning. We used to talk about everything but my desire to reach out to him diminished as my hunger and sickness increased. He would start up conversations with me occasionally, but I always shut him down. He was also the person who made me feel the guiltiest about the whole thing, and just looking at him made me want to change.
“He’s going to ruin your progress,” Ana said. “He’s a distraction.”
I believed her.
Even with my parents’ close monitoring and several visits to an eating disorder specialist (a short lady who loved to use the term “self-expression”), by December I weighed 87 pounds. It kills me now to think about my parent’s faces every time they looked at me. I can’t believe I was so indifferent to such sorrow and helplessness. But I had so many things to worry about at the time that I just couldn’t muster the energy to focus on them as well.
The worst and best day of my life was December 20th. We were out of school for Christmas break, and I had been invited to a party at one of my friend’s houses. Of course I didn’t want to go, but my friend’s mom knew about my problem and made sure to tell my mom about the event. So after a long argument with my parents I agreed to spend two hours at the party and then drive home.
“Don’t you dare eat anything,” Ana said to me on the drive over.
“Well, I was thinking maybe some carrots or something because I’m really—” I started.
“No,” Ana snapped. “You’ve already eaten too much today. You barely fit in that dress.”
I unconsciously ran my hand down my leg and felt my hip bones poking through the loose fabric. I looked down and saw fat.
“I know,” I said as I tried to hold back tears. Ana hated it when I cried.
“You really are disgusting,” Ana scoffed.
She looked gorgeous in her skin-tight velvet dress. Her bracelets were barely staying on her wrists and her collarbone jutted out so far it was practically a necklace. I wanted to look like her so badly.
I didn’t feel like socializing so for most of the night I just sat in a chair along the wall next to Ana. After about an hour of being downstairs, I got tired of all the people staring at me so Ana and I decided to head upstairs for some more privacy. It was 9 o’clock, and all I had to eat that day was half an apple. Usually I had a full apple and maybe some nonfat yogurt, but I had felt particularly bloated that morning so I decided to cut some more calories. The last thing I remember that night was getting halfway up the long flight of stairs, then suddenly feeling very dizzy.
I woke up in the hospital fifteen hours later. My head ached and I felt weak, but that was normal for me then. As I opened my eyes and tried to adjust to the blinding light, two figures slowly came into focus. Both my parents were sitting in chairs next to my bed, their heads resting on my sheets. Aaron was crouched in the windowsill, reading a book. Ana wasn’t there.
I looked outside. It was a clear day and was the sun reflecting off of the puddles that covered the parking lot. I quickly remembered the party last night and came to the conclusion that I had been in the hospital all night long. I tried to sit up, but the pain in my head was so severe that I had to lie down again. This woke my parents up, who both embraced me while my mom cried. Aaron came over stood behind them wearing a strange look on his face.
Soon after my parents woke up, a doctor came in and explained that I had fainted at my friend’s party while attempting to climb the stairs. He told me that my body was so weak and dehydrated from lack of calories and nutrients that it essentially shut down. This was the event that brought me back to the real world. I was scared and upset and couldn’t believe how stupid I had been for the past year. I was afraid I was going to die, and I wasn’t ready yet. I held up a shaky hand and gasped at the brittle nails and flaky dry skin that I held in front of me. I looked at my family and began to cry.
“I’m so sorry,” I choked.
After several minutes of apologies and forgiveness from everyone, the doctor began speaking to me again. He explained that I would need to stay in the hospital until my weight returned to a healthy level and I was adequately hydrated. He also told me that I had to stay in the ICU for a few more days under close surveillance because he was concerned about possible heart and liver problems.
Even after such a frightening diagnosis, it was way harder than I thought it would be to return to a healthy weight. It sucked. The nurses started me back on food slowly, giving me small but frequent snacks throughout the day along with lots of vitamins. But Ana visited me a lot and she got really upset when I’d eat, even after I explained to her what happened. It confused me and made me angry that she didn’t seem to care about me at all, but I couldn’t seem to get rid of her. Even on days I told her not to visit she would show up and remind me how many calories I was taking in.
After a few days in the hospital, the doctor told me and my parents that I had suffered no permanent heart or liver damage. I almost cried with happiness. He did say, however, that if I had kept up my lifestyle for even a few more weeks there most likely would have been serious complications. That shock got me to kick Ana out of my room and eat a full banana and apple for breakfast.
I tried my best to cooperate with the nurses, but I did have to be hooked up to an IV several times, usually whenever they tried to make me drink fruit juice or have something high in fat. Ana would freak out and yell at me and I would just want her to stop so I’d refuse to eat anything else for the rest of the day.
After another week in the hospital I was admitted to an eating disorder recovery clinic. It was long and hard and some days I hated it and other days I hated it a little less because I got glimpses of what recovery looked like. Ana visited me a lot at first but slowly came less often as the weeks progressed. I thought about her a lot, but I didn’t miss her. Two months and twenty pounds later I was finally allowed to go home. I was eating three meals a day, and even though they were pretty small I was at a healthy weight and the doctors said they no longer had a reason to keep me there.
It was a huge relief to come home. The minute we walked inside I ran to my room and laid down on my bed. I smiled as I looked at the posters that lined my walls, and a pang of guilt hit my stomach as I stared at pictures of me with my friends. I couldn’t believe how happy I looked back then. How did I not see what was happening to me?
That night as I was brushing my teeth I looked down and saw my bathroom scale on the floor. I spit out my toothpaste, picked up the scale, and threw it in the trash outside. I thought that was going to be my turning point.
I know now that it’s so much more complicated than that.