Explorations in the World of Ella’s Nutrition

Winning the reader-selected topic poll with an impressive 33.33% of the vote, I thought I’d talk about nutrition and body image today. However, instead of focussing on my own nutrition and body image, I thought I’d talk about some of my second-grade students and how the girls are already beginning to perceive themselves as fat and unattractive.

I was standing in the hall today, while the students were lining up to go to the bathroom, and one of the little girls came up to me and gave me a hug. It was incredibly sweet, and as I untangled her arms and sent her back to her place in line she said, “Wow. You’re so skinny. I wish I were thin like you. You ate a huge bowl of soup at lunch, and you’re still soooooooo skinny.”

(Necessary background information: I am currently around five foot four and around 104 pounds. In short, I am underweight and probably look it.)

I was shocked. Sure, I get bizarre questions and comments from kids all day long (Today, one of the boys wanted to know if the carved wooden monkey bead on my necklace was a real monkey that I had trained to stay still, and another boy is convinced that jalapenos don’t actually exist.), but I’ve never heard anything like this. It certainly would have been easy to laugh it off with a “thank you, that’s very sweet,” but I do not want to become another member of society telling these girls that in order to feel good about yourself, you have to be underweight.

While I stood there trying to come up with an appropriate response, other girls started to chime in as well, making comments about the small size of my waist and wrists. If I wasn’t teaching second-graders, I would have loved to be able to have a frank talk with the girls about body image, but seven-year-olds aren’t ready for that. Instead, I pointed out that my mother is also quite thin and that metabolism and size are often hereditary. I told them about my frequent bike-rides, and pointed out that while I did eat a lot of split pea soup at lunch, it was low in sodium, organic, and homemade. My entire lunch was well below four hundred calories.

I tried to emphasize that being thin doesn’t mean that you are healthy and that you do not need to worry about being thin while you’re seven. I have absolutely no idea if any of it sank in, but I’m glad that I did not allow myself to become part of the silent majority that urges girls to be thinner, thinner, thinner and makes them feel bad about themselves if they don’t look like the ideal girl that the media portrays.

I know that it is impossible for a world to exist where people never worry about body image, but I do know that if whenever possible we all take a stand and model healthy body-image and food relationships, we can create a world where I don’t have seven-year-old students obsessing about their weight. As a still recovering anorexic who started down that path when I was eight (if you want my anorexia story, click here), I know that it is imperative for girls (and boys) to have healthy role-models in their lives if they want to prevent themselves from falling down the rabbit-hole of eating disorders.

You can also find me collecting lovely images and words on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/. I’d love for you to follow me on my trek into the wilds of tumblr.

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Dear 16-Year-Old Ella

Dear 16-Year-Old Me,

First of all, dry your tears and march your sorry self back from the street sign at the top of the street. It may feel like an escape right now and the New York City skyline is always pretty, but for God’s sake it’s nearly midnight, and no matter how far you run away, the hurt is not going to leave you. Besides, it’s your birthday, and you should not be spending it sitting on damp grass while your parents wonder where you are.

Things may suck now, but you haven’t seen nothin’ yet. Your life is about to collapse around you. Everything you’ve become obsessed with and are working towards—Yale, the perfect grades, a million activities, being president of CGI, having a boyfriend—is going to very nearly kill you. Literally. But you are a million times stronger than you think. You’re made of steel and diamonds, and you are going to learn to stop lying to yourself.

But before you discover exactly how strong you are, things are going to feel impossible. You’re going to try to jump out of windows and overdose on pills and cut yourself with razors and gouge a surprising amount of skin out of your left arm (you will see those scars everyday for years and hate yourself for it). You’re going to have panic attacks where you can’t breathe and think you’re going to die. You’ll get slapped with a million labels. They won’t just call you depressed and anxious. Now, there will be bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, anorexia, ADHD, OCD. You’re going to have to leave school and a life that you’re equally in love with and hate to go to an outpatient clinic for close to six months. You will make the choice to leave, and it will be the right one. Trust your gut.

You’re going to learn that everyone has demons and that just because someone looks intimidating, it doesn’t mean that they are. Speak up whenever you can and offer people advice when you’re participating in the groups. Then, listen to what you’re saying and apply it to your own life. Stop being such a hypocrite. And don’t get yourself backed into a corner in the supply closet by that creepy boy. He will say awful things, and you’ll be too scared to yell.

That time your gym teacher told you that you were overweight if you could pinch an inch of skin on your hip is, honestly, one of the most ridiculous things ever. You need to eat more than one cup of yogurt a day, and don’t start pretending it’s a game. The weight that you will lose won’t be pretty. Your ribs are going to stick out, and your arms and legs will get incredibly weak. And if any of the traditional logic about the importance of nutrition doesn’t convince you, listen to this: None of your bras are going to fit anymore, and you will have to go back to wearing the ones you got when you were 14. It will be embarrassing. You will also have to constantly see doctors who will ask you all kind of questions, and your mom will get hyper-involved in your eating and drive you crazy.

You will also have to spend a week in a hospital. Don’t freak out about it, even when they draw your blood in the emergency room and drive you in an ambulance through a snowstorm. Instead, use the week to meet interesting people and collect observations for later writing. When they stick you in that windowless room without heating, a clock, a window, or a chair, do not hyperventilate. They will keep you in there longer. Also, stand up to that cow of a psychiatrist. She will be wrong about everything and unnecessarily cruel. Furthermore, don’t sit there silently when they try to force everyone to watch Sandlot even though one of the girls was once raped while the movie was playing. She will freak out the entire time, they won’t do anything about it, and you will regret not doing something. And wear your prettiest outfits the whole time you’re there, you’ll feel much better when you’re cute.

CGI will be what makes you want to come back to school. Return with all the glory of General MacArthur, but know that senior year is going to be rough. We the People will at first suck monkey balls, but then become your favorite thing ever. You will say stupid things in the process. Apologize for them. Your English teacher and class will make you so happy you want to cry. Trust her when she says good things about you. She will be the first teacher to really, truly like you without any ounce of pity. You will also win awards at Penn Model Congress, thanks to brutal determination and an award at RUMUN, thanks to an amazing teammate. Use this as proof that you are capable and strong.

Your case manager at school will be your hero. Believe everything he says. He will be responsible for your graduation and every good thing that happens in school that year. Thank him profusely and know that even that won’t be able to express your gratitude.

Discover youtube and The Vlogbrothers. John and Hank Green will change your life. You will become an infinitely better thinker and on several occasions put off self-destruction because tomorrow one of their videos is going to be posted, and you don’t want to miss it. Also, find and read as many authors’ blogs as you can. They will give you so many healthy adult role models and get you through nights when the self-loathing feels oppressive and paranoia is on the rise. They are worthy of demi-God status, but don’t forget that they are as human and real as you are.

Write. Write a lot. Write even when it doesn’t make sense and the words seem to come out all wrong and awkward. People will somehow like it, and it will sometimes be the only thing you like about yourself. That idea about starting a blog: do it and don’t give up, even when you don’t feel like you have anything left to put into it. You will somehow fall into the world of books and authors and publishing, and you will feel at home for the first time in years.

Additionally, do not let yourself be talked into things you don’t want to do. Just because someone tells you you’ll like it in a month, does not mean that you will, and it does not matter how much you think they’re going to be angry or hate you for it. Just don’t do it. It’ll bother you to no end when you’re older, and it will create horrible habits. And don’t take medication you don’t want to simply because adults and doctors recommend it. You will get knocked out, get confused, become manic, and sleep through important things if you don’t start using the word no. It doesn’t matter if someone has a million diplomas from fancy universities in their office or is the leading doctor in a field, they don’t know you best—you, however, do. Even if your parents say they are going to kick you out of the house if you don’t take one more pill, say no. They won’t end up doing it, and you’ll feel better, both physically and mentally.

But most of all, love. Love with everything you have. Devotion and passion and compassion will bring you everything beautiful in the world.

Love your friends and treat them well. They will hold you together when you’re falling apart at the seams. They will become the only reason you don’t kill yourself on multiple occasions. And they will make you happier than anything. Also, trust them, sometimes more than you trust yourself. They are very rarely wrong and will love you back, no matter what happens.

Unconditionally love your family as they try do the best they can to help you. Be nicer to Pippa. She deserves it. Treat your cats as if they were your children. You will discover that they can make any situation infinitely better. Don’t give up hope: Pushkin will eventually become less skittish and one day start sitting on your lap.

Love things and places and people. Just let yourself do it. The world is a million times better when you love it.

And learn to love yourself.

You’re gonna be alright, somehow, and you’re going to live an extraordinary life. I just know it.

Finally, get over yourself and stop wearing those shapeless, shiny soccer shorts when you go swimming. It isn’t a good look.

Love,

Ella

_____________________________________________________________________

I decided to write this letter after discovering that an updated version of “Dear Me” will be coming out soon. You can get to the book’s website by clicking here. Basically, the book is a collection of letters to and pictures of various famous people’s 16-year-old selves. It’s beautiful.

Earlier in the day, I had read Laini Taylor’s latest blog post, “Creating Your Life,” which can be found here. She writes about the importance of having the courage and passion to live out your daydreams and not to let them become passive thoughts in your head. And she uses two amazing quotes. The first one is by Mary Oliver, and I have also loved it for a long time.

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

And the second is this:

Ever since happiness heard your name, it has been running through the streets trying to find you.

It’s by Hafiz, and so impossibly wonderful. I love it. She even made a picture with the quote on it.

Lovely, no?

Laini Taylor is one of my favorite authors and people, and I would love to be able to live a life like hers. That post was so beautiful and inspiring, I cried. It got me thinking about how I would go about living out my “one wild and precious life,” and writing this letter was a nice reflection on how I’ve gone about that in the past and what I’m doing to live an extraordinary life right now.

About fifteen minutes later, I checked my youtube subscription box and discovered that George Watsky, one of my favorite youtubers, had made a spoken-word poem/letter to his 16-year-old self that he had performed and filmed. It’s wonderful, and you can watch it just below this text.

If you also want to write a letter to your 16-year-old self and make it public, I’d love to read it. Just leave a link in the comments.

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if you’re into that kind of thing.

In Which Ella Does a Little Filing

Alright folks, get out your filing cabinets. We’ve got some documents to put away.

To be filed under Not Helping Anorexia:

  • Looking at Fashion Show Photographs
  • Looking at Vogue
  • Skipping Dinner and Lunch and Not Exactly Eating Breakfast

To be filed under Disappointments That Probably Don’t Warrant Crying:

  • Burnt Chocolate Croissants
  • Missing a John Green Live Show
  • The London Calling Record Skipping Three Times
And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Ella’s Latest Transgression

I must apologize for it was I who lied about eating breakfast. I didn’t have the toast you lovingly purchased at the bakery yesterday. You bought me raisin walnut bread, my very favorite, and I left it sitting on the counter sheathed in its plastic bag. Instead, I found my brownie from last night, floating in melted ice cream and ate it and Welches’ Fruit Snacks on the floor of the bathroom, sitting on the bathmat with my towel draped over my head.

Instead of tasting delicious, the brownie was gross. It had soaked up the melted ice cream like a sponge while it spent twelve hours in the refrigerator, and it tasted rather funny. Refrigerated melted ice cream is never very good. But I ate it anyway because if I threw it out, you would find it and I didn’t want to have to break it into small pieces and flush it down the toilet. The nutritionist said I had to stop doing that because it hurts the drains, which is something I already know. But there are only so many places to hide. You always find it when I put it in balled-up tissues.

The Fruit Snacks were better, but I had to eat them quickly so you wouldn’t find me. When you don’t eat the small gummies deliberately by flavor, they taste rushed and bland. I had to chew them quickly and I think I swallowed one whole. Something caught in my throat and I had to cup my hands under the tub’s faucet to drink. But the water was hot and didn’t taste right. I know now that you should never steep gummies in water to make tea.

And then I didn’t tell you. Not at all. Because you would sigh and say, “Ella…” in that tone that means that you are very disappointed in me for not just doing what I’m supposed to for once because it is so very obvious that I’m being ridiculous. And I would tell you that “it’s a disease, Mum” to justify my deception.

But I am sorry for my transgression. Tomorrow I will eat my breakfast. I will measure the Grape Nuts while you watch, and I might even have two eighty calorie yogurts.

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Ella’s Fabulous Triumph

Today, I celebrate a great achievement. I went into the city to the art mueseum that had this summer’s most popular fashion exhibit and didn’t even feel the beginnings of a freak out.

We were jammed in the exhibit, shoulder to shoulder, and some morbidly obese man kept ramming his wheelchair into my legs in an attempt to push through the crowd, pushing me into whoever was next to me, and I didn’t even bat an eye. I just shifted my weight so that every time his foot rest hit my boot, I didn’t budge and politely told him that he was hurting me.

I ate an entire lunch without any prompting, and I rode in several glass elevators and walked down a bunch of escalators and stairs. I even didn’t feel a tinge of anxiety when a cab driver tried to pull away from the curb with my younger cousin halfway out of the car and me standing on the sidewalk.

And I also did this all on an hour and a half of sleep.

I’m a bit delirious right now, but I’m proud, really, really proud.

As It Turns Out, Eighteen Doesn’t Feel Any Different

Today has been one of those perfect beach days. I got up early and took a shower outdoors while the air was still clouded with fog. Stupidly, I left my towel in the back hall, and had to put my pajamas back on while I was still soaking wet. I marched my way back into the house, the grass sticking to my ankles and feet, feeling pretty defeated. Walking around in wet clothing with your hair deshelved is not a very elegant way of inaugerating being eighteen.

But things quickly got better. I dunked oat squares in lemon yogurt and drank a glass of orange juice, trying to see if I could keep the pulp out my mouth by making a sieve with my teeth. Then, I went out to the porch to talk to my grandmother and aunt and stare wistfully at my presents. I was really give maturity a run for its money.

We finally got around to present opening, and there were sun dresses from Free People, pretty cards, more clothes, a beautiful blue wooden box with a scarf inside, checks, books, and iTunes gift certificates. Tied for first place with the dresses was a poem by Mary Oliver that my aunt wrote out and backed on gorgeous blue paper.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

I’m going to have to reorganize my bulletin boards at home to fit this in. It’s lovely, and I plan on memorizing it. That way, I’ll have more happy and beautiful things to repeat to myself when I’m bored or sad.

The house still needs cleaning from having been closed up all winter, so all five of us attacked the living room. All the furniture was pulled out from the walls and every picture, bowl, shell, doohickey, etc was dusted by my aunt and me. Then, I rearranged the mantle so that everything was in height order. As much as this makes me feel happy and organized, it kind of looks wonky and needs fixing. Clearly, I do not have a future in candlestick and trinket arranging.

I ate a goat’s cheese and roast beef sandwich for lunch, which is not a combination I would recommend. However, it’s still above eating Provolone cheese (the spawn of the devil), my other option. I did homework, sent in my voter registration forms, and fooled around until dinner. We ate at my favorite restaurant in town, and I ordered poorly. Scallops in cream sauce with bacon over fettucini seemed like a really great idea until it was right before me and screaming, “I AM PROBABLY OVER A THOUSAND CALORIES!” in my face. I just ate my mango salad and dubiously poked at it for the next hour.

And in the way that poor meals typically go, I ended up feeling so depressed that we just went home after eating. I had been planning on having my all-time-favorite-best-ever Milky Way ice cream for dessert to celebrate but even getting up to walk to the car felt like a chore. We drove home and watched the Bruins beat Tampa and the Red Sox beat Detroit as my dad periodically yelled at good plays, and my grandmother laughed.

Later, I pretended to officiate a church service while wearing a UConn snuggie backwards, and my dad and I went for a walk through the fog. Drops of water dripped down from the condensation on the leaves as we meandered down the roads near the beach. Maybe one night it will be so clear we can see the Milky Way. But I like how it is now, the way I feel cosy and enclosed in the safety of the house. Nothing can hurt me here. Going to sleep should be easy.

Today more than ever I felt loved. People kept texting me, and relatives called to sing Happy Birthday. It is so easy to forget experiences like today when I’m overrun with emotions. I am blessed, and I have a good life. Pain is always fleeting.

So here’s to another year of my life. Let’s see how it goes.

Small Victories

Whenever I feel like my challenges are innumerable and have no will left in me to fight, I need to remember that this too will pass. Today was pretty rough, but I didn’t have a panic attack on the bathroom floor like I did every night in February, and I didn’t spend all week in bed à la December and January.

On Boating, Mirrors, and Victory

Today was another day of feeling dizzy and off. The odd sensations of floating/boating haven’t ceased. I felt like I was paddling a canoe through first period. Second period, I floated around in an inner tube. Third, I spent in a row boat. By forth, I left for a very long sail for Nantucket with lots of breaks for dead man floats. I haven’t yet returned, and as of right now, it doesn’t appear that a return ticket was booked.

So by the time I got home, I was done. Really, really, really, really done. But rather than letting myself slid over into freak out mode, I decided to get creative. Whenever I get freaked out by side effects, I have a panic attack, and that panic attack is almost always the result of disassociation. To fix that I parked myself in front of the huge mirror on the wall at the foot of the stairs. I could sit on the stairs and see my whole body and behind me. That way I would know that it was me. I grabbed some yellow rice and chicken from the fridge, made popcorn, and poured myself some juice into this awesome cup that I made when I was five.

 

I have two observations about this mug. One: I clearly have excellent potential to become an artist and Two: I have never been good at accurately depicting my body.

Then, I turned on my iPod and just sat there and watched myself eat. I still felt like was the model of buoyancy and that I was gaining pounds by the mouthful, but I wasn’t panicking. I was just sitting there, eating food and waiting it all out. It’s the first time a long time that coping skills have been an hundred percent effective in the face of side effects. Maybe it was my Rainy Tuesday playlist or yellow rice that did it, but I’d like to think that it was me, that I did something entirely right for once, and that I can overcome my challenges all by myself.

Victories like that one twenty minutes ago are never as loud as my failures (Crying in English, crying at lunch, crying in French, etc.). Mostly, they go unrecognized. I write them off as flukes and tell no one or the people around me don’t notice. But I am going to tell you, whoever is reading this blog, about this one. I’m going to make sure that you know about it. And in doing that, I am going to make sure that I am not going to let it slip by the wayside either. I’ll build on what just happened today. I’ll force it to become a pattern. I’ll make it so that I never panic about side effects again. I will. Just watch me.

On a completely unrelated note, I have suddenly been forced into the position of hand-washing police in my house because people around here apparently haven’t passed pre-school health.

On an Eight-Year-Old’s Prophesy

I first learned about anorexia when I was eight. I was sitting in my first “proper” health class in the school library, and as always, I was fidgeting like crazy. Starving yourself to death? I thought, as the nurse explained the symptoms, How horrible. Who would ever do that? But despite that initial revulsion, a part of me kept whispering, It’s going to be you. It’s going to be you. It’s going to be you. I swung my legs back and forth and chewed my cuticles to bits as anxiety rushed over me. But even after my index finger had started to bleed, the voice wouldn’t shut up. You just know that it’s going to be you.

Eight-year-old me was right about a lot of unfortunate things, and sadly, this turned out to be one of them. By the time I was twelve, being “fat” had become an obsession. In gym class, we were told that if we could “pinch an inch” of skin on our hipbone, then we were overweight. I would grab my skin over and over, pulling on it, and holding a ruler up to it to check if it was over an inch. It always was. I know now that the test was completely bogus, but when a teacher tells you something, and the fifty kids in the room follow suit, it is hard to believe that it isn’t as certain as gravity or the First Law of Thermodynamics.

Starting in the winter of seventh grade, we had to make “fitness profiles” on an aging computer in the corner of the gym. As I balanced on an old scale, peering down to try to read the numbers, I thought, If I am over 90 pounds, there are going to be serious problems. Well, I was over 90 pounds, but I was also five-foot-two. But that didn’t matter to me. I just panicked. When we ran the mile, I pushed myself to go faster and faster. If I couldn’t do it in under eight minutes, then I would have to do extra sit-ups later and skip my dessert. It was minor, really, but the numbers were real and frightening.

Everyday, when I would walk down to lunch, trailing along in a line of excited students, I would feel the overwhelming urge to dump all of my food into the trash the moment that I sat down. It was scary, but deliciously so. It was like play with matches outdoors at camp: you’re on the precipice of creating something that you can’t control, flirting with it, but always stamping them out just in time.  Only I didn’t like fire, I just hated food. But I stuck it out and laughed with friends as I ate my yogurt and cereal. At home, I would eat a little bowl of ice cream every afternoon while lounging in the sun and reading, and I despised myself for it. The fear of getting fat was becoming all-consuming.

As my time wore on, my insecurities grew, and I started to stand in front of the mirror and judge my body. I’d hold my clothing taught around my torso and look at my stomach, sucking it in all the way and wishing that I could look like that all the time. My stomach was too big. I was too fat. I was too ugly.

I turned thirteen, and the anxiety got worse. Finally, I began to complain to my mother about it, pulling up my shirt to show her that I could “pinch an inch.” Ever logical and comforting, she would say, “No, you’re not fat. You’re just where you need to be.” But I couldn’t believe her.

On Saturdays, I’d shyly drag my mother into my therapy session to tell the psychologist how I felt. Saying it myself felt too scary, and I was petrified that she would think that I was shallow for being focused my body image. Talking about it in therapy never helped, though. We were too focused on my “bigger problems.”

Eighth grade passed, and it was more of the same. To a certain extent, being uncomfortable in your body is especially typical of a middle schooler, but my fears went beyond the norm. I started giving bits of my lunch away. Here, have my cookie. Here, have my drink. By the time graduation rolled around, I was convinced that I was a flat chest-ed butterball, when in actuality I was just around 95 pounds.

In high school, most of people start to shed their former insecurities. Girls emerged from sweatshirts, and boys began to wash their hair more frequently. My clothing choices improved, and I lost my boring haircut, but my weight concerns intensified. At lunch, I’d hand over my yogurt to a friend and only eat my carrots. I cried quietly in my room when I outgrew old clothing. I spent more time staring in the mirror.

Sophomore year, it got a little better. School was going well. I was involved in a million clubs. I had straight A’s. I had a monstrous crush on a guy. I spent hours doing fun things with friends. It felt like people really liked me, and I started to forget about being fat. By the end of the year, I was five-foot-four and 113 pounds. And that’s when things really started to go downhill.

Stepping back from the scale and hearing the school nurse announce my weight to anyone in the general vicinity was a slap across the face, a reminder of all of the worries that had been plaguing me for years, and it stung. It stung with the force of a hundred angry, angry bees. That summer I started to play what I called “my little game.” Everyday, I would see how long I could go without eating. Liquid was allowed. Making it to three o’clock was an okay day. Five was optimal. When I finally couldn’t wait any longer, I’d go outside and eat a yogurt, savoring it and making it last for half an hour. Sometimes, I’d eat an Italian ice, but only if I had done some exercise.

I felt so powerful, skipping meals. Once you restricted for a few days, the pangs of hunger entirely disappear, and it became easy. If I could rebel against my body’s need for food, I could do anything. August became September, and school started. I took three AP classes, stayed up to all hours to balance homework and extra circulars, and used the privacy of school to hide food from my parents. Once tight pants were now baggy, shirts hung on me weirdly, and my bras became too big, and I had to resort to wearing ones from middle school. I took pictures of myself each week, as my ribs began to stick out, and my collarbone made sharp angles on my chest. At night, I’d flip through the photographs, intoxicated with my “progress.” It was wonderful. But it didn’t last long. These things never do.

I left school and went to a treatment center for other emotional problems, and spent all of my time sleeping or freaking out. I hardly ate. In desperation, my parents tried feeding me three pieces of bacon and a bagel for breakfast everyday. Mostly, I balled it up in tissues and put in the trash. I don’t know how much I weighed then, and I really don’t want to know. It was probably in the nineties.

But my restriction wasn’t as secretive as I thought, and soon enough I was sitting in a doctor’s office and hearing the words, “anorexia nervosa.” In my head, I heard echoes of eight-year-old me whispering, it’s going to be you, and it was me, and I knew it. It reverberated all through my body, and if I had been alone, I would have laughed. I quickly got evaluated for an eating disorder treatment program, but other problems overshadowed the anorexia, and I stayed in another rehab facility. In February, I went the hospital. I was exactly a hundred pounds, a marked improvement.

But things got better. The world is never entirely cruel. My friends and family rallied behind me, pushing me down the path to recovery even when I was kicking and screaming. I began to work with a nutritionist. My goal was 2400 calories a day, and I had to will myself to eat, because eating was good, no matter what I thought. I started to see a new psychologist to begin Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, which supposedly is the best type of therapy for someone trying to recover from an eating disorder. And supposedly became really, and I gained weight. I wrote a pamphlet about anorexia for health class, and smiled as I did it, because I felt like I was coming out on the other side. By the summer, I was 110 pounds. Amazing.

The end of the summer was hard, and I dropped seven pounds. But just like before, I pulled it back up in a few months. I had my head above the water, and though I was swimming for dear life, I wasn’t drowning anymore. I’ve been mostly stable since then. Of course, the obsession with being thin hasn’t disappeared, but it’s waned. I know now that skeletal is just as unattractive as obese.

Living with an eating disorder is difficult. Incredibly difficult. I can tell you the amount of protein and the number of calories in a disturbingly large number of foods. I can explain to you in detail how many infections I got as the result of malnutrition. I can show you pictures from when my feet and hands were perpetually red and purple. But I can also tell you this story. The story of my descent into the valley and how I’m climbing back up again. It’s a good story. One full of promise and hope and a somewhat happy ending.

When Nutella French Toast Goes on a Soviet Trip Into Space

Today, I went out to brunch with my family. We piled in the car and drove to the restaurant. After discovering that we had to wait for thirty minutes, wandering into an Italian deli, and explaining to my mother how earthquake magnitudes are measured, we were seated. I love the smell of pancakes and bacon and all of the happy morning chatter. I had an apple soda in a mason jar, which reminded me of being ten and having picnics in my neighbor’s tree house. If there were pieces of turkey a in cigar box, brought into the tree house by way of a pulley, the memory would be complete.

I sat in the booth, one arm hugging myself and my other hand tracing the groves of the jar like it was Braille, and tried to decide on something. It’s okay. You can eat anything. It’ll all be fine, I kept repeating to myself. A private little mantra. Just do what you practice in therapy, and it’ll all be okay. After trying to estimate the number of calories in several things, shivering at the idea of eggs (I haven’t had an omelet since I was eight, and I certainly don’t plan on starting now.), and contemplating putting my head down on the table and refusing to speak to anyone until I calmed down, I chose something. Nutella stuffed French toast with strawberries. It was something that I knew I would enjoy even though I can rattle off the nutrition facts off the top of my head. (200 calories for two tablespoons of Nutella, and half of it is from fat.)

Then, it came. And when it was right in front of me, looking me in the eye, I thought, Man, this looks really, really good, and not, How many calories does challah have? Because if there are at least three tablespoons of Nutella, and the chalah is about 200 a slice, then… I picked up my fork and knife and dug in. Actually dug in. Like I’m going to eat all of this and complain if someone takes it away from me before I’m done, digging in.

And it was great. The Nutella reminded me of France and how I once ate a heaping spoonful of it while reading all of Life of Pi in one afternoon. The stawberries reminded me of summer and the time I ate an entire carton all by myself underneath the deck when I was nine. (Pippa, if you’re reading this, sorry for blaming you when Mom asked where they all went.) And the challah reminded me of the bakery we used to go to when I was little and lived in Washington.

Pippa talked about how she was going to dye her hair and accidentally said, “Hair is just dead brain cells.” Then, she smacked me when I laughed. I deserved it, but it did hurt. Halfway through the meal, my  dad made everyone tell a joke. When Pippa said, “knock, knock,” I responded, “come in!” After that, I told the joke that had been making my dad laugh all week,”What’s the difference between beer nuts and deer nuts? Beer nuts are about a dollar fifty and deer nuts are under a buck.” Sadly, until a few days ago I thought that the joke was about how deer droppings looked like nuts.

For some reason, after telling a lame joke off a Dixie cup from her childhood, my mom decided to talk about Vladimir Komarov, the first Soviet to travel into space more than once and the first human to die during a space mission (when the Soyuz module crashed after re-entry on April 24 1967). Obviously, this freaked the beegeebus out of me. I do not like heights, and I do not like airplanes. The last time I flew in an airplane I had to be heavily medicated, and I still panicked and ended up accidentally slapping my father. Thus, I do not like thinking too much about space travel. So for the next hour and a half, my food triumph was ignored, and all I could think about was dying in airplane crash. Thanks, Mom.

Happily, I’ve mostly gotten that whole incident out of my head and am now celebrating my food triumph. Because that’s the right thing to do. I’m not planning on becoming an astronaut, so I don’t have to worry about that, right? Yeah, Nutella stuffed French toast with strawberries is so much more important.