the ‘rexia’ series:
I didn’t realize how much the rexia series was going to affect me until I started looking through old pictures me knee deep in my eating disorder. Ew. I feel so sick looking at these pictures and knowing that behind the smiles and goofy faces, I was a zombie. Even though I was the textbook definition of “alive,” I felt dead inside. I was a slave to the calories I consumed — nothing else mattered to me. Perfection and thinness were my whole life.
Here’s a picture of me from the fall of 2007. I look pretty good, right? Happy, healthy… normal. To someone who doesn’t know my story, this picture seems pretty typical for a college-aged American woman studying abroad. But let me reveal to you the reality underneath.
When this picture was taken I was studying in London and had actually just been diagnosed with EDNOS about six months prior. I’d gone through nutritional counseling, gained some weight, and was trying to learn how to live a normal life. I didn’t know my weight at the time (because I wasn’t allowed to know) but I did know that it was higher than it was a few months before and that it was hard for me to be comfortable knowing that.
I was also aware that alcohol has a crap load of calories in it, and I was living in a foreign country amongst people who knew nothing about me or my past or, most importantly, my eating disorder. So, the day this picture was snapped, I did something that I did countless times before I went through therapy: I severely limited my food intake throughout the day. Since I knew I would be going out to the bars that night, I concluded that I couldn’t “afford” to have both the calories in food and the calories in alcohol in the same day. I had to pick one and, for the sake of not being the one awkwardly sober person at the bar, I chose alcohol. I barely knew the people I was studying with so, in my mind, I was in the clear. I felt relieved to know that, unlike when I was in counseling, no one in London was monitoring my meals, so it could be my little secret. Besides, I’d been eating way more since my therapy ended, so I figured it wouldn’t matter much. It wasn’t really “relapsing” right? It was only me “making a smart choice” about my daily calorie intake.
Looking back now, in a much healthier state, I can confidently say that (duh) I wasn’t making a “smart choice” at all. I was making a poor, unhealthy, stupid choice. Not eating food so I didn’t consume too many calories via alcohol? Cool, Lindsay, because that makes sense. Make sure to avoid all nutritional fuel for your body so you have enough calories left in your bank to consume pint after pint of poison. Smooth move.
When I learned that this behavior actually has a name, drunkorexia, it became clear to me that I hadn’t reinvented the dieting wheel by substituting food calories with alcohol calories. Once I was aware of the problem I started seeing drunkorexia publicly rear its ugly head on campus, particularly within the Greek system. I was in a sorority in college (please suppress all judgment) and I distinctly remember being at a frat party and hearing a girl in another sorority brag about not having eaten all day to “save up all [her] calories for tonight!” In the same night, I heard a frat brother talk about how he was going to need to spend three hours in the gym the next day to work off all the alcohol. Three hours? Really?
I can’t speak for everyone, but I know that for me, the vast majority of my time during my college years was spent trying to figure out where exactly it is I belong on this planet. Who am I? Who are my friends? What are my values? What are my passions? The fact that girls and guys around me were openly talking about substituting food for alcohol solidified what was really important to my peers — to drink and party a lot but still remain skinny, pretty, and (because I went to a university that carries its very own garnet and gold strain of Chlamydia) easy. The reality was that if you’re not these things, it’s only because you’re not trying hard enough, and no guys are going to care about you. Well, I wasn’t one known for not trying hard enough. I tried plenty hard and took that random sorority girl’s advice to choose alcohol over food.
Enter drunkorexia. Since I was already dealing with EDNOS on a daily basis, I wasn’t eating enough as it is, which meant I had to eat even less to make sure the drinking I did at college parties (gotta fit in, you know!) didn’t make me “fat” and, therefore, not pretty, popular, or easy. I thought this would make it easier for me to fit in and get guys to date (although, even to this day, I can’t flirt my way out of a wet paper bag filled with sex offenders.) But so many other girls were doing this it was hard to keep up. No matter how little I consumed in a day, there was always another girl at the party who was eating/drinking less than me which made her prettier, skinnier, and more popular than me. Sigh. It seemed to never end.
Bleh. This happens. This is real. It’s not going away. It needs to be addressed because, pardon me for being blunt, it’s really freaking stupid. (Remember my disclaimer? If not, now’s a good time to go over it for good measure.)
Why is it that, in an environment where kids are really just trying to be accepted, such strict standards exist? I’ve been out of college for three and a half years (holy time warp, really?) and I now know that being accepted by frat guys and envied by dieting sorority girls is a vapid, disgusting, empty desire. But at the time, it was a very real need. So much so, in fact, that it created a widely-accepted movement to forfeit nutrition for a keg of Natty Light.
The reason I chose to write about drunkorexia is because I know for a fact that some of you reading this have actually done this in the past. You may not have known that what you were doing was dangerous, or even something along the lines of an eating disorder. That’s because you’ve been conditioned to believe that this is somehow normal and accepted.
Well, let me tell you something. You know what else was normal and accepted at one point in our country’s history? Slavery. And if there is anything I can tell you about disordered eating, it is that a person struggling with it is a sad, lonely prisoner who is chained to unceasing pain, heartbreak, isolation, and (for some) death.
Do not be a slave to this. Not drunkorexia. Not anorexia. Not bulimia. Not dieting. Not any destructive pattern.
Your chains were broken long ago, beauties. Your bond has been posted. But it’s up to you to actually step out of the prison into freedom.