When you look at yourself in the mirror, you focus only on your face. You don’t like what’s below it. Your neck has skin folds that you wish you could stretch out. You have a broad chest, which makes you look huger than you are; you regret them.
You never look at your belly; you always pull it in, you hide it, you want to get rid of it. Every time you sit, you rearrange your shirt, so that the flabby folds don’t show. You want to cut them all off with a sharp knife.
When you sit, walk, lie down or pretty much do anything, you are reminded of how huge you are. You cannot walk without your thighs brushing against each other. You wish you had that sexy thigh gap. Those thighs that don’t squeeze even into a size 40, you wish they would wither away.
Yes, it’s a cliché, but your body is your enemy. You don’t want it; you want to cut off large chunks of it. Your body is not who you are, you want nothing to do with it. You want to change everything about it.
So, you start. You fight yourself until you look in the mirror and no longer recognize who’s looking back at you. But, you can’t stop, you no longer know who you are, or who you wanted to become. You can’t help but continue—you want to become somebody who can be recognized.
It all begins with stopping eating. You want to eat, but you force yourself not to. Refusing to eat is at the same time the toughest and the easiest thing you can do. You get fat because of what you eat, so you don’t eat anymore. When you don’t eat, your body will use up all the energy stored in the adipose. So, even if you’re going crazy with hunger, don’t eat—you’ll thank yourself tomorrow when you look thinner.
You look at food, and it’s never looked this amazing before. Ma has made that potato curry you love, but you convince yourself you don’t want it anymore. You convince yourself that you don’t want to eat, and eventually, you actually don’t want to eat. The sight of food, even your favourite egg curry makes you nauseous.
You just don’t want to eat anymore. You have had only one glass of lemon juice (sugarless) the whole day; you’re pleased with how productive you’ve been. Every time you’re dizzy because your blood sugar level is low, you feel happy, like you’ve just made a small achievement.
You’re tired every day now, you can’t stand for more than five minutes, you keep asking your friends if all of you can sit and talk instead of standing. You realize you need to eat something, but it has to be a very little something; you can’t eat too much! You’ll grow fat! One bar of Snickers a day seems the most reasonable, so that is now your diet for a few weeks. A bar of Snickers, or a pair of Twix.
You look at an apple and go “way too many calories in that! Do I really want to eat it?”
You’ve reached a stage where parts of your body you’d never have thought would grow thinner have. You notice how your fingers and toes are no longer round, their bones show through. You are really happy about this. Your wrist has also become thinner. Your cheeks are leaner. You can actually see your collar bones stick out. You can finally feel your ribs, and if you press a little hard, count them too.
Everyone tells you you’ve lost weight, you smile back at them, say yes, and feel immensely proud about it. But Ma and Pa are worried. Their new mission in life seems to be to make sure you eat. Ma complains and even cries about how little you are eating these days. She doesn’t understand that you’ll do whatever it takes to win the war against your own body. And, you don’t want to eat, especially when you are getting thinner, by doing things as you have planned them.
You’ve convinced yourself you don’t want to eat anymore. But sometimes, that chocolate cake looks so darkly good, the paneer so creamy, you just can’t eat. You promise yourself it will be one tiny forkful, but you end up eating like you used to before. You’re reminded of the days when you used to eat as much and afterwards sit reading while the satisfaction of the good food sunk in.
You start eating a lot on rare occasions. You justify this because you know you will not be able to handle the guilt—I’ve starved myself for so long, surely I can eat on this one day. When you won that essay writing competition, when you scored highest in the final exams, the day your article got published, you feel like celebrating. You give yourself that which you’ve denied yourself for so long—food.
You order the cheesiest pizza, every deep fried thing you can think of, you eat multiple courses and don’t just stop at one dessert. When you’re at home and everyone is celebrating you have third helpings of the rice and kaal saaru Ma made because everyone loves it. You’re in a happy mood, there’s good food, everyone is laughing, and eating isn’t such a bad thing after all. On these few occasions, you learn to forget that eating makes you fat.
Soon, you’re eating whenever you’re in a happy mood. You starve yourself all the time, but you binge when you’re unusually happy. When somebody compliments you, when you win that game you have been playing with your friends, you treat yourself to a bar of chocolate or packets of chips. You’re actually eating; you can’t believe it, but you have learnt to shut out the voice the keeps you from eating.
But minutes after eating, you’re rocking with guilt. You can’t bear the thought of having all that food in you, much less letting it all digest and get absorbed.
One day four years ago, you’re sitting in class talking with your teacher about some Hollywood movie whose name you’ve long since forgotten, when she says ‘blah blah blah actor has anorexia nervosa blah blah blah she eats things and then pukes it all out blah blah blah’.
Hey. That’s a neat idea, convenient too. Why shouldn’t you try that, you ask yourself. This way, you get to eat whatever you want, and you’ll grow thinner doing it. Why did she say it was a bad thing?
So that night, you eat quite a lot, Ma is happy that you seem to be finally regaining your appetite. You smile and say she’s a brilliant cook. She smiles back unaware of what you’re planning to do once everyone else has gone to bed.
A little after midnight, you creep into the bathroom, lock the door, and bend over the cream wash basin. You wash your hands, put your left arm on the edge of the sink to balance yourself, and stick your right index finger into your mouth, all the way into your throat.
You make yourself gag repeatedly until you force all that you had for dinner spewing out of your mouth. It’s not easy forcing yourself to puke. Your throat is burning because of stomach acid, you’re revolted by how bad it tastes when the food is coming out, but you still do it. You have a goal to achieve. So in goes the finger again, making you gag and bringing out more of the slimy multicoloured liquid which you cannot believe was what you’d eaten just two hours ago. The bathroom is stinking of puke now, and when you’re satisfied that your stomach is empty again, you clean your mouth thoroughly, drain the sink, wash your hands, and go back to bed.
It feels nice- this new empty, light feeling. You put your hands on your newly empty stomach and fall asleep with a smile on your face.
Soon, it becomes a nightly ritual. And now, you can’t eat, not even a little. As soon as you’re done eating, you can already feel it rising back up, waiting to be purged from your body. You’re scared: what if you’ll never be able to eat again?
So, you stop the purging. You wait a few weeks, all the while starving yourself. And then, you binge out of happiness one night.
The moment that last bite of cheese-burst pizza has been swallowed, your eyes tear up. You cannot believe how much you’ve eaten. The air around you thickens and every breath seems like a herculean labour. Your stomach feels like a 100 kilos has been stuffed into it. Every inch of skin on your body seems like a roll of fat, every breath makes you feel fatter, and when you run to the mirror, you’re convinced your face has bloated with fat because of how much you just ate. You can’t keep the food in anymore, you need to purge.
The finger goes into the throat as you bend over your commode. Purge for that thigh gap. Purge for a flat stomach. Purge to show your cheekbones. Purge to thin your neck. Purge to decrease your waistline. Purge. Purge. Purge. You force yourself to vomit until you’re sweating and breathless, and at the point of bursting into tears.
You put your head up to take a breath, and the tears roll down. What have I done? What am I doing? You see your reflection on the white plastic water tank and don’t recognize who’s looking back at you—that red-eyed, wild-haired boy with bits of vomit sticking to his face.
You put your head back down and continue. This is not who you are. You cannot get fat. You need to vomit the pizza, potato wedges, garlic bread, and cake you just had. You just cannot keep it in, it doesn’t sit well in your stomach.
You’ve just vomited so much, you feel dizzy. That strange numbness that spreads from the base of your skull makes you happy and high. You have reached the climax of purging. It’s cathartic. You feel pure joy; this is a feeling you can get addicted to, and you do.
Your throat is scraped raw from all the repeated nightly puking. You can’t think of food without tasting bile. But still, you eat, because you must, and then purge, because you must. And through it all, you sustain the illusion that you’re doing all this to grow thinner, to become healthy. Fat isn’t healthy, thin is. So, purge now to be healthy next month.
You’re kneeling in front of the commode, at the point of catharsis. Your eyesight turns grey for a second, the CFL light appears dim. You are happy; you’ve just saved yourself from another heavy meal. You had had so much salad for dinner tonight.
You don’t tell any of your friends why your voice is hoarse these days, why you wince when you swallow water or why you want to sit all the time. Everything seems to take too much energy to do—energy you don’t have.
You don’t stop the cycle until you feel threatened. One night, when you’re almost done, you spit out a little blob of something red. As soon as you recognize it as blood, you decide to stop it all, to never purge again. You don’t for a few months, you start running every day, take up yoga classes again. You still deny yourself food. You don’t binge anymore. You feel nauseous when you look at ice cream or cakes. One day, you eat a little too much dinner; chaos seeps back.
Purge. Purge. Purge. Purge. Purge.
You try to stop again. You do stop. You count calories, you balance what you eat. You even allow yourself treats. Don’t eat anything the whole day, eat a plate of Jalebis, and then run it off. There seems to be a balance, like that rare moment on the see-saw when both you and your friend were airborne, each balancing the other out, that pure joy the both of you felt is what you feel when you’ve had a good run and a light dinner.
You’re happy, you don’t want to let go of this balance. But that one extra grain of rice you accidentally had pulls you down with it to the bottom of your stomach, where chaos sits, waiting to rise again.