The independent news organization of Duke University

Reaching for zeroes

CW: Eating disorders

I was still half-asleep when the doctor called. 10 a.m. on a Thursday. I told her the medication was working, not knowing if that meant I should feel happier or just more stable; I told her I was getting enough sleep, while beating myself up for not getting out of bed hours earlier. She asked if I was eating enough, and I recounted my meals of coffee and wine and late-night slices of 99-cent pizza: “I guess.”

Eating disorders are often marked as having an abnormal relationship with food. And while this may be true for some, I never found food to be the problem. It was always, well, the actual act of eating

When I was in 5th grade, I always found myself growing anxious at family dinners. The feeling of biting, the sound of my dad chewing, the cutting and swallowing and repeating of this process made my skin crawl. I couldn’t point to why. I just knew I dreaded dinner. I would pretend to sleep or say my stomach hurt, anything to avoid eating with my family.

In high school, I wouldn’t eat until I got home in the afternoon. In the morning, I couldn’t bring myself to — partially out of a lack of time, and partially out of the fact that school started at seven in the morning. During lunch, I didn’t want my peers to see me eating. It didn’t matter if they were eating too. I didn’t want to carry a lunchbox around all day, to risk my comfort of walking around the halls weightless because I craved food that much. I didn’t want to stand in the lunch line for fifteen out of the less than thirty minutes we had only to put most of it in the trash, feeling unsatisfied and appearing ungrateful for what I had. 

And even now, as I move through the sidewalks of the city and cherish the smells coming out of some of the country’s greatest restaurants, I can’t help but use the expenses of New York City as an excuse to avoid bigger meals. And every time I hear about someone losing weight after moving to the city, I hold on to the hope that I will experience the same.

How utterly selfish this is. I don’t know if I should blame the “thinspo” blogs that occupied my middle-school phone screen, the artificial bodies of people on TV, or myself for admiring them. For relishing in the drug that is being called skinny, for finding comfort in chemicals, for reaching for zeroes. Zero calories, zero sugar, zero fat, size zero. But zero is nothing — it is, quite literally, empty. And that is typically how this disorder makes you feel.  

I have to ask myself, do I have an eating disorder? Or just disordered eating habits? Is there a difference? How does anyone, with a busy work schedule and social life, actually eat three square meals a day? Should I pay a doctor or therapist to answer these questions, or should I continue to spiral in the confines of my (now public) thoughts? 

Although the media has exacerbated this issue, it may also help resolve it. Fortunately, there is no shortage of information on the issue online. Many dieticians and advocates promote intuitive eating, but intuition can be suppressed by years of bad habits. Changing these habits, though, may begin with embracing body neutrality. As described in Susan Sontag’s “The Double Standard of Aging,” women’s physical appearance — and its ability to appear eternally young — has historically been valued over their abilities. Yes, we should love our bodies, but we should also move the emphasis away from what they look like and towards all they can accomplish.  

Soon, hopefully, this will be but one entry in a larger story of recovery. Now, I’m still in the middle of the storm that is learning how to care for yourself in your early twenties. I don’t know how long it will be until I stop looking for the zeroes, but I can focus on the zeroes that are more absolute than they are empty: zero hate, zero guilt and zero tolerance for anything that encourages them. It might just make me a little bit happier, and a lot more stable. 

-Skyler Graham, Recess editor


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