Walking with Anorexia.
Anorexic genes thrive in calorie deficits! See, I loved to walk. I would walk from Tribeca to the Upper East Side. I would walk from the Upper East Side to the Financial District. I would walk from Midtown to Brooklyn. I truly loved walking. I walked more and more as I got sicker and sicker. You’re likely to think there is nothing bad with walking. It’s actually beneficial from a health standpoint. When my dad would visit me, he reported I had so much energy, trotting all over the city. When my friends would hear about my strolls in the park, while they were fighting an incredible hangover, they would say “good for you, it is healthy, and refreshing for the mind”. I never thought it was a problem, until I understood it was a huge one. It’s anorexia creeping in, whenever, wherever it can.
I never exercised. I thought it was ludicrous given my obscenely low weight. I wasn’t actively trying to loose it. Yet something about being active felt so good. Understanding the biology behind anorexia helped me understand the compulsion in better light. I found it really hard to accept my illness given the stigma behind it. Because I really was not trying to loose weight, I was not trying to look a certain way, I was not doing these things because I was a perfectionist, or used it as a “coping mechanism”. I was doing it because it felt good. Not eating felt delightful, moving felt euphoric. Clearly, anything that put my body in further caloric deficits hit me like a high. It felt right, nothing but a natural desire. That’s how anorexia presents itself. It’s an addiction to all those “feel good” sensations triggered by a reward system in the brain, whereby surpassing hunger and staying active become pathological.
I was out with friends in the Lower East Side one night. I decided I didn’t want to stay, and planned to walk back home. A one-hour stroll, mind you, at one in the morning. Then, another friend called me to go join her in Brooklyn. I contemplated walking the Williamsburg Bridge, again, at one a.m. It seemed like a perfectly normal possibility. I was not drunk, nor impaired. I just constantly wanted to move. There were quite a few parties I left –by myself – to go check out others ones. In retrospect, staying still made me tired and going home to rest, I couldn’t do. My conscious mind declared it was fear of missing out (FOMO) and I stayed convinced that’s all it was. I party hopped and favored those places where we were dancing, as opposed to chilling by the bar, since drinking in stillness, was no longer my thing.
While many experience exercise addiction alongside the avoidance of food, the compulsion to “work out”, per se, doesn’t have to exist. There are so many ways for anorexia to sneak into your day. I always wanted to walk places, and I couldn’t stand being home. I was meeting people back to back, always on the go, barely catching my breath. It didn’t matter whether I did or didn’t want to do something. Something was better than nothing. There are so many examples I want to share, because in hindsight: OMG! I left the movies, because I was hungry. Instead of going to eat, I walked home for about an hour and a half. I was on a trip in London and woke up early in the morning. I was hungry, had some breakfast but couldn’t stand waiting in inertia for my flight, and the possibility of lunch plans materializing in the meantime. I paid money to change my flight, to leave early. I needed to move, I needed to flee hunger.
It wasn’t always this severe, it took years to progress, but the last few months, prior to hitting “rock bottom”, were pretty terrible. I reached the delusions of anorexia. I convinced myself I was on the path to recovery, writing down my every meal, my every bite, but sticking to empty calories, terrified of food, petrified of eating more. At that same time, as I supposedly increased my intake, my compulsion to move grew. I didn’t realize it at the time. Today I can see that the more weight I lost, the more I wanted to be active. To walk home from work, to take unjustified strolls for reasons such as to go “buy food”, visiting multiple supermarkets but coming back empty handed.
By the end, I was so unwell; I could barely leave my building. The calmness I felt, waiting for my days to go by, to enjoy some ridiculously unappetizing meal, like chopped lettuce and steamed broccoli was what my weekends were all about. Seeing people I no longer cared doing and most things, I had no energy for. I became an emotionless girl, with no other interests but starving herself. I wasn’t feeling too well. I wanted loneliness, denying the haze I was in.
The memory of those days makes me so sad. Anorexia is truly a sad existence. But that loneliness I felt, that haze I lived in, they saved me. My pain in the present overrode the pain to change. I got help.