It’s taken me years to come to terms with and be open about the fact that I have struggled with controlled eating. Like anyone who has a disorder or addiction, the last thing you want anyone to know is how bad it is. At the time, about four years ago now, I told very few people what was going on. It was easy because I only lost about fifteen pounds. I never got below an “average” BMI for someone who is 5’6” (Trust me, I’ve googled it.) I never looked “too thin.”

I dated guys who didn’t know that laughing about how my belly jiggled wasn’t okay. I can’t really blame them though because I didn’t even have the confidence at the time to get mad about it. I can’t remember who it was who told me he thought Kirsten Dunst was fat. I don’t blame others for my health issues, but I will never un-hear these comments.

I told my most-fit best friend that I’d lost five pounds and she told me she was proud. I distinctly remember this conversation because we screamed it over a dance floor at a club. The one with the best dance floor where I always ordered vodka and diet red bull. I remember my mom being concerned when she caught me counting edamame, picking them methodically out of a scratched glass bowl.

It’s so easy to control all your food when you live alone. I remember I was writing poems and sending them to a friend weekly. I wrote one called “Birdsong.” I sent it to him and explained I was writing about anorexia. “Don’t worry, I’m eating!” I typed in the message box before sending the attachment. “This is not cry for help!”

These things were mostly true. I definitely did not want anyone worrying. I was eating. If I had plans meet someone in the evening for pizza and beer, I just wouldn’t eat breakfast or lunch. As long as everything added up on My Fitness Pal at the end of the day, it was fine. “I trust you!” he replied. I don’t blame him.

Instagram taught me a lot. Instagram taught me that frozen grapes are a great snack and that there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of accounts that will give you inspiration to lose weight in both healthy and unhealthy ways. The accounts, which featured emaciated young girls and tiny dinners of iceberg lettuce, were both disturbing and intriguing at the same time. I couldn’t stop looking at them.

So I bragged about my calorie intake on Instagram like they did. 150 calorie lunch! I posted a picture of a hard boiled egg on toasted low-calorie bread with just a bit of mustard. Mustard has about five calories a serving. Apples have forty-five. A tablespoon of half and half has twenty. A tablespoon of olive oil has one hundred.

You learn to love the foods that have nothing. Coffee. Mustard. Certain brands of hot sauce. Eggs that are hard boiled or poached are only seventy calories. Carbonated drinks are good. Seltzer and diet sodas are filling because of the bubbles.

I only flushed food down the toilet once. I never intentionally threw up.

I knew I was starting to get better when I stopped measuring a tablespoon of half and half into my coffee. When I stopped poring wine into a measuring cup before a wine glass. When I stopped counting edamame. For a short summer, I lived with a girl I barely knew but instantly loved. We spent our nights smoking and made mac and cheese when we got the munchies. This helped.

Ultimately, I realized I needed to make a change. I realized my compulsive behavior was coming from somewhere besides being thin and losing weight. I said goodbye to people who were bringing a toxic energy to my life. I moved to a different country. Still, there was a moment when I reconsidered moving abroad because the foods and labels there would be unfamiliar and my diet tracker wouldn’t recognize them. Was it worth it to travel somewhere where I couldn’t record my calories?

As I write this, I am drinking a beer (it’s an IPA so it’s probably about 250 calories) and I just ordered Chinese take-out. I don’t know how many calories are in the takeout and that’s okay. I’m 130 pounds, which is a normal BMI. I don’t have a goal weight. I work out regularly. I’m okay. I still look at the calorie content on everything I buy from the grocery store. I know which pre-made salad at Trader Joe’s has 300 calories (with dressing) and it’s the only one I buy because it’s the lowest. One time I picked up normal almond milk instead of unsweetened by accident and I used half as much in my cereal and coffee because it has twice the calories. It’s still a real thing. It’s something that both keeps me healthy and looms as an unhealthy temptation. Either way, it’s a part of my story.

This is the poem:

It is safer here.
Apart from the spark of achievements and spontaneous vacations,
I am searching for a small, heated space—
it doesn’t matter where
a patch of sunlight on a wood floor
or a bath.

“This is easy,” you say
but you don’t understand—
doing nothing (like this)
is a skill.

The control (once mastered) is addicting.

Their presence means Spring and I envy them
For Biblical reasons.

Caroline Higgins

Caroline Higgins (’11) lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she spends the vast majority of her time teaching English Language Arts. You may also find her at barre exercise classes or playing (and losing) at bar trivia. She continues to be inspired by the energy and diversity of New York City and the beauty of that certain slant of light.

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