“You have zero metabolism.” That is what Dr. S told me when he agreed to take me on. He was an MD and world-renowned. That meant a lot to me then. I was 19 and had been bulimic for years. I’d lied my way through eating disorder support groups and PsyD shrinks, but I’d read Dr. S’s book and I was impressed, so I believed him when he said: “This is going to be miserable for you.”
I’m pretty sure zero metabolism isn’t an actual medical term, but Dr. S was smart to play up the seriousness of my situation. When my blood tests came in he sighed heavily and clasped his chin. “You got lucky, kid,” he said. My cholesterol was really high and I remember something about calcium in my blood, which apparently was bad, but the worst thing was what I’d done to my metabolism. When I was still very thin and dancing, my weight would swing as much as twelve pounds from eating almost nothing and not throwing it up. The day I quit dancing, I ate dinner – one meal – and I gained eight pounds. I was better off at 19 because I’d adjusted to a heavier weight (around 120lbs up from a low of 98lbs) and was purging less, but still, I was terrified of gaining more. At that moment in his office, I longed for my fantasy farm.
My farm fantasy was a constant during those years. Here’s how it goes: Someone, anyone really, discovers my disgusting secret, removes me from my life, and sends me to a farm. I was fourteen when I started dreaming about this farm without mirrors or scales. I would wear baggy work clothes like overalls, and all day, every day, I would farm. That was my great teenage fantasy – forced manual labor. I would relinquish my black tights and work in the fields. I would eat what was served and not puke. I would gain weight – even in the fantasy, I wasn’t a fool – but after enough time, maybe a year or two, my metabolism would heal and my body would start using the food I ate instead of storing it. At the end of my time on the farm, I could be released back into the world and eat like a regular person. That was my dream.
I’m not a doctor, I was a patient, but I still think there was some logic to that fantasy. And ultimately, that’s kind of what happened to me. Also, on that same first day in Dr. S’s office, he banned diet soda, which was a staple of my diet (I drank at least five cans a day.) Again, I’m not a doctor or a scientist, but I do believe giving up diet soda helped. And, as I’ve mentioned, Dr. S allowed me to run – within reason, but still, it kept me moving and forced me outside – so I didn’t immediately blow up as we’d both expected and my face thinned when those weird glands went away.
But I was still far from healed. During the remaining three years of college, my weight fluctuated up (when I ate too much) and down (when I dieted) as much as thirty pounds. It was traumatic. I was recovering, but I still kind of longed for that farm. It wasn’t until I graduated that I found it.
My first real job was on a movie set. I was an assistant camera person, which involves 12-18 hours (really!) a day of hard labor, especially back then when they still shot with 1000′ rolls of 35mm film. (It’s heavy!) I’d arrive on set and eat off the catering truck – eggs usually, because otherwise I’d be too hungry too soon and what was important to me then was being good at my job. I ate the company meal for lunch and stopped at craft service for handfuls of candy throughout the day. I was too busy and too exhausted to care about calories. Yes, I gained weight, but not too much. The physical work kept it in check. Eventually I stopped dipping into that candy, but other than that, I ate a lot as a second AC. I certainly couldn’t diet. After about a year, I found myself at a new lower weight – pretty much the weight I am now, even after two kids.
I wanted to be a filmmaker – and earn a living – I didn’t think then that working on movies was my farm. But looking back, I realize that after those years, I could – and did – eat like a regular person. Sometimes now I wish I hadn’t spent almost a decade doing that job, that I’d gone to graduate school or chosen an executive ladder to climb instead, but maybe I unconsciously fulfilled my greatest wish. I didn’t stay on that road, but as far as eating is concerned it was the reset my body needed to heal.
If you or a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder, contact the National Eating Disorder Association toll free and confidentially at 1-800-931-2237 or go to nationaleatingdisorders.org/find-help-support for help.