Note: This post was originally published on February 26, 2020.
Warning: While this post discusses some important points about eating disorders, weight loss apps, and weight loss as a health goal, it also mentions specific weight in pounds and calorie counts, which can be triggering to some readers. I’ll put two asterisks at the beginning and end of every sentence that includes a potentially triggering number.
It’s December, and I’m sitting in my therapist’s office. My eyes are glittering, my lips are dry—enough that I can feel them sticking to my teeth as I talk, but not so bad that my therapist can see the cracks appearing as our session goes on. I’m gesticulating a lot. I keep my eyes on the painting of the desert on the wall behind my therapist. And I’m cold.
I’m always cold. This is a year-round affair. I usually wear two hoodies (a regular hoodie under an insulated one), slipper socks over my actual socks, and sweatpants over whatever pants I tugged on that morning. Sometimes I wear fingerless gloves as well. I work remotely, so no one really cares if I walk around the house looking like Billie Eilish if her luggage exceeded the airline’s limit and she had to put on three extra outfits just to get on the airplane. But when I go to therapy, I generally take off all my extra layers. Part of me worries that if I show up to therapy in my regular attire, my therapist will immediately think I’m depressed, and will make a note to send my insurance the crisis session billing code. (I don’t know why I care whether she does that, because the copays and insurance costs for crisis sessions and non-crisis sessions are the same. But such is life.) But the other part of me doesn’t take half my closet with me to therapy because my therapist sets her office temperature to 71 degrees, and that’s too warm. Even for me.
But today, I’m cold. I sit on my hands, hoping that the couch and my butt can keep them a little more warm than they currently are, and I excitedly tell my therapist that after I’ve finally downloaded that app we’ve been discussing for a couple of weeks. And I’m a couple days in. **And I’ve lost four pounds already!** And I know that’s a lot of weight to lose in two days, but it’s probably just weird midweek fluctuation. And I’m fine. I have energy! I’m even working out. Yes, Chris, I’m eating more to accommodate for whatever calories I burn while working out. I’m fine.
But here’s the thing. I’m not fine. I’m so not fine.
I downloaded Noom because my health insurance doesn’t cover nutritionists, because I really goddamn wanted to lose weight, because it seemed so rooted in actual science. There are so many reasons that I can tell myself and you to convince both of us that those reasons were legitimate and healthy. But let’s be real here. I downloaded Noom because after seeing advertisement after advertisement after goddamn advertisement, I really wanted to see if it was as non-diety as everyone claimed it was.
I really wanted it to be the last weight loss program I’d ever try, as it claimed it would be. And yes, I know that Noom is not meant to be used by people who have eating disorders. They do warn about that. And that’s issue #1 with weight loss apps: They tell you not to use it if you have an eating disorder, but if you have an eating disorder, odds are that you are a master at lying to yourself, your therapist, your everyone. And I am a master at lying to myself. I told myself that I’ve been in recovery for so long that it didn’t really matter if I had an eating disorder in the past, and honestly, if you have trouble controlling your eating and need to work on your relationship with food (which is the demographic targeted by Noom’s entire business model) wouldn’t that be considered disordered eating? Doesn’t everyone who uses Noom have some sort of eating disorder?
To honestly answer the above question: No. Noom claims that it has 45 million users, and the odds are that at least a few of those people do not suffer from an eating disorder. Beyond that, I take full responsibility for my actions here—I should never have downloaded Noom because I was diagnosed with an eating disorder when I was 14. I’ve been in and out of remission in the 11 years since then, but you never really recover from an eating disorder. You’re always in remission. Relapse is always one wrong move away.
**But here I am, brightly telling my therapist how fine I am, and cheerfully leaving her office to go home and get to work, and that’s when I realize that the one food I eat every single day, a Fiber One Oats & Chocolate Chewy Bar, has 140 calories in it. Noom has recommended that I eat 1,200 calories per day to meet their recommended goal weight for me, which is 130 pounds. I’m 25 years old, and I’m 5’6″. If I eat the Fiber One bar (which has the amount of fiber my gastroenterologist told me to eat per day), I’ll have eaten 11.66% of the amount of calories I can eat today.**
It’s only around 10 in the morning at this point. I’m sitting in my car. My fingers are shaking. I have a meeting to get to. I have to drive home. I’m scared to drive home. I’m scared to drive home. I’m too shaky. I’m too hungry. I’m not hungry. I’m fine! **In eight months I’ll have cut off 85 pounds.** I’m not hungry. I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m fine.
Eight hours later, I shut my laptop for the day. I have no idea if I’ve gotten any work done. I have no idea what I’m going to do for the rest of the evening. I chug some water and sit down on the couch. My fiance asks me how my day was. I don’t remember how I respond. I know that he asks me what’s wrong because I’ve responded in a very terse way. But I don’t remember what I said. So I can’t apologize. I try to, but it’s not enough. Because I don’t remember what I’m sorry for.
I tell my Noom coach, Chloe, that I’m worried that this is not sustainable. I tell her that the one food I need to eat every day is 11.66% of the amount of calories I can eat per day. I tell her that I don’t have the energy to work out. She gives me canned answers every day, roughly 24 hours apart. I can try fiber pills instead of fiber bars. I can plan to work out and eat enough to maintain my weight loss goals. I can do this; I just have to stick with it.
So I stick with it. I look into fiber pills. **Turns out that in order to ingest the amount of fiber prescribed by my gastroenterologist, I would have to take 15 fiber pills per day—and each fiber pill has 10 calories. That’s more calories than the Fiber One bar.** But it’s only eight months. I can do this for eight months. I eat cucumbers and drink water and fall asleep on the couch right after work and say thoughtlessly insensitive things to my friends and pile the blankets on top of my shivering body and I wake up in the middle of the night, terrified, because I just dreamed that my best friend is trying to kill me, but it’s four in the morning, and my best friend lives on the East Coast, and I live in the Midwest, and I don’t see him anywhere, and I’m so tired.
On day four, I binge. I tell Chloe that I’ve binged, and I’d like to learn ways to control myself. I wait for Chloe to answer. I feel like I’m burning. My head is silent. My body is swollen. I wait for Chloe to answer.
She says nothing.
On day five, I binge again. About an hour after, Chloe responds, asking me if I can identify what caused me to “binge”. She puts quotation marks around the word, as if she doesn’t believe me, or as if I’m using a made-up word. But I know what a binge is. And I know that I just did it. Twice. In two days. My body swells with rage. And warmth. And rage.
She doesn’t even try to get me to stay.
Those two binges probably saved my life.
**In those burning, furious moments when I told Chloe that I wouldn’t be using Noom anymore, I realized that 1,200 calories per day is not enough fuel to sustain my human adult body. In those moments, I understood that I weighed 130 pounds when I was 13.** There is no universe in which I should weigh the same amount as I did when I was 13 as a 25 year old with a very different lifestyle.
I watched the pounds fall off the scale while I was using Noom. Sure, that was fun. But then I learned two things:
- Depakote, a medication I had been on in 2013, can mess with your ability to lose weight or feel full even once you stop taking the medication. **I gained 80 pounds in the few months I was on depakote, and even though I’ve lost five pounds here and there, I’ve also gained five pounds here and there.** Even though I’ve worked out consistently in the years since, I have not been able to maintain that weight loss.
- During World War II, 36 men took part in the Minnesota Starvation Experiment through the University of Minnesota. This study was conducted to help researchers understand how to help people all over the world heal from the starvation they endured during the war. The effects this experiment had on the participants were horrific. Reading the list of physical, psychological, and physiological effects was like looking into a mirror—and I had been eating less than the men in the study were allowed to eat. The study was meant to teach people how to recover from starvation, but the physiologist who ran the study also helped popularize BMI as an accurate indicator of health—which it definitively is not.
Finding out that a medication I took 7 years ago was likely having an effect on whether or not I can lose weight was absolutely freeing. Finding out that eating what I considered to be “enough” was starvation was horrifying, and motivating.
In the greatest act of defiance and self-love I have ever seen myself do, I’ve been conducting my own experiment: I’ve been just fucking eating. When I eat, I put my thoughts about eating into a box in my brain, and I let it sit there until I’m done eating. But because the human brain runs off food, and because the human brain can’t function properly when it is being deprived of food, I’ve found that when I put my thoughts in a box in my head and then eat, the thoughts stay in the box.
When my brain doesn’t have food to fuel it, the box cracks open, and all my thoughts about food come swarming out.
This is a common phenomenon during eating disorder recovery: people can’t start the mental aspect of recovery until they have enough nourishment so that their brains can process the recovery, but they can’t eat until they start the mental aspect of recovery. It goes round and round in circles. I wouldn’t recommend bingeing to anyone—in fact, please never take my advice about food. But those two binges probably saved my life because they gave me the nourishment to understand that the few days I spent starving was not going to lead me to a healthy place; in fact, it was going to kill me. It wasn’t my literal best friend who was trying to murder me in my sleep. It was my oldest best internal friend, my eating disorder (I jokingly call him EDdie) who wanted me to die.
And I don’t want to die.
My best internal friend is a murderer. A monster. He’s taken more of my friends than I can count on one hand. And I don’t want to die.
I’ve been eating without my feelings for almost two months now. I haven’t gone on a “lunch” date with EDdie in months. Since I’ve been eating, I’ve had more than enough energy to work and clean and socialize, so I put that energy into working out. For the first time in my life, I know what a workout high feels like, because surprisingly, you need to have enough nourishment fueling your workout in order to do it properly, and feel it properly.
Aside from my eating disorder, I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, hypermobility type, which affects my body’s ability to make connective tissue properly. When I was first diagnosed with hEDS, my rheumatologist told me that once I was able to walk properly and keep my joints from regularly dislocating, I would have to build muscle tissue to do the work in place of my ligaments. My joints are LOVING the fact that I can work out, because they’re finally getting the support they need.
I know what happiness feels like, because these days, I feel it most of the time. I don’t remember the last time I felt this way. I didn’t know I was so miserably unhappy. These days, if I’m in a bad mood, I can trace it to an experience, not a lack of nutrients.
It took 11 years of therapy and journalling and processing trauma and dispelling convoluted coping mechanisms and arguing with my ex-best internal friend to get to this point, but here I am. I eat almost constantly. I work out for two hours every morning. If I don’t eat enough, I don’t work out the next day.I tell my body how precious it is as often as I can. I run, and I love it. I sweat, and I love it. I drink a crapload of Gatorade, and I love it. I can stay awake. I can go to sleep. I don’t dream of murder. I don’t think about my ex-best internal friend, who can rot in the box for all I care. I eat a lot of cookies, and Flaming Hot Cheetos, and salad, and roasted nuts, and fish, and chili, and yogurt, and bananas, and Fiber One bars. Sometimes I just hold my own hands because it’s nice to feel the warmth on them.
I weighed myself this morning, and it’s official: I now weigh more than I ever have in my entire life. I also can run more, and longer, and happier, than I ever have been able to. I can also lift heavier weights. I also want to do all of those things. All of this is evidence of progress that I can see. I can’t see weight. Body composition makes no sense to me. My clothes fit the same as they did that day in December of 2019, when I was sitting in my therapist’s office, telling her that I’m fine. But today is February 26, 2020—two days into National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. I weigh an amount that would have terrified me three months ago, but that doesn’t matter. My best friend isn’t trying to murder me anymore. I know that weight loss apps are created irresponsibly (at the very best). **I know that when I was eating 1,300 calories per day—270 calories less than the men in the Minnesota Starvation Experiment were allowed to eat—a doctor told me that I could safely cut another hundred calories from my diet if I wanted to actually lose weight.** And that is a load of absolute bullshit. I don’t want to eat the very minimum required to survive. I don’t care if I lose weight.
I just want to live.
I don’t want to be buried in a coffin that my 13-year-old self would have fit in. I’m an adult. I want to die in a long time. And when I do, I want to fit in a coffin made for an adult. Because I’m not 13, and I never want to be—or weigh—that amount again.
I weigh whatever. It doesn’t fucking matter.
© Chapin Langenheim, 2020