I haven’t weighed myself since my birthday, January 8. Today is January 16. This is the longest I’ve gone without weighing myself for a long, long time. If I were the average person watching their weight, this would be no big deal. But I have anorexia nervosa, which is an illness that involves an intense obsession with one’s weight, size, and shape. Most people who have this illness weigh themselves a ridiculous number of times a day. Actually, I know a lot, lot, lot of people who have eating and weight “issues” who weigh themselves twice, three times, four or more times a day.
Listen. Let me tell you why weighing yourself trillions of times over and over is really a waste of time, something that shouldn’t be on your worry list, and is taking up needless brain space. But I am only me so I will tell it from my point of view, from the point of view of someone 54 years old, always the shortest kid in the class growing up, and I’d probably be super healthy if I didn’t have anorexia, which, by the way, doesn’t just mean you’re skinny. It’s a medical and psychiatric illness that I have had for 32 years, and I have accumulated a lengthy list of colorful adjectives for it.
I have kept my scale in various places in my apartment, but finally settled for this closet because it’s easy to get it in and out and no one will walk in here and see it. In my closet, it is hidden among my coats. It’s an excellent scale, very accurate. I lucked out when I bought it. I used to think that I’d fall apart if it ever broke. Right now as I write these words I am realizing that should my scale break, and replacing the batteries does no good, I will just toss it out in the trash room, and wrap it up really well so no one knows what I am throwing out. And I realize, too, that because of what I have come to know about my body and my weight, I am not going to go to pieces over a broken scale.
I weighed 87 pounds on my 54th birthday. I wasn’t particularly happy about it. I put the scale back into its hiding place and wrote down the number in my little notebook. I didn’t realize that this would be the last time that I would weigh myself for a long time. It was January 8th and I wasn’t thinking about January 9th. Today was my birthday. I had made it to 54. I was going to wear something really nice today, take the dog for her special Sunday walk, and be on time for church.
For weeks, months, really for a long time, things have been happening, I mean bad things. Not just weakness and fainting and falling-out hair. That’s the kind of thing you hear about. I mean like losing my mind. This whole cognitive thing. No pill will help it because it comes from lack of nutrients to the brain. None of my body has gotten any nutrition and my brain is a body organ just like the rest of them. It is a top priority organ as is the heart. Maybe six weeks ago my toes turned blue. My body had started feeding them a whole lot less because toes are lower priority. A few days ago I took off my boots and saw blue feet.
So yes, I feel sick. I felt a little sick at first, and only for a day maybe, then I’d feel all right again for a good while until I got sick again. But now I’m sick all the time. It is getting more and more suspenseful wondering just how much I’m going to be able to carry on with the basic essentials from one day to the next.
It’s a matter of priorities.
The scale has stayed in the closet for a week now. On the surface, this may make it seem that I have made some kind of progress with my anorexia, but among other things, I have come to realize that all these petty fluctuations are nothing but that: petty. It really makes me laugh when I see that someone was something like 0.3 pounds short of getting a gold star at a weight watchers meeting. Point three pounds? That’s like, you know, don’t wear so many hair clips and you’ll get your freaking gold star. Just don’t put the star on your forehead until after you’re weighed.
First of all, I don’t know if this is true, but probably it is, that the average intestine might have about ten pounds of waste crap in it. It’s nothing to be alarmed about. This is what intestines are for. They are digesting this crap and extracting what they can from it that the body might be able to use. The rest, the stuff the body can’t use, will find the exit eventually.
Now the stomach. When the average stomach is comfortably full, it holds maybe two pounds of food, but is capable of holding six pounds of food.
Bladder. A full bladder holds about 800 milliliters of urine, sometimes more, sometimes less. At 300 milliliters, you will have the urge to pee. So if you really, really, really have to go, two pounds of your weight are in fact the pee in your bladder.
Now I total that to be ten pounds intestines (small and large), up to six pounds stomach, and up to two pounds bladder. So when you get weighed, thirteen, fourteen, up to eighteen pounds of whatever pounds you weigh are in fact the weight of the food you ate that’s waiting to be digested, and waste material that hasn’t come out yet. All of this stuff, this food and waste, is going to vary. If you pee, there is less in your bladder. If you eat, there is more in your stomach. There is all this…this stuff. Our bodies are not unaccompanied.
Okay. My body. People who chronically starve themselves get what is known as slowed peristalsis. This means that my stomach doesn’t churn and gurgle and crack jokes like other people’s, and doesn’t do what it has to do to get food moving into my intestines the way it should. The food just sits there. And sits there. What normally takes maybe an hour and a half can take…I don’t know if there’s any way I can prove it or want to go into detailed description, but trust me, food I ate well over 24 hours ago is still in my stomach. It hasn’t moved. Trust me. It’s there. Same with my intestines. Like they are in slo-mo. The whole system is on standby. This slowed peristalsis is well documented in medical journals on anorexia.
My body. People with anorexia can get edema. Edema is excess tissue fluid. It is not normal and it is not healthy. Edema can happen for many reasons and I imagine each person’s situation is a little different. For me, my ankles swell up and my legs can look very thick in proportion to the rest of me. I can also get edema all over my entire body, including my face. Some people who have anorexia can gain up to 25 pounds of weight from excess fluid in their tissues. This weight generally comes on very fast. This is not “fat cells” or any of that baloney. When I first got edema, I was horrified at my jump in weight, true, but with my elephant legs, these legs that were not mine, I can fairly say that this ended my life as a runner, and I began to have the perpetual feeling that my body had been “ruined.” I get edema from eating certain foods. I can get edema from bingeing. I get edema from having a cold. I get edema every time I have diarrhea or if my intestines are in the least bit grumpy. If I take a laxative, whether it works or not, I get edema. (And no, I don’t abuse them, haven’t for years.) Starving myself gives me edema, too. When I get it, my weight might jump up maybe six pounds, sometimes up to ten.
And then there’s my eating. Or shall I say, not. After a while, I don’t think there’s anything to speak of in my digestive tract, though I don’t know for sure, not having an MRI machine at my disposal. I went through this kind of intermediate phase, where I was eating sort of, and pooping sort of, but when I pooped it was weird. One day when I hadn’t eaten for quite some time, I was thirsty and drank down a couple of glasses of cold water, and I had this strange experience. I felt the entire two glasses of cold, cold water flow right through my esophagus, into my stomach, and straight down, no delay, into my small and then large intestines, where it was still cold, and I shivered. I knew, right then, that I was fucked up.
And I still binge every now and then. But it’s different. Not like in my 20’s, of course. Not even like October when I had a bad case of it. But I still do it sometimes, and now there is something incredibly sad about it. When I’m done, I hide the evidence. I have been hiding the evidence for 32 years. I don’t throw up. I never have. It just sits there now.
So I was writing about why I have stopped weighing myself. I talked about how I am questioning my ability to survive, and wondering where I am going to go from here, how I must, at this point and always, prioritize, as my body is doing, at this point, given that I am underfeeding it. I have explained this whole thing about food stuff, fluid, water, and waste in my body. I can weigh myself twenty, thirty times a day. But fuck it, what am I really weighing? Am I really gaining anything from this? Or am I losing everything?
So the scale has stayed in the closet. And my illness, anorexia nervosa? It needs to be out of the closet more. I have to write down stuff like I’m writing now, get people to open their eyes and think. Is that star on your forehead really worth its weight in gold? Do you really want to be skinny? If you are beautiful in your heart then you don’t need a star on your forehead to prove it.
Yes, I hunger. I have been hungry all my life. But I will not wear gold. It will not bring me any closer to God. I thought when I was 22 if I lost weight God would love me more, but 32 years have passed and a week ago I turned 54 and the scale stayed in the closet because I know now you cannot weigh God’s love.
God never made any promises to me, any guarantees. Until a day or so ago I was convinced that I would die in my sleep. I figured I’d go to bed and never wake up. I now realize that there’s no guarantee it’ll be this easy. People die incredibly difficult, tortured deaths whether they are young or old, sick or well. I was convinced that anorexia would kill me. But maybe not. Maybe I will be murdered by a criminal.
Catholics believe that when people die the Archangel Michael weighs their souls using balanced scales. I assume that like the rest of us, Catholics die and leave their gold behind so the scales won’t get tipped. I figure that there is no scale, not even a fancy one, that will weigh your soul. But maybe the Archangel Michael keeps an extra scale stowed away, and before any of the other angels are up, he secretly takes it out, tucks in his heavenly wings, and steps up, careful not to make a sound.
Next time you think about weighing yourself, think about this scale in the closet, about any scale in any closet, and think about your closet, and your life, and what you want to stay in the closet because it doesn’t really matter anymore, and what you want to bring out. Really think hard about what you want to bring out. I want you to bring it out now. Today. Put down your gold stars if you have them. Life is not to be lived for stars. People love you. You might think it’s not true, but it is. Look around and you will find them. Reach out and love them back.
When you’re ready, close the closet door. The scale, and all its myth, ritual, and seduction, will still be in there, waiting. Just think about what I have said, and carry it with you today, instead of carrying around with you some arbitrary number that represented today’s weight.
It is late and I have spent a long time writing this. I will go to bed soon. I am sick and don’t feel well and need rest. It feels good to get all this down in words and I think it helped me to write all this. I really hope that someone reads this and that I can help someone. It is all that I can do.