“When I was a senior in college, I lived many American women’s dream: I ate whatever I wanted to and lost weight. Not only that, but the more I ate, the more weight came off. Clothing was loose that had fit snugly just months before, and I had to use a belt to keep my favorite pair of pants from sliding off my waist. Of course, other strange things were happening as well. I was tired all the time, my head felt like it had been stuffed with cotton, I was ravenously hungry but nauseated after meals, and I kept finding tickets in my pockets for performances that I’d forgotten that I’d gone to.
I attributed my symptoms to having just been dumped.
“I can’t believe he broke up with me!” I said one night to Marie, my best friend and college roommate, as I gnawed on an oversized chocolate chip cookie. “I was supposed to be the one who hurt him.” I wiped a crumb off my chin, then ripped off a piece from a loaf of bread and smothered it with butter. “Do we have anything else to eat?”
It was as if I were on heavyweight crew. After waking up to a breakfast of two bananas covered in peanut butter, I ate a scone as a mid-morning snack before devouring three slices of bread with Muenster cheese, a cup and a half of chickpeas and yogurt with raisins, a plate of pasta and an ice cream sundae. And then only a cup of tea and a plateful of cookies stood between me and dinner, after which I could have my before-bed snack.
I also couldn’t stop drinking. Not alcohol, but water. Cups and cups of it. I drank upwards of a gallon a day and went to sleep fantasizing about the glasses that would await me when I woke up, ice cubes sparkling in the morning light. As a result, I constantly had to pee. I surreptitiously disappeared into the bathroom after every meal, a habit which, when added to my binge eating and weight loss, made it seem that I was bulimic. Lectures now necessitated an aisle seat; conversations could last no more than twenty minutes. Even sleep was not a refuge. Sabotaged by the four glasses I had drunk at dinner, I woke up upwards of three times a night on the verge of wetting my bed, and made up for the liquid I’d lost by lapping water from the bathroom faucet on my way back to my room.
Wondering if I were the only one suffering, I casually brought up my thirst in conversation, as if I were at a party trying to subtly gauge whether the host also did cocaine.
“You know, it’s the funniest thing,” I’d say at lunch, wolfing down a turkey club with extra mayonnaise. “I’m feeling a little thirsty. Is anyone else feeling, you know, a little thirstier than normal?” When no one responded, I’d have to act like I wasn’t into water, either, and come up with another excuse for why I kept sneaking into the kitchen, where I’d duck behind the soda machine and chug another sixteen-ounce glass.
When it became clear that none of my other friends were falling asleep with visions of Italian sodas in their heads, I chalked my thirst up to my appetite (surely I needed liquid to balance out my food), and my appetite to my depression. The fact that I was losing weight while eating 7,000 calories a day was a bit harder to explain, but as I lost first five, then ten, then fifteen pounds, I hypothesized that I had found dieting’s holy grail: if you stopped worrying about your weight, it would go away on its own.
One afternoon, after weighing in at my lowest weight since eighth grade, I decided to reward my (lack of) efforts with a plate of cookies, as if I were on some bastardized carbohydrate version of the Atkins plan. I had started dating a new guy, I looked good in a bikini—I obviously deserved nine mint Milanos and seven chocolate-dipped grahams. Forget the fact that my vision was so blurry that I couldn’t see, and waves of nausea rippled through my body. I gave my new boyfriend what he called a “sweet kiss,” tottered back up to my room, vomited into our communal toilet, and collapsed into bed. As I lay on my back, staring up at the ceiling, I thought to myself, “Wow, I actually just tossed my cookies.” Then I needed to pee. . . . ”