Crouching over the toilet bowl, I stuck the index and middle fingers of my right hand down my throat. I hit my gag reflex, but it wasn’t quite enough to make me hurl. Despite my resolution, my hand jerked back instinctively, vacating my mouth. Why did this part seem so easy when they showed people doing it on TV?
Well, I guess I should start at the beginning.
Hi, I’m Gemma. I have a problem. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to say when you stand up at AA meetings? I’m going to choose not to dwell on that.
So... this beginning I mentioned... It’s a snooze fest. Try not to strangle yourself from the boredom as I make my way through how I used to be such a skinny little thing, eating a carrot for lunch every day, and how the magnitude of stress high school piled on me was the catalyst for why I now eat my weight in junk food. Oh hey! One sentence explanation. Still awake? I hope so, because we’re moving on.
My doctor calls what I do “stress eating,” but I’ve graduated beyond titles. My current predicament is, let’s just say, dire: I am a 5"4′, 202 pound 16-year-old girl, which makes me obese. Like I said, I never used to be this fat. A matter of circumstances led to a lack in self-respect and an inability to make a change which led to a self-destructive pattern of overeating. And now, here I am, a grossly overweight shell of the person I used to be, only shells are typically empty. I’m always full.
It’s a sad cycle of existence. Being overweight makes you feel depressed. Eating is one of the only things that brings you joy. Do you see where I’m going with this?
If you’re confused as to how eating can bring you pleasure, let’s rewind to before my pathetic attempt at hurling up the two McDonald’s cheeseburgers and large fries I had for lunch, rewind a little farther to four days ago at my Aunt Josie’s funeral. The dinner afterwards was a buffet--damn it--and everyone there was filling their plates. I had promised myself that I would be good, that I wouldn’t even look over at anything but the salad bar. But my senses betrayed my mindset, and my scent glands picked up the tantalizing smell of fried chicken, of roast pork in a demi glaze, of smothered mashed potatoes covered in bits of bacon. My eyes swept over the buffet table, and I swear to God my body immediately released endorphins. I dropped my tiny little plate on the edge of the salad bar and made my way into the buffet line.
When I entered the line again twenty minutes later holding a new plate, my younger cousins all giggled at the kid’s table. I heard my mother whisper at them furiously, “If you had known Aunt Josie like Gemma did, you would be stress eating, too!”
But I knew the reality. It wasn’t stress making me do this, it was the longing to feel something other than the numbing sadness at being the way I was and feeling helpless to do anything to stop myself from continuing the cycle.
Round and round I go, on the carousel ride from hell, spinning until…
I didn’t even have to stick my fingers down my throat, but the contents of my lunch came pouring out of me like a fast food fountain. Not quickly enough, I grabbed at the stray strands of hair that had escaped my haphazard bun, getting the dirty, bile-covered hairs mixed in with the clean ones, not caring because I was emptying my stomach with surprising success. Tears streamed down my cheeks as I choked on the taste of my last upchuck. I had to give it to television screenwriters… they sure knew how to make crap look glamorous.
See, before you go judging me or believing I have an eating disorder, I want to tell you a bit about my life. They say it’s not my fault, but I know the difference between a conscious decision and poor impulse control. There isn’t one. What they mean by “it’s not your fault” is the latter of the two, but it doesn’t really matter either way. Whether it’s my fault it got this bad (it is) or not, it’s definitely my fault that I never stood up to myself to discontinue the cycle. My fat self is a bully kicking my thin self’s ass to the ground every time I try to make a change. It’s such a pathetic sight, because thin me doesn’t even have the courage to fight back or run away.
So I wallow in self-pity for a while, until my mom put a giant piece of strawberry cheesecake in front of me. “Oh my God, Mom!” I cried out, startling her. “Do you want me to be a walrus?”
She put a hand on my shoulder and stared at me for a moment. “You are not fat.”
When she walked away, I began to cry, shoveling forkfuls of cheesecake into my mouth. These are the worst reassurances that my mother could possibly give me. They grant me permission to gorge myself, and I do it. I’m a food addict, and my mother is my enabler. Worse, my mother is my dealer.
I don’t have a witty transition here, but two days pass. I’m sitting in the cafeteria, alone as per usual, because a girl who doesn’t respect herself or her body doesn’t deserve friends. At least that’s what Karla said when she ended our friendship. She just didn’t want to be seen with the fat chick. That wouldn’t have stung so much if we hadn’t been friends since the second grade. Mom told me I didn’t want to be friends with someone so stuck up. The funny thing is, I didn’t blame Karla. I wouldn’t want to be seen with me either, I guess.
Anyway, I’m getting lost in bad memories. Two days ago, cafeteria, alone… A girl with red hair and pigtails, almost as round as she was tall, came over to me at the lunch table.
“Can I sit with you?” she asked.
I blinked stupidly. “Sure?”
I had never seen this girl before, but the table wasn’t really mine so I couldn’t tell her to go away.
She seemed excited, like she wanted to talk but couldn’t say words. She just kept taking big bites out of her peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
“Are you new here?” I asked.
She nodded enthusiastically, but still didn’t say a word. That poor sandwich was gone before she’d had a chance to take a couple breaths.
“What’s your name?”
“Amanda,” she answered. Then she looked around, as if she were conspiring with me, and dropped her voice to a whisper. “You were the one throwing up in the girl’s bathrooms on the second floor a couple days ago. Do you do that a lot?”
My heartbeat picked up a notch. I was sure I’d been alone.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Amanda shrugged. “I was going to ask you if maybe you could teach me.”
No, no, no. “Why would you want that?”
The pigtailed girl smiled a little shyly. “Look at me,” she said. “I want to eat without feeling like a cow. Don’t you want that?” A small gasp escaped her. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean--”
Of course I wanted that, but I still accidentally/on purpose spilled my chocolate milk container down the front of her shirt and pants.
At least I admitted overeating was an issue. Pigtails just wanted an easy out. I couldn’t reprimand her, though. I’m the one who actually took that shortcut once.
I could try to blame everything on societal pressures and economic manipulation, like when your family asks, “Do you wanna get pizza tonight?” or when the drive-thru attendant asks, “Would you like to make it a large for twenty cents more?” Impulse control my ass. I decide to say “yes” to those questions, not some uncontrollable urge in my brain. I want that pizza. The thought of the melted mozzarella makes my mouth water and eating it is like a spiritual experience. I don’t need that large, that’s why I ordered a freaking medium, but twenty cents seems such a small price to pay for happiness. Add the upcharge to my order.
I don’t do this because others have forced me to. I don’t do this because I’m a pig. I do this because I’m stuck in a hole filled with food, and the only way I can see of getting out is to eat it all.
This can be an addiction, yes, but I shouldn’t need food to bandage my emotional wounds, because it just causes more to rip open and bleed.
If this were a sin, I’ve done my penance. I think even God would agree.
I am Gemma, and I have a problem.
It doesn’t seem so funny anymore, does it?
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