On Saturday 19 July 2008, I made a momentous entry in my diary.
11 pm, xx kg. I am terrified. Not least by my great hunger. Why eat more if it just makes you hungrier? But I'm calm too. I've done, so far, just what I'm meant to. For the first time in years, I ate a ‘meal' outside and in the daylight.
On this day, I began to eat 500 calories more than my usual amount, according to the plan of measured weight gain agreed at the eating-disorders clinic: eating that much more, one gains approximately half a kilo per week, they told me. For weeks after, that terrifying hunger, present more or less all of the time, was the most real consequence of my new regime. When everything was as it had been, and there was simply no option of eating anything till a whole day's (or night's) work was over, my hunger had been mine: it was what I had chosen; I knew it like my oldest friend, it held no horrors for me. It was awful, in its ever-present filtering of everything - everything I did was seen and felt through the lens of hunger -, but it was completely predictable.
This new hunger now, on the other hand, was something completely different. It crept up on me and pounced and screamed like a wild cat. I felt helpless against it, rather than being its mistress, because I hadn't chosen it: I had chosen to eat, and the last thing I had expected was this. It made me panic, because the only way to silence it seemed to be by eating more, but then if I ate more, perhaps it would only get worse, and perhaps I would never be able to stop eating, and I'd eat and eat until I was fat but still hungry, and... Everything my life had revolved around was thrown up in the air by the simple fact that now I had decided I didn't want to live my whole life hungry, I was hungrier than ever. There didn't seem any way out.
Nonetheless, the actual eating was a simple yet miraculous pleasure:
I woke at two, sorted my bike, then lit the oven and heated up the pain au chocolat. And sat on the front porch to eat it, in fitful sunshine, and ate it quickly and with enjoyment, and brought in my plate and set off on my bike ride.
The pastry disappeared in an instant; a dozen delighted mouthfuls, and it was gone. (It was brief, but it was profound, that self-sufficient moment of eating; in this post I've talked a little about how.) And the rest of the day - till my new teatime snack - was to be just the same as ever. It felt remarkably normal, that unheard-of act of eating breakfast. And all through recovery, passing all these milestones of eating and drinking - the first lunch with my mother and brother, as in the old days; my first birthday meal actually joining in, and Christmas; my first steak with my father; the first night without any last-of-all chocolate to help me sleep - all these acts have been striking in their feeling of ordinariness. So often, it's been almost as though I never stopped, as though these ten years of ever more restrictive anorexia never happened, so right and natural and easy has resuming normal eating been. In part that's been because friends and family welcomed me back so naturally - though the marvelling was there too. But partly, I suppose, my body was all the time craving to be allowed to do all these things again. Those hot bites of flaky pastry and molten chocolate were the first step towards all this; yet that day, everything then continued more or less as ‘normal':
I felt OK cycling; not especially different from usual ... though no ability to think coherently at all, or about anything other than food. Yet I couldn't help but be pleased by today's [lower] weight, even though it means I've got still further to go than it might have seemed yesterday. I know that deep down I want to eat more as I'm meant to, and for it to have no effect. I'm terrified by the hunger because it's so clear why people flip over into binge-eating and bulimia. Once you've opened the floodgates, what is there to stop the great flow of appetite? Only it's not flood gates, it's a small paddle that's been opened in the great wall of self-restraint; and as S. [my mother] said in a text this evening, having sent a lovely one this morning, wishing me well in my new life, I should just use the hunger to eat the 500 extra calories, and then stop. And I think that's what I've done. The danger is almost over, now Highlights [low-cal chocolate drink] and GoAhead [‘yoghurt break bar'] and the rest of my satisfying food are imminent.
Nonetheless, despite the unexpected sense of normality - or perhaps because of it - another thing I noticed straightaway was the lack of the mental equilibrium that I'd carefully erected for myself over the years: I couldn't stop thinking about food, because nothing was stable, or obvious, anymore. Initially, with the increased intake, my weight only dropped (by about 1.5 kg over the weekend). And that strange fact made things easier. I wondered hopefully whether maybe some magic was coming to my rescue, and I could eat and eat and only get lighter; I thought maybe my body hadn't any use for more food, and would reject it whatever I did. I didn't care much why; I just watched the numbers go down with relish. I felt I was being brave and good by eating, but not reaping any ‘costs' - so I felt able to be braver and braver in the future. It was another three weeks before the weight was consistently above the level where it had consistently been before, and by then I'd had time to get used to the idea that there was no such thing as magic going on here. My poor shocked - if delighted - body and digestive system had just needed a little while to adjust.
So, after that first breakfast pastry, I came back from college and shopping, and then it was already time for more food; I tried to resist it a little longer, but because there were no rules, waiting was excruciatingly difficult:
I made tea, and got out my custard tart, and sat down with laptop, and began to work, but could think only of the tart, so found a good bit [of an academic book] to read carefully, and ate it, before my tea; and it was glutinous and I verged almost on nausea very briefly, as I hadn't at all earlier; but mostly it was lovely too, and made me feel a bit better - if just because I could stop thinking about it. ... E. [my best friend] has rung, and enjoyed the strangeness of his steak-frites [read about our little foody pact in this post], and offered to come with more supplies - Krispy Kremes on Tuesday, is the plan. He's so heartbreakingly kind.
It was fun, in between the episodes of solitary fear, having a friend to choose silly foodstuffs to make up my new daily allowance, and to talk about food-related things with a new sense of reality and lightheartedness and possibility.
Nonetheless, I felt too fragile to talk to another friend who rang; this was only the first day, and everything had changed, even though nothing had: it was late, and I was deathly tired; I needed my dose of chocolate, I didn't know what fullness was. But there would be breakfast again in the morning:
3.30 am How early it is! How tired I am. I think I look forward to my breakfast - or just to the fact of having breakfast. Feel slightly overstuffed and tummy-achey now, without of course being full. A long sleep now.