The waiter placed what looked like a mountain of meat on a plate in front of me.

“Here is the pulled pork and brisket combo.”

I watched as my order went to my date “and the grilled chicken salad with dressing on the side,” gets placed in front of her. An awkward silence ensued.

“Fuck, not again”

I thought to myself. Unfortunately this mix-up wasn’t the first. When you’re only a couple months out of treatment for anorexia you’re faced with situations like these. In a way you can’t blame the waiter, he was going off what he’s experienced, the man gets the big platter of meat while the woman gets the low calorie salad. But this order was an exception.

My date and I gave each other an awkward smile and switched plates. I scream inside. She will just think I eat healthy. I almost break down and vomit up my whole life story.  Getting out of a treatment program which was filled only with  women for a disorder that is predominantly  found in women  means you aren’t too emotionally secure. Hell, I probably shouldn’t have been dating. You gotta love yourself first, right? We finished our dinner and ended with a hug.

On the drive home I was so lost in my own thoughts. I kept thinking, “what is wrong with me?” and “If I could just be leaner everything would be better”. The unfortunate reality of receiving treatment is that treatment doesn’t end when you’re ready for it to end, but once you’re at a “clinically healthy” weight, insurance will stop footing the bill, so it’s bye bye. You’re kind of on your own after that.

I remember coming home and seeing my parents. They were happy to see me going out, dating, and acting like a normal twenty-something. I walked directly into my room took off my shirt and looked in the mirror. There was still a little edema 1 from the re-feeding phase. Blurred lines of definition looked back at me.

Part of me saw a frail body and another saw a big body. Not fat, but big. At 5’9 and 130 I was far from “big”. I sat at the end of my bed and started crying until no tears were left. Eventually I slipped into sleep.

I have learned that situations like this are going to happen, and that sometimes eating that plate of meat isn’t such bad thing. And whether you’re a male or female the hurt, hate, and loneliness of an eating disorder or body image still feels the same.

Writing has helped, though. When I was writing “When Was Your Last Period” my professor, who suffered from a similar disorder many years ago said to me, “It’s always going to be there, but eventually other things become more important.” She was right. I started working and couldn’t deal with the low energy and terrible concentration that came with self-starvation. I met a girl that I’m head over heels in love with and would rather spend a Sunday in bed with her than go for my run (plus she cooks the most amazing food I’ve had). So yes things have become more important. Do I still wish I was leaner? Yes. Do I sometimes fall back into bad habits, yes. But am I now being more proactive about not keeping up with those bad habits? You bet your ass.

We naturally compare ourselves and criticize ourselves. Every magazine cover, especially those directed towards women, has some article or dedicated section to looking leaner, tightening your stomach, losing 15lbs, etc. Society tends to have this idea that we automatically become a better person if we have a certain waist size. We know this because we treat those people better for no particular reason, other than how good looking we think they are. And I might sound like every self-help book out there but YOU AREN’T THE NUMBER ON THE SCALE.

When you let that define you, and let it control how you define others, you’ve lost touch with what is important. I heard that again and again when I was losing weight and never internalized the lesson. It took a chicken salad (of all things) for it to finally click. So let me save you the trouble (and medical costs, if I can): love your body and love yourself–because if you don’t, who else will? And FYI, the dressing doesn’t always need to be on the side. You’ll live…

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  1. a general response of the body to injury or inflammation

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