Of all of my household chores, I hate going to the grocery store the most. For me, grocery shopping is a tedious, agonizing, and stressful experience. I usually don’t go to the store until I have absolutely nothing edible left in my kitchen. I will gladly dust the furniture, mop the floors, and scrub the toilets, but I normally have to psyche myself up to go grocery shopping. I actually don’t “shop.” I refuse to walk up and down every aisle and look at all the shelves packed full of cans, small boxes, and plastic bags. I basically race through a limited number of aisles and only grab the items I absolutely need. I usually refuse to use a large shopping cart. I limit myself to one of the handheld baskets. Once that is full, I’m done even if I did forget the bread, milk, or eggs. It’s too late…the basket is already full…time to go. I drag myself through the grocery-shopping task while I internally whine and complain like a bored four-year-old child. Believe me, I whined all around the grocery store last Monday as I picked up a few staple foods. Promising myself that I would be in and out of the store within fifteen minutes, I walked in the door, grabbed a small basket, and started to race for the bread section. I grabbed a loaf of wheat bread and then headed towards the produce department. After grabbing a few apples and bananas, I added fresh broccoli and a bag of baby carrots to the basket. Due to the close proximity, I decided to dash over to the Health and Beauty/Pharmacy section next to grab some shower gel. I just needed to grab the shower gel, shampoo, maybe a box of crackers…and I would be finished. Another successful grocery shopping adventure completed.
However, something unexpected suddenly brought me to a complete stop…
I reached up to grab a bottle of shower gel and as I pulled it from the shelf, I saw a small square box fall to the floor and land between my feet. I bent down quickly and picked it up. I was shocked at what I now held in my hands. It was a small, thin cardboard box of laxatives. The box, however, was empty. The container had been opened and the laxatives had been removed. I looked quickly around the shelves but didn’t see the actual product anywhere. I sighed heavily as I stared at the empty box. I knew exactly what this meant. The behavior of stealing laxatives from stores is a known habit of anorexics. Believe me, I know….
Now, I never reached the point where I actually stole laxatives from grocery stores. However, I do admit that my unhealthy habit began by pilfering laxatives from my mother’s medicine cabinet. I started out by just taking two a day. I didn’t think Mom would notice if just two small squares were missing from the pack. However, after a few months, the routine became worse. I began to take the whole box out of the cabinet and hide it in the top drawer of my dresser. At the beginning, I carefully rationed out the small chocolaty squares. At this point, I was taking about six laxative squares a day. It wasn’t until I moved into my own apartment that my actions began to get a little weird. Some days when I even asked myself how I had reached this point as I made a meal out of a full box of laxatives. I would eat the entire box in one setting. I would ask myself how I came to have this behavior.
This is what I can say: I was a fat child who was teased and ridiculed a lot by my friends, siblings, and classmates. My mother continually put me on diets by secretly giving me smaller portions of food. I never really noticed that she was cutting back on my dietary intake. Her system seemed to work, though. I remember glowing with pride at the age of twelve when several of my friends commented on my surprising weight loss.
Unfortunately, though, mom’s method didn’t always work. My weight continued to yo-yo until I was in high school and reached my all time high of 150 pounds. Did the weight fall back off again? No, this time, it just seemed to sit on my body like a 50-pound fleshy ball and chain. I was unpopular in high school, depressed, and stressed, and the fat seemed to take full advantage. I just couldn’t seem to shake the weight off.
Once I graduated from high school and started working my first job, I decided that something needed to be done. I was tired of being bullied and tormented over my size. I was tired of looking at pictures of myself and seeing fat rolls and multiple chins. I was tired of not being able to wear the beautiful, frilly dresses that my sisters were wearing. I was still trapped in large, unfashionable, ugly tents that seemed to just enhance my large size.
Besides the constant jokes about my bulk, there was a deeper, darker reason why weight loss had become so important to me. Like most young women who are molested at an early age, I thought all of the incidents were my fault. I needed to be punished. What better way to punish myself than to take away the very thing I needed to survive. I had no right to food. I had no right to eat. I not only needed to be punished, but I also wanted to make sure that I did not develop breasts or hips. I needed to destroy my very feminine sexuality in order to survive…something needed to be done…something very DRASTICALLY needed to change…
I started trying to make myself throw up after every meal and snack. I would kneel over the toilet in the bathroom with my finger down my throat trying to force the nasty food to work itself back up and out of my body. I was only successful with this activity a few times. Though I really wanted to vomit and clear my system of all the junk I had just shoved into it, puking was just disgusting to me. I couldn’t stand the aftertaste of the bile and the way it seemed to coat my teeth and tongue even after I would brush and use mouthwash. I seemed to have a mental block that stopped me from throwing up everything I ate. That didn’t stop me though from spending many hours sitting in the bathroom with a spoon shoved down my throat. Without much success, I realized there had to be a better way.
That’s when I discovered laxatives. Laxatives would certainly be an easier avenue to weight loss, I reasoned. All I had to do was eat a few small squares of chocolate and all the nasty food with its hideous little calories would come flooding out of my body. What could be easier than that? But it wasn’t so easy. Many times I would miss important lecture information in my college classes or time at work because I could not leave the bathroom. The constant laxative use created endless diarrhea, gas, and severe stomach cramps…but if I was losing weight, if I was losing a lot of disgusting fat, wouldn’t that be healthy, too? I reasoned. Besides, my body would now be flat-chested without hips or a bottom…and I would be safe. The weight loss absolutely needed to happen and I was willing to go to any lengths to protect myself from the teasing and the agony of molestation.
Laxatives, I began to realize, were not enough. Maybe I needed to stop the food from even entering my body. I began to practice the ole “chew and spit” routine. For all of my meals, I would place a small plate of food and an empty cup on the table. I would place the food into my mouth, chew for a moment and then, instead of swallowing, I would spit the chewed food into the cup. I perfected this custom. Take a bite, chew, spit, wipe my mouth, take a bite, chew, spit, wipe my mouth, take a bite…
However, I wasn’t losing weight as quickly as I had hoped. Maybe I just wasn’t moving around enough. I became fanatical about exercising. I would exercise for two hours every day…running, walking, jogging, endless calisthenics.
Ugh….it just wasn’t working! I was 5’6” and still weighted 110 pounds. A 110 pounds! Really? I couldn’t believe it. I would cry every time I stepped on the scale which I did every two to three hours. I wanted to be a hundred pounds. My mother was an attractive woman. She was small and delicate. She was barely 5 foot and weighed around 89 pounds. Everyone seemed to think her tiny size was cute and adorable. I thought she was beautiful. I wanted to be cute and beautiful just like my mother. Not even considering our height difference, I believed that for me to be attractive, I had to be less than 100 pounds. The last ten pounds that hung around my body and stopped me from reaching my goal caused endless stress and anger in me. What was I going to do? I had to lose those last 10 pounds in order to be loved. I had to reach that goal.
I had to stop eating.
I would “fast” for a two or three days at a time. I called it “fasting” when the truth is I just refused to eat. When I did decide to eat, I would feast at the “Sam’s Club Buffet.” My mother had given me one of her Sam’s Club membership cards. On days that I thought I deserved to eat, I would go into Sam’s Club and partake from their sample carts. One piece of each sample would go into my body. That would be my food intake on a good day.
I was no longer living at my parent’s home, so I don’t think Mom exactly knew what I was doing, but she did seem to worry about me. “If you get any smaller…” she would say as she whacked me on my non-existent rear end even though I believed I could feel my glut muscles jiggling endlessly from her gentle slap. Mom began bringing food to my apartment every couple of days. She would bring over bread, milk, eggs, bacon, lunchmeats, crackers, and soup. The food would sit in my refrigerator and cabinets for a few days while I furiously exercise and swallowed laxatives to lose a few pounds. If my weight remained the same, I would package up all of the food in trash bags and throw it into the dumpster. Actually, I think I threw away the food regardless…I still had not reached the goal of a hundred pounds.
Friends, relatives, and even strangers began to make weird and unusual comments to me. I could never figure out what they meant. For example, one afternoon, I had gone into a video store to rent some DVDs. I selected two DVDs and placed them on the front counter. I thought the DVDs were two dollars each so I casually laid out four dollars on the countertop. The heavyset, female clerk looked at the money for a moment and then picked up two of the bills. “These are just a dollar each,” she said cheerily. But then as she handed me back the money, she looked me up and down and then sneered, “Now, I guess you can go buy yourself a sandwich.” I grabbed my money and the DVDs and walked out of the store in a daze. Why would she say that to me? I wondered. In my mind, I assumed she was commenting that I was fat and would now have money for more food. I cried all the way home.
One day, I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen for a while. We chatted happily for a few minutes before he suddenly said to me, “Well, you seem in a much better mood. Are you eating now?” I stared at him in completely confusion. Honestly, he was not the only person who would ask me that question. Am I eating now? Of course, I was eating! I had the Sam’s Club Buffet a few days a week. Plus, I would choke down a few pieces of fruit and vegetables whenever I couldn’t stop from giving in to my hunger pangs…and then, I would exercise for two hours while crying and cussing myself for giving into my weakness.
I realize now my behavior was odd and terrifying and it didn’t stop there. I would develop endless panic and anxiety attacks. I would have days when I wouldn’t stop crying for hours. I would be short tempered and cruel. It wouldn’t take much for someone to suddenly be ripped apart by my viciously snapping tongue and rolling eyes over some minor, unimportant action. I had read once in a book on eating disorders, that many anorexics and bulimics develop OCD habits and anxiety due to the lack of nutrients and fluids getting to the brain. Maybe that’s where my OCD habits began…I don’t know…that couldn’t be right though…because at the time I was developing anxiety and OCD habits, I was still snacking on fruits and vegetables occasionally. I certainly didn’t have an eating disorder. In fact, I believed at the time I couldn’t stop overeating… and that lead to more punishment. There would be additional exercising. I allowed the numbers on the scale to tell me if I could eat or not. If the numbers were low, I could have an additional broccoli floret. If the numbers were high, not a single bit of food would go into my body. Unfortunately, I also allowed the scale to regulate my moods. If the numbers were low, I was going to have a great day. If the numbers were high, I was going to have a horrible day. I’m writing “numbers” because I would weigh myself multiple times throughout the day. I actually weighed myself any time I saw a scale…at home, at the gym, in a friend’s bathroom…I would carefully analyze the numbers and determine if it was going to be a good or bad day.
Twenty years later, two things still continue to determine my food intake: 1) my current weight and 2) the kind of day I’m having. If my weight is down and I’m enjoying my life, I will eat. Yes, I am eating now. I eat regular meals. No more Sam’s Club Buffets. My life is better and, as I’ve grown older, I feel better about myself. My laxative use is under control. Though I still feel the urge to use laxatives for weight control, I haven’t eaten any of the little chocolate squares in over a year. My anxiety attacks and OCD continue to be a problem no matter what or how I eat. I wonder sometimes if I’ve done lasting, permanent damage to myself. My digestive track is a complicated mess. I have to be careful with gastric reflux. I still feel bile rising up in my throat with many of the things I eat or drink. I’m usually sick to my stomach and suffer from sharp abdominal pain. My hair turned prematurely gray and has thinned. I’m just so thrilled it didn’t all fall out.
However, I still cannot stand to look at, touch, prepare, or shop for food. Seeing pictures of people’s food posted on Facebook makes me gag and I immediately have to delete the post. I don’t like anyone to touch or talk about my food. Grocery stores are still a nightmare for me. I can’t stand to look at all of that food and think that I will be eating some of it. I can’t put one single item in my basket without fully reading the nutrition label and checking the calorie and fat intake.
One day last year, I ventured into a local grocery store thinking my food issues were all behind me. I was really feeling good and healthy as I filled up a shopping cart (not a just basket!) with fruits and vegetables and other non-fat, threatening foods. As I waited in the checkout lane, an elderly woman standing behind me suddenly commented, “You are moving awfully slow putting your things on the counter. Here let me do it.” She suddenly reached into my cart and grabbed a few of my yogurt cups and bread. “No, stop!” I told her as I took the items from her hands. “Please, stop!” She looked at me for a moment as if I was crazy before moving to the next checkout lane. And God, maybe I am crazy. I could not bring myself to buy and eat the food the woman had touched. I had to set the food far off on the other side of the counter, refusing to let those items near my other groceries.
One day, I was on my lunch break at work. I had purchased a ham and cheese sandwich from the grocery store next door. I sat on an outside bench at my workplace to consume the sandwich. I don’t like to be in the break room where my coworkers can watch me eat. As I started to nibble on the sandwich, an elderly gentleman and his wife walked by me. The man looked at me for a moment before saying, “Are we in time for lunch?” He chuckled and then said, “What are you eating? Do you have more for us? What is it?” I had no response other than to stand up and throw the sandwich in the nearest trashcan. I couldn’t eat anything for the rest of the day.
I cannot discuss food. I don’t want to talk about what I eat. If I go to a banquet or a luncheon, I cringe whenever anyone ask me what was served. I just can’t find the words to talk about food. I don’t want to tell people what I had for lunch. I don’t want to discuss what I will have for dinner. Yes, I am eating now but please don’t ask me what my favorite foods are. I don’t want to talk about it.
But I will say this…my life has gotten better. I am more comfortable in my body now than I have ever been. I do eat good meals now, though I still go to the gym five times a week and check the food labels on all products before I buy them. I enjoy my life so I’m beginning to enjoy some favorite foods. But please don’t ask me what they are. I really can’t talk about food without feeling nauseous.
Now, I slowly placed the empty laxative box back on the shelf and grabbed the rest of my groceries while drifting through the store on autopilot. I know I have to eat. I do want to stay alive. I just still can’t appreciate food. Feeling anxious, I quickly grabbed the rest of the items I needed and headed up to the register. I didn’t feel any relief until I had paid for my things and left the store. Once I was home and all the groceries were hidden away in the cabinets and out of my view, I was finally able to take deep breaths again.\
…Oh, and whoever stole the laxatives and left behind the empty carton….Please know you are not alone…So many of us know how you feel…please reach out to someone…I continue to pray for you…