An apple a day…

An apple hard and crisp and full of memories. Apples give me indigestion. They remind me of the days when an apple was all I ate for lunch, the days when I agonised to be thin. To be thin was to worry my mother and what better way to attract her attention than to look as though I were fading away. We were fading away. Me and my younger sister, the one less than twenty two months younger, the one with whom I competed in the thinness stakes.

In those days my sister and shared a house together, half a house, with one other friend from school. We shared a tight budget, too, ten dollars a week on groceries. H, our friend and housemate, the one who got fat while we grew thin, shopped on Saturdays at the Victoria market. We wrote the list together and never altered it. Week after week, H bought the same food.

Curried sausages on Monday. We threw in a handful of sultanas for the taste and novelty – the sweet and savoury mixed together. On Tuesdays we cooked a chicken noodle soup packet version of chicken chow mien without the chicken. We ate fish on Wednesdays, whatever could last the three days, whatever was freshest. In those days fish was cheap. On Thursdays we ate homemade hamburgers without the buns and on Fridays we drank.

When we drank we ate ice cream for supper. Ice cream was fattening but if that was all we ate we figured we could get way with it. The boys would pick us up around eight o’clock after our day at university and we would start our drinking, the boys on beer, the girls on port and lemonade. It was not until ten that we realised we were starving. When the boys went off to buy hot chips from the local fish and chip shop we girls went to the milk bar for a two-litre tub of vanilla ice cream. Always vanilla, any other flavour we considered more fattening.

It was a slow and steady process this business of disappearing. In time I gave up milk with my coffee. Black coffee gave the illusion of having a feed even if underneath I was starving. I watched my stomach shrink and felt the weight of any food I ate like an ache.

H served up plates at dinner and my sister and I fought over who might get the smallest serve. H had no choice but to take the biggest, whether she wanted it or not. It was a strange reversal of affairs. When we were younger, when H was still thin, my sister and I fought over who might get the biggest serve. All my siblings fought over the amount but this was before we hit adolescence and realised the power of disappearing.

35 thoughts on “An apple a day…”

  1. Elisabeth – This is startlingly honest….and painful. Which ever end of the scale you weigh in on, eating disorders really disorder your life. It's beautifully written, though. Is H your mother?

  2. i tried to disappear inside writing, painting, and music. i was already improbably thin. it worked for a number of years until marriage brought me to my knees and my secret world left me. i am grateful for this posting elisabeth. brave strong writing. steven

  3. You wanted to be thin to worry your mother? Not for the usual reasons, that society urges girls to be thin to be attractive, etc? I find that interesting. I hope you'll elaborate more on that in a future post

  4. Wonderful story. Competing to disappear, but not really becoming invisible. Around here most starve themselves to be thin enough to have the look being pushed by the media, to be noticed above all the normal and chubby (want-a-be thin) people they share their world with. Finding how to fit is really hard.

  5. Oh that most have been difficult wanting to be thin and starving all the time. What you do for love is even more powerful than a basic instinct like eating.
    Hope you're happy and healthy now and send you lots of love

  6. Anorexia is often a way of taking control when everything seems impossible because it proves strength of will. I don't think its effects ever disappear.

  7. Thanks Kass. H was not my mother, but a friend.

    It's an interesting thought though. Perhaps H took the place of my mother. To some extent she took responsibility for my sister and me.

    I have written elsewhere about my mother as being continuously 'fat'. She spent the the first twenty years of her marriage either pregnant, nursing a baby or miscarrying.

    Steven, I'm glad to hear that you managed to reappear, as did I. I suspect that if we were not able to get over these things, at least to some extent, we would not be able to write about them.

    Kirk, I remember so clearly, the perverse satisfaction I felt when my mother one day lamented that I was getting too thin. As if I forced her to pay attention this way. But these things are complex. There's probably a lot more to it than this, not just for my younger self but for others caught in such a trap.

    Lakeviewer. How did i get beyond what you call this 'addiction'? The answer is simple: With help – from outside sources in the form of therapists, and equally from inside sources in the form of my family; and to a large extent through my writing.

    Thanks Anthony. I like this notion of the difficulties of trying 'to fit'.

    I suspect we all do it most of the time. We try to find some way of fitting in.

    It's wonderful when we can get beyond that need and can settle for a sense of who we are regardless, but old habits die hard.

    Thanks Marja. You're right about
    'the things we do for love…'

    I'm not into starvation any more. If I were I suspect I would not be able to write about it.

    Bjornik, I hope it's not too bad, this stage you're in right now. It is better to find the nourishment you need more directly than though such desperate plugs to find a mother's love.

    The trouble with blogging is that sometimes I'm not too sure whether someone is serious or tongue in cheek. If you're serious then my response is different. Take care.

  8. It's amazing that such a well-written post is about an eating disorder. You articulate the genesis of your decision so well and I can recognise in it aspects of teenage rebelliousness and independence. Many thanks for such an honest snippet of your younger years.

    Greetings from London.

  9. Most of my life I’ve been able to eat whatever I liked and never gained a pound. I didn’t exercise much, at least I didn’t realise that I did, and put down this enviable ability to “thinking a lot” and I still believe that to be at least partly true. When I fell ill I put on 20lbs, not a huge amount but considering I was a little overweight at the start by the time I’d finished I felt fat for the first time in my life. I never really understood ‘fat’ beforehand. The heaviest I became was 13st 5lbs which for a man of fifty is actually not so heavy but when Carrie decided to go on a diet I needed no encouragement to join in. The 20lbs has now gone and a bit more to boot. It wasn’t so hard and it makes me wonder why all the women in my life struggled so. So maybe I don’t understand ‘fat’ the way I should. Perhaps because I decided to lose the weight mainly for health considerations. I didn’t like the spare tyre but it was nothing to the beer bellies many of my neighbours sport.

    What the dieting has done is make me painfully conscious of how many calories are in food. I was out once alone and decided to have a coffee and a cake. The cake turned out to be a piece of shortbread which normally I would have thought nothing of but after reading it was 350 calories I neither enjoyed the biscuit at the time and I starved (slight exaggeration) for the rest of the day so I didn’t exceed by limit. It became very important to not eat more than my allowance in fact I always aimed to have 100 or 200 spare at the end of the night. Now I don’t count calories obsessively but I still dread going up a pound as if it says something about my character rather than my metabolism. It pleased me no end to be able to report that I lost a pound over the Christmas holiday.

    I will never be thin though. I’m not built that way.

  10. Elisabeth, you gut-kicked me posting about using food to manipulate and control. I, too, have had serious problems surrounding food and how I use it. We do these things as a means of waving red flags. "Something's wrong here. Notice me." I'm probably at my healthiest point in life right now, although I'm not likely ever to be the poster child for glowing mental health.

    It hurts me to think of you hurting yourself to gain attention. I sense you feeling quite conflicted. You could get thin so mom would notice, but if she didn't notice, you could get thin/make yourself invisible so she would have to notice. Eliciting notice by degrees. How thin is thin enough? I know some people who slash at themselves to bring a gaze. Your/our way simply wasn't as unsightly as that.

  11. Interesting post elizabeth – to read about this kind of addiction from the inside out so to speak. A friend's daughter was anorexic for years as a teenager and has never fully recovered although she is now in her fifties. You sound as though you have fully shaken it off if you can write about it in such a honest way.

  12. One of the best time in my life I spend inside a kitchen, mostly talking though and nearly forgetting about eating.
    There were countless problems solved in between the kitchen and the dining room, between apple juice and bread in the evening.
    A wonderful weekend and many thanks for the memories of a long time ago.

  13. You visited my blog and I had to come see yours… and shall now follow it. My daughter died from complications of bulimia. I found your entry disturbing, wrenching, beautiful. I stopped struggling with my longing to be thin in my early thirties when my health problems interfered– I then had a real enemy to fight FOR my life, not AGAINST it. At the time when my stepdaughter began her dance with weight and food, fed by her mom. It was a long, painful struggle, watching her succomb to this illness, leave treatment, and disappear for good. I am so very glad you are here, appearing.

  14. You are such a beautiful writer.

    If I encounter someone with anorexia I think I might send them to this post. It is so clear and yet so moving.

    I have never had eating disorders but my friends have. I remember in highschool (not really that long ago I suppose) when one of my friends would refuse to eat lunch each day. So we would all echo 'not eating!' Just to recognize what was happening. So that it wouldn't be like pretending we hadn't noticed or saying 'oh, you poor thing.'

  15. Thank you, Elisabeth. I too had a secret life with food until I learned–with help–how to nourish myself.

    The 'ideal' for women is the starving woman. We see the thinnest models and ballerinas.

    Starving and bingeing: it was terrible.

    Yours for eating without guilt!

  16. Thank you all for your wonderful and generous comments. I responded to at least half of these yesterday but my response seems to have disappeared, so I'll start again, but at the risk of repeating myself for some of you. I'll also respond in several boxes because as you know the comments space only allows so many words.

    Thanks, Cuban. I think you're right about the notion of teenage rebelliousness. This is certainly one aspect of how I remember my experience. I wanted to defy my mother, who had spent at least the first twenty years of her married life either pregnant, nursing a baby or miscarrying. She was never thin to me. I was then determined to be different from her.

    Jim, I think the business of food and eating has become an issue these days not just for women.

    There are many men who struggle with their weight too, and not necessarily to a pathological degree. Witness your story.

    It may have a lot to do with our changed life styles, more sedentary etc, and also the fact that as we live longer our metabolisms slow.

    I too have been amazed at the calorific value of food, but it's more than that. It's the input/output ratio that's most important.

    If we eat what we burn up through energy and exercise we keep our bodies in balance, but so often this goes awry, especially as we grow older.

    Thanks for your comment, Mark. The idea of 'solid writing' makes me think of food. We feed babies solids when they reach a certain age and are ready to move beyond milk. I like the idea of solid writing therefore, it implies something challenging as well as necessary, something beyond infancy.

  17. Leslie, you're right about the ways people adopt to try to be noticed, how some of them can be so awful.

    One of my supervisors once described those with severe anorexia as being like 'walking indictments of all those who try to help them'.

    There is something about the attention grabbing nature – of trying to disappear, of wanting to gain control, to kill pain, what ever it might be in terms of motivation – that is disturbing for us all.

    I think it's important therefore for those of us who struggle or have struggled with these issues to share our experience in ways that might allow others to empathize and try to undertsnd.

    It's like this too with the 'fashionable' ADHD. I ask myself the question here: Who has the attention deficit? Is it the children or perhaps their parents?

    And that's not to hang it on individual parents. I think of parents symbolically, in the role of governments, in the role of authorities, of care givers all over. Can they/we be more mindful? Or is it that in this day in western society there is too little time to pay attention, therefore people do all these dreadful things to themselves to get help, to get attention and/or to kill the pain.

  18. Thanks, Weaver. I think you're right here. We can overcome these addictions. We can get into better and healthier life styles and ways of being, but something of their legacy lives on, and is maybe even carried into the next generation.

    Therefore it is important to pay attention and to think about it even after the difficulties appear to be 'gone'.

    Thanks, Robert. You put the joy of time spent in the kitchen so well. And you're right about what happens in between the cooking, the preparing of food and the eating of it.

    A meal is symbolic of so many things, beginning with the baby suckling at his mother's breast, our first ever meal.

    And babies take in so much more than milk when they drink, whether from breast or bottle. They take in feelings from their caregiver and sometimes such feelings can be toxic, or they can be benign=n, they can be nurturing and life giving, they can be all manner of things.

  19. Jeanette, my thanks to you for your generous and empathic comment.

    I'm so sorry to hear bout your daughter. I'm sure my experience hovered on the edge of the extremes your daughter reached, but at least I was somehow able to stay on the side of living. It's terrible that your daughter could not.

    As I understand it there comes a crisis point in the struggle with eating disorders when someone tips over the edge. It is after all a battle between life and death.

    It's tragic when death prevails, especially when someone is so young, and even when someone is old. Food is meant to nourish us, not something with which we should wrestle, but we do. How sad this is.

    Liosis, thank you. I love your philosophical strikings. These are nourishing indeed. Thank you for your kind words here.

    And I agree, it is important not to pretend that the anorexia isn't happening. Otherwise we become bystanders to the internal bullying that goes on. But it's important to avoid becoming bullies in our turn.

    Some of the force feeding techniques in the treatment of anorexia alarm me. They do not facilitate but set up a war situation, an 'us against them'. They are not about communication, which ideally involves a voluntary give and take, not a force feed.

  20. Melissa, wonderful thoughts here, thank you. I agree my experience was not a fling with insanity, though it was like looking into a pool of madness and deciding whether or not to jump.

    After all there is something inherently mad about starving ourselves, at least in a bodily sense, though there can be other logic in place, which shifts the state of madness into one of sheer necessity: it becomes necessary to starve oneself for other gains.

    That's what i mean when I talk about the need to manipulate by deception, when you are brought up in a society that does not encourage you to ask openly for the things you might need and/or want.

    Finally here in this long list of responses, thanks Mim. There are so many of us who share this secret relationship with food and it is encouraged via the media.

    Again that's why I think it's important to talk about it, not necessarily just in the heat of the moment but after the event, as a preventative for others.

  21. lis, your story about you and your sister reminded me of the anorexic twins, Lisbeth and Angelique Raeaven. Did you see their documentary? Disturbing and memorable – I must google and see if they're still alive.

  22. Wow… my heart aches to read this, knowing others who have gone through the same pain. We all have issues with food, don't we…it means so much more to us than just sustenance. It means love, attention, lust, self-esteem, self-worth…all of it wrapped up in such tiny, innocent crumbs.

    Beautiful post.

  23. Thanks Gretta for that reference to those twins. It sounds fascinating. I'm in a rush now and have yet to check it out but i will. thank.

    Phoenix, thank you for your generous comment. Food is such a powerful symbol as you say of so much more than just food. It is life, both literally and metaphorically. It's amazing how often when we speak about our states of mind we use metaphors of food, eating, digestion and the bodily parts associated with these processes to describe them.

  24. i was sure you would have seen the twins – they are Dutch, after all! I think you'd be fascinated/repelled in equal measures – the doco is "Cutting Edge: Trapped By My Twin" – it was on ABC or SBS last year

  25. Hi Gretta

    No, I hadn't heard of the twins. We have no TV. Remember? We therefore miss out on a number of fantastic documentaries.

    I just watched a short video on the twins, in German, see:

    It's pretty shocking, especially when I see the name Lisbeth and think that's my name. At least that's what my parents called me when I was a child, but my story is not nearly so grim.

    Of course all these things – including this degree of enmeshment between siblings – exist on a continuum, from a high degree of separateness to what you see with these twins.

    Such enmeshment is deathly isn't it? Deathly and scary.

    It's almost as if they're still together in their mother's womb and they don't want to be born.

  26. Thanks, projectivist. It always fascinates me the things that people comment on. i had to think twice before I remembered what you might be alluding to here, and then ah ha, yes our grocery budget from my early university days. I'm glad it struck a chord.

  27. It was the opposite for me. My moter insisted I eat. I was thin as a rail. When I finally hit the 100th pound mark, she cheered. By then I was 24. Now it is a struggle to stay thin! Hahahaha!

  28. It's a bit like that, isn't it Ces? You could say it's hard to be satisfied with who we are and what we have.

    Mind you, I get the feeling that you are more easily satisfied than many. You have good reason to be satisfied in terms of your talent and your family but on top of that you seem to have a sunny and positive disposition.

    The feedback I get on my writing suggests to me that the way I am now is a contrast to the way things were then and to the way I write.

    My writing about the past may seem bleak, but I am generally a fairly cheerful person. The past and the present can clash sometimes. Thanks, Ces.

  29. I do agree with your statement. A depressed and negative person won't be able to write with a positive outlook, almost inspirational and revealing lessons learned. A depressed person will stagnate on the negative, never growing and will get satisfaction from pity. You are a radiant person Elisabeth and a rather strong woman PLUS your writing is healthy, interesting and captivating.

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