I placed my spoon and fork together, and held onto the silence. The bowl, a crater smeared with the residue of saliva, was empty.
I had scraped the final morsels into my mouth with relish, savouring every last lick:
Almonds had shattered into a cloud of quinoa. Plump olives and pulpy raisins had swollen under the smoke of hummus. Bouquets of broccoli were flecked with shreds of chilli and buttery cashews. The mousse of sweet potato had sponged the lining of my mouth with a spicy lathering, and glazed it in a bittersweet dressing. The marbled colour of my salad bowl snuggled, swirled and separated. Green grew creamy, and the rust of tomato ripened under the sun of a lemony stain. Steam curled its fingers up into my nose, and the aroma of sweet anticipation suffocated Anonymous for a moment. I could only hear clusters of chickpeas crumble between my teeth, and a floret rasp as my tongue caressed it from my fork.
Electrified, the firing of thoughts had ceased.
Pleasure pulled at my cheeks and made me smile: I couldn’t help it. It was just so yummy.
Smudged and smeared, the face reflected back at me from my spoon stared at Anonymous and Ellie. It’s eyes were curious, and challenged one of them to break the silence. “So,” they seemed to ask, “What have we learned today?”
Reflecting on a meal after I’ve eaten it allows me to gather my thoughts together, and order them in a way so that the recovery battle can begin again with renewed vigour. Writing my way out of my eating disorder has taken on many guises: it is an exercise that forces me to communicate with each voice as it prattles in harmony with my cutlery.
This particular moment of recuperation happened just last week, when I took myself to London. The Mae Deli has become an oasis: it is the only place I trust myself to eat in. It is the only place that doesn’t serve threat, in all it’s imagined glory.
I sat beside my empty plate, surrounded by the chatter of other diners. Ellie nodded with pride as she nursed the wounds inflicted by Anxiety during the long journey leading to that first bite. Anorexia’s visions of a certain future wobbles, and neutralises as it dissolves into the present. In the peace of my own solitude, I asked myself: “So, what have you learned today?”
I had walked through the door, intruding on that serene scene of well nourished respect. My eyes darted around the room. I need a table now. Anonymous, high on adrenaline and panic, had pursued me across the city convincing me there wouldn’t be space. There wouldn’t be space, and therefore I wouldn’t eat. I need to eat now, or I won’t. I won’t.
Oh look, you can sit here. Here, next to the flowers.
I looked into my empty bowl, and saw questions swirling in the dregs. What would have happened if you had to wait? Was your metabolism really going to trick you into ballooning seconds after your deadline?
I want to call on Ellie to question her claim of control. Anonymous is in control of when I eat.
– until someone sits at the last table.
The scoop of quinoa had bulged in the ladle, leering at me as it tumbled with muffled thunder into the bowl. It looked so big. I realised I hadn’t noted from which corner of the dish it had been conjured from. Perhaps it had been scraped from the depths of that pot, from the abyss where heavy bulbs of oily dressing had sunk? I hadn’t counted the chunks of sweet potato as they were nudged into place. The numbers were Anomalies: an unknown jumble of carbs and calories. They couldn’t be compared and contrasted with the data I consumed every other day. I couldn’t do the maths: have I earned this? What will the result be?
Those questions weren’t answered that day. Whilst they didn’t sour the enjoyment on my tongue, they did chase me around Hyde Park for the rest of the afternoon. Earn those calories.
Every mouthful was peppered with a question: what does this mean?
The will to try with this recovery battle hangs in the balance each day with how well Ellie and Anonymous can argue.
I swing from one conflict to the next, trying to balance out each argument and identify whose voice it belongs to. The most recent was the Great Grape Grievance: Surely, if I ate one grape now that’s greedy? I had lunch an hour ago, I don’t need it. How would it look in my food diary? A whole extra line, how greedy. How indulgent.
Yes, but how nice it would be.
(I didn’t eat the grape. I’m still trying to work out what that extra grape would say about me.)
Reflection allows me the freedom to engage with my food anxieties after they have climaxed.
I had a discussion with Anxiety in the Mae Deli. I asked her why she was afraid of breaching Anonymous’ rules. Thus began her tale:
Anxiety claims to have travelled to a land called the Future, where she met a monster. That monster was named Weight Gain. Trembling with fear, she retold me a tale that will leave her worthless and alone. Ellie wanted to know what made this demon so monstrous. She began to describe an independent creature with a life completely out of it’s control, with nobody to help it. Horns and fangs had grown from indulging on the forbidden fruit of food and freedom.
Anorexia has helped me keep this beast at bay thus far. Anonymous will stop me from being gobbled up.
Looking into my spoon, I can see through Anonymous’ deceptive tale. She isn’t afraid of Weight Gain, she is afraid of what it stands for. She is frightened by it’s power to control how other people treat me, long after they’ve forgotten that weight doesn’t fill the hole that made me starve out Ellie. She is frightened by how Ellie might treat me.
What would it mean?
Recovery needs to grow a hand for me to hold, because I am hanging in the balance of each bite, each day. My hopes of returning to university in September are slipping between my sweating palms, away into a static space balancing on the scales. It would mean a lot to Ellie if she could cope with going back, it really would. At the moment, that portion size looks a bit too much to ask for.
I savour those seconds of silence after a bite. Enjoyment doesn’t sour in my mouth, it lingers. An animal in me stirs: I am meant to eat. I deserve to eat. Somewhere, something swings into balance, and I can smile. These are precious moments, and they give me hope.
An aftertaste: Months before my diagnosis and a year ago today, I had my first meeting with my lovely nutritionist J. She would later save my life with a glass of milk, and give me the confidence to try: try something new, ask those questions, take that challenge. A year a ago today, I presented her with a list of foods I would not touch. I found that list in my diary, and Ellie is proud to say that she is able to cross most of them out. A precious moment, and it gives me hope.