i started the list chronologically since the oldest rules are the easiest to remember. the rules overlap in their requirements at times; one rule leads to the next and so on. i never worry about what they are. they are simply there, built into your bones, ever present, directing the eating, restricting, binging, purging, and other eating disorder related behaviours.
it’s not a complete list. the production of it was more triggering than i imagined it would be, as is the realization that i still adhere to many. it’s eye-opening to see how many of the rules are close to the ones you see in the monthly, lose-ten-pounds-by-the-weekend diet articles that are forever being published. we take in more than we think.
the rules are inflexible and keep me focused on my eating disorder. they’re designed to keep you trapped. it’s really hard to have independent thoughts that do not, in some way, circle back around to my ED. that bitch follows me everywhere. she is determined and persistent.
- everything gets measured.
- i don’t follow this one as much anymore in terms of restricting, partially because i’m so familiar with portion sizes, but i sometimes measure to ensure i’m getting enough food. i have a tendency to under-estimate. in the early days of my eating disorder, i measured everything. breakfast for years was a third of a cup of bran buds and a third of a cup of milk – until i switched out the milk for water. even after i altered my behaviour from primarily restrictive to primarily purging, i still monitored my non-binge eating intake compulsively.
- special plates and utensils.
- a one third cup portion looks pathetic on a regular, grownup-sized bowl or plate; however, it looks fine if you only use dessert bowls and salad plates. using smaller utensils such as teaspoons and salad forks was a rule as well. once i was on my own, the required serving plates changed. i used either a small mixing bowl – for salad or steamed veggies – and an odd, plastic toy plate i found somewhere for almost everything else. you know you value yourself when you make yourself eat from a child’s toy.
- no butter.
- butter was one of the first things to go. first, it was added butter, later it was anything that had butter in it. this one inevitably evolved into:
- no added fat.
- when i gave up butter, i still allowed myself a scraping of mayo on a sandwich or a small drizzle of salad dressing. those indulgences were the next to go. why use mayonnaise when mustard has no calories or fat? why use salad dressing when vinegar, salt, and powdered garlic make such a tasty dressing. so very delicious. or not, but that’s the lie you tell yourself. you are too fat for added anything and not really deserving of tasty.
- on the side.
- my eating disorder is a fan of deconstruction. i have no interest in how the cook wants to present a dish. dressing goes on the side. the sauce goes on the side. any extras must be adjacent to the main. you don’t need to have them, they’re just wasted calories. why would you want the sauce to be on your pasta when dipping the tines of your fork briefly in the adjacent dish before twirling up the noodles provides practically the same experience? on the bright side, i only had to deal with sauce on the side for a few years with pasta dishes.
- no pasta.
- the end game for the eating disorder is basically no food allowed at all. you think i’d have made that connection early on, but despite living through periods where the only things i was “allowed” to eat were iceberg lettuce and steamed carrots, i did not.
- pasta was eliminated later in the game than some foods, but it had a lot of preconditions attached to the consumption. it had to be plain. it had to be fettuccine or spirals or macaroni only – no stuffed noodles or layered pasta dishes. pasta could only be eaten with a “dressing” made of powdered, low-calorie fake butter and salt, and if you ate it, you ate nothing else until the next day. that could be challenging if you had noodles for your lunchtime meal. there’s a reason why gum is very popular with the eating disorder set. it takes the place of food.
- no meat.
- meat got the boot very early on. it was the first food group i rejected. i told my family i was embracing vegetarianism but really it was just an excuse to eat low-calorie foods. the thing is, i do have ethical problems regarding the production and consumption of meat, but i have to be able to bring a food back into rotation before i boot it for non-eating disorder reasons. it’s not really a choice if you can’t let yourself have it.
- meat was rejected because i considered it too highly caloric to consume. plus, if you reject meat, you can reject all the complicated sauces and stews and other dishes that contain it which means the elimination is a win-win.
- only eat the outside of foods. a variant of this is, only eat the edges.
- i started with bread. i loved bread but it got less thrilling without butter – at least until i discovered low-cal fake butter sprinkles. they taste as wonderful as they sound. they’re not so great on the body of the bread but kind of tasty on the crust. eating the crust only meant fewer calories and less was always good.
- edge and crust eating is furtive. it’s a sneaky way of eating without eating, even though you make a note of it in your daily tally. just a bite to silence hunger pangs is all that’s needed. the stomach can be so pathetically grateful. “no, i can’t have pizza, i’m not hungry, it has meat, blah, blah, blah, but could i just have your end crust? no pie thanks, i don’t really like pie. also, i don’t eat dessert, i’ll just take a piece of this crust edge if that’s okay?”
- you pick the crunchy bits from the edge of a casserole while getting water from the fridge and wonder how many calories in a noodle. you pull a tiny corner from an entrée. it’s eating but not eating. something about not being deserving real food, i suppose. restrictions meet wants. you want to eat but you can’t because you’re “dieting”, so a crumb is as much of an indulgence as you can allow.
- nothing fried.
- fried foods are an absolute no. they were the road to instant fat. i was definitely not allowed to eat anything that came from a vat. no french fries, no chicken burgers, no fried fish, no nachos – no chips of any kind, no movie popcorn (not technically fried, but covered in oil so it got lumped together into the same category), no to any of a hundred very tasty things because one bite would obviously lead to my body instantly doubling in size.
- even numbers.
- the numbers thing applies to a wide variety of situations. the number of pieces you cut something into. the number of pieces you eat. the number of things you buy (grapes in multiples of ten; it’s challenging counting while not drawing attention to yourself). the number of bites you’ll take. the number of reps you make when exercising. my goal numbers changed for things over time, but one thing remained consistent. the count must be even.
- the same rule holds for some of my purging behaviours. laxatives must be taken in even numbers. binge foods must be eaten in even numbers. ten cookies or twelve, but never eleven. i have no idea where the rule came from but it has been even-numbers for as long as i can remember.
- no dairy.
- once you give up meat, the next big group calorie cut came from eliminating dairy. no cheese – too fattening. no milk, because who needs it when you give up cereal. no yogurt unless it’s one container of the zero fat, zero sugar, zero texture and zero flavour diet version. eaten with a tiny spoon, of course.
- no liquid calories.
- alcohol was excluded from the “no liquid calories” rule as long as i got rid of an equal number of food calories to compensate. no other liquids with calories were acceptable. no soups, no milk, no juice, no smoothies, no shakes. nothing but water and diet pop. diet pop is your friend and companion. who needs food when there is diet cola to help suppress hunger pangs?
- calories matter.
- the content of what i was eating was less important than the calorie count. i gave up meat but i didn’t replace the protein. i just considered it a win in the restriction column. i gave up dairy but didn’t replace the calcium. i gave up complex carbs but didn’t replace the fibre. eating disorders are a symphony of loss.
- snacks must not exceed fifty calories. portion sizes must be in even numbers. really, it’s best to eliminate snacks altogether. they’re too much work.
- no home-made goods.
- you can’t know what’s in them and you can’t accurately know the calorie count so homemade items are verboten. i’m not sure what i imagine, someone hiding in their kitchen, magically adding calories to their cookies before serving them, i suppose.
- no food after six o’clock.
- hunger is irrelevant. you don’t eat after dinner. if you do, it’s a binge and you best be throwing that stuff up.
- never take the elevator.
- my eating disorder regularly reminded me that lazy people take the elevator or escalator. if you want to be thin, you walk. never mind that the destination is miles away and it’s raining. never mind that it’s dark out. never mind that you’re carrying a new microwave and your apartment is on the thirteenth floor. you are walking.
revisiting sixteen of what feels like an infinite number of rules makes it easy to realize why i felt so overwhelmed and miserable and fatigued all the time. there were a lot of demands to meet. failure to adhere to the rules was severely punished. no justification or time off was allowed. the goal was simply perfection. the hidden goal is death.
(february 19, 2018)
photo credits: kethrysdream, kimscott