When my parents began pressuring my younger sister, who had recently gained a few pounds, to lose weight, I almost lost it. They knew about my previous bouts with bulimia and disordered eating, which at least partially stemmed from some of their attitudes towards food and weight as I was growing up. Somehow my sister hadn’t internalized it as much as I had, though, and damn if I was going to let them induce any doubt in her rather-well-adjusted body image. How could they?, I thought at the time. But this was before I sparked an eating disorder in a guy I was dating. Sometimes, apparently, these things happen.
Francis* and I had just graduated from college and were living truly on our own for the first time. We’d moved from our college town to the nearest big city, where we had no jobs lined up and knew approximately three people. Francis took a job at Papa John’s; I at a telemarketing company, which eventually gave way to administrative-ish jobs at nearby science and research firms (all of which we both rather despised, as aspiring writers). I lived in a basement apartment with the shower in the kitchen. We were lonely. We were poor. And we were neurotic. It was the perfect breeding ground for post-collegiate meltdown.
My troubles started subtly: Boredom at my job and unrestricted Internet access led me to trolling pro-ana Livejournal groups (yep) for ‘diet inspiration.’ Because I was just going on a diet, I told myself. That’s all.
Francis, meanwhile, was having his own food issues. After experiencing some tragedies early on in life, he became an emotional (over)eater and a chubby child. That was long before our admin jobs, of course, and he was perfectly normal-sized (and a seemingly well-adjusted eater) when we began dating. But a combination of stress, loneliness and the fact that half our meals in those early days came from Papa John’s had him putting on weight, and by Christmas he must have gained at least 15 pounds.
I was not nice. His burgeoning belly grossed me out, and we began to have less sex and more fights (generally about unrelated things, because I felt too bad saying what was really bothering me). At the time, I’d always liked skinny boys best (the kind whose hip bones protruded) and I made it no secret. Meanwhile, I was eating about 600 calories a day (and not even reasonably healthy ones; it was all sugar-free jello, Lean Cuisines and chicken broth), walking around in baggy hobo sweaters and puking if I ate a cookie.
And while I got skinnier, Francis got fatter. By March, I was down to about 112 pounds (not exactly dangerously thin or anything like that, but noticeably skinny) and he was up to 190 (noticeably chubby for someone 5’9″).
Flash forward to the following summer: We’ve made friends, become involved in the local theater scene and found a tentative peace with our new lives. I’m too busy to bother much with calorie-counting anymore, and my obsession with losing weight begins to recede without much pomp or circumstance, as it has done before. And Francis’ weight begins to creep back down, as he learns to take control of his comfort-eating—or so it seems. He certainly isn’t over-eating in times of stress anymore. He has even begun—spurred by my example—to watch his caloric intake. Goodbye pizza, hello Lean Cuisines! He loses all the weight he’s gained, and then some. He feels good about himself, he says. He even buys his first pair of skinny jeans. Good for him, I think.
Except the saga doesn’t end there.