hunger binge

A writer craved community while battling an eating disorder | Xtra Magazine

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Content warning: This story contains detailed descriptions of eating disorders and fatphobia. 

The funny thing about hunger pangs is that, eventually, they stop. Or, at least, they subside. Your body gets used to that gnawing pain in your gut, a testament to its incredible resilience. If you stop eating for long enough, eventually your stomach will give in, will contract, and you can fill it more quickly and less frequently. 

I first discovered this little trick—the digestive system’s secret trump card—in my first year of university. I’d hovered somewhere around that medical line between “overweight” and “obese” for basically my whole life. I don’t remember a time during my childhood where I could peer down at my feet and see my belt buckle without my stomach blocking my view. I could hardly run on the playground without losing my breath. Gym class was a living hell, and the weight-related torment I endured from my classmates throughout my childhood and adolescence didn’t make things any better. 

“The two insults most often hurled my way were ‘fatty’ and ‘faggot,’ and they were usually spoken with the same breath.”

My fatness became synonymous with the burgeoning—and, at the time, horrifying—realization that I was a flaming homosexual. The two insults most often hurled my way were “fatty” and “faggot,” and they were usually spoken with the same breath. 

But by the end of high school, I managed to shed about 30 pounds of weight through diet and exercise. “Healthy weight loss,” some might call it. I still hated looking at myself, and I still wouldn’t swim for fear of being seen in a bathing suit, but it was a bit easier to find clothes that fit, and the bullying stopped. 

But then came university. Suddenly, my time became completely consumed with my program—a combined honours in both journalism and humanities at Carleton University. When I wasn’t at school, I was at work, on my feet for 25 hours a week as a barista at a local coffee shop, picking up extra shifts to pay off my degree. 

I was also newly out, and beginning to navigate the sometimes seedy, often embarrassing realm of dating as a gay man. Fatphobia within the queer community, and particularly among men who have sex with men, is well-documented, but its prevalence is so beyond what any single study can capture. 

Trying to date, to seek love and acceptance from strangers who were riddled with the same social burdens and internalized prejudices I was, exacerbated the already strained relationship I had with my body. I remember several dates where my body got scanned by the other guy, and they heard my lispy, high-pitched voice for the first time. I would see a flicker in their eyes temper, and they’d have to leave suddenly, something had come up. On several occasions I got left alone at the café or the bar or the park or wherever we had decided to meet. 

 

I also had chronic acne, the kind that covers your face and bulges and blisters in puffs of deep red. The only thing that seemed to work was Accutane, an extremely powerful pill that dries out the oils on your face to kill the acne at its root. It also puckers your lips, dries out your eyelids, and can, in some cases, cause or worsen anxiety and depression, which is exactly what it did to me. I started having severe panic attacks and grew profoundly depressed. Nothing in my life was under my control; not my mental health, or my time, or my love life, not the fact that I was gay, or the way people looked at me. The only thing I could control, I felt, was what I put in my mouth. So I decided to stop eating. 

During the first two years of my degree, I counted every calorie I consumed using a fitness app. The average man is supposed to consume about 2,500 calories each day—I usually reached about 800. The app allowed me to gamify what I now understand was an eating disorder. I began rapidly losing weight, and got praised by almost everyone in my life for it. I started seeing better results in my dating life—more matches, more second dates, more compliments from strangers about my appearance. 

I weighed myself obsessively, often multiple times a day. I felt successful if I woke up at one weight and went to bed a couple pounds lighter, because I knew I’d burn more weight as I slept. Within a few months, I’d dropped more than 70 pounds. (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it’s unhealthy and unsustainable to lose more than two pounds per week, or eight per month). And yes, as my desire to be thin superseded my need to be healthy, the pain of self-induced hunger became a part of me and, eventually, that pain did slowly ebb away. 

Deprived of caloric energy, I became physically weaker. I was plagued by constant fatigue, I couldn’t sleep deeply and my hand would often tremor, a visual indicator of my body quietly emaciating itself. My mind was weaker, too. I couldn’t concentrate; everything was a bit out of focus. I don’t remember much about that time in my life, but I remember the constant sense of paranoia—worry over whether my gut was visible through my shirt, absent-mindedly wondering if the scattered laughter of strangers was prompted by my disgusting body. My only small moments of relief came from two things: fleeting compliments about my appearance and the diminishing sum on my scale.

The eating disorder I had—and have—came about largely as a result of my queerness. More precisely, it came about as a result of the complicated social stressors associated with being queer. And I’m not alone. Although there is a dearth of recent studies on the intersection between sexual and gender identity and eating disorders, the limited data that is available is alarming. One study from last November found that sexual minorities experience eating disorders at “higher” rates than cisgender, heterosexual people. It also found that trans men self-reported eating disorders five times more often than cisgender folks of any sexuality. Trans women self-reported eating disorders four times more often.

“Racism, homophobia, transphobia, settler colonialism—environmental factors can sometimes keep people stuck with an eating disorder.”

This study did not include data on non-binary, gender questioning or other gender minorities, although non-binary people do experience many of the same stressors that are thought to result in eating disorders, including dissatisfaction with one’s body and higher rates of mental illnesses like anxiety and depression. (One study even found that non-binary and gender questioning individuals actually experience “significantly higher” rates of anxiety and depression than binary transgender folks.) 

Ary Maharaj is the outreach and education coordinator at the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC), a Toronto-based organization that circulates information about eating disorders and provides a toll-free helpline. He says queer and trans folks’ high rates of disordered eating are largely fuelled by external and internal stressors that come as a result of their identities—what is more formally known as “social determinants of health.” 

“Racism, homophobia, transphobia, settler colonialism—environmental factors can sometimes keep people stuck with an eating disorder,” Maharaj says. 

Maharaj is careful to differentiate between these environmental factors, which can perpetuate eating disorders, and things that cause them in the first place. “What causes an eating disorder are the things that put people at risk,” he says, such as biological and hereditary predisposition and psychological risk factors like unhealthy perfectionism. These can also include what he calls “sociocultural risks,” like being bullied as a young person, experiencing discrimination or being exposed to impossible beauty standards on social media. “For queer, trans, gender diverse folks, the way in…

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Read More:A writer craved community while battling an eating disorder | Xtra Magazine