It wasn't. The stomach pains happened because when the life-threatening disease failed to materialize, I had turned to another twisted weight loss strategy: disordered eating. Sometime around the age of 13 I started to read first-person stories about anorexia for ideas on how to control my food intake. I hid behind fussiness—suddenly I didn't like anything with more than three ingredients, or red meat, or fish, or cheese, or anything strongly spiced. (As late as college, a friend bet me that he could recite my entire grocery list. He named six items and got it basically right.) My teen magazines were full of tips on how to throw up without attracting notice. I didn't binge, but I would throw up because I'd had a full meal, or because I'd scarfed a contraband late-night bowl of ice cream, or just because it was the end of the day.

The eating disorder stories tended to harp on the fact that girls who couldn't control their eating couldn't control anything in their lives, and as I got older I started to believe that everything about me was wrong. Though I often exuded a toughness that was mistaken for confidence, I doubted not only my attractiveness and right to exist in the world as a fat person but also my intelligence and talent and general worth. Once I started dating, I sought out boys and men who shared my low opinion of myself. One praised me for recognizing that my weight was "a problem"—he didn't care so much whether I was fat, as long as I knew I wasn't okay.

When I went away to college, I was still on a semipermanent diet punctuated by furtive eating, still pretending to be picky to hide my food restriction, and still looking for people to tell me how lousy I was. I caromed from asceticism to sugar overdose, and gained weight despite spending eight hours a week at fencing practice. (Around this time, I also had my metabolic rate tested. Based on my height and weight, it was significantly slower than average. It's possible that this was always the case. On the other hand, I know from Mom's own articles that restrictive eating can do a number on a person's metabolism.)


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