pearls around the neck 173
Etymologically speaking, “anorexia” means the absence of appetite, or lack of appetite or no appetite.
Error.
The anorexic may reach permanent loss of appetite and not feel hunger at all. After months of fasting,
an internal modification of the neurotransmitters will effectively trigger the feeling of satiation. But
reality is very different. At first, the anorexic fights her appetite, all her appetites. Her appetite towards
food is no more than a synecdoche of a broader set of desires and these desires must be annihilated at
all cost.
Every anorexic should write her story because each case of anorexia is unique and has its own
idiosyncrasies.
I was 12 when I decided to stop eating.
I had no need to lose weight and, living in a traditional Catholic boarding school for girls, the need to
be liked was not a priority for me! In all honesty and keeping things in perspective, I did not like the
food served at the boarding school. Little by little, I became content with just breakfast: two slices of
white bread with butter, dipped in a cup of coffee with milk and between the two, like a sandwich,
some “speculoos” cookies… then nothing, or nearly nothing, for the rest of the day. My appetite
diminished, my taste faded, my taste buds atrophied; food became the least of my priorities. I forgot
about eating. This happened to me several times, though I wouldn’t forget to breathe, or sleep, or
bathe, or communicate with others…
That attitude of relegating eating to an unimportant activity took root within me precisely at the age
of 12. By then, food no longer existed: out of sight, out of smell, far from the realm of my senses and
taste…. out of my life. I don’t recall feeling unfortunate - very much the opposite. I was a very good
student, I had many friends and I was on the competition swim team.
But my body grew thin. My breasts did not develop when my flamenco friends were getting full,
beautiful, blossoming. In that group of developing adolescents, I looked like a weakling, a beggar. And
I promptly became aware of it.
Then, why not start eating? I did the opposite. Why? And how would I get nourishment when I
burned calories? If food was not important to me, what was it that gave me pleasure? If food were not
appetizing, what would nourish me? What was I “hungry” for?
I eventually stepped out of this behavior and regained a normal life.
At 16, I was a young woman, truly.
By 20, however, I barely weighed 108 lb to my 5.7 ft stature. It wasn’t dramatic, but it wasn’t
“feminine” to look at. Flat, no curves, pointy and bony shoulders, skinny legs, my face already
wrinkled, with sunken cheeks. I was married and we lived in Africa. Surrounded by friends, our lives
were filled with adventure and excitement that everyone envied, and I was not hungry. Once again:
the loss of appetite. Sitting at the table was not something that excited me; going to a restaurant bored
me; however, cooking for others I found fascinating. To ensure that those coming through our door
would be fed and satisfied was essential to me. But what would I eat to remain alive? A sliver of papaya,
a slice of mango, some roasted peanuts, a piece of bread with butter dipped in coffee with milk… a list
of four or five foods that I liked a little. While many anorexics torture themselves by eating tasteless and
colorless foods - a few biscotti that taste like cardboard, fat free and bland yogurt - I always ate what I
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