You sit at your desk in the cold, dim room, contemplating the textbook in front of you. You stare at the words, but they are meaningless. They twist off the page in obscure terms you don’t understand. Oligodendrocytes. Astrocytes. Schwann cells. Terms you should know – terms you do know, in some small, quiet part of your brain – but for now at least, they are meaningless.
Everything is meaningless.
Your stomach twists.
Absently, you list its contents in the order you imagine they sit.
A few cubes of watermelon [9; 87 grams].
A few grapes [also 9; 36 grams].
A bite of bread.
Some leaves of lettuce.
An entire baby cucumber.
Two cherry tomatoes.
A slice of low-cal-gluten-free-fat-free-dairy-free-egg-free-everything-free bread smothered in salt and raw vegetables and a positively sinful sprinkling of vegan coconut oil cheese then grilled to resemble pizza. Pizza!
Many, many litres of sugar-free drinks.
Your stomach twists again.
You blink, attempting yet again to focus on what you are reading.
Supposed to be reading.
You find yourself in front of the fridge.
You feel off balance, unsure when the time lapsed between sitting at your desk and standing in front of the fridge fingering tubs of soy yoghurt as though they are precious metals.
You slam fridge shut and stalk back to your desk. Chug down the remainder of the bottle of water you keep with you at all times. Tap your fingers on the laminate. Arrange your pens. Blindly stare at the pages of the textbook.
Studiously ignore the gaping hole inside you that seems to be growing by the minute.
You’re in front of the fridge again.
You scowl at your legs – so weak, so needy – and attempt to reason with yourself.
One soy yoghurt = 113 calories.
Six grapes = 20 calories.
A sprinkling of a crushed muesli bar on top = 47 calories.
Not too bad, you lie to yourself. It will be okay. It will be okay.
You take a coke – zero, of course – and go back to your desk. Punch the numbers into your calorie trackers. Multiple. Just in case. In case of what, exactly, you aren’t sure, but just in case.
You try to drink the coke zero slowly, to prove to yourself that you don’t actually need it, you’re not actually hungry, but you fail. It is gone before you even finish adding up the numbers for the ninth and final time.
Okay, you decide. Okay.
Back at the fridge.
It groans at you. Hums. Stutters and stops.
Weak, it sings. Weak, weak, weak.
You ignore it.
Spend ten minutes choosing a flavour of yoghurt. They are all the same number of calories according to the label, which is clearly lying, but the flavour is of the upmost importance. Mango and peach is the worst. Strawberry is the best. Apricot and blueberry fall somewhere in between.
You settle on mango and peach.
No sense getting crazy about it.
You spend an additional fifteen minutes choosing a suitable flavour of muesli bar to crumble on top.
By now, 45 minutes have elapsed since that first stomach twist.
You wonder if it’s even worth the effort at all.
Your stomach twists again, harder this time. Just to let you know, it is.
Muesli bar picked. You weigh everything, starting with the six grapes [17 calories; you picked the smallest ones because those three calories matter, okay], the yoghurt [sure it says 125 grams on the tub, but how can you be sure if you don’t check?], and finally, the tip of a muesli bar, pulverised onto the surface of the yoghurt. You spend an inordinate amount of time ensuring that it is precisely 9 grams so your numbers add up. They have to add up. They just have to.
It’s been an hour now.
You take the yoghurt back to your desk. Sit it there and stare at it, proving to yourself that you don’t need to eat it. You don’t. You don’t. You don’t.
You peel the grapes and eat the skins, even though they are bitter and not very pleasant. You do it because you counted 25 grams of grapes and good grief you’re going to get your 25 grams of grapes.
You sip water in-between each grape skin from the fresh bottle you took from the fridge.
You can’t drink water out of a glass. You just can’t. You don’t even know why. It’s just how it’s always been.
When the grapes are peeled and the skins eaten, you pop their sticky insides into your mouth like candy. One, two, three. If you listen hard enough, you can almost hear the faint splash as they hit the toxic pool of stomach acid, water, and aspartame inside you.
The yoghurt is probably warm by now.
You don’t care.
You dip the plastic spoon – yoghurt must always, always be eaten with a plastic spoon – inside the tub and slowly remove it. You shake off any errant muesli bar crumbs. A thin sheen of yoghurt glistens at you, daring you to eat it.
After a few moments of arguing with yourself, you do.
Licking the translucent coating off the spoon then gulping down water. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
This continues for half the tub.
You begin to take bigger spoonfuls.
Barely pausing to swallow.
Barely pausing to breathe.
The wild, ravenous hunger you work so hard to keep at bay appears and you are ill equipped to combat it.
Within seconds, the yoghurt is gone.
As is the nine whole grams of muesli bar.
Your heart is literally pounding.
Your check your pulse.
131. Fat burning zone, according to fitbit.
You can’t help but laugh.
Your brain insists that you get another yoghurt.
Eat, it whispers. Eat.
You close your eyes and imagine eating two more. Three more. All of them. All of them. All of them.
But with closed eyes comes the images – pictures, thoughts, memories – that you try so hard to bury and suddenly your appetite is gone. Hunger is replaced by nausea. Guilt. Shame. Disgust.
You throw away the evidence and scrub your teeth. Gargle mouthwash. Drink yet more water until you can feel it sloshing around with every step you take.
Sit at your desk.
It’s colder, now.