Summer Camp

They don’t let you exercise at Eating Disorders Camp.  They don’t let you do much of anything but sit around and eat and talk about eating.

And the food is really, really bad.  Hospital food bad.  If they are so desperate for you to eat, you’d think they’d give you some more appetizing options.  But they don’t.

They do give you options, but I cried “Kosher!” and pleaded “Vegetarian!” and so was able to choose the same menu every day.

For breakfast, I had raisin bran and banana and (whole) milk.  They don’t allow coffee; G-d forbid the caffeine might stimulate your metabolism a little bit.

For lunch, it was fruit plate; a soggy scoop of cottage cheese, slices of under-ripe cantaloupe and honeydew, a few red grapes.

For dinner, the cheese plate; a sleeve of Saltine crackers, a package of Kraft “cheese” squares, desiccated sticks of carrot and celery, some unspecified dip-like substance.

Of course, each meal was washed down with an Ensure chaser; a completely artificial, chemically-tasting form of liquid sustenance.  To add insult to injury, they would always bring me Strawberry, the most disgusting flavor by far.

Note.  You may be thinking I got off easy, that this menu would qualify as a weight loss plan by any normal standard, but this was not the case.  The quantity of food so exceeded even my non-anorexic diet that I gained weight at a depressingly rapid rate.

Each meal came with a paper form listing all of the items on the plate.  After ingesting what we could tolerate and rearranging the rest, an orderly would come around to complete the checklist by filling-in the estimated percentage we had consumed of each foodstuff.

If we passed and it was lunch, and only if we passed and it was lunch, we could go outside to the courtyard for the remainder of the hour.  This was a much-desired privilege; fresh air and sunshine, albeit for a short while, was a very welcome respite from the dingy, institutional environment.

During this recess, we were supervised, in order to prevent any unnecessary burning of calories.  There was a swing set, however, and on some of the days I was able to coax the Shaynas — three attractive, accomplished young women, all with the same name — to join me for a gleeful arc through the air.

Truthfully, I felt like something of a den mother.  Though past forty, I was not nearly the oldest; a few of the campers were into their fifties.  But unlike a fine wine, anorexics and bulimics do not age well, so except for the co-eds and me, the rest of our group was more-or-less inanimate.

One day, it happened they were short on staff and we were left unguarded during the after-lunch interlude.  A few of the girls took advantage of this unexpected freedom to pace the perimeter.  Others discussed strategies for making an escape, but were too sapped to scale the fence.

Suddenly, one of the prisoners called out that she had found a football.  A football?  How a ball of any variety had found its way into our gated community was a mystery of epic proportion and surely an act of subversion.  While uninteresting in any other context; to us, there and then, a football was sheer delight.

Immediately, I threw my arms in the air and shouted “Anorexics against the Bulimics!” and the girls started dividing themselves into teams according to diagnostic code.

As soon as the words passed my lips, however, I realized this was a very bad idea.  I mean, most of us anorexics could be knocked down by a mild breeze.  And the bulimics, well, more than a few of them were built to play the offensive line.

No, this would make for a very lopsided and dangerous scrimmage indeed.  It was my intention to reconfigure the field, but before I could say anything, our sentry was back on duty.  In an instant, the football was confiscated and we were led back to the sterile, florescent day room.

The weeks dragged and I didn’t get much from this supposedly salubrious setting.  The counselors weren’t terribly engaging and the campers were dreadfully disconnected.  Anyway, my issues were already well-understood, and in all honesty, dangerous as my disordered thinking might have been, I just really, really liked being anorexic.

Turns out that not eating was almost effortless for me.  Friends from shul would confess they couldn’t possibly fast a full day for Yom Kippur.  One day?  Please.  I never counted calories or looked for “thinspiration”.  I just ate very lightly and exercised very vigorously.

Most women have no idea how good it feels to go by the Macy’s Petite department and find a size 0 is too big.  I could do yoga like nobody’s business; it is very easy to twist about when there is nothing to get in the way.  My mind was free, no longer needing to worry about my weight all day long.

And the positive reinforcement was out of this world.  In the locker room at my gym, women — women! — would come over to say I had a beautiful body or to ask if I danced ballet.  Men appreciated me in a way I could never have imagined prior to achieving this sylphlike status.

Though I did not enjoy the constant medical attention, it was very convenient not to get my period.  Also, there is a slight light-headedness that comes with malnourishment that is surprisingly pleasant.  The euphoria overwhelmed the fainting spells, serious symptoms, severe side effects, and well-intentioned interventions.

While this was a miserable way to spend the season, my doctor had decreed the cost of my liberty would be 100 lbs.  It was an exorbitant price to pay, seemingly impossible, but like so many others sent to summer camp against their will, more than anything, I just wanted to go home.

© 2016 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

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