Until Zero

120. Step off. Step back on. 119.8. Yes, I finally got under it. I look up at myself in the
mirror, smiling at myself in celebration. I finally achieved big goal numero uno. Fifteen down,
and ten to go before big goal numero dos. I shove the teller-of-truths (my scale) back underneath
my bed and sit down at my desk. I open my laptop, logging into my Instagram account and
settling in as I scroll through photo after photo of gorgeous, stick-thin girls.
“You know, you’ll never actually look like any of them as much as you stuff your face
right?” Ana grins at me as she pulls up a seat, clearly judging the huge amounts of fat on my
body.
“Well, thanks to you, I’m eating less and less. So, shut up and look at them with me” I
reply, logging onto YouTube and typing “thinspiration” into the search bar. I am shamelessly
addicted to the purposely triggering pictures, and I have seen just about all there is to see. We
stay like that for a few hours, just watching and looking at girls who are thinner than me. Better
than me. She’s right of course. I do stuff my face. Little piglet…oink oink.
“I’m bored, bitch. Oh, idea! Let’s make chocolate chip cookies.” Ana suggests, sitting
up straight, eyes wide and full of hope that I’ll agree.
“Um…okay, but won’t they make us fatter?”
“Not if we don’t eat them, silly girl. You can just give them to your friends when you see
them later. But they smell so, so good.” She stands, grabbing my hands and pulling me out of
my seat. “Come on let’s go!”
An hour later, we’re staring at a perfect pan of golden, chocolate chip cookies. Gooey,
sweet little morsels. You know how much you love the way the fresh, chocolatey goodness melts
in your mouth. I ignore my thoughts and also the envious growl of protest that erupts from my
stomach. I grab some Ziplocs and place four cookies in each bag, labelling who each bag is for
in purple sharpie marker. Ana gives me a quick kiss on each cheek before leaving to go to work.
Thank God she’s gone. Jeez she can be such a pissy-pants. I open the door to my dorm room
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and set the cookies on my desk before flopping down onto my bed. I embrace the fluffy
comforter as it surrounds my skin, like the gentle touch of a sweet lover. My phone buzzes, and
I glance over to read the text that pops up
Jen <3 *Hey Gracie! We’re getting lunch at The Hub, wanna come?” *
I can’t, Ana will be so pissed that I went without her.
Me *No thanks! But if you want, later you can come over and we can watch “Breakfast at
Tiffany’s” sound good?
Jen <3 * Sure! Sounds like a plan :* ttyl, love ya <3*
I sigh, but I know that Ana really would be furious. Hell unleashed, flames spilling from the
corners of my room. I stand in front of my full body mirror to do my daily (read, multiple times
a day) body check. My eyes slowly scan my body. I turn side to side, my long brown hair softly
moving as I twirl around to see myself. Ugh. I’m a fucking elephant. No. Elephants are at least
cute. Fatty. Better go work out, don’t want Ana to see this disgrace.
I exit the gym dripping with sweat three hours later. Cardio, arms, core, and ballet
practice. Pointe to be precise, which for the record, is a killer workout. Time for “dinner” little
piglet. I swipe my meal card at our university cafeteria, surveying the seating availability.
Oblivious little ants going to and fro. Select food, pick up food, consume food. Oblivious. I feel
my heart pound faster in my chest as my anxiety climbs. I take a deep breath and descend the
steps into the hell hole of food choices. Pasta: HELL no. Sandwich: too many carbs. Chicken-
“Hellooo? Protein.” Ana says, reading my thoughts and appearing by my side..
“What’s wrong with protein?”
“Um, it’s a good sustaining food, and we’re trying to KILL your body?”
“So what am I supposed to eat?”
Ana smirks devilishly at me, flipping her hair. “Dust.”
“Right. Dust, I’ll keep that in mind, you sarcastic asshole.”
“You know me, babe” she replies grinning sweetly. “Seriously though. A cup of carrots,
a bit of honey mustard, and a quarter cup of rice. That should be just about perfect.”
I get what she suggests, she gets the same, and we navigate our way through the oblivious
ants to our usual table. It’s not like she needs to eat what I eat. She could eat whatever she
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wants. Ana is thin, and flawless, and could eat anything and not gain a pound The crappy lights
of Hell Hole illuminate the ugly orange and yellow, 70’s style booths. The carpet is a disaster of
greens, all thrown together in some indistinguishable pattern. I push my food around my plate,
and take small delicate bites. Ana smiles proudly at me. “Look at my little caterpillar. You’ve
learned so well, soon you’ll be a flawless butterfly.” As soon as I’ve finished eating, I record it
all in MyFitnessPal app, making sure everything is as accurate as possible. -Five Week
Projection: If every day were like today you would weigh 98 lbs in five weeks- Good. Make
every day like today then.
Two weeks ago I was standing on big goal numero uno. Please 110, please 110, please
110. The teller-of-truths calculated my number, and finally my answer popped up. 111.
“Fat cow. You can’t even do THIS right,” Ana hisses in my ear.
“Shut up! I’ll do better this week. I’ll get down to 105, I promise,” I plead with her,
staring into her icy blue eyes.
“You’d better. We’re liquid fasting this week. You can have water, green tea and zero
calorie sodas, got it?”
“Yes..” I reply, shaking as a few tears make a runaway down my cheek and splatter onto
the truth-teller.
Jen knocked on my door and I open it to be greeted by her bright smile. “Agh! It’s so
great to see you! Wow you look so slim! Whatever you’re doing, I totally want the details,
lovely.” She walked over to my bed and sat, daintily perched like a sparrow on the edge of my
comforter. God, I’m such a cow compared to her. She’s always looked better than me, I don’t
know what the fuck she’s talking about. “You know what we should do?” she chirps.
“What ?” I ask, heavily plopping down beside her to lie on my back.
“We should walk over to that new ice cream place. I think it’s called Sweet Dreams?”
“Naw, I just ate and I’m stuffed. Let’s just watch Netflix.” Liar, liar, pants on fire. But
Ana would be proud of me. Hah. Look at me, Ana, making you so proud.
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Jen and I mostly just chit-chat after the movie. She’s been my best friend since I started
college in the fall, and we usually hang out at least twice a week. I confide in her about
everything. Everything except Ana. No one knows about Ana.
“You know you can tell me about anything, right girl?” She was now running her fingers
gently through my hair, relieving pent up tension in my body unintentionally.
“Yeah, of course. You’re like a sister to me. Why do you mention it?”
“I dunno, you just have seemed kind of off the last couple weeks. Here, but not totally,
ya know?” God…you don’t even know.
The guilt crept up, wrapping its vines around my ankles. “ Yeah, I know girl, I’m sorry.
Just been busy lately. School work, my new job, preparing for my ballet final. Just stuff.” I
quietly sigh, feeling bad for lying, but still happy to be around my best friend. She knows you’re
lying, don’t get caught, do not. Get. Caught.
“Well if you need help with anything, or just a hug, I really am here. I promise you can
always trust me Gracie.”
I wish I could tell her…but I just can’t do it.
I laid on my bed, thinking about where this all even started. I can’t even really recall if it
was one thing in particular, no one called me fat in school. Well, my stepmom is looks obsessed.
Have to wear brand name clothing, keep up with the hottest diets, never be above 140 lbs, that’s
disgusting. I’m just gross. Fat. Fat. Fat. Stepmom expects the very best of everything. Clothing,
our grades, our talents. FAT. I hate this stupid liquid only diet Ana has me on… thank God it’s
over tomorrow. I should go dancing with Jen this weekend. I’ll have to avoid eating though. I
feel so bad for lying… but no one can know. It’s not like anything is REALLY wrong anyway. I
mean, I’m fine. I’m totally fine. And I’m still fat either way- My thoughts are interrupted as I
feel the weight of Ana sink in next to me on the bed. I roll over and face her, admiring the way
her collarbones protrude.
“Miss me?” she said, rolling over to wrap me up in her arms.
“Kinda. What have you been up to today besides hijacking my thoughts?”
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“Same ol’, same ol’. Just figuring out how to make you even more perfect my little
caterpillar. I’m thinking zero calorie DIEt” She says this looking completely unfazed, as if this
relationship between us is totally normal. As if any of this is normal.
“I made it to 105,” I pipe in cautiously. “Aren’t you proud of me?”
“Oh, yes. But you could always afford to lose another ten, of course. You can do that
can’t you, my lovely little caterpillar?” I nod, not looking at her. Of course I can. I am getting
oh so good at this. Eating will make me a failure, and I really want to win this game. She pulls
me off the bed and smiles. Malice leaking out of her, overflowing like a boiling pot of water.
“Let’s see our progress shall we my little ballerina? Strip down Gracie.” I do as she says,
standing exposed in my undergarments. She circles me, like a cat figuring out the best way to
kill its cornered prey. There’s too much fat on my stomach still. And my thighs. And my hips.
I’m a fucking whale… oh god she’s going to be pissed. When is she ever going to not think I can
lose more though. Doesn’t matter. It won’t matter until I hit zero.
I sit on my floor, my chin resting delicately on my hands. I’ve just been watching
thinspo on my laptop for the last half hour, and am settling into my little nightly ritual. The
sorrowful music surrounds me, as photos of girls, bones sticking out everywhere, flicker across
the screen. I’m getting closer and closer. I can almost wrap my hands around my thighs now. I
hear a knock at the door, and thinking it’s Ana, I get up and swing it open without hesitation.
But instead of Ana, I’m greeted with the adoring face of my best friend. I see her eyes glance
over my shoulder and my stomach sinks to my feet. Oh shit. The laptop. The FUCKING laptop
is playing thinspo still. I spin around and race to shut it, my heart racing like I’ve just completed
a marathon.
“Gracie…what was that?” Jen says, concern laced in the simple question. I don’t reply,
but stare at my feet, searching for the answers in the soft tendrils of the carpeted floor. She looks
me up and down, and I watch as the lights flicker and the pieces come together in her bright
mind. My emotions are shutting off. Overload, retreat in progress. Pull up the anchor, close
the shutters. She steps toward me, grabbing my cold hands in her warm ones. I shiver. “Gracie
please talk to me. Why were you watching those videos just now? Is there a problem I should
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know about?” The walls come up and I snap. I am a breaking tree branch falling rapidly to the
ground.
“I don’t HAVE a problem!” I’m taken aback by the bite of my words and I stare at her,
apology seeping from my body.
“Hey,” She wraps me in a hug, “It’s okay. I just didn’t know. You need help, Gracie.
Promise you’ll go talk to someone?” I nod in agreement against her shoulder, although I think
I’m fine. How could I let this happen? She wasn’t supposed to know…
Three weeks since I hit big goal numero uno. Three years of flirtation with Ana. I mean
Ana has been here for awhile, but now it’s serious. And now someone knows. She wasn’t
supposed to know. Thank god she left. I sit on my floor, a variety of sugary and savory snacks
surrounding me. Lindor truffles, Twizzlers, a container of baby cupcakes with baby pink
frosting, a six-inch sandwich from Subway, a bowl of Cookie Crisp cereal, and a box of Tobasco
Cheez-its. Don’t. Don’t. Don’t. You can’t eat, you’re not allowed to eat, don’t. I cautiously
unwrap a truffle and pop it in my mouth, the chocolate melting and becoming a sugary puddle on
my pink tongue. It’s so damn good. And then I’m not here. I blindly unwrap another, then
another, and another. The whole bag is gone. STOP YOU FAT PIG! DON’T! On to the bowl of
cereal, scarfed down, consumed in what seems like a split second. Then the Twizzlers. Pink
frosting is on my fingers, little chocolate crumbs decorate my lap. Lettuce from the sandwich
makes an escape, and dances with the cupcake crumbs. Cheez-its now. Yummy, cheesy, salty
goodness. Down the hatch.
“What the HELL have you done?” screams Ana as she storms into the room, slamming
the door behind her. She yanks me up by my upper arm and drags me to the bathroom. I sob
uncontrollably. I am inconsolable. I am going to make a salty river of tears. “Get it out! Now!”
She leaves me to the porcelain throne. I have to obey. I’ve never seen her so mad at me… So
many calories. Evil calories, seeping into my bloodstream, infecting me with lard. Now I’m not
pure. I haven’t eaten in days. I was shiny and clean inside, what have I done. Fat. Fat. Fat. Is
it all out? I reach for the glass of water on my sink counter and chug, then resume. Ana is never
going to forgive me. Jen wasn’t supposed to know. She wasn’t supposed to know. I flush my
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impurities down the toilet and stand, legs shaking, light-headed and stare at myself in the mirror.
Wow, that girl is SO skinny. Who is she, her bones are perfect, flawless. Wait, that girl is… me?
No, that’s impossible. The figure morphs in the mirror. Ugh. I am disgusting. Rolls on my
stomach. Fat everywhere. I knew that wasn’t me.
Perfect. Empty. Thin. Perfect. Empty. Thin. To appease Jen, both of us are sitting in the
waiting room of some therapist whose name I forget. I told Jen I wouldn’t go unless she came.
So, here we are. Perfect. Empty. Thin. “Grace Towers?” A short lady with curly silver hair and
thin, round glasses appears to be addressing me. Time to put on a show. Just answer her
questions. Nothing more. Hello random lady with some name. I walk past her, Jen in tow, into
Mrs. What’s-her-name’s office. I had to bargain with What’s-her-name on the phone to let me
bring in Jen. But I told her there was absolutely no way I would sit there without my best friend.
I take in my surroundings and sit on a soft (sink-as-I-sit) grey couch. There are photos of
different kinds of butterflies adorning the walls, along with certificates of her apparently
impressive education and qualifications. Jen sits close to me on the couch, grabbing my hand so
that I know I have her support. Mrs. What’s-her-name smiles at me, and grabs a notepad and
what look to be worksheets. I would be in the middle of dancing in the studio right now if it
weren’t for Jen. Auditions for local companies start in two weeks.
“Well Grace, my name is Laurie. Here is some basic paperwork to fill out, just basic
information about yourself, and then a questionnaire that will allow me to diagnose you with any
possible mental illness.” She hands me a stack of papers and sits back down.
“There is nothing wrong with me. But fine.” I get to work on filling out the intake forms
and answering question, after question. I tick of box after box, trying to be as vague as possible.
Meanwhile Jen is making small talk with Laurie. This is ridiculous, there’s absolutely nothing
wrong with me. So I like thinspo, big-fucking-whoop. I finish the stupid paperwork and hand it
back to short, silver-haired Laurie, barely acknowledging her.
She reads through my paperwork, scribbling notes on her legal pad. After staring at the
same damn piece of fuzz on the carpet, for what seems like decades, she speaks. “Alrighty, thank
you for filling all of that out! If you’ll just come over here and stand on the scale please. I need
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as much information as I can get.” I stare at her, my heart seemingly pausing in my chest, and
slowly stand. I peel off my jacket, and then the sweater underneath- I’m always freezing- leaving
me in my leggings and t-shirt. I approach the scale like a mouse approaching a feral cat. I never
weigh myself with people around. I have to weigh less. Ana will be so mad if I don’t. Jen shoots
me a knowing and supportive smile. Jen makes me brave enough to step on the scale in front of
Laurie. Laurie and I both look down. 98. 98. 98! Yes! Good job me! I am standing on
near-perfection. I am a feather. I am a swan. I hope to dance in Swan Lake next season with a
company. Laurie scribbles down the pretty number and tells me I can sit back down. “Now, I
know you do ballet, do you think that’s contributed at all to why you think so harshly of
yourself?”
I give in a little, and I tell her about all of the amazing ballet variations I’ve performed,
and also about what hard work it is. The hours in the studio, the blisters, and stress fractures.
The pressure from my stepmom to be the very best dancer in my studio. I tell her that the first
time I starved to lose weight was when I was sixteen. I wanted to wear a nicer costume, but it
was a size smaller than the one I had.
“Well, based on the information you gave me, and the way you answered your questions,
I am going to diagnose you with OSFED.” I look at her with a blank expression. What the fuck
is OSFED? As if reading my mind, Laurie launches into an explanation. “OSFED stands for
other specified eating or feeding disorder. In simpler terms, you’re not exactly anorexic, and
you’re not exactly bulimic. But you have a problem just as serious, if not more serious than
either.”
“Why possibly more serious?” Jen pipes in.
“Well because, OSFED is often more easy to disguise and because it is often a lot more
complicated than say, anorexia, the behaviors can vary so greatly that it becomes more difficult
to treat. More specifically, you suffer from atypical anorexia,” I roll my eyes. This is stupid. I
am perfectly fucking fine. Peace out bitches. I stand, putting my coat back on.
“Well, I think you’re both crazy. I’m leaving. Thank you for your time Laurie.” Laurie
stares after me, dumbfounded and I walk out and get in Jen’s car. I don’t talk to Jen at all during
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the ride back. God. Why is everyone so delusional? Can’t they see how fat I am? But hey, 98.
98 is beauty. Ana will be so pleased.
It’s been a week since Jen took me to the stupid therapist person. Ana is watching me
rehearse in one of the studios. I did an intense warm-up and now I’m working on my Kitri
variation from Don Quixote in my pointe shoes. I’ve been working on this variation for weeks
and I am so close to nailing it. Ana hits play on the CD player and blows me a kiss, bowing
dramatically.
You got this. 6th time’s a charm. The music starts and I notice an odd tingly feeling
crawling up from my hands, like frost creeping over the petals of a flower. I ignore it as I begin
the variation, hitting every movement perfectly. I’m halfway through, and the tingling has crept
up to my neck, I feel light-headed. I’ll float away on a cloud, I feel like a butterfly. What the
hell is happen-
I can’t move. I think I’m on a gurney? I hear sobbing and I look up to see Jen standing
above me, following the EMT’s and me as they rush me out of the the gym building. There’s
an oxygen mask on my face and I take a deep breath in, trying to process what’s going on. One
of the EMT’s notices that I’m conscious and rests a hand on my shoulder. “Grace Towers?
You’re having a heart attack, we’re taking you to the hospital, you are going to be okay. Can
you understand me?” I nod yes, my mind racing. A heart attack? Since when does a nineteen
year old have a heart attack? It’s not like I have high cholesterol. And heart attacks don’t run
in my family-
I wake up in the hospital and immediately notice a really odd feeling when I breath in.
What the…? I open my eyes and glance at everything I’m attached to. Oh. No. NO. no, no, no,
this can’t be happening. A feeding tube, they’ve put in a feeding tube. Oh my god, all of the work
I’ve put in to get here, they’re going to make me fatter, I’m already fat. I begin hyperventilating
as the panic attack settles over me and I cry as I try desperately to move, but my wrists are bound
to the bed. Something starts beeping rapidly as my heart races and a nurse hurries into the room
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and starts trying to calm me in a low even voice. “Sweetheart, stop moving, there’s nothing you
can do. Relax, sweet girl. It’s not going to hurt you, I promise.” I stop struggling and resort to
just crying instead. The nurse explains to me that a doctor will visit me in a few minutes, so I lie
there trying to make sense of what’s happened in the last few hours. Okay, well I haven’t really
been eating, but that’s not enough to actually make my heart freak out is it? Ana didn’t seem
concerned at any point, and this was her doing. Wouldn’t she have said something? Warned
me?
The doctor finally walks in, Jen in tow, and pulls up a chair beside me.
“Well, after running some tests, it’s clear you’re malnourished. Your potassium, iron,
and electrolytes are incredibly low, and it’s likely you’ve been experiencing occasional heart
palpitations for awhile now. And you only weigh 94 pounds, which is significantly lower than a
girl your height and age should weigh. Has anyone ever diagnosed you with an eating disorder
before?”
What…? An eating disorder? I thought that was just a load of crap. I didn’t think this was really
a problem. And 94? 94. 94. 94. Yes I’m getting there.
“Um, yeah, I think. Something called OSFED?”
“ Ah, yes, well that would make sense. Well, due to how weak your heart is right now,
we have to keep you here for at least a week, and after that I’m going to highly recommend that
you at the very least enter an outpatient eating disorder program.” The doctor left, and Jen
scurried over, lying on the bed next to me, hugging me the best she could.
“Your stepmom called. She says she’ll pay for whatever treatment you need, for as long
as you need it. She told me to ask you if you want her to come up here.”
“No, absolutely not. It’s fine. I just want out of here, Jen.”
“I know, hun. I’m so sorry… I should have told someone, or encouraged you more to see
Laurie again. At the very least, I should’ve been there for you more.” It hurts my heart to hear
Jen blame herself for my sake.
“Jen stop. It’s not your fault. You’re the only one who even noticed anything at all and
said something. That alone is more than enough.” I wrap an arm around her warm tummy.
What would I do without this girl? I’m a horrible best friend compared to her. I disgust myself.
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“Anyway, I’m here, and I won’t go anywhere. I promise you’re going to get better.”
But what if… What if I don’t want to get better? That’s what really scares me. “Ah, my little
ballerina turning into a butterfly.” Perfect. Empty. Thin.
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