I just wanted to feel normal.
There were three girls (including me) in my sixth-grade class.
My school had, until just before I entered, been an all-boys school. Girls were admitted, but we were still very much the minority.
Because it was middle school, I ached to fit in.
Also because it was a middle school, it was no longer acceptable to be best friends with the boys.
When there are just two other girls in your class, friendship is more about necessity than it is about anything else.
I didn't look like the other girls did.
They were both tall and slim. They knew how to artfully apply lip gloss and understood that drowning yourself in a cloud of CK1 was the surefire way to attract a man's attention.
They spent their free time on the phone gossiping about their crushes and watching MTV.
I was in the basement of the church rectory where I lived reading by the furnace or listening to my parents' old record collection, and I had the self-esteem you'd expect: read, none at all.
I didn't know what was wrong with me, but I knew I wasn't normal.
The two other girls would stand around in the hallways talking about their diets, and I would talk about my diet too, jamming the Butterfinger wrapper a little deeper into my pocket.
I noticed that the girls I went to school with ate salads for lunch and drank sodas. They talked about exercise while they ate and seemed miserable to be around food.
Lunch was the highlight of my day. I would buy the three for a dollar gooey warm cookies and feast outside where no one could see.
After school the three of us would get home and get on a three-way phone call and talk about what we weren't eating for dinner.
While one of them crowd about losing another three pounds, I praised her in between secret bites of whatever candy I had hidden in my bedroom.
It was around this time our school had an assembly about eating disorders. For the girls. You know, all three of us.
We watched an upsetting film and I was captivated by the brittle starving women I saw there.
They talked about looking in the mirror and seeing an ugly person even though everyone else saw something different.
They talked about feeling out of control and how controlling what they put in their bodies was the only way they could keep from feeling like their lives were spinning out of control.
One woman revealed that she chewed eight packs of sugar-free gum a day so she wouldn't feel tempted by food.
After the assembly, one of the others mentioned that the gum seemed like a good idea.
She came to school the next day with a wholesale box of gum that we chewed like fiends during the day.
They spat theirs out when it turned into flavorless rubber. I swallowed it. I was always hungry for something and even the rubbery gum felt better than waiting for my next snack or lunch.
During the next morning assembly, our Vice Principal got strict about gum. Anyone seen chewing would get detention.
I'm forgetful now, and it was worse then. The next morning I was chewing away when a teacher spotted me and gave me detention.
I burst into tears. I was a high-strung anxious kid and the idea of having to tell my parents I got detention was world-ending.
But that isn't what I told my teacher. When she pulled me aside to see what was going on, I lied.
"I'm trying not to eat so I'll be skinny and the gum helps!" Yup, I told her I had an eating disorder. To not get detention.
I got out of detention, and off the hook after a pep talk about learning to love my body.
I was twelve and already my anxiety was crippling. I was twelve and I relied on food to help me cope with my emotions. There is no question that my relationship with food was disordered, but the eating disorder that nobody talked about in what was supposed to be an eating disorder assembly was what I was struggling with: Binge Eating Disorder.
Looking back, of the three of us girls, I was the one with the eating disorder.
The other two were just jumping aboard the warped way all women are taught to think about food and their bodies.
I was the one who had rotting fruit under her mattress, I was the one who stole money from my dad's coat to go buy candy, I was the one who would eat until I had to throw up, crying until I finally felt empty and clean.
I don't think at twelve I could have asked for help.
I don't think I even knew there was a problem.
All I knew was that I was different, and that one way I could fit in was by openly hating my body and treating it like garbage.
Eating disorders have many faces. They aren't all anorexic women. Men can and do have eating disorders. Binge eating can be just as hard on your body as starving it can be, and the mental damage you're inflicting on yourself is just as severe.
I thought that by lying I was getting myself out of a sticky situation, but in fact I was just digging a deeper hole to hide in.
It would take years to dig myself out, and to be honest, I'm still not quite there yet.
Today, I don't hate my body. Tomorrow, I might.
But I do know that I'm not going to punish myself or comfort myself with food either way, and that feels like progress.