Content Warning: This story contains themes related to eating disorders/disordered eating.
Maricela stepped onto the scale and took a deep inhale while she waited for the final number to register.
130 lbs, 4 oz
“Oh my God. I did it!”
For years Maricela struggled with disordered eating. Growing up, she was always referred to as “chubby” and while her family saw this as an endearing quality, middle and high schoolers weren’t so kind. The first time Maricela remembers being bullied for her weight she was 13-years-old. It sounds cliche, she knows, but it happened in the girl’s locker room; a brutal battleground in the war that is early adolescence. Maricela always made it a point to be the first to arrive so that no one saw her changing. Except on April 13th, 2007, when her teacher asked her to hang back for a moment to discuss an assignment. Those precious 90 seconds were the catalyst to years of life-altering pain, shame, and secrets that led Maricela to this pivotal moment.
The changes began small. She would avoid fried foods. She exchanged her daily soda with lunch for sparkling water. She started opting-out of dessert. But as the years went by and the bullying continued, the dieting became more intense. Low-carbs became no carbs, artificial sugar was eliminated entirely, dairy was off the menu (not even the vegan stuff, she just didn’t trust it). Eventually, she simply began making the same exact salad every single day:
Half a container of leafy greens
3 ounces of matchstick carrots
6 grape tomatoes
Half of an avocado
2 tablespoons of sunflower seeds
1 tablespoon of almonds
1.5 tablespoons of olive oil vinaigrette
This was exactly 437 calories, which allowed just enough room for her to have the second half of the avocado for dinner without going over her 600 calorie limit.
By the time Maricela graduated high school, she was weighing in at a measly 97 lbs, 3 oz. Having hit a late growth spurt she was standing tall at 5”8’, yet had the appearance of a woman four times her age. Her skin pulled taut against her bones, her hair thinned and lost its sheen and curls, and the lack of fat and muscles caused her body to ache. Her family was concerned, but Maricela assured them nothing was wrong. After all, it’s not like she wasn’t eating, and she certainly wasn’t making herself vomit after her daily salad. She just ate a little differently than others and there was nothing to worry about!
That was until Maricela made it to her first semester at college.
Maricela toured the campus prior to the fall semester starting and noticed they had a salad bar in one of the eateries, but she didn’t trust that they wouldn’t do something strange with the food to keep it fresh longer - she had read something about soaking greens in sugar water to ensure freshness, right? Well, she’s pretty sure she did, so she elected not to have an on-campus meal plan and instead purchased a small refrigerator for her dorm room to store her salad supplies.
When midterms rolled around, Maricela found herself pulling late nights and early mornings in the library, cramming every second of the day in the hopes that her dreams of becoming a physical therapist would come true. Some days, she studied for so long that she forgot to eat. Then some days became a week. And a week became two. 15 days after Maricela had her last meal, she collapsed in the doorway of the library. The last thing she remembers was her terrified roommate, Sarah, saying, “I haven’t seen her eat in a few days” as a disturbed bystander muttered, “A few?”
Some faint whispers began to creep into Maricela’s head. When she finally came to, she was in a bright lit room with what appeared to be a doctor, two nurses, Sarah, and her mother.
“What’s happening?” she wondered.
“Maricela, my baby, it’s so wonderful to see you up. We’ve missed you so much!” her mother offered with a gentle, tearful smile.
“Missed me? Where have I been?” Maricela inquired, now noticing the many tubes and needles decorating various parts of her body.
Sarah’s lip quivered as she responded, “You’ve been in a medically induced coma for five days, Mari. You were severely malnourished and dehydrated. You fainted when we were going to the library. Do you not remember?”
It all came rushing back to her like a river after a strong storm. She and Sarah on the way to the library. The overwhelming dizziness she felt. The headache that had persisted for days. Fainting in the doorway as fellow classmates looked on in abject horror.
15 days. That’s how long it had been since she had a meal.
“I think I need help,” Maricela blurted out.
“That’s the first step,” replied the doctor.
Five years later, Maricela found herself staring at the number she had been striving for since the day she left that hospital in the fall of 2013. Her doctor worked with her to find a mental health professional and a nutritionist who teamed up with him to ensure she was receiving the best care possible to fight this illness. It wasn’t easy, to say the least. The first two years of recovery were the hardest Maricela ever experienced. Every time she tried eating something new, the mocking voices of all the kids in the hall created a cruel cacophony in her mind that took her physically screaming to drown out. She would gain four ounces and feel nauseous. She hated the way her skin felt stretched even worse than before as her muscles and fat returned. But despite the many hardships and crippling self-doubt, Maricela had made it to this moment.
She finally weighed over 130 pounds.
She ran giggling to her closet to grab the outfit she saved for this very special occasion. She worked so hard for this moment and now she wanted to admire the fruits of her labor!
As she walked to the back of the closet, she looked around at the various articles of clothing and began to recall different milestones in her journey. The first time a bra fit properly. When she moved from a size 00 to a 0. The day she truly stopped fitting in clothes from the junior’s section. After those first two years, every step was easier than the last, and they had all led her here.
Standing in front of the full-length mirror, Maricela smiled while tears filled her eyes.
1 pair of medium underwear
1 size 34B bra
1 medium black crop top
1 pair of size 6 boyfriend jeans, medium wash
1 pair of no-show socks
1 pair of size 7.5 slide-on Vans
One brand new, highly fashionable Maricela.
It was April 13th, 2017.