health

"Run, pig, run." A single, humiliating moment at 17 changed how I think about food forever.

Content warning: this article deals with disordered eating and mental health, and may be triggering for some readers.

“HEY PIG! ARE YOU SERIOUSLY GOING TO EAT THAT?!”

My ribs contracted as they tried desperately to gather air. Time was suspended. I had always suspected that words had the powerful ability to alter reality. Now I knew. 

I was a 17-year-old girl walking along the street alone, enjoying an ice cream when a group of boys pulled up beside me in a car and yelled those fateful words.

They snorted and grunted, hanging out of the windows, making pig noises. 

“SEE YA FATTY!” they yelled, gleefully laughing as they drove away. 

I thought of these words every day for years.

I often wonder if those boys have even given it a second thought since that day. If they did I imagine it would be with a shake of the head, a smirk. A slight blush of the cheek at the embarrassment, a chuckle at the indiscretions of their youth. 

Oh the fun they had! Boys being boys! 

But really, I doubt they even remember it.

Ironically, those words about my heaviness had rendered me weightless. I was mid-air, mid-moment. I was the roots of a tree desperately reaching, seeking solace back in the earth. 

This comment was the starter pistol that began my race to vanish. To shrink. To be small and insignificant. To never again be still enough or large enough to become a target.

Those thoughtless insults thrown at me burrowed under my skin. They nestled and entrenched themselves and hollowed out all the softness I had. They created a deceptive dialogue that would be repeated so often and became so ingrained, it could only be truth.

The ice cream lay forgotten, melting on the pavement. I was disgusted by it. I don’t believe there was a time that a person had ever gone from pleasure to utter revulsion so quickly.

Run, pig, run.

So I ran. I would sneak out of my bedroom every night and run up and down my street. Over and over again. Any time I felt my legs begin to give way, turning to jelly, I would chant “run, pig run” and somehow keep going.

Some nights I was running so fast, my legs appeared to completely disconnect from the rest of my body. Just two limbs manically leaping forward, one after another, seeking solace in the numbness. Trying to outrun the impossible: myself.

One night, comforted by moonlight projecting my ever-shrinking shadow, I realised I could not outrun my mind. But I could outrun my body. 

For months I lived on an apple a day, plus copious amounts of Diet Coke and water. I marvelled at finding willpower I never knew I had. How each “no” I gave at the offer of food become easier and easier each time. 

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I was so hungry at first. But soon I was fed off the compliments. The steady stream of “wow, you look amazing” filled me to the brim. 

“I wish I had your discipline.”

“You’ve never looked better, keep it up!”

My self-esteem had never been higher. But still I had to run. 

I went to a party to celebrate the end of the school term. I was thrilled that the offer of a pineapple flavoured Bacardi Breezer had somehow led me to a couch with a boy. And a conversation with this boy had somehow led me to my first kiss. 

It wasn’t a good one, he seemed quite determined to demonstrate how far his tongue could reach down my throat. But this was my first kiss so I hardly felt qualified to critique. 

I was just so thrilled that someone, anyone, wanted to kiss me; I felt dizzy and high with pleasure. 

At one point I looked up into his eyes and said, “I can’t believe we’re doing this. I’ve known you since primary school and I really never thought this would happen.”

“I know, it’s crazy,” he replied, cupping my face in his hand and leaning in, stroking my cheek. “I just can’t believe you look like this. I never even noticed you before, but seriously, you got hot.” 

His mouth on mine suddenly tasted bitter with resentment. It wasn’t me he liked. It was shadow me. The new me.

My mind travelled back to the ice cream on the pavement. Pleasure once again turned to revulsion with the power of his words. 

Years later I can look back at this time through a different lens. Once I finally stopped running and began to heal, I allowed myself to soften and discover a new dialogue. I began to treat my eating disorder and reconstruct my shattered self-esteem.

But I still often think of those boys in that car. I feel grateful to them in a way. Because on that day all those years ago, I learnt the power of words. How one phrase can be the last straw or a tipping point on a scale we cannot see. That every interaction you have with others is important. That words are powerful weapons. 

I know to use them carefully. I am far more kind and patient because of it. For that, I am thankful. 

For help and support for eating disorders, contact the Butterfly Foundation‘s National Support line and online service on 1800 ED HOPE (1800 33 4673) or email [email protected]. You can also visit their website, here

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