My eyes shoot open in a flash of consciousness, the sweet escape of my sleep disturbed yet again by the droning beep of my alarm. Still disoriented, I hastily try to sit up in my bed, an attempt which utterly fails. I find myself seconds later laying down yet again, back in my original position. I shiver whilst pulling the bundle of blankets enveloping my body closer to my chest. This room has never felt so cold before, and yet it continues to grow more freezing by the second.

Laying in what feels like near comatose, I allow myself to drift off into my thoughts. Amongst the flurry of daydreams, the grim realization that I’m not going to be able to eat for several more hours prompts my entire body to shudder. There is seemingly no escape from the insatiable, ever growing pit of hunger within my body.

The thought that perhaps my phone will provide me solace is relieving, and I prepare myself mentally to make the exhausting trek across my bed. I turn over to try and grasp for my last reassurance of sanity, but yet again I find myself lacking the energy to even grapple for it. The rush of cold that hits my arm after emerging from under my covers causes me to recoil with force. I guess I’m fine just laying here for a minute.

Finally, I surmount the courage to tackle the day ahead of me. I make a mental list of all things to accomplish, shower, cardio, breakfast, my daily walk, lunch, weight train, dinner, grocery shop, sleep. I’ve always been active, but my dedication to health and fitness have really picked up recently. Friends and family have seen such a positive change, many complimenting my weight loss and healthy habits. Old friends approach me,

“You look great!!”

“Thanks.” I reply, these comments giving me the last bit of validation I need to stave off another meal for a few more hours.

I rise from my bed, doing my best to ignore the freezing cold that engulfs my body. For a brief second, I stumble, my head nearly hitting the ground. After regaining my balance, I make my way over to the full-length mirror inside my bathroom. For the next 10 minutes I proceed to check every square inch of my body for signs of muscle growth. I pinch at my sides, mentally noting every single flaw I can think of, and ways I can ultimately fix them.

The scale is a soul-sucking ever tempting force, and I am weak. I step up to my fate, waiting eagerly to see what my day will look like. Under my goal and I’ll up my protein intake by 50 grams, above and looks like a meal or two will be a juice cleanse. I am never satisfied unless at my exact goal weight, percent muscle and water intake.

My daily planning is cut short by the ever-growing rumble in my stomach. If I don’t consume around 25 grams of protein within the next hour, my muscle development will suffer. Too much protein and I can risk weight gain. I make my executive decision to move up all of my eating times and start my water fast an hour earlier. Although the wave of anxiety that flows over me as soon as my rigid schedule is broken is hard to handle, the reassurance that it will be beneficial for my long-term goals is enough to subdue my worries.

I wait in the bathroom until my parents leave for work to head to the kitchen. Both my worst nightmare and my safe space, I spend copious amounts of time formulating healthy recipes that will certainly allow me to reach my goals. When asked by my parents

“Lily, what did you eat today?”

I simply reply,

“I had egg whites, spinach and a protein shake for breakfast”

They nod in approval, proud of their daughter’s healthy choices and lifestyle. If only they knew it was a meticulously measured out 200 milligrams of egg whites, exactly one half a serving of spinach, and a clear whey protein shake that makes my stomach churn just attempting to get it down.

Most of my meals are painful, bland and uninteresting, but they get the job done. In the kitchen, I prepare the recipe that I try to enjoy every morning, plain oatmeal. I make it with water, accompanied by a chocolate protein shake. Every calorie, every macronutrient, planned to the decimal. I never allow myself any wiggle room, if I have peanut butter, I won’t lick the spoon. If I eat a cookie, somehow getting past the anxiety, I will cut out another subsequent meal. I don’t eat after 5 pm. I only workout on an empty stomach. I won’t consume less than 40 grams of protein a meal. I can have one snack if I feel like I’m dying. My mind is a constant flurry of rules, guidelines that I must follow to stay sane.

Breakfast goes down with difficulty, as per usual. If it didn’t, I would have worked out a little extra in compensation. Everything is a give and take, a delicate math equation I’m far too afraid to imbalance. Too much working out and I have a little extra whey protein. A little too much protein and then the gym will be my home for upwards of three hours. A salad equals a walk. Daily number of calories divided by meals means how much to measure, how much to eat. Calories in, calories out. Calories need to go out and stay out.

My thoughts create a swirling vortex of anxiety. I’m losing control, and the only way to regain that is to take command over the only thing it seems I can get a grasp on – my weight. I grab my keys and begin to walk, where I’m going I have yet to decide.

The dim glow of the health food store lighting washes a wave of calm over my tense uneasy mind. Surrounded by like-minded people, passionate about health and fitness in all the same ways I am, what could be better than that?

I stumble again, harnessing just enough energy to pull the door open and get inside. I’m a regular here, and today is Friday, my treat day.

“I’ll have my usual”, my voice rasping as I stagger over to the café in the corner.

My favorite barista waves, and then gestures to the new hire behind the counter. Just a teenager, she stares at me, a troubled look of pity mixed with sadness. I see her eyes fixed over my protruding collar bones, and I feel a sense of pride that people can see just how hard I work in the gym. I watch with burning intent as she prepares my organic black coffee mixed with organic fresh-pressed almond milk, nothing else.

“Are you sure this is all you want?” She asks, tilting her head

“Yes. That’s all” I reply, growing angrier by the second. Why would she assume that I would want cream or sugar in my coffee? Do I look like the type of woman who would want sugar in my coffee? Do I not look healthy enough to her? Do you think she notices the piece of fat on my hips that I can’t seem to get rid of? Do I even need this coffee? What if she put in too much almond milk – that’s an extra thirty calories I’ll have to deduct from dinner. What if she mixed the coffee with the same spoon that touches the cream and sugar? That’s not organic. What if she…

The whirl of dark thoughts in my mind becomes too oppressive, and it starts to migrate into my eyes, and all over my tired body. My body is so tired, I think it would be nice to just sleep here for a second, I just need a break – that’s all. I’ll be up and at the gym in a few minute’s time.

“Oh my God, oh my God- ma’am are you okay?” Calls out into the distance as the cold tile floor welcomes me home once again.