i binged on fun at remuda ranch, part one

{the two mackenzies. wickenburg, az 2006)

this is a story i’ve been meaning to spit out for the last six years. but couldn’t possibly. things weren’t quite resolved. but now that it’s nearly six years since i’ve left, and neda week starts tomorrow, i thought it was more than overdue. i’ll be posting this in three parts over the course of the next week, in awareness of national eating disorder awareness week. please don’t be too shocked that i finally capitalized things for once. that just means i’m being seeeeerious.

There are potentially two moments in a young girl’s life where she can get a high five for taking a shit. One is when she’s a toddler precariously, tentatively plopping herself on her child-sized, rainbow, plush toilet seat  in her childhood bathroom. Her parents cheer her on from the sidelines like she was about to win the state championship football game. The second is when she gets a high five from twenty five other teenage girls at a treatment center for eating disorders in Wickenburg, Arizona. Getting your period for the first time in three years is also subject to getting a high-five, a hug, and a special shout-out at affirmation circles, after you sing “Kumbayah”, of course.

If you would have told me at age thirteen, tottering on my too-large heels borrowed from my mother’s closet, at the entrance of my eighth grade dance that I’d be spending eight months of my freshman year of high school in and out of treatment centers for anorexia nervosa, I wouldn’t have believed you. I would have spat out the three Red Lobster cheddar biscuits I had stuffed in my mouth in my half-starved stupor and told you kindly that you had the wrong girl. That girl was Mary Kate Olsen, shuffling her skeletal frame between New York City skyscrapers under willowy peasant skirts. That was a Lifetime movie with the fainting ballerinas and their issues with “forgetting to eat”. I did not own a peasant skirt at thirteen, nor had I taken ballet lessons since I was three, so I couldn’t possibly have fallen into this trap. No, not me. Must have been someone else. Go check next door.

I was the girl who cracked fart jokes in the middle of Honors geography. Who accidentally tripped up the stairs getting her 8th grade superlative award in front of everyone, who walked it off like she had a bad limp. Who could do an uncanny impression any female character on SNL. Who had a 4.0 GPA, but got kicked out of class for talking too much. Who asked boys to dance. Who laughed it off when she broke her nose in the middle of cheer practice. Who never thought she’d be concerned with the fact that one day, her thighs might, in fact, touch each other.

But there I was, in my XXL men’s sweatshirt and children’s size 12 jeans, shivering my poorly circulated self on a flight to a nowhere town in Arizona. For an eating disorder. A top of the line, grade-A, genuine eating disorder.

I remember all the months leading up to that point so vividly. All the times people would kick me off their laps, where I’d sit when there weren’t enough chairs at parties; my bony ass literally would cause them bodily harm. Waking up and eating exactly a half-cup of Cocoa puffs for breakfast with a table spoon of milk, enough for the puffs to become saturated, but not enough that you could feel fat grow on your already miniscule thighs from the skim milk. A Chewy bar for lunch eaten in a stall of the girls bathroom, picked apart, never eaten with full bites. A bed of romaine lettuce topped with a 30-calorie drizzling of chemical dressing for dinner. A gurgling stomach to keep you awake and aware of your hunger, for dessert. Always, always, always.
I’d wake up each morning, strictly at noon during the summertime. This was all strategic, you see. If I woke up at noon, that meant I could skip breakfast, eat a tiny lunch, a microscopic dinner, and then fall asleep at ten p.m. and do it all over again. If I woke up any earlier that just meant more time for me to think about how little food I would allow myself to eat, how much I’d have to exercise or fidget my body to expel the little calories I was ingesting, how many of my friends don’t like me anymore, or how much of a pest to my family I was. Waking up at noon was my coping mechanism. It also meant that there was less chance of me fainting spontaneously on the tile in my house, which had quickly become my new hobby of sorts.

As you can see, I was not parading around in peasant skirts and sipping on sugar free lattes, admiring my drastically dropping weight in all reflective surfaces that I walked by. I did not spend hours in the mirror, fawning over my waiflike physique. I did not score modeling contracts, despite my 5’8’’ frame and double- digit weight. I didn’t have photos of Kate Moss and other heroin “chic” models pasted on my walls as “thinspiration”.

No. I had to wear effing circulation hose, which were very sexy, tight, white knee socks that made sure the blood circulated in your legs enough so that you didn’t faint for at least eight hours every day. I didn’t shit for months, nor did I have a period for three years after the onset of my eating disorder. I wanted to be thinner because it felt like a sort of purity my own personality could not ensure. I was dirty if I ate. If I ate I couldn’t physically disappear, like I had been hoping I could do. I was bad if I even entertained the idea of eating.  I lived vicariously through my “The Sims” characters, rather than talk to my group of non-avatar friends that didn’t wet themselves whenever I forgot to tell them to go to the bathroom. I slept through my life. My skin took on a yellowish pallor and a lovely, peach fuzz (seductively called “Lanugo”. It sounds like the name of a Cuban pool boy, doesn’t it?) grows on your body in attempt to keep your body warm.


If there is one misconception about girls with eating disorders it is this; it’s all about weight. It’s not about the number on the scale, in that you are looking at how good you look. Actually, you know how bad you look. You are constantly, completely, vividly aware of how terrible you look at all times, actually. The number on the scale is just a placeholder, like “x” in your algebra class, for a number of different things. “X” could be a boy who didn’t like you, but asked you for advice on how to get with your best friend. “X” could be some run-of-the-mill “daddy issues”. “X” could be a gross exaggeration of your OCD, where you felt like you weren’t deserving of food, which was all too true in my case.  But unlike “x”, you can always control it. You can manipulate it, twist it, and bend it to your liking with each perfectly portioned and accounted 120 calorie dinner. For once in your life, everything is under control. Or, at least it seems like it.

A few days before I was admitted to my first treatment center (of three. A sentence you think you’ll never have to say), a girl in my world history class asked if she could get some advice from me. I had an A in this class, and I was sure she was going to ask me about the Mongol empire or antisemitism, but this was not the case. That’s never the case, actually.
“Mackenzie. How did you give yourself an eating disorder?” she asked tentatively, chomping on an egg Mcmuffin.
“Uh what?” I said in shock.
“You’re so thin… Like, how did you give yourself an eating disorder?”

I mustered up as much strength a girl surviving on a diet of half-cup servings of chocolate-y cereals could possibly have, which is to say that I shot her a look that could only be categorized as a “Bitch face”. Even that was exhausting.

“You can’t give yourself an eating disorder, Rachel,” I said as she shook her brunette hair extensions in disbelief over this novel idea.

“Well, I’m going to try,” she said with a definitive chomp on the remains of her crumbling English muffin.

This was the age of the glamorous nature of eating disorders. Lindsay, Paris, and Britney were all being praised for their “discipline”, their sprinkling of water on their dinners so they wouldn’t overeat. But I wanted so desperately for someone to understand that that wasn’t true, not even a smidgen true.