'Born Round' by Frank Bruni

To be a successful bulimic, you need to have a firm handle on the bathrooms in your life: their proximity to where you're eating; the amount of privacy they offer; whether — if they're public bathrooms with more than one stall — you can hear the door swing open and the footfall of a visitor with enough advance notice to stop what you're doing and keep from being found out.

You need to be conscious of time. There's no such thing as bulimia on the fly; a span of at least 10 minutes in the bathroom is optimal, because you may need 5 of them to linger at the sink, splash cold water on your face and let the redness in it die down. You should always carry a toothbrush and toothpaste, integral to eliminating telltale signs of your transgression and to rejoining polite society without any offense to it. Bulimia is a logistical and tactical challenge as much as anything else. It demands planning.

My preferred bathroom was in a back corner of the student union at Carolina, right above the office of the campus newspaper, where I spent most afternoons and evenings. It was a public bathroom with multiple stalls, but the stalls were a decent distance from the door, and the door opened noisily. Few people used this bathroom, anyway. I could walk to it in about three minutes from the university cafeteria, so neither lunch nor dinner had to sit in my stomach for long. I could get there even faster from the newspaper offices, where I sometimes ate a slice of pizza or half a tuna-salad sandwich too many. With a quick jaunt up the stairs, these excesses could be erased.

I thought that I was clever — that I was doing something lots of other people would if they just had the nerve, the poise, the industry. I knew it was supposed to be dangerous: I read stories in newspapers and magazines about this behavior, always characterized as a disorder, an affliction. It was these stories that gave me the idea. From them I concluded that people who threw up their meals tended to get carried away with what was an otherwise solid, tenable plan, especially if they fell prey to anorexia as well, and I was an unlikely candidate for that. Even a fast of merely three days had foiled me. But if a person just threw up the occasional meal, the meal that had gotten out of hand, well, what was the harm in that?

And consider the benefits. My willpower could waver, I could gobble down more than I had meant to, and I wouldn't have to go to bed haunted by the looming toll on my waistline or wake up the next morning owing the gods of weight management even more of a sacrifice than I owed them the day before. Throwing up was my safety valve. My mulligan.

It usually happened like this: I would go to the cafeteria, begin to assemble my dinner. I'd get a salad, or something similarly virtuous. I'd pick at it slowly, hoisting the picayune cherry tomatoes and wan slices of cucumber into my mouth one at a time, in slow motion, and then chewing and chewing and chewing, as if there were some odometer rigged to my jaw and I could stave off hunger by pushing the numbers on it high enough.

There would be a few jagged cubes of feta in the salad, each one an event I would pause and savor for half a minute. They and the croutons, all four of them, were islands of excitement in a dead sea.

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