''And come back looking like you've been hit by food poisoning,'' Abigail said. She emphasized and drew out the words ''food poisoning.'' Abigail didn't just speak; she delivered lines.
I slumped. ''You know,'' I said, ''it's not such a bad thing.''
''Tell that to Karen Carpenter,'' Jared said. She'd died that February. I'd read some of the articles. I'd actually taken a weird sort of comfort from them, because they included details like her possible use of ipecac to make herself vomit. I'd never even heard of ipecac before. The articles included pictures of her looking cadaverous. I'd need several three-day fasts or two weeks of protein shakes to close in on bony.
But, truth be told, the articles — or, rather, the accompanying sidebars and television chatter about eating disorders — did spook me a little. They went through the effects this bulimia thing could have on your skin (bad), hair (worse), gums (eek!) and fingernails (nasty). For me the whole point of throwing up was to look better, and I was having trouble ignoring the prospect of looking worse if I kept at it long enough. A slim worse, true. A worse with — potentially — a 32-inch waist. But worse all the same. That wasn't my intent.
And now Jared and Abigail were telling me I wasn't even succeeding in keeping my throwing up a secret. If the two of them had figured out the truth, had others too? I apparently couldn't control that, and that wasn't O.K. A person known to be thin only by dint of regular vomiting would attract titters and jokes, not dates.
So I stopped, or vowed to, at first managing only to decrease the frequency of my purges, but soon abandoning them altogether. I succeeded, I think, because so many other extreme or warped weight-management regimens — including more Atkins and more fasting — took the place of bulimia as I struggled for decades to figure out how to answer my appetite without being undone by it and as I traced an unlikely route to the most implausible of destinations: professional eating.