Authors: Emma Woolf
AN APPLE A DAY
A Memoir of Love and Recovery From Anorexia
SOFT SKULL PRESS
An imprint of COUNTERPOINT
An Apple a Day
Copyright Â© Emma Woolf 2012
Published by arrangement with Summersdale Publishers Ltd.
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. No part of this book may be reproduced by any means, nor transmitted, nor translated into a machine language, without the written permission of the publishers.
The right of Emma Woolf to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
Condition of Sale:
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent publisher.
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Cover design by Gerilyn Attebery
Interior design by Emma Cofod
SOFT SKULL PRESS
An imprint of COUNTERPOINT
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About the Author
Photograph by Thomas Skovsende
is the great-niece of Virginia Woolf. She studied at Oxford University and worked in publishing before becoming a freelance journalist and writer, contributing to
The Independent, Harper's Bazaar, Red, Grazia, The Times
The Mail on Sunday
. She lives in London. You can follow Emma on Twitter: @ejwoolf.
AN APPLE A DAY
verything is white, silent and cold. I haven't tasted chocolate for over ten years and now I'm walking down the street unwrapping a Kit Kat. I don't know which is strangerâthis sudden fall of snow, blanketing London in stillness, or eating a bar of chocolate in public. It tastes amazing.
This moment may sound mundane but it represents a new food frontier for me. It's a target I've set myself and it's taken me weeks to find the courage. This morning I woke early and knew it was time. So I bought a large coffee and the chocolate bar and walked alone in the snow, savoring every warm, melting mouthful.
How long is it exactly since I last ate chocolate? Put it this way: the last Kit Kat I bought was in paper and silver foil, not this hermetically sealed wrapper. After an absence of more than a decade, it's clear that the world of chocolate has expandedâthere are so many varieties on offer: mint and orange flavors, limited-edition peanut and caramel, even “chunky” versions.
Remember when Kate Moss said, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”? She's wrong: chocolate does.
As I walk and eat and sip, I reflect on the challenge I set myself a few months back, in autumn, and the progress I've made. Even though it's nearly Christmas and I haven't bought a single present yet, I feel a weird sense of optimism. As this year draws to a close I have decided to put a lot of neuroses and regrets and sadness
behind me; everybody gets hurt and makes mistakes, but life goes on. I have to get some extra weight under my belt; I want to make next year the year that everything changes. I'm going to stop looking back or worrying about the future.
There's no point dwelling on the past, but you can learn from it. Here are a few food-and-love-related lessons I've learned in the past few months:
It's exciting to go outside your safety zone and try new foods. Who knew that Marks & Spencer Super Wholefood Couscous would be so tasty?
Being healthy and happy are more important than your salary or career.
Loving someone else is fairly easy; it's allowing yourself to be fully loved that is hard.
Fat is not the enemy: olive oil, hummus, and Brazil nuts give you shiny hair, not a fat bum.
As this year ends I've been looking back and looking forward. But why do we make New Year's resolutions? Why should the coldest, darkest month of the year be a good time for change? I don't know, but something about the year ahead feels hopeful. For Christmas I'm giving myself a fresh start. This year I'm going to kick down my barriers and let Tom love me and take more risks.
Maybe it's as simple as this: I'm bored of anorexia. It's exhausting to fight yourself every minute of every day, and I'm tired of waging this one-woman battle against myself. I want to move on with my life; I want to have a baby. I'm bored of the anorexia trap.
As Tom is always telling me, “If you just let go a little, life could be so sweet.” I know he's right. It's time to let go.
So, here's to letting go. This morning I received a handwritten letter from a woman who suffered from anorexia for fifty years.
Everyone had told me I was too old for treatment but eventually I was referred to a young psychiatrist. Of course I had no faith in him and only continued because he didn't seem to mind me wasting his time. But to my amazement, after a while, it began to work . . . It took a lot of time and hard work, but we've managed to achieve something that to me still seems nothing less than a miracle. At seventy-four years old, I can now eat perfectly normallyâanything I want. I cannot describe the happiness of knowing that I am free to enjoy however many years I have left
Which just goes to showâit's never too late to start again.
* * *
But how did I reach this point? How did I get to the stage where I hadn't eaten chocolate for ten years? Why was it such an ordeal to eat in public? What had happened to make me so terrified of food? How had I caught this disease we call anorexia . . . and how was I ever going to recover?
There are lots of questions and many different answers. For me it's been too long in this fight, and the only answer I want right now is the one about recovery: is it possible to beat anorexia, and will I be able to do it? After years of thinking about this and trying different strategies, I haven't found a solution. It's quite a struggle, I do know that.
* * *
I don't really know how it started. A diet that got out of control, a broken heart, perfectionism and shaky body image, faulty brain chemistry, pressure from society or the media or me? Probably all those reasons and others tooâmany of which I'm still trying to work out as I write. There's never a single reason: the causes of anorexia are numerous, complex, and highly individual. What matters now is not how it started but how it ends.
Let me explain: I have an eating disorder and I can function fine on an apple a day. But it's been ten years and I'm starting to see that it's not fine at all. So, three months ago at the start of autumn, I set myself a challengeâthe biggest challenge of my life: I decided that over the next year I'm going to overcome anorexia. I'm going to stop living on fruit and yogurt, and start eating normal food, like a normal person, in a normal way. I'm going to reach a healthy weight so that I'm fertile again. (I'm not going to freak out when my period returns, I'm going to celebrate.) I'm not going to starve myself anymore; I'm going to be an adult and feed myself. I'm going to shop and cook and eat with the rest of the world. I'm going to find something even more addictive and compelling than hunger. I'm going to rejoin the human race; I'm going to take part.
Fact number 1:
I've just turned thirty-three.
Fact number 2:
I've wasted my twenties not recovering from anorexia. I will not waste my thirties.
Fact number 3:
All the therapy and drugs in the world won't cure you of anorexia. Over the years I've tried everything: counseling, psychoanalysis, medication, homeopathy, acupuncture. I've made countless promises to myself and others, and each time I've failed. There is no magic bullet. To beat anorexia you have to eat.
Fact number 4:
It's not about appearance. I don't think the skeletal look is remotely attractive.
So what's it all about? I don't know, really . . . It's an addiction and a compulsion, a brain disorder and a crutch, your best friend and your worst enemy, a fight between body and soul. Anorexia is an illness that takes on a life of its own, feeding on itself as you starve. It's a voice in your head that never,
Just to clarify: I'm not
-sick anymore. My low point, age twenty-one, was 77 pounds (I'm now around 105 pounds). I find it upsetting now to recall my lowest weight: I don't know how that fragile girl stayed alive every day. I remember that I was cold all the time, because I had no subcutaneous fat. The body finds it very hard to function without this natural thermal layer, without caloric heat or energy going in; as any anorexic will tell you, winter is terrifying. I remember that lots of things hurt: lying down at night was painful because my bones had no cushioning against the mattress; sitting down was painful because my tail bone dug into the chair; I was covered in bruises from the slightest knock.