Please be advised, this essay discusses eating disorders.
It is common to intellectualize the sacrament of Communion, and to view the practice as a sacred ritual of reverence. While this is important and even theologically necessary, I believe there is a healing power found in Communion that is unacknowledged. For those who experience disordered eating, the Holy Spirit might use Communion as less a ritual, and more a healing tool. This creative essay seeks to acknowledge the torment of eating disorders, while also illustrating that there is always Hope. There is no trauma, no mental illness, beyond God’s tender love and fierce gentleness.
Your eyes open. Your hand reaches for the alarm clock. It hasn't gone off yet. It's still dark outside. 5 A.M. You don't have class until 8. You slip out of bed, trying not to rustle the sheets. Your roommate stirs under her covers. You can't wake her; it's only 5 in the morning. Oh my god, you're so cold. Your entire body feels frozen. You check the thermostat. God, it's 70 degrees. 70. That's how many calories are in a small apple, or 7 medium size strawberries. Why are you cold? You have to put on some clothes. You tiptoe across the dorm room to the closet. Your hand reaches for your jeans. You pause. Your spirit sinks. You're too fat to wear those, you big fatty. Sweatpants, just wear your sweatpants. You take off your pajamas and brace yourself for that sting, that knife-like stab of frigidity.
You grab your brush and head towards the mirror so you can gaze at your obese reflection while you brush your hair. One, two, three strokes with the hairbrush. You feel the roots of your hair loosen from your scalp. Now you can see your scalp starting at your temples, all the way up to your forehead. Good. It’s a sign that you aren’t eating enough. Your sallow face morphs into a leer, reminiscent of the witch in Disney's Snow White. You like that movie. You especially like it when Snow White dies after eating the apple. See? Food poisons you. Food is bad for you. Food makes you fat.
You look at yourself in the mirror one more time before leaving the room. You see your face staring blankly back at you. Your formless body is almost invisible in the mirror. Your bones stick out of your hips, and you can see every single link of your spinal cord, like a train track, moving up and down your back. A big fat train track. You're one big bone. That's all you are. There's nothing else to you.
Class starts in an hour. Dining hall should be open. Breakfast time. You grab your black hoodie. It’s so big it almost looks like a dress on you. You know why? It’s because you’re too fat to fit into it; that’s why your hoodie is too big. You make sure to close the door gently. As you walk towards the exit door from your dorm you slam your feet into the carpeted floors. You like the extra pressure on your legs because it makes your leg fat jiggle. See? You’re so fat you jiggle.
It smells so good. You feel your stomach juices gurgle. You set down your tray. ½ a grapefruit: 70 calories. 1 slice of plain toast: 60 calories. You inhale it. The crusts of the bread are dry; you don’t really need to eat the crust, so you pick it off. Oh, whoops… half of the piece of toast tore off with the crust. Guess you can’t eat that either. Now the piece of toast is all torn up. God, you’ve made a mess. Just throw the whole piece of toast away. You’re finished eating. God, it hurts. Water, you need water. That’ll make you feel full.
One, two, three cups of ice cold water. It hits your stomach like a kick in the guts. It makes you feel full. Water probably has calories. No, it definitely has calories. You feel fat. 500 calories for the three cups of water. Yah, that’s about right. Plus the 130 from breakfast, that comes to 630 calories. You feel fuller, so it must be more; you’ll round it to 800 calories. 800 is close to 1,000, isn’t it? So you’ve eaten 1,000 calories today, and that’s just for breakfast. You grab your pen from your backpack and engrave the numbers 1-0-0-0 deep into the palm of your hand. The vivid blue ink stands out on your flesh. Oh my god, you’ve eaten so much. No lunch for you, you pig.
Daddy used to make you lunch when you were little: the perfect sandwich. Whenever he came home from work you’d run up to his arms and say, “Daddy! Make me the ‘Daddy Sandwich!’” He always toasted the bread, then put ketchup, turkey, and cheese inside. The cheese had no taste. It came in those plastic wrappers that made the crinkly noise when you opened them. Like presents on Christmas morning. Daddy always used to wake you up on Christmas morning. He smelled like hugs.
“That’s all you’re eating?” Some guy sitting at the table next to you asks, his head perked, with a flirty smirk. He’s cute. Why is he talking to you? You’re too ugly for him to want to flirt with you. He must know about… Oh god, he knows. Quick, be cool.
“Not really a morning person.”
Liar. You love mornings.
“I don’t really eat breakfast, ya know?”
Double liar. You love breakfast. Buttery maple syrup drizzled over French toast, gooey cheese-drenched omelets…
He gives you a baffled look. “Seriously? Oh, I just love breakfast.” Why is he talking to you? He’s trying to make you fat. He knows… he knows that you’re fat and he’s trying to make you fatter. Everyone’s trying to make you fat. You have to get out of the dining hall before more people come up to you, trying to make you eat.
From the dining hall it’s about a three minute walk to your classroom. You take the long way, through the trees. The colors of the leaves stand out, their red hues look like the juices that bleed from the lollipop when you lick it. You used to love cherry lollipops. You liked to paint the outside of your mouth with the sugary juices and pretend like you were a movie star with bright red lips. 65 calories for 1 tootsie pop. But if you get the lollipops with the gum in the middle, it’s only 60 calories. You slam your feet harder into the pavement. You feel the fat on your hips jiggle ever so slightly. See… you have love handles. Fat everywhere, you’re one big walking blob of fat.
“We’re discussing the Palestinian/Israeli Conflict today…” Your professor is gay. You like him. Kind smile. He always smells like the cologne section in Dillard’s— too many scents at once. It makes you feel fat. You press your backside hard into the chair. You like to feel your spinal cord graze against the cold metallic surface. You move your back up and down, your bones scraping the back of the chair; it resonates through your entire body.
You look up at the professor; he is staring right at you. The entire class is staring right at you. Everyone around you knows. You excuse yourself. The bathroom is only a few seconds down the hall. Oh my god, it hurts to walk. Your hip bones jut out from beneath the little bit of flesh you have left; the pressure from walking vibrates throughout your entire body, making your frail skeletal frame shake inside itself.
There’s a mirror in the bathroom. You look like you’ve put on 15 pounds since breakfast. It was that toast. The toast made you fat. You need to lose more weight. That's the only way to be perfect.
Classes are done. That’s good. There’s Bible study tonight. Better walk the long way. That toast made you fat. Need to walk it off.
You walk into the church. It has that church smell. You know— old wood, water-damaged books, your grandmother’s perfume. Oh great. Everyone’s here. They see you. Hi! Ok, just sit down. Pretend to read the bulletin so they won’t talk to you. Yes—so good to see you too! Oh hey girl! Yes, let’s do coffee sometime! Ok—well, I’m going to take a seat. Can’t wait for the sermon tonight!
Tonight is communion.
You want it. You really do. But you can’t. You look at your palm. 1-0-0-0. How many calories are in communion crackers? How many calories are in grape juice? How much fat is in the blood and body of Christ?
Your turn. Time to walk up and receive the elements. Elements. Can transubstantiation make you gain weight? Can the sacrament of sacraments make you fat? But really though, where is the nutrition label for the blood and body of Christ? You stretch out your hand. The communion cracker rests gently in your palm.
1-0-0-0. How many calories are in the body of Christ? When the Word was made flesh, what was His BMI? You take three steps to your right. Dip it in the juice. Juice has sugar. So sweet. “Sweet sacrament of peace, dear home for every heart, where restless yearnings cease, and sorrows depart…” Sugar makes you fat. So just dip it slightly. Oh no. Too much juice. Ugh, just go sit down.
You should have put it in your mouth by now. You should have swallowed the elements by now. Instead you just sit there with the cracker in your hands; the juice is dripping down your fingers. You can see the red stain it leaves on your flesh as it dries. The excess juice gathers in your palm, like a little pool of blood. 1-0-0-0. 1-0-0. 100? Oh no. The juice is smudging your calorie count. Wait… how many calories did you eat today? Was it 1,000? 100?
“This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
Can memories make me fat? The juice has all but dried now; the purple grape juice is tacky to the touch. You hate that feeling. You hate everything about this moment right now. You hate it all. You can’t take it anymore. You feel trapped inside a meat-cage that you never wanted to have in the first place. “Father...” You murmur underneath your breath. “Why have you forsaken me…” You weren’t really expecting a response. The reason you wanted to say it out loud was to prove that God wasn’t listening. But then you feel it.
It’s a memory. Vivid. You’re a little girl. You’re sitting next to your parents… you turn and ask, “Mommy, what’s the man handing out? Is that juice?” She gives you one of those looks that begs you to be silent, and whispers, “Yes—hush now—it’s Communion. You’re too young to understand. We’ll explain when you’re older.”
But you felt it then, just as you feel it now. There was something there-- a presence of love. You wanted it. Not the juice, but whatever cloud of loveliness that surrounded that silver tray of crackers and purple liquid. You didn’t need any grown-up to explain anything; you knew. Something sacred was there. Something, something… perfect.
Perfect. You want to be perfect. You need to be perfect. Controlling your weight will make you perfect. Losing one more pound will make you perfect. Perfect? You don’t feel perfect… why don’t you feel that same feeling when you first felt God? That was perfect… what is this? You look down at your hand. Stripes of grape juice look a lot like dried blood. Soggy bread looks a lot like drenched flesh.
You want communion. You want to eat that small probably-less-than-20-calories piece of bread. “Jesus…” you pray inside your head. “I’m not perfect, and I’m tired of trying to be.” You open your mouth. You place the bread inside your mouth. You swallow.
You notice how the saliva gathers at the back of your mouth before you feel your throat pushing it down your esophagus. You feel it slowly creep down, until your stomach gurgles with glee. You’re hungry. You want more. ‘Hungry for Christ’ isn’t really a feeling you’ve ever experienced (or at least not like this). How much bread did the disciples eat when they were with Christ at the Last Supper? Did they gorge?
How much of Christ am I willing to eat? Fasting shows spiritual deference, yes-- but what about feasting? Am I willing to eat with Christ?
Funny… how one word—perfect— could become so twisted. So maybe perfect means admitting you’re not. Christ was perfect so you didn’t have to be. I mean, it sounds cheap as you say it to yourself—like one of those clichés you’d see on a Sunday school bulletin board—but it’s true. I don’t want to be perfect anymore. You turn to the person on your left. “Excuse me. Can you pray with me? I need some help…”
This essay was not written to replace the need for clinical help. If you or a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder, it is important that you first go to your primary care provider and talk about resources that are available for your healing. For additional resources on treatment and group support, visit the ANAD or call the helpline at(630-577-1330)
Mia Tabib is a social worker and therapist, and a recent graduate of Yale Divinity School. She loves thinking about Gentleness, and agrees with Hans Christian Andersen that our lives are all fairytales written by the hand of god.Discover more from Mia Tabib.