That first step on the road to recovery

Posted: September 21, 2012

By Jessica Braun

I realized that I had lost control of my life when I couldn't eat the lasagna.

I started dieting around ninth grade. I have been in The Zone, eaten a Big Mac sans bun, and squeezed many lemons into my magical maple syrup-cayenne pepper elixir. I can recite the foods most beneficial to my blood type (liver, mutton, beet leaves) and can say with certainty that saving all your Weight Watcher points for a six-pack of Miller Light (18 points) instead of food never ends well. However, my commitment to the diet of the day would always eventually fizzle, and my weight stayed in a healthy range.

This changed when I got engaged to Phil, and moved from New Jersey to Pennsylvania to be closer to him. Finding a teaching job proved harder than I had anticipated, but I finally found a third-grade position in Philadelphia.

Most of the time I felt in over my head. Grad school didn't offer the course "When a Parent is Stealing the Child's Ritalin." Wedding planning - an overwhelming task - devoured any little bit of brain space I had left. I couldn't breathe. I missed my mom. So much had changed all at once. I began to cling to the one familiar thing I had left: dieting.

Seeing the number go down on the scale was exhilarating: digital proof that I was in control. I ate less; I weighed less. I had little say over the ballooning guest list and ever-changing seating chart, but fitting into a size 2 wedding dress? I was in the driver's seat.

Eventually, I drove myself all the way down to 89 pounds. I had a "problem." Doctors and therapists applied labels like "anorexic." Ridiculous, I scoffed. I could gain weight anytime I wanted to.

My resistance to facing my issues began to take a toll on my young marriage. So I begrudgingly agreed to enter a treatment center for eating disorders. As I checked in, I looked around at the 17-year-old girls with 7-year-old bodies: their sunken cheeks, hollow eyes, and clavicles that could cut glass.

"I don't belong here," I pleaded with Phil as he gave me one last hug before leaving me like a kid at camp. "These girls have issues. I can eat anytime I want!"

"Then you won't be here long," he said with a kiss on the forehead. And then I was alone.

I assumed that the "re-feeding" would be a gradual process. As I walked toward the dining room, I imagined a tray of salad, some chicken, maybe a yam.

It was lasagna. Gooey, fat-laden lasagna: a mountain of ground beef and cheese, with noodles the size of cargo boats floating in a sea of tomato sauce.

"I can't eat this," I said to the kitchen warden.

"Then you'll be here for a while," she said.

All this time, I thought I was in control. But that plate of lasagna showed me who was boss.

I looked around. The room seemed to be divided into those who ate, and those who didn't. The ones who ate approached the meal as if running a marathon or giving birth: They did what they had to do to get through it. They didn't delay the inevitable by pushing the food around or complaining about mythic food allergies. They just ate - eyes ahead, fork to mouth, like a shovel moving gravel. Insert food, chew, swallow. Repeat.

"Then you'll be here for a while."

Her words rang in my ears. I was a 27-year-old married woman, sitting in a room with a bunch of teenagers who were chopping their food into a hundred pieces like toddlers. And I was no different, unless I chose to be different.

I ate the lasagna.

My recovery did not end there. It took years of therapy, support, and soul-searching. But I had to make that first leap, to do the thing that paralyzed me with fear, the thing that felt so wrong that, in some weird way, I knew it had to be right.

I had to eat the lasagna.

Jessica Braun blogs at and can be reached at

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