The Four-Year-Old Woman


Janet Ford

date published

July 7, 2021, noon



*Trigger warning for descriptions of disordered behaviors/thoughts*

This morning on my walk around a lake near my house, I stopped to watch an eagle fly. It had four or five smaller birds trailing it. Wondering why, I knew I would immediately search the web for answers upon my return home. I sat on a bench and watched a crane standing still in the shallow water layered in morning fog. It was a magical start to the day, and I, as always, felt immensely grateful. 

Four years ago, my early morning trip to the lake would have looked a lot different. I would have been jogging, with music in my ears to distract from the pain I was inflicting on my undernourished, beaten body. I wouldn’t have noticed the eagle, the crane, or the fog on the water. I would have been in the throes of bulimia, where I spent twenty-two years of my “life.”

The physical consequences of having an eating disorder are widely recognized and written about. Even those who have never suffered one could easily rattle off a list of damages that an eating disorder inflicts on a person’s physical health. What is less talked about, however, are the psychological, or spiritual consequences. This is unfortunate, as the ramifications an eating disorder has on one’s inner world are, in my opinion, far more catastrophic and devastating.  

But let’s jump back to me in the present. I have been recovered for four years now and I can’t believe my luck. Sometimes I lay in bed all morning. I love being bored; it’s such a gift. My morning cup of tea is an exciting start to each day. I frequently listen to podcasts because they help me gather information and ideas. It blows my mind that I get to eat ice cream and watch television some evenings. It feels unbelievable to go for a walk in the sun and listen to music. Each daily bath feels sacred and special. The simplest of life’s pleasures grant me an exaggerated joy and I am often in a state of wonder.

This makes sense considering that I am a four-year-old woman. I am still learning how to live and be in the world. Everything feels fresh and exciting, even the mundane. For the first time, I am taking it all in -- the good and the bad. I am finally able to do normal things, which is all anyone with an eating disorder ever dreams about -- being normal. I am a four-year-old woman because I didn’t know what life was until I recovered. Before this, I knew nothing but a “life” consumed by the sick chaos, shame, and depravity of bulimia. I can tell you with strong confidence that that was NOT living. 

It’s not living when you’re thinking about food every second of every day and then go to bed to dream about it every night. It’s not living when everything you do and every decision you make each day revolves around food. It’s not living when food is all that you care about and you put it before every person in your life.  It’s not living when every dollar you make goes towards excess food that you stuff yourself with. It’s not living if you’d rather buy binge food than reinstate your hydro, and when you steal food and money from the people you love (and many whom you don’t). It’s not living when you spend countless hours kneeling on a bathroom floor. It’s not living when you cancel the majority of your plans last-minute because you broke one of your food rules and the binge purge cycle was triggered. Or maybe you ate “too much” and the cycle was triggered. Or maybe you didn’t eat enough and the cycle was triggered. Or perhaps you felt an emotion and the cycle was triggered. Either way, when your entire life, your very being- who you are, what you do, and all that you care about-revolves around food, THAT IS NOT LIVING.

When your “life” is an eating disorder you have no space in your head for other things. You are robbed of curiosity, interest, meaning and joy. You have to fake living on the outside while you feel hollow on the inside. You are empty and nothing else matters to you but being empty. This is the most heartbreaking consequence of having an eating disorder. You are unable to experience true living.

People are frequently taken aback when they find out that I haven’t seen a certain popular movie from the past, or when I don’t know who this or that important person is, and have never heard of a huge occurrence in history. I’m never sure what to say, as they wouldn’t understand if I were to be honest and confess, “Sorry, no, I’m not familiar with that- I’ve spent the last twenty-two years as a bulimic.” 

Maybe the next time my lack of life experience or measly knowledge base comes into question I can quip, “Cut me some slack, I’m only four.” Because I am. One quick glance at my internet search history would prove it. I am consistently in a state of amazement and fascination like a young child in the “why?” phase. I suppose I’m trying to catch up on all of the life that I missed. Because now, I notice the eagle in the sky, and I wonder why other little birds are following it around.  

Author's Bio

Janet Ford is a (four-year-old) forty-year-old bulimia survivor. She lives with her brilliant, fun, and loving fourteen-year-old daughter in Vancouver, B.C., Canada. Janet is currently a student at UBC where she is working towards getting her Masters of Counselling and Psychology. She has written, illustrated, and spoken candidly about her twenty-two-year battle with bulimia. 

You can find her on Instagram @fordjanet

Read more about