I have never, even as a toddler, been comfortable in my own skin. When I was 3, I got so hung up on why the girls in the princess movies could be so skinny while I wasn’t. At age 5, I asked my mom if I was going to be skinny like my babysitter when I got older. Around 8 years old, I went on my first diet. I would weigh myself, go exercise, try to guess how many calories I burned, then go weigh myself again. All throughout elementary school, I always felt like the biggest girl in my group of friends.
Eventually I learned to accept the different shapes and sizes of people, only to fall back into the body image obsessions a year later. Mind you, I was never overweight to begin with. It was now summer leading to 6th grade, and I was excited about middle school.
Most people who have struggled with an eating disorder say it started with a traumatic event in their life. My attitude toward my decision to lose weight was more like a new-year-resolution. I was all, “Rah, rah! I’m going to get healthy!” I fixated on burning off thigh and belly fat. I did anything to get rid of my “tree-trunk thighs” and gut. At first it was all about exercise, just running on the treadmill, stretching, dancing, floor exercises, etc.
But impatience took over and, as you would expect, I started cutting back a lot on my eating. I got into all the fat free stuff, eating really low calorie things, and reading every food label in the house. I switched to almond milk since it was half the calories of regular 1% milk. I could no longer go to a restaurant without looking up the menu and calorie count of the meals online. Same with the exercise – I would get all these fad workout routines off the internet and print them. I got to the point where I could not sit still for any length of time; for fear that I would be storing fat energy. Counting calories for the whole day’s food was a must for me. I roughly estimated at first, but then it got to the point where I would not allow myself even a mint; I had to save all my calories for when I was eating in front of my family, so that they would think that everything was fine and I wasn’t restricting.
Oh, but this restriction most definitely didn’t come easily. I felt so deprived all the time, and I was having constant cravings for everything. Over the summer, I basically spent my life exercising, staring at the clock, and staring at food. Sometimes I would just gaze longingly into the pantry or fridge; stare at the clock forever, thinking over and over again “when will it be time to eat?” I was extremely fearful that these horrific cravings would lead to a binge. Well, I was right, but this only happened a few times.
By the end of the summer, I actually was proud of the work I had done on my body. But then again, what was to come in a mere week but school? Was all my precious hard work going to be destroyed? I was not going to let this happen. So, all that first semester, no matter how tired I was or how much homework I had, I always forced myself to stay up late enough to fit my full workout routine in. I was exhausted. I cut back on food even more to compensate for the lack (or at least that’s how I thought of it) of exercise. My meals were to be in no one’s control but mine. I had to control the type of foods, the amount, the fat the calories, everything. Guilt began to come more and more frequently, regardless of the fact that I was eating less and less.
Come September, my mom began to notice my behaviors. She told me I wasn’t eating enough, and I was getting too skinny (this was all “blah, blah, blah,” to me at the time). Often, my parents asked me if I was trying to lose weight. Of course, I replied no, because I knew what would happen if they figured out my plan to lose weight.
As this kept up, I gradually became more and more depressed. I no longer was the life of the party; I didn’t want to go to social events anymore; I didn’t want to go to school. At the rock bottom of my depression stage, all I wanted to do was stay in bed, starve, and hope to die sooner than later.
Come New Year’s Eve, several people were commenting on my appearance, and asking if I was okay. Finally, my mom’s concern for my health hit the ceiling, and she weighed me. She gaped at the scale number with wide eyes. She said she would give me 2 weeks to get my weight back on track or she was taking me to see a dietitian. I thought, “Yeah, right, I’ll believe it when it happens. I’ve wormed my way out of this before.”
So, I continued with my lack of eating as I pleased, and didn’t make any effort to change my ways. Eventually, after reading many lists of symptoms online, my mom came to the conclusion that I had anorexia. I completely denied this. I thought, “That’s BS. I eat. I’m not anorexic.” Soon I believed that she was right, but that still had no effect on my behaviors.
Another obsession was beginning as well. I was hyper focused on my sister’s eating and exercise habits. With my thinking being so distorted at the time, I was convinced that she was anorexic too. I would have temper tantrums whenever she exercised or didn’t clean her plate. It drove me nuts that she weighed less than me; I didn’t care that she was 3 years younger and 6 inches shorter. It tore apart our relationship. She was afraid to be around me (with good reason) and I hated to be around her.
The last straw was when we were at a restaurant and I had the world’s biggest flip out. I was literally insane. The waitress acted as if she were about to call 911 because of the way I was acting. I hid under the table, cried “let me out! I need to go outside NOW! I’m going to hurt somebody! I’m going to HIT you!” I did not touch my food, literally. That night, my thinking was so screwed up, but I was screaming apologies later while hitting myself. My parents were afraid I was going to physically hurt my sister, so they went to a psychiatrist to get an anti-anxiety/anti-depressant for me.
Meanwhile, it had been about 2 months since my mom told me to start gaining weight. She was for real this time: I was going to see a dietitian and a therapist. I was so pissed off. I just kept thinking how much I didn’t need all this crap, how I was fine, and I needed mental help, but I didn’t need to gain any weight. I thought I looked like everyone else, like I was finally normal and fit in with the crowd.
Life at home had become a living hell. It was a terribly rare thing to find someone in our family genuinely smiling or laughing. We were either: fighting about food, avoiding each other to keep from fighting about food, crying, paying for a medical bill, or lecturing me about the importance of getting well.
One habit that frustrated them so much was my eating rituals. I did it for 2 main purposes: to delay eating the meal and to make it look like I was eating when I was really just pushing the food around. I did EVERYTHING. You can go look up a list of eating rituals and I can guarantee you that I have used all of them at least once. In the meantime, progress with the dietitian and therapist – well, there was none.
So they sent me into a program called intensive outpatient (IOP), in which i met with a support group 3 times a week for 3 hours each time. I ate a meal there with the other group members and the treatment team. It seemed like a terrific, helpful program at first, but if anything, it actually drove me downhill. All of the other girls were deeper into their eating disorder than me, and I was jealous. I wanted to be just as extreme, if not more, in my eating disorder behaviors as them. I was jealous that they had total control over their eating and exercise habits and I had none. So I just tried harder to gain control, and not the weight, so I could be the sickest one of the group. You see, it was a prestige to be in that position. Not in the eyes of the treatment team of course, but in the eyes of the patients.
So as I kept that up, life at home got worse. My parents became unbelievably frustrated with me and my lack of motivation to get better. I hated my dietitian. My therapist made horrible accusations of my mom, and it tore our family apart. She completely violated the confidentiality law, and told my mom everything she heard from me.
Eventually, my dietitian mentioned sending me away to inpatient. At first it struck me like lighting. I thought “This isn’t really happening. I can’t let this happen. Start getting better right now.” But then, I started to really think about it, and I realized that I actually kind of wanted to go to inpatient. I could get away from my parents and prevent so much fighting; I could get away from my sister so I wouldn’t have to see her eat or exercise. And, it just made me feel good to know, “I have made it to this point. I got bad enough to be sent away to a psychiatric hospital.” How sick in the head I was. Although I did cry about missing the first month and a half of school, I still was relieved to know I was going somewhere else, able to get out of the hellhole that was my home/family life.
July 8 was the day I was going to be dropped off. I did not feel scared or unsure at all on my first day. I felt like I just slipped right in. The routine was easy, they let me have control over my food, and you kind of did what you wanted as far as rituals and types of foods. Instead of reprimanding me at the meal, the whole treatment team knew what my issues were, and they would sit down to talk about them with me at the biweekly doctor meetings. And, your caloric intake was an easy number to handle. But if you refused to take in the calories through food or nutritional supplement, you went on the feeding tube. Luckily, this never happened to me, but I very frequently had to take supplement, because with all the rituals, I never finished a meal in time (at first). It made me feel as if I was stronger by refusing food and taking supplement instead.
One thing that I could not have been more thankful for was that this was NOTHING like IOP. No one played sick. Everyone was much more supportive of each other and not in a fake way either. People with all sorts of different types of eating disorders were there. Plus, being there also proved the stereotype that all people with eating disorders are girls or gay/weird guys. 4 out of 10 of the patients there were male, and normal. There were 2 other adolescent girls there with me, and my roommate was 16. I cried when she first got there, because I hated how triggering her body was to me. She was so thin. I was having deja-vu. That was how I used to look, when I could live with myself and the skin I was in. But after I got to know her some, I found out she knew exactly how I felt. She had been in treatment before, and she hated whenever new girls came in. It is extremely hard to explain – you are jealous that they are thinner than you, worried that the other patients might like her better and think of you as less. These were all valid thoughts, because when you are living somewhere with strange people as a kid for 2 ½ months, loneliness becomes a big problem. I desperately wanted to be accepted by the other patients, because most of them are just average Joe-bag-o’-donuts people. That was my problem – I was cautious around people there, because I was the youngest and I didn’t know them and what exactly they were going through. I was jealous of the other 2 adolescent girls, because they seemed to be able to fit in so easily.
But I did have good times in treatment, strange as that sounds. The therapists were all great, and there was an art therapist too; she was quiet, but very thoughtful and laid back. She made kind of a grumpy first impression on me, but after that I realized how great she was.
At the facility, this is how things worked: there were various privileges you could earn, such as outings, exercise, extra phone calls, passes home for a brief period of time, eating in the cafeteria instead of the eating disorder dining room, and more. Every week, twice a week, I met with the head doctor of the eating disorder wing for a progress follow up. It was hard in those meetings, because I always felt like it was 5 against 1 (2 therapists, a dietitian, the doctor, and a med student – then me). To earn these privileges you had to be making consistent progress for them to consider you well enough to do these things. A lot of the time, we patients had big problems with the doctor. For me, it was her fussing over my weight when no one else seemed to. For others, it was things like her jumping to conclusions about family members, or coming up with a random issue for a certain person (such as running away, which one of the most innocent girls I ever met was accused of).
We were super bored, and many people got extremely depressed thinking about what would be happening at home if they weren’t in treatment. The therapist I was given when I came to the facility was awesome. She was perfect for me, because she knew that for most of the things I complained about, I didn’t want a solution – I just wanted to bitch it out.
I made really strong connections with the people there, and we had an unbelievable amount of inside jokes. If random people had heard us talking to each other on the outings, they would have thought we were on drugs or something.
Speaking of drugs, the other half of the facility was for chemical dependency patients, adults only. We knew they had real problems that were to be taken seriously, but we couldn’t help but laugh at some of the things that we saw them do or heard them say.
On September 23, I was discharged from the treatment center. I was crying because, well, this place had been my safe harbor for 2 ½ months. I wasn’t so sure I would still be accepted by my friends back home after everything I had missed. I knew the people here, and I was comfortable with them, knowing I could talk to them about most anything. But, the moment I left that place, I was thinking “did I really ever stay there for so long? I can’t believe I actually did that!” I don’t know why I was so baffled by it right then and there.
Well, anyways, I get home and my body image instantly made a huge improvement, because my exercise and food wasn’t so closely fixated on. I went to school Monday, and I was suddenly the highlight of the week – and in a good way. I liked all the attention I was getting, even if I was tired of telling a fake story of why I was gone to a hundred people. All my friends were elated I was back, and in a blink of an eye my weekends were booked with social plans. This is what I always wanted! When I was much younger, I was always really shy and I had trouble making friends.
Alas, it didn’t last, much as I would have liked it to. But that may have been for the better, because with all the school that I had missed, I had tons and tons of work to make up. This kept me up to all hours of the night, every night. I fell asleep in class a few times. Meanwhile, this certainly wasn’t helping with my body image, because I no longer had anytime to exercise, but I still had to eat just as much.
This issue continues up to this day. So does comparing with my sister, but in a much less severe manner. My anorexia has changed its course, though; before, my only intention was to reduce my calorie intake. As long as it was below a certain amount of calories, I would consider it a safe food; regardless of how much sugar or carbs it contained. Now, I have an obsession with super healthy things. I would not eat any of those foods I did before. I feel the need to only eat foods that have a certain amount of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protein. But I will eat something healthy even if it has a more-than-desirable calorie count.
Another problem is I do not know who I am without the eating disorder. I see “anorexic” as my identity, and I’m not so sure I want to give it up. I look at it as a prestigious thing, and I don’t feel like there is anything else about me that stands out, and otherwise, I am just “blech”. It is hard to imagine myself as just myself, not “recovering” or “in treatment” or “still struggling”. The truth is I like the idea of having anorexia. It makes me feel unique, and I take pride in the attention I was getting when I was so underweight. This is probably one of my biggest problems as of now.
And that concludes my story, and states where I currently stand in my recovery. This is my purest and most honest thoughts and feelings of what I and others around me went through on this journey. I remain anonymous, as does everyone else is this story. I don’t believe I have left out a single detail here. As you realize, while reading this, many of my thoughts are extreme and irrational, so please don’t ever take after me!!!! If you have an eating disorder and you have read this, don’t get any ideas from my past actions! This is simply something for you to find inspiration in and relate to. I want to let others who struggle with this know that it is possible for you to get over this, have a normal life again, be happy, and NOT be fat!!!! Yes, I did mean that! Please comment and stay tuned for an advice page coming up! :)