Thursday, 02 September 2021 21:15

My Struggle with Anorexia Nervosa

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For the better part of two decades, I struggled with body misperception and eating disorders. I looked in the mirror and saw only a fat girl staring back. The death of my mother when I was six had a profound effect on my life and the decisions and directions I took from there on. I learned to play the victim, the poor little girl whose mommy died. I got attention from other members of my family when I cried, threw a tantrum, or lost weight. 

My feelings were more than just physical. They were emotional and mental. I felt fat, a weight in my belly and in my mind, and so therefore, I thought I was fat.

In junior high I was chubby. I bought size large shirts, size 13 pants, and came in last in the mile at school. Yet, every day after school, my mom's mom, Nanny, would have Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Doritos, Gushers and other popular foods from the 90's, waiting for me. 

The summer before my 7th grade year, I decided to go on a diet and exercise program. I made up the rules: No junk food. No eating after 5pm. Exercise for an hour every night. Left alone in my room with the Backstreet Boys, N’sync, and Britney Spears to keep me company, I did sit ups, toe touches, pushups, jumping jacks, and danced. By April of my 7th grade year, I had lost 15 pounds.

For the next two years, I continued to exercise and eat semi-healthy, though I did indulge in candy bars and fast food. During my freshmen year of high school, I got sick. Severe abominable cramping that would force me into the fetal position on the floor awaited every morning when I woke up and every few hours after. I had to get up several times during the night. I couldn’t eat without getting sick on what I just consumed.

After an appointment with the gastroenterologist and a colonoscopy, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, a condition affecting my small colon. The doctor prescribed the little red pill three times daily, three pills per dose. My body soon was back under control.

Since getting sick, I had lost another 10 pounds. Compliments abounded. Lots of compliments about how good I looked in my clothes.

“If I look good now, I’ll look even better if I lose more,” I told myself, longing for more validation.

In the spring of my freshmen year, eating and exercise became more restrictive. I was eating less than 1,000 calories per day and exercising for two or more hours. 

I was offered food. The tantalizing aromas pervaded my nostrils and tempted me to come out of my room and consume the food being made in the kitchen. When I lay in bed, I could feel my ribs protruding through my skin. I liked it because it reinforced my need for validation, for doing something right.

By June, my menstrual cycle stopped. I didn’t tell anyone until August. My dad took me to a gynecologist. When she asked me what I was eating and told her, she suspected I might have Anorexia Nervosa, an eating disorder defined as eating very little or nothing at all because you are afraid of getting fat. I couldn’t remember the last time I had eaten a real meal at that time.

A therapist specializing in eating disorders was recommended. Dad and I made the hour long journey every Wednesday evening for two years. At the end of the two years, I had lost another 15lbs and I weighed 97lbs.

When I bent over, my tail bone could be seen through a sweater. My shoulder bones protruded from my skin, and my hip bones jetted through my pants, two sharp little mountain peaks. My face was sunken and a yellowish fuzz called lanugo grew on my arms. My hands and feet were cold and blue all the time.

Dad threatened me. My therapist threatened me. They told me I would be sent to an institution for those like myself if I lost one more pound. I was able to stabilize after that. By my senior year, I had gained 8lbs. It felt as though my world was crashing all around me; I was losing control of everything. I was determined to lose It all again, but realized I hadn’t died.

During by senior year, I quit going to therapy against my therapist’s judgement. We had discovered the root of my problem. With the death of my mother, and experiencing such a significant loss, I felt abandoned, unloved, and angry for her leaving me. She wouldn't be there at my prom. She wouldn't see me graduate. She wouldn't be there to help plan my wedding someday. My father's emotional neglect and alcoholic tendencis made my world feel unsafe. The adults in my family were overweight or obese, plagued with diabetes, increased risk of heart disease and stroke, and physical ailments like swollen feet and calves. The eating disorder disguised itself as a way to control something in my life. I could push out the pain I felt inside by channeling it into something else.

But having control was only an illusion. 

In college, I used to cut carbs and increase exercise. I did Pilates in the morning for 30 minutes, a strength workout after lunch for 45 minutes. Sometimes I went to the gym twice a day to lift weights and run on the treadmill, then I would swim for an hour. Later, I would do HIIT workout for 30 minutes. My meals were a small bowl of cereal, a sliced turkey sandwich, and grilled chicken and raw vegetables.

If I told anyone that I felt fat, they told me, “You’re nuts. You’re as thin as a rail.” But I didn’t believe them. I would never call myself thin.

It took me until my sophomore year of college to psych myself up to gaining more weight. That summer, I ate and ate and ate. It was terrifying and many times I wanted to go back to my comfort weight of 110. But my desire to finally be attractive to someone prevailed over my desire to look like the walking dead.

I finished college and went to graduate school, while secretly hiding my feelings of unworthiness and pain and anger through my impeccable choices in the foods I ate and the rigorous exercise I put my body through. My state of mind depended on the number on the scale and the slightest fluctuation in weight. I planned out all of my meals, and I had to be the one to make my food because I needed to know what went into the food I would be eating.

The low number on the scale, the excessive exercise, the total control over the foods I ate. These gave me the impression of control.

Eating disorders are not about the food. The food is just a physical symptom of the invisible wound inside of you. Eating disorders are about the relationships with your family and yourself that formulate from a young age. It took many years of work, of constant practice of self-compassion, self-love, and self-kindness to fnally make me realize my self-worth. It isn't easy. It's a constant battle. I had to surround myself with supportive people, like my close friends and family. I told myself positive affirmations daily.

Healing can happen, but what worked form me may not work for everyone. I do know that I couldn't have done it alone. Don't fight any battle by yourself. Rely on those who can give you strength, support, and belief that you are worthy just the way you are. Mental health is okay to talk about. No matter what others may think, you deserve to heal. 

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