I want to warn you up front, this post will be long, detailed, and full of things most of you never knew about me. But, because of the impact eating disorders have had in my life, I want to make you all aware so that you may be able to spot the signs of a loved one with an eating disorder.
In Junior High, I was athletic. Very athletic. Therefore, I had an athletic build. By the age of 14, I was 5’9, and taller than most of the boys in my class. At 15, it really started to hit me that I wasn’t one of the “pretty” girls. You know the type – the ones that had a different boyfriend every week. Or, heck – they just had a boyfriend.
I started to think that I was too fat, and that by losing a few pounds, I would be prettier. Being prettier meant that I would get a boyfriend. At the age of 15, I basically stopped eating. I lived on Diet Coke – after all, it was the only thing we had in our fridge. Not eating wasn’t hard for me. We never had food in our house. Mom and Dad were always on a diet, so junk food didn’t come into our house very often. We ate our meals in restaurants, and my parents gave us lunch money to buy lunch at school. I would buy a soda at lunch, but usually gave my money to someone else so that they could buy a bag of chips or whatever. When we went out to restaurants, I would play with my food, moving it around on my plate, but would never take more than a few bites. And, most of those bites ended up in my napkin. I lost 20 pounds in no time at all.
The start of my Junior year, we went to “school camp.” A week away from home. I don’t know why we did it, but it was part of the “rules” of the school. During that week, I became very close with one of the popular guys, and we started dating shortly thereafter. In my mind, I figured that the reason I had gotten the boyfriend was because I had lost the weight and was now “pretty.” It set me on this path that I still haven’t completely recovered from.
Over the next few years, my weight flip-flopped. I would gain a few pounds, feel guilty, and then lose 10 to make up for it. My mom took me to several doctors, but no one ever said the words “eating disorder.” This went on for years, and it was just never talked about in our house.
In 1996, I got pregnant with Ashley. I was about to become a single mom. I did really well during the pregnancy and actually gained 50 pounds with her. When she was born, I didn’t breastfeed her. I did it for the selfish reason that I KNEW I couldn’t starve myself if she was dependent on my supplying her milk. By the time Ashley was 6 weeks old, I had lost those 50 pounds completely. Old habits die hard.
In 2000, I moved from the Chicago suburbs back to Ohio. I started dating a guy, and it was supposed to be perfect. His dad and my dad had been best friends, his sister was my best friend. Well, it wasn’t perfect. We were engaged on Christmas Eve of 2000, and by April of the next year, it was over. That breakup set me into a nosedive right back into the eating disorder. Only this time, I didn’t just stop eating. I would binge and purge several times a day. My back teeth are now completely rotted because of all the purging I did.
My weight dropped to 94 pounds. Size 0 clothes just hung off my body. At this time, I was seeing a doctor and a therapist, but nothing was working. I would put rocks in my pockets to make myself weigh more so that the doctor wouldn’t say anything about the weight loss. I always wore several layers of clothing, and never took my shoes off. Eventually my doctor caught on, and would have me strip down to my underwear and bra in an exam room to get weighed.
While at my lowest weight, I met Gene. We started dating, and he was very aware that something was going on with me. I told him about the doctor and the therapist. He went with me to my next doctor’s appointment, and the doctor threatened that I either “get my head on straight” or she was admitting me into the hospital and forcing me to eat through a tube. I was a danger to myself and I was destroying my body, inside and out. I had to gain 5 pounds in two weeks, or I would be admitted.
With Gene’s help, I gained those 5 pounds. It was not easy. There were fights, tears, and screaming. I was like a drug addict going through withdraw. As I type this now, the tears are flowing, just remembering what those two weeks were like. It was hell on earth. Literally.
By the time Gene and I married, I was back up to 120 pounds. I can’t even begin to tell you what a support he was. I still can’t believe that he stuck with me through all that – especially so early on in our relationship. But, he did, and I love him so much for it. I truly owe him my life.
It’s been six and a half years since Gene and I were married. Through those years, I’ve had really good periods and really rough patches. After pregnancy was always the hardest. That’s why I’ve breastfed all of my kids. I *knew* that if I breastfed them, I would have to eat healthy and be able to supply them with the nutrients they need, just like during my pregnancies.
I always did really well at “flipping the switch” when it came to pregnancy and nursing. I did slip up one time when Zander was just a few weeks old. We had some friends over for dinner and I completely stuffed myself. I ended up purging after that. I felt SO guilty afterward, that I never purged again while my babies were still nursing.
Now, here I am. More than 15 years have passed since this all began. My self-image is no better now than it was back then. I get physically sick when I look at myself in a mirror. I posted images of myself in a review over on Buy By Mom, and I can’t even look at them. I cried as I edited those images and wrote up that review. I’m crying now, just thinking of those pictures. They are horrible, and I hate them.
I have two girls. I worry every day that my girls are going to face these same struggles. I want – more than anything – to be able to prevent them from going through what I did. I want them to realize that they are beautiful even if they aren’t a size 0. I want them to know all the things that people have told me for YEARS that I just cannot grasp. I know in my head that making me fat doesn’t necessarily make me ugly, but when I look in that mirror and actually see what I have become, it makes me ill. I do NOT want my daughters going through this. The problem is, I don’t know how to prevent it. I know the signs to watch for, and believe me, I’m watching. Ashley has already started commenting on how fat she is (which she is NOT!), and I am constantly making sure I tell her how beautiful she is.
If you are worried that someone you love may suffer from an eating disorder, or think you may, here are some excellent resources on the web:
- Find Help – http://www.4therapy.com/ Find a therapist in your area that deals with eating disorders. No charge for this service.
NEDA – http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/ National Eating Disorders Association
- NIMH – http://www.nimh.nih.gov/ National Institute of Mental Health
ANAD – http://www.anad.org/site/anadweb/ Counseling services and helpline.
- The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness – http://www.eatingdisorderinfo.org/ The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness seeks to establish easily accessible programs across the nation that allow children and young adults the opportunity to learn about eating disorders and the positive effects of a healthy body image. Furthermore, our aim is to disseminate educational information to parents and caregivers about the warning signs, dangers, and consequences of anorexia, bulimia, and other related disorders.
EDA – http://www.eatingdisordersanonymous.org/ Eating Disorders Anonymous (EDA) is a fellowship of individuals who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problems and help others to recover from their eating disorders. People can and do fully recover from having an eating disorder. In EDA, we help one another identify and claim milestones of recovery.
- Something-Fishy – http://www.something-fishy.org/ Eating Disorders Anorexia, Bulimia & Compulsive Overeating Dedicated to raising awareness and providing support to people with Eating Disorders, and their loved-ones… since 1995
Anorexia Treatment – http://www.anorexia-nervosa-treatment.com/ Information, counseling services, and more.
If you are afraid that a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder, the worst thing you can do is try to force them to eat. Love them, encourage them, and above all, help them find help. Seek out a counselor (there are TONS who specialize in eating disorders!), find a support group. DO SOMETHING. Don’t try to ignore it or brush it under the rug. Early treatment could save a lifetime of hardship.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder, please don’t be afraid to ask for help. Lean on your family and friends. Find support from other women who are also dealing with this. Talk to a counselor or a doctor. There IS hope. If you *ever* need to talk, please don’t hesitate to email me: angie (at) 5vinezmonkeys (dot) com.