A Story About Anorexia
When I was thirteen I decided that I didn’t want to eat anymore.
I grew up with a body type that could be described as “chunky” — kind of overweight, but also kind of normal for a kid who hasn’t hit their growth spurt yet. I was living primarily at my father’s house with him and my younger brother, and dinners were definitely not helping in the way of assisting in any kind of weight loss. After what felt like an entire year of my father making comments about my weight, I woke up one morning and decided that I was going to see how long I could go without eating anything at all.
It worked. On the first day of my secret test I managed to go all the way until dinner without eating anything. I didn’t feel weak, tired, or hungry all day. I ate dinner feeling satisfied that I was able to skip two meals that were, just yesterday, moments of pure indulgence for me. Because I accomplished this goal on the first day, I decided to set a longer goal for myself — let’s see if this could go on for an entire week.
As you can probably imagine, my goals kept getting longer and longer. In midst of seeing just how long I could go without any food — sometimes two days at a time — I began my obsession with calorie counting.
I was coming up on my fourteenth birthday and starting to really pick at my self image…
I didn’t like that my stomach created a little pouch when I sat down.
I didn’t like that a double chin formed if I pushed my chin downwards.
I didn’t like that my thighs spread larger when I put pressure on them by sitting down.
I didn’t like that my arms appeared larger when I had them resting at my sides.
I began creating a mental list of all of my perceived flaws. I had Googled various things along the lines of, “How many calories do I need to eat to lose ten pounds?” Of course this searching occurred at the height of forums and chat rooms, and I dove in headfirst. I found the holy grail of anorexia forums: women and girls sharing their secrets.
- Don’t eat anything for as long as you can, drink A LOT of water
- Limit your calorie intake to 500 per day, then decrease by 100 every week
- While you’re fasting, wear a workout band around your stomach
- Chew gum whenever you feel hungry… it will trick your body into thinking you’re eating
- Only eat iceberg lettuce in your salads, it is basically water
The tips were feeding me more than any kind of food was. The summer between seventh and eighth grade was pivotal for me — I was determined to go back to school at least twenty pounds lighter than I was when classes ended. I was starving myself and running for exercise. I learned all of the necessary tricks to hide my new obsession of starvation from my family: move your food around on your plate to make it look like you’ve been eating, open snacks and flush them down the toilet so that the wrappers are empty in the trash, wear baggy clothing, on and on.
I used to laugh alone in my room as I analyzed all of the areas of my body that I once thought of as “problem areas”. They were all gone. I was literally skin and bones. I loved that I could see my entire rib cage, my hipbones in all of their glory, my collarbones were visible all the way to the ends of my shoulders, my spine protruded in what I could only see as the most beautiful way, and even my feet were bony. I had accomplished something that I didn’t ever think possible, and this kept the obsession going strong.
I ignored all of the glaring issues that came with the act of starvation. I regularly had chest pains, I was always freezing cold and shaking, I would get hunger pains that more or less had me doubled over in pain… but I pushed through. I denied the pains and chills and mentally prepared myself to make it through another day of emptiness.
I had convinced myself that the literal internal emptiness that I was feeling on a daily basis was actually making me whole. I had made it possible for myself to touch my thumbs and pointer fingers on each hand around my thighs with ease, and this made me feel accomplished. I had transformed myself physically, not realizing that I was also transforming myself mentally as well — both of which were negative transformations.
I have a vague memory of going to see my doctor for a yearly exam and, upon seeing that I had lost thirty pounds, they checked my body. Because I was only fourteen, a minor, the doctor had to tell my father that, not only was I severely underweight, I had very clear cut signs of anorexia. I cried and denied it, but the doctor advised that I see both a therapist as well as a nutritionist. I had lost control over my obsession.
I saw a therapist once every week, a nutritionist who made a food chart for me to follow, and was told by my doctor that I had to drink Ensure every morning to gain weight back. My therapist used to tell me that my body was “like a car” and I was currently “running on empty” — she told me that it wouldn’t be long before I broke down. I was warned that if I lost anymore weight I would be putting myself at risk of a heart attack. I was only fourteen and couldn’t force myself to think of serious risks associated with my desire to see my bones through my skin. It didn’t matter what my therapist told me, I had genuinely convinced myself that I could go on forever eating only 300 calories per day.
I moved in with my mom during the summer between eighth and ninth grade. I was getting ready to go into high school and I had my first boyfriend. I started to feel self conscious about how thin I was; I was wearing a strapless bra underneath my regular bra because I had no boobs whatsoever. I didn’t want my boyfriend to eventually realize that, so I decided that I would start eating more regularly again in hopes of developing curves.
When my way of thinking changed, I started filling out. I went from wearing size 00 jeans to a size 3 and, by my fifteenth birthday, I finally had boobs. I was no longer consumed by food — what I was eating, the frequency in which I was eating, the calorie count of what I was eating. I accepted that I could no longer see every rib in my body and I enjoyed feeling full after a while.
Like many things I have experienced — cutting myself, dependency on alcohol — anorexia was my way of controlling my life. I had no sense of control in various aspects of my life, so the complete control that I had over whether or not I would eat was comforting to me. I knew that it was only up to me if I would indulge in something that had more calories than I normally allowed myself to consume, and that’s the way that I liked it.
Obsession with weight and food has never left me. There have been many times in the past ten years that I have succumbed to my old habits. I have calorie counted, weighed myself every morning, afternoon and night, and gone prolonged periods without eating. Disordered eating is an issue that I will struggle with for the rest of my life. But I’m not alone.
It is reported that at least 30 million Americans suffer from an eating disorder. Every 62 minutes someone dies as a direct result from an eating disorder. Only one third of individuals struggling with anorexia in the United States obtain treatment. Anorexia also has the highest fatality rate of any eating disorder.
Doctors say that the majority of people who are living with an eating disorder are also struggling with depression. Depression is overwhelming and focusing on our food intake can help bring the sense of control back into our lives.
I don’t know if it ever gets easier to live with an eating disorder, even if it’s momentarily under control. Like many other mental health issues, it’s important to accept the longevity of the situation. I will always be afflicted with anorexia because it exists somewhere deep inside of my mind. The best I can do is remind myself that, as much as I have always hated being compared to a vehicle, I am like a car — I need the fuel to keep going so that I don’t break down.