Trigger Warning: Graphic descriptions of anorexic behavior. May upset some reader or trigger others.
I hit my adult height of 5’8″ at 12 years old. I was never your stick thin girl, I’m just not built that way. At 14 years old and 145 pounds, my ribs and hips stuck out, I had no breasts to speak of, my collar bone was very pronounced. I looked too thin. I still did not look like the other girls. I developed faster than they did. I didn’t have a little girls body from the time I was about 10.
My mother danced with an eating disorder all her life, too. Skinny to the point of being sick looking in her teenage years and then plumping up with every radical diet that came along. She was never OK with her body, so she taught me from a very early age that mine wasn’t OK either. Comments on my weight and body shape started around 8 years old for me. They never stopped until the day she died. I was 41.
I was teased at school for being “fat” and I was called “Java the Hut” by the boys at school. I never heard at home that I was pretty or any positives about my body. I thought I was HUGE at 145 pounds and really ugly.
I was turned loose as a latch key kid at 11. Mom no longer made sure I ate breakfast or made sure I had any kind of lunch. I was supposed to do those things on my own without being taught how or any reminders. Too young! As a result, I started not eating all day long until Mom cooked dinner at night. This began a pattern which would stay with me for many, many years!
I met a girl in the 6th grade who was already very overweight. She taught me about hiding and sneaking food. I had my first binge with her. Naturally, I gained some weight, but I was still within about 5 pounds of a healthy weight.
The summer between 8th and 9th grades I had my first real dance with ED. We had a pool and I started swimming every day. I spent all day out by the pool tanning and swimming laps. I lost about 25 pounds over that summer. I got tons of positive reinforcement from my mom. FINALLY I was hearing how good I look and I was encouraged to keep exercising. I did… along with not eating. I wasn’t in total restriction, but I was running on bare minimum calories. I still did not intentionally exercise and starve with the primary intent of losing weight. It was a great bi-product of being competitive and pushing myself. I came to love this about myself!!!
Many years later and several hundred pounds of up and downs in drastic and unsafe weight gains and losses, I found myself at 319 pounds. I’d never been more depressed in my life. I couldn’t move well. I was young! I was 27 years old. I signed up for a healthy eating class through my medical plan. It was about 8 weeks long and intended to help get people on the right track with food and healthy lifestyle changes.
I took to that class like a duck to water! If there’s one thing I know how to do, it’s lose weight! They were giving me permission to cut things out of my diet and encouraging me to exercise!!! I started dropping weight to the tune of about 3 pounds a day. That good old competitive spirit kicked in. Just how far can I push myself? How long can I go without eating? I was eating 500 calories a day or less for quite some time. I was going 24 to 36 hours without eating at all. I came close to 48 once, but I almost passed out in the shower from low blood sugar.
At first, I was getting a ton of support and praise. My mom laughed when my jeans literally fell off as I walked down the hallway at home knowing I’d bought them only a few weeks before. I got lots of attention for how good I was looking. Then it stopped.
The instructor in my class wasn’t well versed in eating disorders, but she knew I was in trouble. She looked worried each week when I went in. I had lost nearly 50 pounds when a woman in the class sat next to me and quietly told me, “You don’t have to be skinny to have anorexia.” It was something she knew about personally. It was the first time in my life it had been suggested that I may have an eating disorder.
In total, I lost 89 pounds in 2 1/2 months. I went from 319 pounds down to 221 pounds.
I had an appointment with my psychiatrist one day. She was keeping close tabs on me back then. I liked her a lot. I didn’t mind seeing her at all. She looked at me and said that I was in medical danger from starvation. She told me she could smell the sweetness on my breath and coming from my body. I was humiliated to think I smelled bad. She offered me a choice between going into inpatient treatment or starting an ED program in the department. I opted for the outpatient!
As anyone with an eating disorder knows, if you want to up your game and learn new ways to dance with ED, talk to others living it! The group taught me more about how to kill myself with starvation than anything I could have come up with on my own. I also got the skills which would later save my life.
I’d been pretty much starving myself and exercising myself into a frenzy. Water aerobics every day plus a couple more hours of cardio and weights after that. Then I’d head to work where I had to eat. I worked in a residential mental health facility. I had to sit down and eat dinner with my clients every night. I ate as little as possible. There were no binges. It was straight starvation.
All of the other group members were dealing with bulimia. The course material was set up primarily to deal with binging and purging. It was hard to relate at times because I only had the one side….starving myself.
I hardly knew what bulimia was before this group. I learned quick! I count myself fortunate that I absolutely cannot force myself to vomit. I’ve tried my hardest so many times it’s disgusting! I don’t vomit unless I’m so sick I’m near death. Just not what my body does. It saved me from adding yet another layer onto my dance with ED.
Laxatives? I’d not thought about laxatives! I was still starving myself and I started drinking Milk of Magnesia every day. A couple times a day. It didn’t do much for losing weight. It just added to that feeling of control. That euphoria and sense of control and power that goes along with anorexia. I can’t describe the feeling in any better way.
I saw an eating disorder specialist for individual therapy, too. She touched on all of the issues through our time together that go hand-in-hand with an eating disorder. Sexual abuse? Rape? Domestic violence? You know the list. I was so far in denial, that I couldn’t even admit that I’d been raped at all, not to mention 3 times. All of those things came out many years later when I finally conquered ED once and for all.
She was kind and patient. We met every week for a long, long time. Along with our sessions and the group, she set me up with a dietician. Talk about a horror show for someone with anorexia and all kinds of ED behaviors and thinking!!
I met with the dietician almost weekly for a couple of years. The battle with food itself was started in her office. What is a realistic portion size? How many calories per day? What foods do I eat together to be healthy? Snacks?! What? You want me to eat 3 meals a day AND 2 snacks?! That is where I saw how truly sick I was around food… in every way. I hated food. I hated myself. Food was a long, slow, painful suicide mission through periods of extreme starvation and extreme over eating to the point it can’t be called binging. It never stopped.
The day came I was ready to stop the laxatives. My therapist and I had been discussing it for weeks. She told me plain and simple what to expect. She was graphic. And she told me I just had to live through it. Once you start taking laxatives, your body becomes dependent on them. I had constant diarrhea from them, despite eating so little to begin with. Detox from laxatives is the most miserable detox I’ve ever done! Painful constipation lasting for weeks. Rock hard. Tearing, bleeding. The cramps. OMG! All I wanted was relief! I had committed to going through this. If I’d taken anything to help at all, I’d have to start the process all over again. It took close to 2 weeks for the initial constipation to stop. My bowels didn’t function with any kind of normalcy for months! The experience was so terrible that I wouldn’t even use Metamucil for years!
I’ll tell you about the body image issues and my recovery next time.