Reprinted from "Eating Disorders" issue of Visions Journal, 2002, No. 16, pp. 15-16
‘Have you gained weight?,” my aunt asked when we met this afternoon. “No.” I attempted to end the conversation before it started. She persisted though, insisting for several minutes that I had gained weight and that she could tell.
I was initially upset by this experience; I cried when she left. Then back home, looking into the mirror, I saw, just as I thought, that I am the perfect size. I love my body, for how I look and move, for my beauty and strength.
Young women are pressured to be thin; I know because having felt the pressures, I struggled with bulimia for a year of my life. It was a difficult experience with a challenging road to recovery. Having fully recovered, I see that we each have the power to heal disordered eating, and the rewards are worth the effort.
From some time in elementary school until my second year of university, eating was my magic cape which protected me from the judgment of others. I was a skinny child and knew that my body type drew both admiration and resentment. “Does she eat?,” I would hear adults ask my parents; my extended family would ask me outright, and in late high school and early university I noticed some peers watching me for answers to this same question. I felt that if others could see me eating — especially in large quantities — they would not judge me. So I ate more than I was hungry for, and felt safe.
When I began university, my workload increased. A chronic procrastinator at the time, by October mid-terms, my stress level was so high that I began binge eating to find relief from that stress. However, still believing that my body shape defined me, I also began purging to counterbalance the disaster of gaining a pound or two.
Thus I began my experience of bulimia with a certain nonchalance, the way I imagine some people begin smoking. Though I had seen one of my closest friends suffer immensely from anorexia, be hospitalized, and eventually drop out of high school, I believed that my own experimentation with bulimia was not a big deal, and that I would always be in control of my own choices with regard to disordered eating.
The danger with bulimia is that it initially makes binge eating acceptable, because a remedy exists (purging) — and so the cycle can deepen very quickly. I was soon bingeing and purging daily.
I felt the effects on my body right away. My throat burned, my mouth hurt, and my teeth ached. The damage to my teeth is the one battle scar I carry always. Until the end of high school my teeth were white, strong, cavity-free; now I have five or six fillings, and with my dentist puzzling how the enamel has worn away so drastically, I did not tell him that I had thrown stomach acid over them for nearly a year.
After several months, I knew that the physical and emotional toll of this disorder was too high. It was time to give it up. Thus I began a tumultuous and trying year-long road of recovery.
There was progress and regression; the last four months, which coincided with my first term of second-year university, were the most difficult months of my life to date. I spent much time crying. Knowing that my eating patterns were not quite acceptable, I kept my greatest heartache private and struggled to continue with my life.
My real turning point came at the end of December when I called my closest friends and told them about my battle with disordered eating. Breaking my isolation barrier, I finally opened myself up to a support network. I decided to accept my body, and over the following three years, this resigned acceptance has transformed into appreciation. I rock climb, practice yoga, and enjoy my grace and strength and the places it takes me.
“Once you get past this,” a trusted friend once told me, on another matter, “there’s a big backyard out there.” I agree, and add that each backyard leads to a bigger one. For a time, disordered eating was my whole world; it was harsh and isolating. As I moved through and past it, my life opened up to more succulence and joy.
Though I was influenced by the attention others paid to my body, I do not mean to caution readers to watch their words around children, for I do not think this is a solution. Rather, I believe that as we each take responsibility for loving our own bodies as they are right now, we will naturally stop projecting our issues about our own bodies on to our children. We each have the power to heal in this way, and the rewards for doing so are the big backyards that we will find ourselves playing in.