Reprinted from "Eating Disorders" issue of Visions Journal, 2002, No. 16, pp. 16-17
Eating disorders are not necessarily related to having a problem with food. When I was 13, I experienced my first puppy-love crush on a boy who was 15. For six months I ohhed and ahhed over this dark-eyed, dark-haired boy wonder. I thought I knew everything about him. He ended up becoming my best friend’s boyfriend. So, not only did I not get to go out with this boy, I also never got to spend time with my best friend anymore because they were always together. I felt devastated, betrayed and hurt.
So, while I stayed home and watched TV by myself, I began to eat. I loved eating my sorrows away with huge bowls of buttered popcorn while watching Three’s Company on TV. I gained 25 pounds that first year that I lost my puppy-love crush. This made me more depressed. I was not only chubby, but no guy would want to go out with me now for sure. I made sure that anyone I decided to like while I was in high school was so far out of my league or they were unavailable. I wasn’t going to feel that betrayal again.
In the tenth grade, I took prescription diet pills. It was horrible: I was a total zombie. I couldn’t sleep and I was so nauseous that I couldn’t eat. One week of that and I just flushed them down the toilet.
I spent a lot of my high school years getting excellent grades, working after school, not getting into sex, drugs or alcohol, and I didn’t smoke.
In the 12th grade, I experienced an enormous amount of disappointments: I was chubby, never had a date, and I was full of depression and anger. I often thought of taking my own life, but I didn’t act out on those thoughts. So, again I turned to food and I developed bulimia. I would eat a whole box of Frosted Flakes with liquid whipping cream and the toilet bowl and I became best friends.
At first, this was a once-a-month binge and purge, then once a week, until in its later stages a year later, I was up to 15 times a day. By then it had become an obsession and also a huge stress reliever to binge and purge so often. My journey into mental illness also began at this time as I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Wolfing back one and a half pounds of chocolate a day also did a huge number on my complexion and teeth. I had been a person who never had a cavity who now had seven cavities in one check-up. The acid from throwing up really wrecks one’s teeth. I still do have all my teeth but they’re all filled now.
My recovery from bulimia occurred during a hospital stay, as the nurses made me remain at the table for an hour after I ate so I could no longer throw up. With the combination of medication and the huge amounts of food I was eating, I gained 45 pounds throughout the first year at the hospital. Now, I was not only chubby: I was short and fat. However, I no longer had bulimia.
A couple of years later, when I was 22, I developed anorexia. I lived off of apple juice and corn. I worked two full-time jobs and exercised at every opportunity. While on this diuretic diet and also experiencing a period of mania, I lost 16 pounds in one week.
Anorexia was more challenging to cure. This was not because of my anger so much but because I so wanted to be slim and attractive. Eventually, I returned to a chubby weight again.
Throughout my 20s and into my 30s, even though I’ve left overeating and bulimia behind, I still have to watch that I don’t fall back into lack of eating and sway back into anorexia. I still can’t get up in the morning and eat breakfast. I can go many hours without food. If I do gain weight, I’m obsessive and angry with my imperfections. I know I have to make sure I eat healthy foods, and avoid sugars, starches and caffeine. I also drink a lot of water, but I’ve picked up a vice since my high school years — smoking. It’s a double-edged sword — I believe it helps with anxiety and stress, but it’s an appetite suppressant. I’m a serious nicotine addict and although I’ve made several failed attempts, I’m terrified to quit: my biggest fear is that if I quit I’ll get fat, and boy, will that depress me.
However, back to my original statement, my eating disorders had nothing to do with having a problem with food: food was not the enemy. My emotions, and my lack of coping tools and confidence to deal with many facts of life led me to my battle with food — and now my battle with the cancer stick.
Life at the best of times can appear cruel and unfair. To this day, I can’t be around a toilet bowl too up-close and personal for any length of time. Going to the dentist is a nightmare — even though all my teeth are filled, all the tubes and tools in my mouth easily make me gag from past bulimia experiences. If I gain 5 pounds it may as well be 50 or 500 pounds — the emotional hell I put myself through would be the same. To this day, I hate telling anyone what I weigh.
However, I am getting better. I’ve gone to a lot of therapy over the years and now I make my health and well-being the number one priority in my life. I’m all I’ve got, so I had better treat myself with love, understanding, kindness, and above all, forgiveness.
My advice to those of you who have or know a loved one with an eating disorder, is to be patient, and (help) get to the core of the problems. Many times the problem is about feeling rejected, afraid and unloved — or about having low self-esteem or anxiety. If you think you may have an eating disorder, talk it over with someone you trust, like your family doctor, a friend or parent. Get help and get to the root of the behaviour, so that you can be in control of your health and emotions.
We live in a very jaded society where it seems everyone wants us to be thin and perfect like a Malibu Barbie — but that isn’t realistic. God made each and every one of us unique and special. Celebrate your uniqueness and your beauty and be exactly who you are. Be proud to be different and out of the mold. After all, there’s only one of you on this whole planet. Live life to the fullest, seek help and learn to forgive, love and love again.