Let’s talk about eating disorders.

So, I have one, OK? Or one in remission, I guess, because I think once you have one, and your brain’s been occupied with one, it’s always hanging out there, like some dark, hidden menace. Most of the time, you don’t think about it, but sometimes, it can be a little sneaky and catch you off guard.

Sigh. Where to start.

So, I was a fat kid, right? I got put on a diet pretty young, and I think this made me a little crazy. I always was a little crazy — hence the bipolar/manic depressive links on the side bar over there — and my family’s a little crazy too. So I started off with a pattern of disordered eating. The dieting caused me to start binging as a kid. I started hating vegetables, and then all sorts of power-and-control issues occurred around food, which generally ended up with me sitting at the table until bedtime, or me trying to feed my ornery cocker spaniel food I didn’t want, and apparently he didn’t want either — as he smashed it into the carpet — resulting in a punishment for me.

Subsequently, I got fat, and fatter, and I never knew whether I was hungry or full or coming or going. In high school, I just accepted I was fat and was fine with it. I stopped eating vegetables altogether because all the power-and-control issues caused me to physically gag when they entered my mouth. During my childhood and teenage years, my parents engaged in name-calling and fat fear about health issues, which did not help my emotional well-being any.

 Then I was taken to a Diet Center.

This occurred just prior to my senior year of high school. My parents told me we were going somewhere else. When we all got in the car, they told me they were taking me to a weight loss center, as it was time to get my weight under control, as I would not be able to do any of the things I wanted to do in life while fat. These things included: have a boyfriend, get through college, get a good job, and get married. Clearly, thinness was the only appropriate body in which I could master these tasks, and it was assumed these were tasks I wanted to master.

At the diet center I was weighed. I can’t remember what I weighed, but it was either 268 pounds, or 286 pounds. I do remember I was wearing clothes larger than the size I wear now. It was high, although not too far from what I weigh now. I would have to follow a strict eating plan. I would be allowed more food at the start because I would be “melting fat,” since I was shocking my system into losing weight.

I cried hysterically.

The first week, I followed the plan half-heartedly. I ate what I was supposed to, except for the vegetables. I lost 1/2 pound. The diet center people asked if I had followed the plan. I reassured them I had. They said not to worry, it was only the first week. But the pressure at home was immense.

And so I decided to follow my own plan. It went like this.

I would not eat breakfast. I would eat a granola bar for lunch. I would eat a small dinner. I would drink lots of diet soda, as I had been reassured it had no fat or calories, so it was a “safe” food.

I lost 7 pounds at the next weigh-in. I received lots of praise. For the entire school year, this was my diet. I reached a few plateaus, and the diet counselors reduced my food plan more. I cried hysterically, because I knew that I was hardly eating anything, so how could I possibly eat less? On some days, I skipped lunch to make up for it. On weigh in days, I just wouldn’t eat at all. I added exercise to the mix to help break through plateaus.

At the end, a year later, I weighed 186 pounds. Fat, but not as fat.

I had also developed sharp pains in my stomach. It felt like someone was stabbing me with a knife in the center of my rib cage. The pain was intense, preventing me from breathing. My mom laughed at me, telling me I was dramatic.

The following year I went to college. I continued skipping breakfast and lunch. I started smoking and dropped an additional 12 pounds. Smoking, I found, was an excellent appetite suppressant, as well. Fat, but less fat.

By the end of my freshman year, I had gained some weight. I don’t really know how. I probably ate breakfast here and there. I had a few late night pizzas here and there. I didn’t drink, so that couldn’t have done it. What I do know is that despite the 12 pounds I lost, I ended the year fatter than I started it.

Completely freaked out, I started exercising in bizarre ways. I climbed flights of stairs over and over in my 10-story dorm and then weighed myself to see if I had immediately lost weight. I worked out as much as I could.

My weight did not change.

It, in fact, went up.

And the stomach pains continued.

I met another woman in the dorm who had found something to help suppress her appetite. It was Ma Huang, a natural form of ephedrine. I started taking it daily. It worked quite well, aside from the diarrhea, stomach cramping, heart palpitations, excessive sweating, and irritability. I took it off and on for a few years, and then regularly for another five. At first I was able to lose some weight. Then, I was able to simply maintain weight. But later, it did nothing for me, and I continued gaining weight, and just took it for fear that if I did not, I would be out of control. Everything would be wrong if I was not doing something to control my weight, my appetite, my body.

The curious stomach pains were horrendous, and eventually, I got properly diagnosed. It seems that rapid weight loss, according to the doctor I saw, can sometimes cause gall stones. This is what happened to me. I had to have emergency surgery to have my gall bladder removed. I was warned that I would have lifelong digestive problems as a result of the surgery. I did. I do.

I also have them because of my long-term abuse of Ma Huang.

I went to a therapist, who referred me to someone who specialized in eating disorders. In truth, I had no concept that what I was doing was disordered. I simply believed I was dieting. I mean, they sold the Ma Huang pills at GNC, and I was taking half of the recommended daily dose, so I was being safe, right? Nevermind how they made me felt. Fat was unhealthy, so I was being “good” by trying to control my weight, and since I kept gaining despite my better attempts not to, which included exercising regularly and eating sporadically, or reductively, or sometimes not at all, or in some sort of binge-and-compensatory manner, I was being healthy, right? Fat would kill me eventually, so wouldn’t it be better to get it off of my body in some way, any way, even if that meant I was hungry all the time, was irritable all the time, was shamed all the time, was tired all the time? Fat was bad, and I was working at getting rid of it, so that meant I was good, right? 

At the eating disorders therapist, I described what I was doing. By this point, I had developed a nice system for myself. I drank only diet soda, because a diet soda, along with a cigarette, often replaced a meal for me. I was usually drinking a case a day and smoking a pack a day. I talked about how I would eat a small breakfast, skip lunch, eat a small dinner — during the week. I would exercise, during the week. During the week, I kept my calorie intake low. On the weekends, I was allowed more freedom, so I could eat more. As much as I wanted, actually.

She looked at me, and said: You have bulimia.

I cried. Bulimia? How was that possible? They binge and purge — as in, throwing up, as in, eating 10,000 calories in a sitting and then running to the bathroom. I was not bulimic. I was dieting. I was Being Good. And I was fat. Fat people don’t have eating disorders. I had even accepted that I was always going to be fat, I just wanted to be less fat, a size 16 or 18 fat, not a size 20 or 22 fat.

No. Apparently, fat people do have eating disorders — even the ones that are thought to only exist in the thin, pretty upper middle class white girls. I was one of them.

As I did when I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, I was floored by the label, and I was determined to make some significant changes. I went home and threw out all the Ma Huang, which was terrifying. Who would I be if I wasn’t controlling my body? What would happen if I didn’t reign it in? Would it run amok? Would it gain so much weight I would be the 400-pound spectre the media throws out as the reason for the health care crisis in this country? Since I had been a child, I had had no concept of what it was like to simply eat things I wanted or liked when I was just hungry. I didn’t even know what it was like to feel hungry and then go eat as a result of that physical cue. That was a radical concept to me.

That was five years ago. It has been a long, rocky road.

I have been working on cutting sugars out of my diet, not to lose weight, but because I have a real issue with IBS and migraines. An acupuncturist told me that many times, my body may be craving sugar but what it needs is protein. So I’ve been trying it out for about a month now, and my migraines have reduced, and my belly feels a whole lot better.

Last night, I got a craving for Reese’s Pieces. Just some random craving. I’m big on honoring cravings. It’s been a part of the work I’ve done in bulimia recovery. Giving in to one craving is a lot better than eating 20 pounds of “healthy” food. But I struggled. What would happen if I ate so much sugar? It’s a “bad” food now. Just saying that brought me back to a place of body loathing and cyclical destructive thinking about weight and body image. I ended up getting the candy, the need to be true to the work I did regarding my body image trumping the work I am doing regarding my body’s pain.

The candy didn’t taste good, and it ended up making me hurt. It did teach me, though, how much my values have changed and not changed, around food. Which is to say, I guess I have come a long way, without really travelling that far.

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10 Comments

  1. Kat said,

    January 25, 2008 at 2:58 pm

    You’re story is moving. Thank you for sharing it.

    I almost cried when reading how your mom and dad name called, tricked you into going to a diet center and filled your head with no boyfriend, college or job lies. I might yet cry. I’m so sorry you went through this.
    Kat

  2. Nemohee said,

    January 25, 2008 at 3:00 pm

    *hug*

    In reading this, I saw (and see) my own struggle with an eating disorder.

    You are strong. We may cure ourselves, but we can keep fighting to regain something of what we lost.

  3. vesta44 said,

    January 25, 2008 at 3:10 pm

    Moving story, and you have come a long way, even if you feel like you haven’t traveled far. I wish they had told me about the digestive problems when I had my gallbladder out. I had to figure it out on my own, and then figure out what I needed to do to minimize the effects.

  4. Ambar said,

    January 25, 2008 at 3:56 pm

    Yes, my story is similar to yours. One day I may have the guts to share it publicly. Thank you for sharing yours.

  5. Sandy said,

    January 25, 2008 at 6:01 pm

    You have come a long way. Be proud of yourself..many don’t get half as far as you have.

  6. thoughtracer said,

    January 26, 2008 at 11:26 am

    Thanks everyone for the supportive comments.

  7. Nemohee said,

    January 26, 2008 at 4:33 pm

    Wow…I need to lay off the thesis for a while….

    My comment up there was supposed to say “We may *not* cure ourselves”.

    Grammar Goblin strikes again!

    I shall still give you another *hug*. Keep going and keep getting stronger!

  8. Hedda said,

    January 28, 2008 at 2:18 pm

    I’ve just come to the realization myself that I’m a fat anorexic. Everyone tells us it’s impossible, so it takes years for us to realize. Me, I noticed when I had blood work that literally showed I was starving myself. Re-learning a healthy relationship with food is hard, but I’m doing it for me, my health, and in the name of feeling good. It’s a hard road to follow but I’m finally happy with the result. Now, to keep it up for a lifetime…

  9. February 8, 2008 at 10:14 am

    […] wrote a post about my own struggles with eating disorders recently, and I want to talk a bit more about the […]

  10. Maria Santoros said,

    October 10, 2009 at 5:57 pm

    Thanks for posting this.

    I’m 25, and have been overweight most of my life. I recently have lost ~50 pounds and sit around my house very confused most of the time. It’s really hard to explain to people that the positive feedback they give me is often for really horrible behavior. If I use my prescription pills to induce diarrhea and lost 10 more pounds, and people congratulate me and say how good I look and “you only have a few sizes to go”…guh, my head hurts.

    I’m starting to realize that I have a really screwed up relationship with weight, food, self-esteem, and eating. I’ve looked up and down for articles on fat people with anorexia, but everyone tells the story of the thin overachiever who reaches 86pounds. Thanks for posting this. It makes me feel less crazy.


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