|"N"'s Story||Anorexia and Bulimia|
I had always been a beautiful cheerful happy kid but when I was about six or seven, I suddenly became chubby. I guess I didn't grow fast enough and the baby fat kept piling up. Throughout elementary school I had friends, played piano, was on a soccer team, and considered myself a pretty cool kid. Nevertheless, there was always the fact that I was overweight and chubby despite the fact that I ate a pretty balanced diet and played sports. I often got teased and ridiculed in school and bullies would make remarks about how I was fat and probably sat home eating all day. I'd often cry with my mother at home. This became so habitual my parents finally took me to see a dietitian when I was nine or ten. Talking to that woman angered me. She treated me like I was some spoiled brat who was addicted to sweets. I kept arguing that all my friends ate a lot more junk food than I did. It was useless waste of time. I felt discouraged.
Finally, in middle school, I grew taller and the baby fat spread out a bit more evenly. I'm more of a big-boned child so I didn't become skinny or slender but pretty much normal weight. However, this again only lasted for a year or two.
By my freshman year of high school I found myself overweight. I was not depressed over it and I continued with sports (basketball this time), music (now guitar), and I was popular in my group of friends. Everyone saw me as humorous, friendly, and outgoing. Things were all fine, except there was always the weight issue. Everything ALWAYS came down to the weight issue. None of my friends were overweight. I felt embarrassed I couldn't trade clothes with them and that I wore a larger bra size. I always wore loose pants and sweaters. I longed for the day I could feel comfortable and confident in tank tops and flares like my friends did.
Second semester of my freshman year, I found the answer. The answer was RUNNING. I never thought of myself as the type who'd get into the individual self-motivated endurance training, the time-consuming sport of long-distance running but running and I clicked. Sure, it later became a love-hate relationship, but at first I approached the sport only with love. I don't recall exactly how it started. I just remember I was very ambitious about basketball and I thought running before practice might improve my game. Eventually, though, basketball became secondary to running. Running officially became my sport of choice. I ran on tracks, around the neighborhood. I began building upper-body strength at a local gym through weight lifting and I signed up for weekend 5K, 8K, and 10K races. Soon I began losing weight and toning my muscles.
The ED had started at about the same time the running started but I hadn't noticed it. At first, it crept up rather subtly and seemed to do more good than harm. I began restricting myself from eating junk food. No more indulging in sweets, cakes, pizzas, that kind of stuff. It made me feel proud and gave me a sense of control when I saw other people eating junk food or when I heard them complaining about their body size or weight. It was after freshman year ended, during the summer that my ED really became evident and surfaced. I was far from not eating. However, I kept increasing my weekly mileage without taking into consideration the more calories you burn, the more you have to take in to compensate. My restrictions on junk food became ridiculous. I just kept having these irrational fears that one cookie or one donut would ruin everything I'd achieved.
My parents and I went to Spain over the summer to visit relatives. I kept refusing ice cream after meals and even developed a fear of oil and other fats. I became paranoid and had to always scrutinize my grandmother while she cooked, making sure she didn't put too much oil in the frying pan or too much butter in the mashed potatoes, etc. I didn't realize that with all of my running and weight lifting I was the one person in the family who could most afford to relish a donut once in a while. I was the person who least had to worry about getting fat or eating too much sugar. Yet I was the one who was the most preoccupied about what I ate or didn't eat.
Slowly my paranoia with food led to paranoia with running. I was not able to maintain a balance between exercise and nutrition. They soon merged and engulfed me. I became a compulsive exerciser. Sure, I still enjoyed the running for the satisfaction that comes with it and for the peace of mind it brings but more and more I began running out of an ADDICTION, a compelling impulse, an OBSESSION. The sport I loved became an OBLIGATION. I had to run everyday. At this point, I had long since been satisfied with my image and my body. The compulsiveness was due to a psychological fixation; it was all in my head. I wasn't trying to lose weight or live up to anyone's expectations. I just thought, in my mind, that somehow things wouldn't go right if I didn't do my daily run, my daily sit-ups, my three-times-a-week lifting sessions. I became cranky and ill tempered. My next meal, my next run was ALWAYS ON MY MIND. I could concentrate on little else.
My cousins found me boring and way too stressed and anxious. I wouldn't go clubbing with them at night because I had to get up early the next morning to run. Although people admired my health-conscious lifestyle and my athletic build, those living closest to me (my parents and grandparents) certainly did notice me becoming obsessive about food and compulsive about running. When my parents and I returned to the States, we had a major confrontation. Lots of arguing, tantrum throwing, crying, and screaming. Worst of all my cousin had come back with us for what she thought would be a relaxed stay in the U.S. I now feel terribly embarrassed that my cousin had to witness my ED at its worst. But I wouldn't budge. I was stubborn. My parents said, "We're worried". I shrank back in fear and said, "I know, I'll change" but mentally I couldn't change. Some friends came over at the end of the summer and they wouldn't shut up about how I had become thinner during my vacation in Spain. I couldn't believe it. I didn't want people calling me skinny, it's an ugly, unfavorable word. I didn't want people making remarks on my appearance. I'd always been rather modest and self-conscious. I didn't look sickly, not at all, but the fact that I had lost the weight rapidly was making some people concerned and suspicious. I was unable to comprehend how abstaining from meat and excessive carbohydrates and loading up on fruits and veggies could've made me lose more weight. It's a no-brainer but I was disillusioned back then. I couldn't see things for what they were. Protein and carbos are what runners need most; meat, pasta, and rice are vital sources of energy and fuel but there I was, still feeling downright guilty if I even lusted for a steak. I knew I could eat one but I feared losing control and eating too much. I thought, well, I'd be safe by not having one.
The deciding factors that made me unable to continue saying "no way" when my parents suggested we go to a doctor were purely physical ones. In August I admitted to my mom that I hadn't had my period in five months. Cool as it was to never have to bother with pads, tampons, or PMS symptoms, I knew it wasn't a good sign. My mother freaked out. We went to the gynecologist, who said, "Quite obviously, this child has been doing some excessive and unhealthy dieting." I screamed. I hate the word dieting. "I wasn't dieting, I was becoming fit", I corrected her, "I'm a runner. We're naturally slender." Of course, while that was true, I neglected the fact that healthy runners do not suffer from amenorrhea, nor do they punish themselves for eating a bonbon. A healthy runner doesn't have a mental breakdown if he/she is unable to run for one day.
My gynecologist sent me to an adolescent pediatrician who specialized with ED patients. Those first visits scared the hell out of me. My pulse read 34. "Dangerously low," the doctor told me. When looking at a checklist for symptoms of starvation, I realized many of them fit my situation. Yes, I was often cold. Yes, I liked to bake muffins and other pastries for my family. Yes, I drank a lot of tea. Yes, I had silky hairs growing on my arms. Yes, I lost my period. Nevertheless, I resented the whole idea of being diagnosed. I felt like a statistic and boxed up in a stereotype. I felt my case was unique to me. I couldn't just be summed up in a diagnosis form and filed away with hundreds of other ED cases. I wasn't anorexic, not your classic starving teenage girl. In fact, I wasn't underweight according to the measurements for a 5' 4" female. The thing was that I'm big-boned, so I naturally was not meant to be particularly slender. I panicked when the doctor urged me to stop running. He was misunderstanding me. Running was not simply a means to lose weight and become "skinny"; it was a sport I was beginning to take seriously.
Sophomore year started and I joined the school cross-country team. I had goals and aspirations. I wasn't going to let some doctor tell me what to do and I'm glad I didn't let him. Instead, I was kicked into therapy and nutritional counseling. As for the therapy, I disliked it, to say the least. My therapist was dumb, blonde, and straight out of med school. I was reserved. I was bored. I was determined to get better regarding my ED but I didn't see talking to some stranger for fifty minutes as part of the process. I resented my parents for agreeing with my doctor that therapy was a reasonable and "necessary" step. Whatever. Reluctantly I went every Wednesday, as soon as cross-country practice was over.
The nutritionist was a better idea. Not that I liked going but looking back, it really helped. I had to come to terms with my fear of fattening foods and learn to balance my meals. The ideal for me, my nutritionist calculated, was 2600 calories. When I first heard the number, I panicked. "Shit, they're gonna make me become fat again," I thought. To my relief, my nutritionist said that my IDW (ideal body weight) was probably somewhere around 117Ð120, which meant I'd have to gain a minimum of nine pounds and it could all be muscle mass anyhow. That eased my mind. Things got off to a great start. I started adding more foods to my diet and gradually gaining weight. My metabolic rate increased and so did my pulse, thankfully. I became more relaxed with my friends, my studies, and my running. I became the number one runner on the girls' team, winning medals at races every week and being known throughout the school as the "sophomore wonder", the "running prodigy". This boosted my self-esteem, my self-confidence, and my perception of myself. I learned to enjoy life. I learned to love my friends. I still detested therapy and having to keep food logs but at least everything else was pretty damn good. If you think this story has a magically happy ending, however, think again.
So I was wearing clothes I had never gotten to show off before and I loved taking pictures of myself! Enjoy it while it lasts! You see, things started breaking down again after awhile. Cross-country season ended and I got my picture in the paper. I was on a real adrenaline rush but by December, my life started feeling empty. I needed the cross-country team. I needed the glory, the support, the attention. I kept up with running but I enjoyed it less and less. Then came the big blow to the stomach, the kicker in the ass. I went to see my nutritionist one morning and I weighed in at 123. I had a breakdown, right there in her office. Utterly, humiliating. Scale readings have never mattered to me (in fact, I have never in my whole life weighed myself except when it's been required by a doctor), but this particular scale reading pissed me off. It came at a time when I was emotionally moody and my mind was unstable. I couldn't accept this. "You said my IDW was somewhere between 117 and 120!" I screamed at my nutritionist. "Fuck you!" She said it didn't make a difference, it was probably muscle anyway, but you don't know how many minutes I spent that day examining myself in the bathroom mirror, comparing my reflection with photographs I had from the summer. How could I be sure I had gained the weight in muscle and not fat? I became paranoid again. I resented my nutritionist and chose to blame everything on her. The whole ordeal from beginning to end was entirely self-inflicted. I think that's one of the toughest things about an ED. Anyway, I told myself in a fit of tears, "It's her, your nutritionist! You should never have taken her advice of having a milkshake after dinner or being allowed to eat peanut butter or having meat every other day"
I'd gone down the anorexic path before (obsessive about food, compulsive about running, remember?) and I couldn't deal with that shit again. Already I was on hormone treatment because as it turns out my period never did come back on its own. So what could I do now? I had tasted sweets and cookies after a six-month abstinence. Once I got the approval and recommendation from my nutritionist there was no turning back. I began self-destructing and my tendencies became more bulimic-oriented. I have to say I never did purge. But binge? I did my share of bingeing throughout the winter and continuing through the spring. I'd eat a lot, and then punish myself by exercising a lot and not eating for the following day. It went back and forth, swing, swing, this vicious cycle. I became so tired of it, of bingeing and then feeling regret and remorse and being forced to compensate for the extra fat and calories.
I became stressed. Life was no longer fun. There's no more enthusiasm about friends and social outings, no more glory days, no more satisfaction. Who was I becoming? It was getting ugly. Running was getting to be a drag and eating was too fun, too, a luxurious outlet for venting emotions I didn't want to expose. I became a pro at hiding my feelings and craving food out of an emotional need. I've heard that many anorexics become bulimic and I can sure as hell understand it. I started skipping days of exercise instead of days of eating. I started not caring. I started digging a hole for myself. Starting with the day that the scale read 123, my mood plummeted and my parents saw it happening before their eyes.
"What's happening to you?" my mother would ask. She suggested we go to a movie, ice skating, whatever. "Go away", I'd say. I'd think to myself, "Yeah, go away, because I want to be alone in front of the TV with my bagels and my milk and to hell with everything else." It became so unbearable because I noticed the flab reappearing in my arms and legs, yet I was unmotivated to go to the gym, to run, to bike, to shoot hoops, anything. I went to school and became a great actress, pretending everything was okay, that I was taking a little break from running but silently I was dreaming of my next encounter with food. Food became a drug. I wanted to vomit but I couldn't do it successfully. I was too afraid of the consequences of getting into the habit of throwing up after meals, although it might have kept my weight down.
My parents took me back to doctor who a couple months before had advised me to stop running. I felt like screaming at him, saying "Well, I've stopped running now, asshole, and look where it's gotten me!" Instead, I sat there and shamefully, in a low voice, admitted I'd lost control over my eating habits. I felt like a total failure, like with every new day I was regressing one more inch. The doctor made it sound so simple. He looked at me and said the magic word "Prozac". Well, after a little more talking things out and what not, it turned out to be Paxil that he wanted me to start taking, but same difference. (I swear, those antidepressants are all the same.) What a joke, I thought, as if you can pop a pill and that's going to make everything great. I couldn't have been more right with my premonitions.
Things continued going downhill. Grades, social life, energy, strength, stamina, self-esteem, attitude, sex drive, the only thing that didn't go down was my weight. No, that went up, 'cause I stopped running, got careless, and became a fat-ass lazy piece of shit. That's the truth of it. No medication was gonna fix it. No amount of therapy was gonna convince me I was anything but a has-been, a failure. "Aren't you that girl who used to run?" "Hey, why don't you run anymore?" "Damn, what happened, you used to be real thin!?" I've had it up to here with people feeling they have a right to make blatantly insulting observations about my appearance in front of my face. I don't know where I went wrong, where I slipped but I dozed off into a great sleep. The next ten months are all a blur. Depressed, I changed therapists twice, medications twice, and hell, I became a self-loathing pessimist, a miserable person no one wanted to hang out with.
Junior year of high school started and that's when the real bombardment of questions, comments and remarks regarding my physical and mental appearance took place. I felt like hiding in a cave for the rest of my existence. I seriously wanted to change schools, become a hermit in the Alps, anything but face a place so nostalgic and reeking of melancholy. I was no longer on the cross-country team. I had long since given running up. I watched, with spite, as other girls got merit and honor and pats on the back for their running skills when they weren't half as good as I'd been the year before. I continued this way until fairly recently, when I decided enough!
I started running again about a month ago because I plan to get fit for once and for all so I can be on the cross-country team senior year. However, I plan to get it right this time. No more anorexic tendencies. No more bulimic tendencies. No more harsh restrictions on food, no more obsessing over my next meal, no more high standards for myself, no more compulsive running. It's hard. Sometimes I feel like letting go again and delving back into the hole. It's a slow process. I may never get rid of my issues with body image and food. I certainly don't want to be overweight. I think running is my true passion and talent. It would be a waste if I didn't continue it. I just must take life day by day (or try to). I still cry often and get lonely and discouraged however; I have faith in myself. I hope I can become an even better runner in the future, a healthy runner. I only want to be the best I can be because I don't doubt my potential.
As for therapy, I still go, still reluctantly but sometimes I can appreciate the fact that it allows me to release emotions. As for medications, I'm on Effexxor but I couldn't care less. I've started talking to many other kids who suffer from an ED. I've met about three girls at my school and one boy who all go to the same clinic I go to for check-ups and stuff. We chat about our problems and the mutual support really helps. Web sites like this one are of great assistance as well. Before I used to be far more inhibited and afraid to share my conflicts with others, but now I've learned to open up and put the shame behind. I hate this ED and how it's affected me. Looking back I did some pretty dumb things and acted very foolishly and irrationally but regret is good for nothing.
It's time to look forward and not back. Always remember that.
You can call me "N", please.