Anorexia Nervosa
"Recovering" Anorexic: Alison's Story

I don't know exactly why I "became" anorexic, in the words of some of my friends. They say that is if it were my conscious choice, as if I wanted to do that to myself because I was vain or selfish or "starved" for attention or whatever. I'm sure I don't have to tell you that that was NOT the case.

Anyway, my obsession with weight and diet began in the 10th grade, a sophomore at a new high school and ready to make my mark on the world! I'd always been involved in tons of activities, too many to handle, really--piano, clarinet, basketball, volleyball, softball, Girl Scouts, church, etc. But for some combination of reasons, including self-doubt, feelings of isolation, worthlessness and of being invisible, and increasing social pressures with boys, everything came to a head that year and I turned to restrictive eating and manic exercise to deal with and control it. We're talking dry cereal for breakfast; diet pop and pretzels for lunch; and PLAIN!!!!! grilled chicken with PLAIN!!!!! salad for dinner. Plus 8 miles of running a day, plus tons more diet pop. To other ED patients or recoverers out there, I'm sure that sounds familiar.

And things only got worse before they got better, especially when I spent a month on an exchange student trip to Germany away from all family and friends. When I returned from that trip, less than 100 pounds at 5 feet 9 inches and 16 years of age, my parents started me with psychological counseling. But I was still very stubborn, and I didn't even begin to get better physically until the last months of my senior year in high school. I quickly gained over 40 pounds as I turned to fasting during the day and binge-eating at night for some kind of relief or comfort from all the pressure of NOT having eaten good, normal things for so long. What were those "GOOD, NORMAL" things? Peanut butter; cereal with sugar and milk or ice cream; toast with butter and jam; cheese on potato chips with ketchup (?); chocolate candies and chips, which I 'd steal from the cabinet where my mom kept all her baking supplies; half a package of Oreo cookies; leftover extra-cheese pizza with sausage; etc. So I had all these people around me saying "Oh you look SOOOO much better!!! I'm so happy for you!!!" and assuming all my problems were over, while I hated myself even more for the WAY I'd lost control in gaining the weight back. But still, at least I was a more healthy weight, and I "looked" normal.

All that changed when I went off to college in the fall, a continent's length and several hours by flight away from my parents. All my thoughts and fears and obsessions with food and exercise had never gone away, and college was just a place where I could do my "anorexic" things without complaint or chiding from family and friends I'd grown up with. I became so isolated, so depressed, and so sick--much, much sicker than I'd ever been at home. I only stayed at college until the end of October; by that time I had lost over 50 pounds, despite seeking out counseling for my ED before I even arrived on campus, and my heart rate was, oh, about 40 beats per minute or less. I exercised 4 hours each morning, one hour after lunch and dinner (no breakfast anymore), and another hour somewhere during my frantic studying for classes in the afternoon.

As far as I know, I had "A" averages in my classes up until I left; I couldn't have tolerated any less of myself. I spent all my money on diet pops from vending machines around campus, and I snuck into corners behind buildings to eat Sweet and Low packets when I got so crazy I couldn't stand not having something in my mouth. Awful, awful, awful, AWFUL!!!!!!! I lost my scholarship there and had to come home immediately--and that was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

I won't bore you with any more of my story. Time to fast forward a year--now I'm living at home, going to college here at home, and I'm still having all those same thoughts and fears pertaining to food and exercise. Now I'm down to 3-5 hours of working out a day, and I'm on Prozac. At least my mood is better and I love to be social now. But when will these stupid thoughts and impossible self-expectations go away? I don't know, but I'm working hard on it.