Anonymous story Disordered Eating

When I was six, my father told me I needed to stop eating so much, because I was getting a "tummy". At the time, I simply ignored him, just as I ignored some of the other less-than-sensitive comments he reserved for my mother and I regarding our appearances. I remember them arguing about my eating a spoonful of peanut butter---"It's full of fat!" "Oh, she's just a little girl!" etc.

My parents were always on either zealously "following" or "cheating" on their own diets...They had a food scale in the kitchen that they used religiously. They were both pleasantly filled out people...Not noticeably overweight, and not exactly slim either. My mother was a beautiful woman, which I heard a lot about growing up. One day I was leafing through a mail-order catalog, and I saw a pretty underwear model who reminded me of her. I immediately said, "look, Mom, she looks like you!" At which my mother ran from the room in tears! My father scolded me harshly...The catalog lady, unbeknownst to me, had been in the plus-size section! He thought I was taunting my mother about her weight.

So I grew up, as many of us do, with the idea that eating is a guilty pleasure, and anything aver the so-called "ideal" weight is unacceptable--All this, of course, in a house of people predisposed to roundness. My parents, both severely depressed, eventually divorced after my father came to terms with the fact that he is gay. Although I'm glad he had the strength to be honest with himself, my mother's confidence in her looks and overall worth were even lower, and I felt that I had to watch out for her. We had moved from a small town to a large metropolis shortly before they split up, and my mother started working nights at the hospital so that she could be around for me during the day. I stayed home a lot, and was very moody and easily upset. I didn't fit in at school and so I lived in a fantasy world. It was at this point that I really DID start eating too much....Some days, while my mother slept, I would troll through the house looking for anything to nibble that I could find. I also developed a nasty habit of pulling out my hair and chewing on the ends... Gross, I know. Soon I had pulled out half the hair on my head (underneath the rest of my incredibly thick hair, so it was not too obvious at first glance) and I was crying in the mornings because I hated to go to school so much. I was an excellent student, and had a lot of artistic talent, but art class was only once a week, and so for the rest of the time I was a "nerd". For some reason being able to draw was cool but being smart was not!

This whole pattern of extreme nervousness, friendlessness, and reliance on my brains for solace and entertainment continued up until high school. The episodes of compulsive eating increased, although with both my parents in long-term relationships, my home life was much better. I simply had more time on my hands as I got older and was left alone more often. When I came home from school I would usually have a string of bizarre snacks: Two bagels with melted Velveeta, hot chocolate and another pack of the mix straight, a handful of chips, and then a plate of toaster waffles with syrup. My mother and stepfather would get home around six and then we would EAT SUPPER on top of all this. So was I fat? Not clinically, no. I was a little pudgy, probably about a size 12 or so. I was active, and no one ever knew about my eating binges.

With high school, things changed...I was able to go to a public high school for the arts, and I loved it there. For the first time since I was a little girl, I was not lonely! I developed my talents, and some very intense friendships. I still had episodes of depression, however, where I got very low and even cut and burned myself...I still have plenty of ugly scars to remind me of that period in my life. It was as if whenever something would go wrong for me, I would be incapable of letting it go and getting on with my life. I wanted to punish myself! My parents eventually discovered my activities, and I saw a couple of different therapists during that period. On reflection, some of my friends were probably not the greatest help to me: Many of them were dealing with similar emotional problems. We were all sexually active from a very young age (my first experience that way was pretty crummy--someone I didn't even really know, in the bathroom of a friend's house.) But as I was struggling with these things, at least I was having a life, albeit probably not one too appropriate for a high-schooler. My last two years of school, I stayed at the houses of friends a few nights a week, usually sleeping with my slightly older drug-addict boyfriend, a relationship which became quite emotionally abusive. My eating was the most normal it had been in years at that time-- I was too busy having destructive relationships and slicing myself up to eat!

Although my grades had slipped a bit my senior year (too much skipping class, etc.) I had very high test scores, and won a partial scholarship to an art school in the Southeast, where I had been longing to go. When I began there, I felt as if everything was ten times brighter and clearer than before. I still had my moods, but I soon found myself thinking I was a "happy person". I was known for my laid back disposition and smiling face! Although there were the usual breakups and minor tragedies that go along with everyday life, I spent these four years in better mental health than I had ever enjoyed before. I really WAS laid-back and happy! For three years, I lived with a good friend, and we shared a bond that was not based on mutual messed-up-ness. She was also a curvaceous girl, but was much more daring than I was, wearing halter-tops and little skirts and platform shoes on her size-14 body. She looked good, and I was accepting the fact that I looked good, too. With our friends we went streaking at night next to the ocean, and stayed up till all hours even if we had to go to work the next day. As an only child, I felt like I had a sister of sorts. We ate lots of junk food together and did not freak out about it.

After college I decided I needed to be around my family for awhile...I had enjoyed much-improved relations with them while I was at school, and I missed them. I was also worried about my mother, who was obviously once again depressed and in my opinion drinking too much (I drink no alcohol and do no drugs, mostly because I saw where it lead some of my high school friends, and because addiction runs in the family). My boyfriend of two years decided to come with me back to the Midwest, even though he was a southern boy with a serious phobia of snow. I secured a position in a certain government-sponsored service program, where you "volunteer " for a year, and are given a small living allowance. I was really excited about doing lead paint abatement--making houses lead-safe after the health department identifies them as having caused illness in a child. To make a long story short, the nonprofit I was working for was a joke. They had no qualms about having locked fire exits, unsafe equipment and vehicles, and a "crew" full of people who had joined the program so they wouldn't have to go to prison. I worked with armed robbers, burglars, people who beat up their girlfriends, people who carried guns. Some of them were good people who wanted to use the program to turn their lives around...Most of them weren't. I had to prove I was strong enough every day, and I felt like I was a freak for even being there at all and a fool for believing the lies that the program director had told me about what a great organization they were. They wanted a college kid to "diversify" their group, and I was it. After four years of feeling good, I sank right back down into a horrible depression. It was dark and cold, and I hated what I was becoming-- A silent, stony-faced girl who felt the need to constantly prove I was tough enough to a group of people I didn't even like, for the most part. My skin was broken out, my waist-length hair felt like straw, and I was eating everything in sight. Within 5 months I had gained 30 pounds, putting me at around 200, and around a size 18. My only clothes I could wear were big sweaters, some paint-covered work overalls, and a pair of jogging pants. I was sleeping all the time, crying uncontrollably, and eating fast-food sometimes three times a day.

Well, my dad noticed I was getting bigger, naturally, and warned me about my "fat genes". I decided that for my own health I needed to go on a diet. I also quit my volunteer "job", and did some oddball stuff for money (warehouse work, etc.) until I got a job in the herb and supplement department of a natural-foods co-op. By this time I had managed to lose the 30 pounds I had gained that winter, and even my dad was saying I looked okay. Privately, I felt a sick satisfaction when he asked me in worried way if I was "still losing weight". I was, believe me! I was eating in a fairly healthful way, but probably not quite enough, for I lost over sixty pounds in ten months. I became obsessed with calories, and write down EVERYTHING I ate in a notebook, into which I glued photos from the numerous fashion magazines I had started to subscribe to. At first I was gleeful about my fast results, and everyone else seemed to be quite impressed with my "willpower". My father was the only one who was worried, ironically. I spent hours each day before work (2nd shift) looking at weight-loss success stories on the web. I joined an e-mail support group for dieters. And I READ and READ those magazines. Somewhere along the line I became obsessed. My job was pleasant but rather boring (customer service, ordering merchandise, lots of cleaning and straightening) and I felt ashamed that I had a degree that seemed to be moldering away while I worked for peanuts and lived in the same city I had formerly escaped. (Thankfully, although we had our issues, my boyfriend stood by me through all this.) Basically, I had NO LIFE. I was entranced by my food diary, by writing down all my eats...I was also beginning to be sort of obsessed by the other end of things, as well. After I would pee or have a bowel movement I would shimmy out of my clothes and hop onto that scale to see if I'd lost a pound!

At about 150 (size 10) I hit a plateau, and was eating a bit more normally. After about a month, I became ill with the virus from hell and lost my appetite...poof! Ten pounds gone! And of course, I was thinking "Hey! I can survive on that little food!" The following month I began feeling nauseated with every bite of food I took. My stomach was constantly in an uproar, and my food passed through my system within several hours almost unchanged. I was dehydrated and nervous, and nothing seemed "okay" to eat except fried eggs, rice, bananas, and bread. After this had weakened me ( and I had lost 7 more pounds) I went to the doctor, who told me she suspected an irritable bowel disorder brought on by stress. I went home and told my boyfriend everything: About how I couldn't think of anything except being thin, and about how I felt regarding my job and that city. He was very supportive, and felt a little better but emotionally had started to slip downhill. I was now a size six, but still felt "fat". My mother suspected me of being bulimic, and while we were out to dinner, told me she was going to watch me carefully, so not to try to purge in the bathroom! However, outside of my immediate family, no one else knew anything was wrong. In fact, I was hearing compliments left and right, which really confused me. People thought I was feeling wonderful, but I was terrified and lonely. I had irrational fears of different foods, not even things having to do with their fat content-- just with them "looking funny" or something equally as weird. I had had a bad allergic reaction to a preservative in the past, and now I was totally taken over by fear that I would unwittingly eat too much of it and die . I all but refused to eat unless it was organic (from my health-food store, natch) and cooked in my sight. I was now a size four, and although my bones were beginning to poke at me and I was cold constantly, I still did not feel "thin".

The turning point came when my boyfriend went on a trip for 3 weeks, something he had been planning for months. The night before he left I seriously considered that I might have a nervous breakdown, as my mother had at my age. But the next night--my first night alone for more than a year-- something stirred within me. I felt the beginning of a newfound strength. I felt that maybe his being away was a blessing, since I could really get a few things straight with myself...I imagined myself as two separate women sitting on opposite sides of my kitchen table, face to face, the healthy-looking one staring down the skinny, creepy one. I made myself eat a bowl of rice with olive oil poured over it, and then a second bowl of rice, until I wasn't hungry anymore. Then I sat down at my computer again, but this time I didn't look at the diet stuff, I looked at the eating disorder website. I knew I wasn't anorexic, nor was I bulimic, but there was something very wrong with my relationship with food. After reading this site and others till the wee hours of the morning, I stormed around the house picking up fashion magazines and diet books, and dumped them in the recycling bin. I put the scale out in the hall, vowing to use it only once a day until my boyfriend came back. The next day I looked in the mirror, and I began to see what my father had been talking about when he said I looked "sick"... I had dark circles under my eyes, which had always been large and now looked gigantic. My nose looked bony, and there were shadows beneath my cheekbones. And I was trying to look GOOD?

It has been several weeks now, and I have stayed within 2 lbs. of the weight that I was when I began rationing my visits to the scale. I am still having food issues--especially the preservative thing. But I feel a little better about myself. The only person I've really spoken about my struggling to is my boyfriend, and I would like to work up the courage to tell my closest friends. I have been very busy the past few months making sure I look "in control" to everyone at work, as well. But when the obviously eating disordered girls stalk through the aisles of my co-op looking at the laxative teas, I want to run up to them and beg them not to keep doing what they're doing. And when a woman comes to me asking me to recommend a diet aid--because I'm so "skinny-- I urge her to leave the pills alone and if she must lose weight, to do it in a healthy way. And hope I'm not helping to push her into the same trap that I'm still getting free of.