Her Story: Food Became My Enemy

I remember it like it was yesterday - the size 12 Abercrombie shorts that all of my friends had come to buy for a big party that fit them... and not me. Fifth grade and age 10. For the first time, I felt haunted by a number, by an image.

Growing up, weight doesn’t even enter our minds. Negative body image isn’t a thing. But the moment you’re able (or not able) to wear one of the most mainstream brands of your generation, it floods in. The seeds of standards are planted in media and advertisements everywhere and the disease in disguise blossoms.

Fast-forward three years and I’m visiting a rehabilitation center for all sorts of diseases: drugs (that include alcohol), eating and mental disorders. Not as a patient, but to write a paper on a close friend of mine who was sent along with the women around her. It was all so fascinating and frightening at the same time. Never did I expect to fall victim to the same monster described to me just three years later.  

115 pounds

Always active in things like gymnastics, cheerleading and dancing, I was never over-weight. High school began, I joined the rowing team and I got more in shape than ever. The second half of my sophomore year I decided to take a break to focus on school work, and the last thing I wanted to do was lose my lean build. I always heard about former athletes who were used to eating low-calorie diets, and ended up gaining weight like crazy after stopping. That, to me, was absolutely not an option. I would do whatever it would take to stay thin. And so it began. I started cutting all my portions of food in half and told myself that the hunger pangs felt good, that my stomach was shrinking. I quickly noticed a difference and so did others, which just egged it on. “Model body,” “Skinny Minnie,” “Teach me how to be thin!!” Things of that sort I had never heard before, and it just gets down to the fact that the attention felt nice. It all seemed so harmless and simple at first and with complete denial that I had a problem. It only got worse.

108 pounds

Of course, my energy levels dropped with the lack of sufficient nutrients to fuel me so bring on the cravings of a pregnant lady. Pizza, chips, ice cream, chocolate you name it – I wanted all of it more than anything. The only thing your body wants when you deprive it of proper nutrition is carbs and fat. At first, I told myself I’d work it off with exercise, but since I lacked any energy to do so, I resorted to an idea that for some insane reason didn’t seem like such a big deal to me at the moment. I was so blinded by the drive to maintain the standards I had “held up” for myself to the voices in my head repeating, “Model body.” There goes my finger down my throat. Easy as that, and all is forgiven—or so I thought.

No longer did I have to feel the pains of hunger. I could eat anything and everything and continue to drop to the envied size zero (WHERE IN LIFE DOES ANYBODY WANT TO BE CONSIDERED A ZERO?!), and for my weight to retreat back into the double digits. I believed myself to be invincible, that nobody noticed what I was doing, that I was just “naturally thin." It began with trips to the bathroom after I felt I had cheated with unhealthy foods, which then led to an intense fear of even the mention of eating out at restaurants. Always there were other women in the bathroom and/or time between the check and getting to my home bathroom was too long to get out what had been devoured. It all led to a social reclusiveness that was so unconsciously taking place. Even holidays with the family became ordeals and no one – that I was aware of – noticed. The only thing that was on my mind was how I was going to avoid eating the food or how and when I would get the chance to turn on that faucet to hide the terrible sound of purging. It completely consumed my mind, leaving little room for the thing that mattered most: spending time with loved ones. 

103 pounds

Junior year and I’m rowing again, aiming to be the fastest weight-adjusted on my team. By defying the physics of acceleration and eating way less than the force exerted, I left coaches worried when I would feel faint during practices. People were noticing and I denied any abnormalities with my eating behaviors. I then put off rowing again for school, and picked up running obsessively with a friend who was not the best influence, as she had the same obsession with, and with the avoidance of, food. We would run, and we were fast; fooling ourselves to believe what we were doing was good. When really, we were working our bodies, literally, to the bone.

I made it to my goal size zero, DOUBLE zero… to be precise, and 98 pounds (originally 115-120). Clothes draped over me like they did on the models, I had the thigh gap, and most importantly, I felt “flawless." But this is where looking back I realized how lost I must have been inside my own head. The cooing “model body” comments were now “Go eat something," guys would hug me and comment on how they could feel my rib cage, family members were no longer proud of my exercising, but exhausted by the immense time I spent talking about it and doing so. My only reaction: a nervous laugh of sick satisfaction and denial.

98 pounds

Then one day, I looked at my friend, who was so frail, and really looked at her—analyzed everything. I knew we liked to exercise more than average, and by our standards we were “healthy." Not at all. Any time she wasn’t running, she was skipping meals or eating like a rabbit. Her conversations revolved around what she had eaten, how she had compensated physically, what she was going to eat, and blatantly would exaggerate the amounts taken in to sound normal when not only I, but also everyone else around, noticed. Up until then I thought I was different, when in fact we had been doing the same thing. The way people talked about her was the same way my family talked about me, and I had completely, inadvertently abolished the fact. She had a mental disease. I had a mental disease.    

And the mental aspect was just half of it. I dismissed the fact that I had missed my period for about two years (hey, money saved, right?), but after finally getting checked out by a doctor, I learned I had anemia and was extremely close to having osteoporosis. The hair on my body, especially my arms and gaunt face, had grown - a natural reaction to the loss of fat in order to keep the body warm. My hormone levels were totally out of whack, leading to break outs I never had before, and mood swings I considered normal for a 17-year- old girl. None of this was normal, and I had let my mental and physical stability slip out of my hands. Please recognize that skinny isn’t healthy, skinny ruined my body internally.

On a mission to save myself from being the person I saw in my friend, I tried to find the basis of all this. Was it a call for attention? A need for a sense of control? Importance? So many outside factors could be attributed to this, but, that’s a different story. What I’m trying to get across to you, and the women of ALL ages across America and the world, is that you are not alone, and there are ways out of it before it’s too late.

These past few years, I have made every effort to get back into strong physical shape, eating healthy foods that make me feel good and kept in my system. Every effort to look up articles, success stories and scientific facts to aid in the road to recovery from the deceiving and skewed modern depiction of beauty. I have had so many friends around me witness the steps I took, as I have witnessed in others, to get back to a normal weight without the help of a rehab, a higher faith or anything of that sort. I am not denying that that can be successful, everyone is different, but from what I've seen relying on others is part of the problem, and the idea that we are all strong, independent Collegiettes, capable of thinking, controlling and overcoming situations as this needs to be reinstated. 

118 pounds

A few last things that have been challenged and need addressing before ending this story:

I am not a super-feminist. Yes, this is a female-oriented matter, but with the example of a status I so boldly decided to post almost exactly one year ago, I was brought to tears with some of the sarcastic comments made by males that I knew. I recognize that it wasn’t necessarily them trying to be assholes – but a general ignorance of the matter. After speaking to some of them after the comments were made, they said that they had assumed I was going on some “feminist rant." The moment I gave them a summarized version of the above, a shocked and compassionate reaction followed. I’m not associating writing a 1,700 word blog on a DISEASE with our generation’s “lack of chivalry” or how it’s “unfair” to get howled at for wearing revealing clothing. This is not the same thing. This is affecting our entire chemical existence internally and externally. 

To those of you who find yourself reading this and are at the opposite end of the spectrum and over-compensating with food, it is the same problem. All addictions have the same mental basis and being obese is just as much a problem as being anorexic or bulimic. Just to relate.

Lastly, I hope this is not read as a call to pity, but rather a story to show empathy. To add to the millions of voices out there calling attention to something that needs to change. Our bodies are our vessels to life - don’t let it waste away. Don’t let the media fool you into believing you are not good enough, strong enough, beautiful enough. Life is a constant battle and addictive habits are what we cling to most because they’re the only ways we know how to cope. By writing this piece I am still fighting, and hope you are encouraged too as well, to keep this monster tamed.

Last month, from February 22-28, was National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Please continue to spread this important message and help save the lives of your friends and loved ones while you can.