Real Life: Confessions of A Former Bulimic

To raise awareness of the fact that people with eating disorders usually don’t tell people about their challenges and their experiences, my friend Jessica* very graciously agreed to share her story with me about having an eating disorder while she was in high school. Jessica* was an athletic and involved girl in high school, but she also had a secret that she didn’t share with anyone.

Jessica* told me “I had body image issues for as long as I can remember. The worst memories I have involve feeling fat and knowing that other people saw me as fat. When I was in 2nd grade, I heard two boys in my class making fun of me for being fat. I was 8 years old and weighed 80 pounds at the time. I couldn’t understand why I felt so embarrassed about my weight, but it was a feeling that never went away. I was in ninth grade when the feeling became overwhelming. That’s when my bulimia started, at the beginning I weighed 160 pounds.”

When asked about how she felt at the beginning, she told me “I can’t really explain how I felt the first time I made myself throw up. I remember all of the details about it though. I threw up into a trash bag while I was alone in my room, right after I had finished eating a bag of popcorn. It felt wrong, difficult, but strangely satisfying. I knew that it was wrong, but I had gotten to a point where I really didn’t care anymore. I just wanted to be thin, because to me, being thin meant that I would finally be happy. After a while it became just a normal part of life, a daily thing. No one ever noticed, which was the *best* part. One of my biggest fears was people finding out and being disappointed in me. Previously, I had considering Anorexia and reading up on information about it, I decided that Ana (Anoxeria) would be practically impossible because someone would eventually catch on to never seeing me eating.”

Jessica*’s day-to-day life changed completely, even though she didn’t realize it at the time. “My bulimic thoughts would come and go throughout the day, and sometimes would be all I could think about for hours. Usually, when I got home from school the first thing that I would do was go to the bathroom and puke. It became routine, and since no one else was home at that time, it worked great. After that I would go lay down, because I would be absolutely exhausted. On really bad days, I would puke into a cup in the shower and then dump it down the toilet when I was done. The sound of water usually covered whatever gagging sound my throat would make, so that no one in my family would notice. I kept this up usually 3-4 days a week for almost two years and only told two people. I lost 10 pounds over the span of those two years, but I wasn’t pleased with that, I wanted to keep losing more weight. I would wear bigger clothes because I didn’t want people to see my fat, and because I thought that wearing loose clothes would make me look thinner.”

Her life changed completely just because of the decision she made. When I asked her why she really started doing this to herself, she said, “It was just a mind game where I was in control of what was happening, or at least I thought. I never wanted to actually admit that I had this issue because in my mind it wasn’t really an issue. I felt better, I felt in control. When things didn’t go according to my plans I knew that there was always one thing that I could control. I started a blog online where I would write about my days, and other people would comment and share how their days were going. Almost all of the ‘friends’ I made online were suffering from Anorexia or Bulimia, and they would share information about how many times a day they would eat and how many times they threw up and how to do it and where. Some of the people I met were like me, who would only do it once in a while, and then there were others who seriously scared me, people who would drink cleaners and various household items to make themselves puke. I could never do that, and looking back, I’m so glad I didn’t. But one day, someone I knew found out. Someone that wasn’t supposed to find out. She discovered my blog, and somehow put the clues together to find out who I really was. Someone had discovered my secret and I felt like my whole world was falling apart around me. Suddenly, I would walk into a room and when people would look at me all I could think about was questioning if they knew what my secret was. I couldn’t look people in the eye for several months. What would people think of me? What would my parents think? I couldn’t bear the thought of my family finding out.  Luckily, the girl that found out never told anyone, at least to my knowledge, and she truly wanted to help me.”

I asked Jessica* what happened once someone she knew found out, and she replied: “Once I accepted that she knew who I was and finally processed it in my mind, I realized that what I was doing was really not okay. Not only was I not making any changes to my life, I was actually making myself very sick and cutting myself off from people that cared about me. I tried stopping several times. I made it two months without relapsing the first time. I cut myself off from my online ‘friends’ and vowed that I would never go back on my blog and speak to them again, because all they were really doing was making me more sick. I relapsed several times over the next year, there would be weeks where all I would want to do was puke up literally everything I had eaten. All I could think about was the horrible things people had said about me, and when I closed my eyes it would seem like people were just shouting them at me. I had a very negative mindset about recovering. I never felt like I had a problem, so I didn’t understand why it was so hard for me to get better.”

Jessica* continued telling me about her recovery: “The one thing a lot of people don’t realize about eating disorders is the hell that a person goes through during recovery. For me, recovering was the worst part. Not only did I quite obviously have horrible self-esteem issues, but during recovery some really gross things happen to your body. In the months after I tried to stop, I would break out constantly. My face would always have huge patches of acne and nothing I tried would cover it up. It felt even worse going to school because not only was I a socially-awkward 15 year old, but I was hiding a huge secret, and I had huge spots of acne for months. Another thing that happened was my hair thinning a lot, almost to the point that it would fall out just from running my fingers through it. I felt disgusting. This lead to more relapses that usually lasted for a week or two. “

The last thing I asked Jessica* was how she feels now, to which she responded, “I still do not consider myself fully recovered. I feel better, and I am in control of my life in a much healthier way now, but I still have thoughts about it. When things in my life get very difficult I still think about how I could just go puke again, because maybe this time it will do something different, but I limit it to just having those thoughts. Being able to leave them at thoughts, and not making them actions was a huge step for me. The last time I vomited on purpose was January 7th, 2011. It has been just over four years that I haven’t relapsed. I feel stronger than I ever have, and I refuse to let the word ‘Bulimic’ describe me. I may not be content with my body, but I am respecting it and working on making myself healthier in a responsible way.”

Jessica*’s story is familiar to a lot of people. The important thing to remember is that help is available for anyone who needs it. On IUP’s campus there are plenty of resources to help if you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder. The counseling center, health center, and dieticians can work with any student to help them recover with specific needs such as these and help to answer any questions that you may have.

*Name has been changed by request.