A disorder is a disruption of normal functions. The course of my thirty years battling eating disorders included anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, diet pill addiction, and exercise addiction. When I battled anorexia, I defined myself as having and being an eating disorder. Living with anorexia is like waking up in a dark fishbowl whereby everywhere you turned heard a voice reminding of you of your low value and worthlessness. Living with these voices is further aggravated by the fact that no one else hears them nor understands why you cannot crawl out of the fishbowl.
I was hospitalized for anorexia when I was fourteen-years old and weighed 98 pounds and stood 5’6” tall. Given the rate I was disintegrating, the doctors estimated I had three more weeks to live had I not received treatment. Three weeks after admission the insurance company kicked me out of treatment, who did not approve covering payments any longer.
Many who suffer from eating disorders yearn for normalcy. Being normal means many things, including not thinking about food all the time, not obsessing over what you eat, when you eat it, and how much of it you eat. The work put into healing from an eating disorder is a mental, emotional, and physical feat. As soon as I had come to terms with the fact that I did suffer from anorexia, I wanted to be done with it.
Those who suffer from eating disorders often feel “fat”. For me, feeling or being fat meant losing control over the body I desired, which prompted me to diet in the first place. Being fat meant I was ugly, plain, and not special. I measured my worth by being able to first wrap my hands around the top of each thigh to see how much my thumbs overlapped. I was eventually able to wrap my hands around my waist and measure how many centimeters apart the tips of my fingers were from each other. When I was normal, none of these thoughts or obsessions occurred. When I was normal, I was able to eat a snack and not feel guilty about it.
I vividly remember thinking about food all of the time. Even if I did not want to eat it, it consumed my thoughts. The moment I woke up, I asked myself what would I allow myself to eat for breakfast. Once breakfast was finished, I asked myself what I would allow myself to have for lunch, and so on. I ate during ‘safe’ windows of time. I delayed eating as often as I could so I would not worry about developing a hunger pang during an unexpected timeframe and not know how to address it. To compound the struggle, I internalized this pain and did not know how to talk about it with my parents, who lived in separate homes.
When not thinking about food, I studied my body in the mirror picking apart every centimeter of flesh. I never saw myself as thin. My ribs and pelvic bone protruded from my body while I stood in a relaxed state. Still, though, I thought this skeletal reflection was not good enough. I remember panic settling in if fingertips did not have as much overlap around my thigh than as they did the day before.
Having a fleshy, rounded appearance meant I had lost self-control. Having body fat meant I was being a good girl. Being as thin as possible made me stand out and get attention, even though I hated that kind of attention. Every hour my thoughts also focused on self-hatred, fear, and not wanting to lose control. This eating disorder was such a giant, it completely stomped and shredded my ‘know how’ of being a ‘normal’ teenage girl. Whereas I used to love being with friends, doing things with my family, and being at school, now the eating disorder wiped any positive memory of those experiences clean and left a dank residue in every corner of my mind.
I meticulously kept track of everything I ate and measured every ounce of food with measuring cups to ensure not a scrap of extra food made it past my lips. I considered food an entity, not a source of nourishment. It either did something to me (fed me) or I would do something to it (withhold it or binge and purge). In either scenario there was a perceived abuse of power where food was in the winner’s corner after each round.
I called the food I ate publically ‘safe foods’. Those were the foods I trusted calorically and did not fear they would make me fat. Many who struggle have ‘safe foods’. If I ate foods beyond my assumed safety list, I obsessed over the added calories consumed and instantly assumed my clothes would not fit the same the next day. The combination of limited caloric intake plus compulsive thoughts about food often led to late night binges. I documented the struggles in a diary entry after returning home from a visit with my father and stepmother during summer vacation.
July 26, 1991
Dear Diary –
It is almost 2 AM. I can hardly sleep. My summer sucks. I went to Dad’s for 2 weeks and I was nagged every day by not eating enough, too skinny, etc. I really want to be able to think, eat, and live like a normal fifteen-year-old. It’s so hard to see the day that I will again be normal. Today I tried to plan my meals with calcium and protein. It worked until I had a major binge on crackers, cheesecake, ice cream, pound cake, and more. Maybe I can’t sleep because my stomach hurts. I wish I had more control over these dumb binges. I wish I could tell mom, but she’s not going to stop buying ice cream and crackers! Dr. S told me yesterday that I binge because my body weight is low. I weight in the upper 90s or low 100s. I don’t think I’m fat but I probably will be because of this binge. – Anorexia sucks – Dr. S thinks my anorexia has to do with guys, school, and not wanting to be a good girl. But how can I change that?
Later – Brandi