The photo to the right shows what it's like to have an eating disorder diagnosis. You feel alone and sad, your life feels hazy, and you become a slave to your disease. You are hungry and unsatisfied. Unsatisfied with your body, and there is a hunger within that is never fulfilled. Your disease becomes all-consuming.
I hear people throw around the term anorexic and bulimic with no weight. These are two very serious diseases. They are more than simply not eating, or binging and purging. They are punishment for a crime we didn't commit. We punish ourselves for eating: the very thing that sustains us. It's self-loathing. Can you imagine how that feels? Can you imagine hating the skin you are in so much, wanting to be in control of your body so badly, that you are willing to go to any lengths and risk any consequence to just be normal?
I had what is now referred to as "bulimarexia" for eight years. In other words, I was anorexic and bulimic, all at once.
I started off like most teen girls, hypersensitive to the criticism of others because of the already established need to be perfect set forth by magazines and television. My dad, an avid runner, made a comment in passing that I needed to "run more." This went into my ears, entered my brain, and got twisted into "You are fat. You are not good enough. If you were thinner, you would be better. I could love you more. YOU.NEED.TO.RUN!"
I went on my first diet at 12. I think it was about five minutes after my dad made his comment.
This went on for about six years, me fighting my body to keep my curves from becoming too pronounced. By the way, I was 5'7" and a size 8-10 in high school. I think my absolute heaviest in high school was about 130 pounds. I thought I was huge.
Then before I left for college, everyone I encountered reminded me of the freshman 15 (I was too young and naive to realize that the "15" was mostly caused by alcohol intake, not food). Every girl we knew left for school thin and by the time Thanksgiving returned, came back heavier. This scared me to death.
Aside from leaving my family for the first time, leaving my boyfriend and my friends and going to live on my own in a new city put me completely out of my comfort zone. I felt out of control. There was no way that I was letting my weight get out of control. I had to control it. I had to control something. I restricted my calories to about 600 a day (max), proceeded to throw up everything I took in (including water), and exercised for at least two hours a day. I remember heading down to the dorm gym in the basement at 10 p.m., alone, and not returning to my room until midnight. I did a lot of things alone in those days. This started the fall I turned 18.
That pattern continued for eight years.
I was caught by a friend of mine once that first year. And my parents found out. All the baggy sweatshirts and loose jeans can't hide a 20-pound weight loss on an already average-sized body.
Even after I was caught, I never quit the bulimarexia. By that point, it was my trusted friend. I relied upon it. It was my routine. It was my safety. I didn't care about the ramifications. I was in too deep to stop.
I got sneakier. I learned to pretend to eat and move my food around on my plate, and eat off smaller plates. I learned how to vomit silently and hide the evidence. I learned what was easier to digest and what tasted better coming up, what got hung in your throat and what did not. I learned a lot of ways to do this that I won't share here because it would be irresponsible of me. I don't know who could be reading this and I refuse to give detailed instructions on how to kill yourself.
Eventually, I allowed myself to eat more and vomit more. It became the norm for me to vomit 5 times a day; some days as many times as 10. I never really binge-ate. Binging, to me, was weak. It lacked self-control. I remember being tired a lot, cold (bad circulation and no meat on my bones), hungry (always hungry), puffy (my face would look puffy from constantly throwing up), and having scars on my hands from involuntarily biting down in the middle of a purge. Honestly, I'm surprised I have any enamel left on my teeth at all.
I remember people constantly trying to feed me and telling me that I looked sick. Most people had no idea that I had bulimarexia. I knew how to keep a secret. Every single time they said "you look like you are sick," I felt validation because someone thought I looked skinny. A concerned boyfriend once told me that I was getting too thin. I accused him of cheating. I preferred to give up the relationship with him than give up the bulimarexia. This was a serious relationship, not a casual boyfriend. But that didn't matter.
I finally stopped when I was 25.
One site describes my disease this way:
Bulimarexia is an eating disorder distinguished by a combination of the symptoms prevalent in both anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa; develops primarily in teenage and young adult females. It is hard to treat because of having symptoms of both diseases.
Patients with bulimarexia usually have poor self esteem and a distorted body image. Women are more likely to develop this condition. The patient engages in an aggressive campaign designed to generate weight loss and falls into a cyclical pattern of disordered eating. This can include prolonged fasting accompanied with the use of medications like diuretics to try and lose weight, followed by a binging and purging cycle where the patient eats large amounts of food and vomits. Patients with bulimarexia can lose weight precipitously and will still report dissatisfaction with their appearance.
Bulimarexia makes you defensive. Starvation makes you mean. You'll do anything to protect the disease. You take comfort in the control. I can tell you about this now because I am not that same girl. I am trying to not let my number on the scale rule my life. I've not starved or purged in almost 15 years. In fact, it will be 15 years this fall. I still have times when I consider it for a moment, but then I look at my daughters and I know I want to live. I want to be a good example for them and I can't do that with disordered eating. I'm sharing this so you can understand that eating disorders are more than someone simply choosing to be skinny. They are not terms to be thrown around lightly because the weight and price of eating disorders is death. I was lucky, I survived my bulimarexia. Others do not.
Have you or anyone you know ever suffered form an eating disorder?
Image via Soundless Fall /Flickr