Oh my God. What did I just do? That was so disgusting. Oh my God. I’m going to get fat!Oh my God. My heart starts to beat faster. I begin to breathe heavier. Anxiety sets in. My hands start to shake and a million thoughts start to flourish in my mind. Immediately, I look in my bathroom mirror expecting my face to get fatter. I look around. Instantly, I spot my sign of relief right next to the bottle of toothpaste. Sitting there it is so innocent but it is accompanied by something that brings so much pain. It’s so long and I swear it is going to hurt being jammed down my throat. Slowly, I kneel down and starring right back is that white, porcelain bitch. It’s almost as if she is talking back to me. “Do it. Just do it. Everyone is doing it. You’ll feel so much better.” I shut my eyes and take a deep breath. This time I opt for my fingers. The toothbrush was too intimidating for my first time. With each push of my fingers down my throat, a new tear forms and cascades down my cheek. After a few minutes of literally expelling everything I had on that July 5 th summer day, I look in the mirror. My eyes are completely bloodshot, black mascara streams all over, my cheeks red and wet from my tears and an evil look of satisfaction appears on my face.
Completely drained and tired, I lie on my bed and try to figure out what I just did. Ironically, I begin to feel better about myself. I look down at my wrists and see my veins popping out. Sick and disgusting but a way I know I’m losing weight. Knowing that I can do better, I pop five laxatives into my mouth. These small blue pills that seem so innocent but in reality can kill you. That was no big deal since I’ve done it ever since last December. I stopped for a while and then started again at the beginning of this summer. I learned quickly about laxatives. Don’t even think about not drinking at least two bottles of water with them. My first time I didn’t and suddenly I was awakened in the night with the worst, ungodly cramps ever. The kind that makes you “cry, lie on the floor and want to die” cramps. There were many nights like that, lying on the bathroom floor telling myself I would never do it again. Sadly, those nights became all too frequent. Welcome to what I’ll deal with for the next year.
I’m 19 years old. My favorite color is coral. I’m very close to my family. I used to love going out with my friends. I’m really good at keeping secrets and I have an eating disorder. Being an athlete my whole life, I was blessed when I was younger with the ability to eat anything I wanted. I don’t think I even knew what calories were. Now calories rule my life. Everything is counted and figured out during my entire day. Each morning I weigh myself and that determines my mood. A pound heavier means a bad day and a pound less means a good day. A pound heavier means an extra trip to the gym and a pound less means I can be content with my normal activities. Knowing that even little things like a glass of water can determine your morning weight still did not sway me from using my weight as a measure for my mood.
I stand in my bathroom getting ready to go to the pool to lie out. I love my new turquoise bikini. Then I start to squint at the mirror. I zero in towards my stomach. What is that? Is that a tiny bulge?! HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE?! I swear I barely ate anything yesterday and I even took laxatives. Quietly, I take a deep breath and push the thought away for now. Okay, I can only lie out for two hours because I need to have enough energy for my second workout of the day, I think to myself. My life is like clockwork or at least now it is. Everything is calculated, how long I workout, how long I lay out, how many calories I take in… it seems like mad science. Why I put myself through this, I have no idea. There are times when I want to stop but then I wonder what will happen to my body. I envy those girls that eat sandwiches. Yes, sandwiches! I would never put that bread in my mouth, too many carbs. And that lunchmeat…no way, too much sodium. It will make me bloated. Instead, I opt for chicken or a salad. Everyday. Not every meal though. I only eat one meal of “real” food a day. My breakfast and dinner are protein powder and water mixed together. Each drink is 110 calories. Obsessive? Maybe just a little. I also learned fast that Tums make you feel full. Whenever I was hungry, I would take four of them. Magically, you would lose your entire appetite, until I physically made myself sick by accident after taking too many in one day. I ended up overdosing on calcium carbonate, which is found in Tums. Immediately, I started feeling nauseated all day long and for days on end. Never have I felt that sick before in my life. That’s when I figured out I should probably stop eating Tums instead of meals.
It’s not anything new, a lot of people gain weight when they come to college. Why else would the infamous “Freshman 15” have been created? I had always gained weight during the school year but then during the summer I would always lose it all. Even though, at the time, I was a college athlete, I was still prone to gaining more weight than I wanted. Looking back at old pictures from college early on, I realized how unsatisfied I was with myself. This is what triggered my downward spiral. The summer I started having an eating disorder, it became a game, a game within me, to see how much weight I could lose. Written down in a little journal was the exact weight I weighted in each morning. It was my little black book of death.
Staying at school for the summer meant I had to join a new gym. This was my first time at school for the summer and it was definitely a double edged sword. Not having my parents around to see everything I did that summer meant a lot more freedom. At first I started only going to the gym once a day. However, I only had one summer school class and I didn’t have a job, so my entire day was basically left wide open. Thinking that I should go two times a day, I decided to figure out the shifts of the people that work at the gym. I had to do that because I thought it would be extremely embarrassing to be seen there twice a day. I didn’t want people to know I worked out more than once a day. Some people barely workout at all during the week and here I was working out fourteen times. Generally, I would go in the morning and then in the afternoon. Sometimes, I would accidentally see people there twice and we would just laugh it off. I would just laugh and smile and say how bored I was so I decided to workout again. After a few weeks this started to become a problem when my body could only workout for twenty minutes at a time. At first I was confused and didn’t know what was happening. Then I realized the laxatives were starting to drain my body of any energy. Draped on the elliptical, I prayed that I wouldn’t pass out.
Being bulimic is probably the most uncomfortable part of an eating disorder. I have never been one who liked throwing up. Growing up as I child, I dreaded having the flu. Once I found out one of my friends had the flu, I wanted my life to end right then and there before I caught it. Many bulimics binge and purge. However, I didn’t. I never would binge because it would make me feel too guilty. I thought that even after I ate chicken or tuna, healthy foods, I would be better off throwing that up rather than cake or cookies. After a while, throwing the food up became quite easy. You knew where to place your fingers in your throat and what area would make you throw up quicker. Literally re-tasting what you had just ate gave you a satisfaction that it was all out of you. I also learned that you need to drink water with whatever foods you eat. More dense foods are harder to throw up, like peanut butter or crackers, so drinking water helped them come up easier. However, it started to become a problem when I didn’t want to throw up anymore, so I just wouldn’t eat. Dinner, or my protein powder and water, started to become non-existent some days. I didn’t like the feeling of having food in my stomach. After I would eat something, no matter how healthy it was, I would become incredibly nervous and anxious. Feeling insane, I would have to take deep breaths and mentally talk myself into thinking it was okay to eat. However, inside I knew that I would just throw it up. In a sense trying to tell myself it was okay to eat was just rationalizing throwing everything up. Kind of like saying, “Well, I tried not to do it.” Picking out what I was going to eat soon became a chore. Whatever was going to be the easiest to throw up was what I would choose. Knowing that I was going to weight myself the next morning started to become my greatest fear because I didn’t want to gain one pound.
Throughout college I had always been known as having a wild hair, meaning that I was always the one going out, had tons of friends and became friends with the bouncers on a first name basis all before turning 21. I lived for the weekends…which happened to start on Wednesday nights at the Pub II. Once I acquired an eating disorder this all went downhill. I hated going out. People started to ask why I wasn’t out anymore. There was no way I was going to put alcohol in my body. Not the body I had worked so hard for and made sweat and burn in the gym for hours upon hours. Slowly, people stopped calling to see if I was going out. The answer was obvious: no. The most I would go out in a week would be one time. The end result of the night would be making myself sick after drinking, thinking I would get rid of some of the calories. I had also read that alcohol makes your skin puffy and that was not something I wanted. I wanted my cheekbones to be clearly visible. St.Patrick’s Day and Mardi Gras had all passed, holidays known for drinking and having fun, and I refused to participant in anything that my friends were doing for it. Conveniently and ironically, I was sick during both of them…or at least my friends thought. While my social life was declining, so was my weight and that was my main goal.
Soon I became an amazing liar. I learned how to lie but in a genuine way, a way that made people really believe me. At first I felt bad but after a while my mind became cloudy and the only thought that I had was if I was noticeably skinny. When asked why I couldn’t go out, I would blame my schoolwork. When asked why I always had the showering running, just in case someone would hear me throwing up, I would say I was shaving. When asked why I was going to workout again that day, I would say I was only going to lift weights. I never wanted to be liar and I always said how much I despised liars but I viewed this as a lie that would only affect me. My friends added to that fuel without even knowing. When I actually would go out, people would tell me how skinny I was getting. What girl doesn’t want to hear that? Slowly, I started lying to my parents, siblings, friends and even teachers. During summer school there were many times when my whole body would cramp up and I would have to think of an insane excuse to get out of going to class. I’m not sure how my professor would feel if I said I took half a box of laxatives and now I can’t come to class…
The effects of what I was doing started to take a toll on how my body functioned. As a girl on birth control, you always know and can predict when you get your period. Since my body was not getting enough calories and nutrients, my period was completely out of whack. Coming two weeks early and lasting for two weeks was complete hell and would be for any girl. My thick hair had also started to thin noticeably. When my hair dresser confronted me about why my hair was thinning I had no excuse but to blame it on stress. Right, like I was going to sit in a chair and confuse I had an eating disorder and that was why my hair was going crazy. I also started to experience chest pains when I would take laxatives. This was the first sign I needed to stop using them, that or the fact that they had completely stopped working on me. One of the things that people with eating disorders do is research what they are doing to their body. We are not idiots; we know exactly what we are doing to our bodies. When looking over the harms of using laxatives I had learned they can cause heart attacks. Once my chest started to hurt and kept me awake at night, I decided to stop that. I would then just eat less the next day since I couldn’t use them anymore. There was no way I was going to have a heart attack from laxatives, my parents would die if they found out that was the reason for something so serious.
My parents are a whole other story. I grew up in a wealthy suburb of Chicago and had an amazing family. My parents were always there to support us and basically gave us whatever we wanted, within reason. We went on vacation every summer and when everyone was in high school we would go to Mexico during spring break. I was given a car when I was 16 and then another one later on in college. I realistically did not have any problems and my parents also made sure I didn’t. During college they paid all my bills and tuition and my only duty was to manage the money they had given me for the week. The downfall of this was that since my parents had created a problem-free life for me, when I did have a problem they didn’t understand why. Quite possibly I may have acquired an eating disorder because my life always was so perfect. How could anything possibly go wrong in my life when my parents had tried so hard to make everything go so right? How was I supposed to blurt out that I was shoving my fingers down my throat and that my life was not so great anymore? This is exactly why I decided to keep this a secret.
Going home always made me very nervous. At school, I was the one who bought my food. Therefore, my food consisted of vegetables, protein powder, vitamins and peanut butter. Not a whole variety but surprisingly I didn’t get tired of it. I swear when I would go home, it would always be the day my Dad went grocery shopping. I have a younger brother and two sisters and they are at the age where calories don’t count. My brother has the type of body where he can live solely on ice cream and still lose weight. Dinner always seemed to be awkward. As my family would enjoy a healthy home-cooked meal, I would sit there quietly and drink my water and protein powder. It didn’t seem to bother anyone though, so dinner after dinner I continued to drink it at home. It was even a joke at my house that I would only eat gum for dinner because I was constantly chewing it. Secretly, I wished I could just get myself to eat a normal dinner.
My family was unaware of the extent of this problem because they would rarely see me. Staying at school for the summer made this secret easy to keep. When I would go home, it would only be for a weekend or even at the most a week. Even during my winter break no one suspected anything. We spend two weeks in Mexico and during that time I made sure not to use laxatives or make myself sick, I did continue to eat the same way I always had. Gracefully the pounds were falling off. My family didn’t really know what was going on and I was proud of how I looked.
For almost an entire year I had kept this secret. Quietly it burned a hole in my soul and at times spun out of control. My family had always questioned how I ate but always assumed I just had overly healthy eating habits. In all reality, what is so wrong about that? I ended up not traveling anywhere for Spring Break since I had recently returned from Mexico and had spent all my money there. While sitting at dinner with my parents the subject of how I ate came up. Already overly anxious and uncomfortable because I had started again to be bulimic, my heart started to beat faster and in a sense I felt like I was hyperventilating. While I was bulimic, I would at times be extremely emotional and feel like people were constantly criticizing me. My Mom told me she wanted me to stop drinking the protein powder for my meals and start to eat real food. There was no way I was going to start doing that; it had become such a staple in my life. Feeling as if I was being attacked, I left and ran crying to my room. Slowly this monster had started to take over my life. I just wanted to be able to wake up and not worry about anything anymore. Watching people eat while I sat there trying to count my minimal calories for the day was tiring. Trying to catch my breath and tell myself to stop crying, my Mom entered my room. Her motherly instincts knew something was not right. She knew I had a problem. Calmly, she sat on the bed and told me to talk to her. After an hour of trying to persuade me to admit I had a problem, I blurted it out. I told her everything I had done. I didn’t necessarily want to tell her but I was tired of having to hide this secret.
Admitting I had a problem was not extremely hard and not entirely effective. I had always heard that the first step in recovery was admitting you had a problem. I knew what I was doing was wrong and was hurting my body but it was a matter if I wanted to stop or not. The day after telling my Mom everything I didn’t talk to anyone until that night. I had nothing to say to anyone and my body and mind felt numb. For the entire day, I laid on the couch and watched TV, only getting up to go workout. For some reason I was mad at her. I was scared that she was going to be watching me all the time. I thought that she was going to be closely examining my body to see if anything changed. I felt empty inside. As much as I had lost a part of my soul in this process, I felt that by expelling this secret I lost even more.
Weeks went by after telling my Mom everything I did. I lied though. I told her I had stopped throwing up and I was finished using laxatives. The word relapse always reminded me of someone on drugs but in a sense it was something I was doing. This eating disorder was my drug. I mentally had stopped myself from making myself sick after I told my Mom everything. Until one day I just decided to do it again. Four times a day was usually the average amount of times I would make myself sick. Ironically, I don’t even think I ate four times a day but somehow I would convince myself that I needed to go throw up whatever was inside me. By the time 7 at night would come around my body hurt. Not only from working out twice a day but from making myself sick. My body started to feel the wrath of being bulimic. My jaw was what first started to feel it the most. It had felt like someone has taken a hammer and pounded the part of your jaw right beneath your ears. Chewing anything started to become a hassle because the pain was so intense. Then I felt as if I had strep throat everyday of the week. The acid from throwing up started to eat away at my throat. It felt like someone had taken a knife and slit it wide open. My eyes began to feel like someone was taping them shut. It was impossible to keep them open all the time. My abs and back started to ache horribly from making myself sick. All of my muscles would contract when I was throwing up. All I wanted to do was go to sleep. My body could not physically handle giving out more calories than it took in. School took a back sit in my life and my body was my main priority.
Do people ever really recover from an eating disorder? The question for me is still up in the air. Thoughts and memories continually flood my mind and worries still haunt me about gaining too much weight. While I may no longer worship that porcelain bowl or popping those tiny blue pills no longer enter my mouth, do the thoughts that rule my mind constitute as being recovered? I still am considered a gym rat and my insane eating habits are still prevalent. My parents still worry that I am harming my body and there is still much talk about seeing a professional for help. While my body may be back to normal, my body image is still skewed. How do you ever know if your problem will come back to haunt you?
One of the biggest struggles has been regaining my social life. While I still have my entire group of original friends, getting myself to start drinking with them again has been tough. Many of them do not know what my entire year has consisted of. Not even my roommates know the extent of what my eating disorder was. This soul bearing secret has taught me what it means to be incredibly private. No one knew when I was sick or how many blue pills I had floating around in my body. The day after drinking is always the most hard for me now. Standing in front of the mirror in my shorts and sports bra, before going to burn off those alcohol calories at the gym, I imagine at least 10lbs that has been added onto my body. While realistically I know they are not there, the monster inside me tells me they are. Fortunately, now I know how to ignore that monster but I know that five percent of American girls are still struggling to quiet it.
Eating disorders consume only five percent of young women. While the actual number is relatively very small, many girls still do not have the right image of their body to begin with. My reality is very much different than yours. Written below is my reality based on true events.