Dying To Be Thin, Living To Tell the Talecsudhbulletin February 23, 2021 0 COMMENTS
For some, sitting down for a meal is second nature. For others, it can bring on destructive thoughts that control their lives. Photo by Raven Brown.
By Raven Brown, Opinion Editor
Editor’s Note: Warning, context of this story includes graphic references to eating disorders and body dysmorphia.
As I looked at myself in the mirror after another failed attempt to keep my food down, tears streamed down my face and I hated the reflection staring back at me. No matter how many times I said I wasn’t going to purge again, I had lost control. The promises I made to myself were flushed down the toilet along with my lunch.
The secret I had kept for over six years was beginning to ravage my insides. My kidneys were starting to throb, I was throwing up blood and every so often, my heart would skip a beat as if it was begging me to stop shoving my fingers down my throat. I ignored the signals my body was sending me, telling myself I could stop anytime I wanted to. But eventually, I had to accept that I needed to get help for my eating disorder.
I never wanted to admit that I was bulimic. The stigma surrounding eating disorders and body dysmorphia had deterred me from confessing my secret and instead, I struggled in silence. From the outside, bulimia is difficult to recognize. It’s not like a drug addiction that is noticed when someone’s behavior changes or alcoholism that can be smelled from a mile away. I went undetected for years and I knew no one suspected anything from my frequent trips to the bathroom. Nobody ever questioned me or even batted an eye when I would excuse myself after a big meal.
From a young age, I was praised for how little I was, my friends would joke about how lucky I was for being so thin. Back then, I wasn’t concerned because I had a fast metabolism and was incredibly active. I never once thought that my body would eventually change or that I would end up hating it for its natural progression.
I was 19 when I first started taking inventory of my body. I always had a thin and athletic build from years of playing sports, so I never thought of how I looked or how much I weighed. When I started to fill out and become a woman after high school, I would stare in the mirror for hours, obsessing over every ounce of fat or curve that seemed to have shown up overnight.
Always hovering around 100 pounds on my 5-foot-2 inch frame, I assumed I would always stay the same. I convinced myself that 100 pounds was the magic number. The media and my peers had made a size zero synonymous with being beautiful.
As soon as I went up a size and gained 15 pounds after graduation, I panicked. What the hell was happening to me? Why was my body growing outwards and morphing into a shell I didn’t recognize?
I would make comments about it to my friends but they thought I was being dramatic. “You’ve always been so tiny, why does it matter?” they would ask. They would compare their bodies to mine and tell me how easy I had it because I hadn’t struggled with my weight like some of them had. Being shot down when I would try to voice my frustrations was so isolating. I felt like I was screaming in a crowd and nobody heard me.
I quickly learned that I could never disclose how I really felt about my body. I started weighing myself every day and crying myself to sleep every night, thinking I was humongous. When I saw myself in pictures, I felt sick to my stomach. I would reach under my shirt and pinch my belly rolls, affirming what I thought to be true: I was obese and needed to lose weight.
The binging and purging cycles started slowly, but eventually took over my entire life. Once a month turned into once a week, then once a day, then several times a day. I would scarf down food until it felt like my stomach would burst and found relief in throwing it all up. I became addicted to the process and loved that I could eat thousands of calories without having to see it on the scale.
I even came up with a list of foods that were “safe” to digest and became addicted to binging and purging junk foods that didn’t make the cut. Unbeknownst to me, and no thanks to toxic diet culture, I was also struggling with orthorexia, another eating disorder defined by the need to only consume “perfect” foods.
My life had become dominated by rules with absolutely no room for error.
On one of my worst days, I was driving around town, going from one fast food place to the next, binging in one parking lot and purging at the next stop’s restroom. I must’ve spent $100 and the whole time I was sobbing as I shoveled food into my mouth. I wanted to stop so bad, but I was trapped in the cycle. I was obsessed with filling the void in my bottomless pit of a stomach, and then the guilt would creep in and the compulsion to throw up would take over.
The stigma surrounding eating disorders and body dysmorphia had deterred me from confessing my secret and instead, I struggled in silence.
After a few years, I got back down to my “magical” weight, but I still believed I was overweight. My vision was so distorted; my disorder had total control over my thoughts and no amount of reasoning or willingness to give it up could have freed me. I was dying to be thin so badly, unaware that I was dying in the process.
Until one day, I binged a whole box of donuts and wasn’t able to purge it all out. I panicked and my protruding stomach started to mock me. The cycle that I became a slave to was malfunctioning and I knew if I didn’t ask for help now, I was going to continue sticking my fingers down my throat until my esophagus ruptured.
Completely defeated and coming up with every reason not to, I finally told my mom about the eating disorder I had kept hidden from her. I know she wasn’t angry with me for lying, but I could see the pain in her eyes as she told me she would do everything in her power to get me the treatment I needed.
The next week, I sat down with a therapist who specialized in eating disorders. Her presence felt like a warm hug instantly, allowing me to talk about my bulimia and body dysmorphia in a way I never had before. Her approach was nonjudgmental and for the first time I felt the shackles slip away. Together, we identified my triggers and negative thought patterns and beliefs surrounding my body. It wasn’t easy and I struggled with the process, but days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months, and months turned into years of significant recovery.
I didn’t just slip and fall into this disorder, so recovery wasn’t going to happen overnight either. While I continue to struggle with my body image and negative thoughts from time to time, I can proudly say that my eating disorder no longer enslaves me. I don’t obsess over food and I have found solace in going to the gym regularly. Not because I hate my body, but because I love and appreciate it for holding me together, even when all I wanted to do was tear it apart.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, know that you are not alone. Please contact the National Eating Disorder Association at 1-800-931-2237 for information about treatment options and recovery.