Yes, it is all in my head… that’s why it’s called a psychological disorder.
When I was 14, my boyfriend insisted I was “too fat.” He was able to put his hands around my waist and touch his fingers… but he still said I was “too fat.” I didn’t let it get to me until a few years later.
I was very sick my entire life with incorrect diagnoses for 25 years. When I was 16, I developed a fear of food. Eating and digesting food hurt and I didn’t know why. Some days I would wake up and look 9 months pregnant. I thought that if I could control food, I could change the pain and the bloating. I could change the problems at the end of digestion. But I was wrong. The only thing trying to control food did was create more problems.
I began to document every food that I ate, counting calories obsessively. If I took in more than 700 calories in a day, I had to take laxatives or exercise to the point of exhaustion. By exhaustion, I mean I couldn’t feel my limbs anymore and I’d pass out. When I woke up, I’d begin exercising again until I passed out again. It was a vicious cycle.
But over 700 calories a day felt like the end of the world and I had to get rid of them all.
I stole my Nana’s laxatives when she went to bed. I stayed up all night in the bathroom purging with them; then I’d go to school the next day acting like nothing happened. My friends would compare themselves in the mirrors in the bathrooms, picking themselves apart. They’d say things about their butts, thighs, hips, bellies… I picked up that body dysmorphia too.
So by the time I was 17 and starting college, not only was I counting calories, binging and purging, but I was also ripping my body apart to the point where I hated this shell I had to live in. I began to wear baggy clothes so I wouldn’t have to see myself. I developed a fear of being over 120 pounds and began to weigh myself every chance I got – sometimes over ten times in one day.
Some days I would eat nothing at all. Some days all I’d eat was celery. Other days, I would eat thousands of calories, followed by laxatives, excessive exercise, and starvation to make up for it (If I’d eaten 5,000 calories, I’d try not to eat for the next 6 days to make up for 700 calories a day.. or I’d combine it with calories burned from exercise so it might come out to 3 days of starvation… at the time, it made perfect sense).
I also played a game I called “Chew and Spit,” where I’d have a taste of food I wanted to eat, but I’d spit it out instead of swallowing it… I could have things like cake without the calories.
I felt like I was in such control. I didn’t feel well most of the time, but I was in control of something in my life.
But I was sick, which was out of my control. My doctors weren’t helping, which was out of my control. I had fat on my bones (or so I thought), which I couldn’t control. My ex boyfriend’s words echoed in my head about how I was too big when his fingers would touch around my waist… so I’d use that as a measurement – could my fingers touch around my waist? No? Too fat… time to purge.
I was in trouble when my belly swelled. I’d mention it to my friends that I looked pregnant and they’d laugh at me, telling me that I was ridiculous and I looked fine.
I remember the day I finally realized something was really wrong. It was during my second semester of college. One day, I refused to eat anything at all. The following day, I brought a small box of raisins with me to campus. You know the box, the ones you might have gotten with your home packed lunch that were only 130 calories. That was all I had to eat that day. I was SO HUNGRY that day… but I refused to let myself eat anything else. I’d eat one raisin whenever I started to feel hungry.
I came home after class, played DDR for a few hours, did some Tae-Bo, and fell asleep. I was so proud of myself that day – 130 calories in two days! Then my Nana confronted me at dinner time when I refused to come into the dining room and eat with the family.
“Felicia, what aren’t you telling me?”
“Nothing, I’m an open book…”
“Then where have my laxatives been going?”
“I dunno… I’m not the only person living here.”
“True, but you’re the only one who intentionally starves and tortures herself.”
“How long have you known?”
“Long enough to fear that you’re going to kill yourself.”
“What’s your point?”
“You have an appointment with a therapist scheduled for tomorrow.”
Excuse me?! I was angry. How could she just set up this appointment?! I knew I was being bad to my body, but it was MY BODY. I got to control this one part of my life and she was trying to take it away.
I agreed to go to this therapist anyway. But I didn’t want to talk.
I told the therapist everything the first day, completely going against my idea of staying silent. She’d asked me if I’d ever heard of anorexia or bulimia. I said something along the lines of “Those are eating disorders… messed up people have those.”
Wait a second… she’s asking me this for a reason… Oh no! I’m one of those messed up people!
She told me to hand her my food journal… I wasn’t allowed to make any more entries. She told my Nana to hide every scale in the house, as well as the laxatives.
Fine, I could control food and calories other ways. And I didn’t have to tell her about any of it. If things got stressful or my anxiety got bad enough, how else was I supposed to cope? I needed control!
I was in therapy for 3 years before my stubbornness went away. I started to listen to her and stopped victimizing myself. I realized that by binging and purging, I was not in control. The bulimia was controlling me.
I’m now 26. The bulimia angel still sits on my shoulder, whispering sweet nothings into my ear. I will admit, I have had binging and purging episodes since my therapy breakthrough. I fight with myself constantly – my rational side says to stop while my irrational side shouts “CONTROL!”
I was deathly ill last year when I was 25. My weight dropped from 135 pounds to 92 pounds within two months. My friends and family told me I looked like a skeleton and I needed to gain weight before I broke in half. But when I looked in the mirror, I thought “I’ve never looked better!” I dove head first into a depression when the numbers started to go back up – I currently weigh 115 pounds and I hate it! I hate that I weigh 115 pounds, I want to weigh less… but the other side of me hates that I am only 115 pounds because I should weigh more.
Every day is a battle for me to stay above the bulimia. “Do I eat breakfast today?” “If I eat breakfast, do I eat lunch?” “Why am I so hungry? I don’t need to eat any more today… I just ate 2 hours ago!” “How many calories are in this drink? Maybe I should just have water…” “Look at this flab… *pinches waist*” It is so hard to tell myself to just shut up.
I feel like I’m an apple core in front of a mirror that is reflecting a full apple.
If I had to ask anything of an outsider looking in, all I want is understanding.
I’ve been told I’m selfish, irrational, vain, unhealthy… I know these already. It doesn’t change the psychological issues attached. I don’t want pity, either. No one with an eating disorder does it for pity or attention. It is a constant battle with ourselves. To be told we’re wrong, or we look fine, undermines and invalidates us. Saying negative things, even if you think it is positive or “tough love,” can trigger a binging or starvation cycle.
I know, I sound like I’m defending a vicious monster. If I had to compare my bulimia to anything, it is more like an addiction. I became addicted to counting calories, exercise, laxatives, the scale, the mirror… those who vomit become addicted to that. It is a rush being able to alter things in life… it’s an addiction to control.
Eating disorders are invisible, but very real.
Words by Leelo