This is something extremely personal. I wrote this originally when I was 18 or 19 years old as an assignment on “Flaws” for a writers’ group I belonged to. I had never talked about this topic before I’d written this and I never talked about it until many years later. But, it’s part of me. This experience (one of many) has shaped me…it’s moulded me into who I am and I wanted to share it with you.
MY SECRET OBSESSION (circa 1995-ish)
My good friend Jenny still doesn’t understand the need I had a few years back to thin, and the “secret” obsession I had with my body. And I must admit, sometimes I even wonder why I let something so dangerous take over my life.
Although I was always a little pudgy, I was never really fat. I had lots of friends and was quite popular. I was smart and always had the best of everything. Maybe that’s why I became so destructive; In the day of supermodels and waifs I had to look the best and my self image was not that.
I was in the tenth grade in high school and I started dieting early in the year. Around the first month of school. I became picky about what I ate, which usually wasn’t much, and I began to exercise more, too. By early December I had lost a reasonable amount of weight and became quite irritable. My Family Studies teacher noticed this and became concerned, especially one day when we were supposed to eat the assignments we had just prepared and I refused to do so. I got very frustrated with her and began screaming at her that I was 16 years old and knew if I wanted to eat or not. I stormed out of the classroom in a rage. That night my parents received a phone call from the teacher. She explained what had happened that day. She was concerned and upset, not angry. She told my mother that she had noticed my weight loss and from what she’d seen in a class assignment (where we were to total up the calories we’d consumed in a day and my total calories for a week didn’t total a normal day’s) she concluded that I had all the signs of developing or having an eating disorder.
My parents were concerned and sat me down for a long talk about the dangers of eating disorders. I was furious at the teacher for having stuck her nose in my business. I went to my room and cried for hours. From that day on my entire life was focused on food and my body. To me, nothing was important except being thin and beautiful. For about two months I lived on practically nothing. In the mornings before school, I’d dip my spoon in the yogurt container and that would be it. Some days I’d have an apple for lunch, other days I’d have nothing until dinner when I’d have a few veggies. And sometimes I’d skip the meal altogether. I lost 10 pounds in just over a week. Food was about the only thing in my life that I had total control over.
My days at school were pretty intense at first. The hunger pains were so bad and the growling in my stomach was so loud I thought everyone in my class could hear. I found concentrating on school work hard because I was always, constantly, thinking of what I was going to do to get skinny. The only class I could fully concentrate in was Family Studies and this was because we were doing an entire section on eating disorders and fad diets. This became my new obsession. Finding new ways to lose weight. All the videos, the articles, the pamphlets, the speeches that were supposed to scare us, all they did for me was teach me new tricks to get the body I wanted. I would sit in the back of the class with my friends watching the ultra-skinny bony girls on tv and when everyone else was gagging and becoming nauseous at their confessions, I was secretly smiling and laughing inside.
I also became more obsessive about exercising. I would come home from school and go directly to my room and exercise. Then, after my so-called “dinner” I’d return to my room and exercise some more. While all my friends were watching Oprah or at the mall, I was sweating to heavy dance music, hoping that I’d lose the weight I hated. I remember once, after eating next to nothing for three days, I had exercised so much and was so tired, that I’d completely passed out. Only to wake a while later and return to my sweaty habit.
By this time I wasn’t eating a thing except maybe that small portion of yogurt at breakfast and a bottle of water for lunch. I remember the compliments that I got from so many people on how good I looked and how they wished they could lose some weight. I especially remember one boy, who I’d had a slight crush on in elementary school. I walked into class one day and he looked at me and asked if I’d lost some weight. When I replied “yes” he looked me over again, nodded, and said “You look good.” It may not seem like that big of a deal, but at that time, to me, it was the world at my feet.
At this same time, my brother, who’s always been a skinny little runt and found it necessary to tease me about my weight since I was a child, was trying to gain weight. He’d eat and eat and one night he weighed himself and was disappointed to find he’d lost a few pounds. Imagine my mortification when, after all my starving and exercising, I realized I’d gained half a pound. I screamed, ashamed, and once again, cried for hours.
Not long after that a friend from school loaned me a book titled Even If It Kills Me, about a girl, a lot like me, who did everything in her power to be thin, including forcing herself to vomit. Something I vowed I would never do. I read the entire book that night and cried for the girl and for myself. The girl was not just a fictitious character, she was my friend. She was me.
Now, something else happened right around this time that helped me, determined me, to lose weight: Kelly on my (then) favorite tv show (Beverly Hills, 90210) developed an eating disorder. She was beautiful and thin and like me, she saw herself as overweight and disgusting. So now I had a new diet partner. And one night Kelly gave me a new idea to lose weight…Diet Pills. So, the next night, off to the mall I went with my aunt Donna in search of the wondrous pill. However, when Donna realized what I was looking for she said “No way!” Instead, she took me to the health food store. Yeah! Just what I needed. Food. No thanks! So I just continued with my own way of dealing, just like Kelly.
I tried everything: dieting, fasting, exercising, liquid diets, diuretics, it wasn’t good enough. So now it was time to break the mould; to go to extremes. I broke my vow and one night I leaned over my toilet and stuck two fingers down my throat. All I did was gag. Nothing came up. I was disappointed and a little glad. For months and months I’d survived without succumbing to something so disgusting. But soon I was sticking my fingers down my throat all the time.
Then one day, when my cousin was visiting for dinner, I ate. Not very much, but my stomach had shrunk so much I was in utter agony. I waited in pain until everyone left the house and as soon as they had I rushed to the bathroom, flung up the seat cover and shoved my fingers down my throat until everything came up. Then I did it again. When I had finished I say there, staring at what I had done. I began to cry. I looked in the mirror and cried even more at what I had become. This eating disease had left me ashamed and alone. I no longer had control over it, it had control over me.
I gathered myself up and waited for an hour for my mother to return, crying the entire time. When she finally drove in the yard I wiped my tears away and put on a cool face. she came in the house and asked me if I wanted to go to my grandparents’ house where everyone was. I wanted to go. I knew it was time to tell my secret. But I couldn’t. Not yet. My mother looked at me and asked me if I’d been crying. In my mind I was screaming yes but I merely shook my head and went to the car.
When we arrived at my grandparents’, everyone was laughing and having a good time while I was dying inside. After a few minutes I decided the time was right and I called my mother and Donna into the bedroom. I knew they both loved me as much as anyone could love anybody and I hated to hurt them, but I was hurting myself and I needed help. When they were both in the room and the door was closed I was already crying and shaking. I confessed to them what I had done that night and what I’d been doing for the past 6 or more months. And I finally admitted out loud that I needed help. When I finished talking I realized they were both crying. I knew I had hurt them so much and hated myself even more. But I was so glad that my secret was finally out and I would get the help I needed. They both hugged me and we talked for a while. I honestly felt good for the first time. I was free. No longer confined in the prison I called my body.
I didn’t go to school the next day and the day after that my mother took me to my doctor, who I now consider my friend and love. I began to tell her why I was there by again, but all I could do was cry. She leaned over and put her arms around me and just let me cry. For about the next seven months I saw her at least once a week. And saw two dietitians. My mother, as well as the doctor, wanted me to attend an eating disorders clinic but I refused. Still, the thought of being surrounded by thin women and girls scared me to death. I didn’t want to be compared to their thin bodies and I certainly didn’t want to be another statistic.
So I got through it with my doctors’ help and my family and friends. My best friend, Kim was very understanding. She was always there when I needed to confess and she encouraged me when I was down. However, my other friend Jenny did not understand at all. She said it was stupid and pointless. Starving yourself to look good, she scoffed. She even sent me into a relapse. I can’t blame her, really. She wasn’t there forcing me to force my fingers down my throat. I hated myself once again. And I especially hated the fact that I let her get to me.
As the weeks turned into months and I learned how to deal with my problem and how to eat all over again, I noticed that all the beautiful clothes that I had gotten at the finest shoppes during my dramatic weight loss were becoming a little snug, and eventually too tight. I was crushed. In just about a year (more or less) I had gained back most of the weight I had once lost. And I fell back into my obsessive patterns once again. I stopped eating and exercised like a maniac. I was losing control and knew I had to stop. So I made a promise to myself that I would lose the weight and never be fat again. I began following a smart and healthy diet, cutting out fatty and high calorie foods, and began a great exercise program. In seven months I’ve missed only one day of physical activity, but I eat healthy so I know I’m okay if I do happen to miss an occasional day, which I hope I never do.
Most people don’t know every side of eating disorders. For many, suicide is a thought that runs through your head quite often. I never wanted to die (really), I just didn’t want to go on living the way I was. I know my story isn’t as severe as some and I’m glad, because it could have been. I’m proud I got out of the danger before it was too late.
Looking back on everything I realize it wasn’t just about being thin. It was about being the thinnest. The best. There was a lot of competition going on in my mind. Competition with myself and with others. Thinking once about Kelly’s disorder, I watched everything about her. I admired her. And I remember how I cried when she fainted from malnourishment and her secret was found out, and how she admitted to being sick. I felt for her because she was like me. But at the same time, I was excited because I beat her. I lasted longer than she did. I had passed out more than once but no one ever knew. It made no difference how beautiful or rich or popular she was, I still beat her. And my ego fed off that like crazy. I was at war with myself and I was my own worst enemy. But that part is over.
There was a time when I’d weigh myself everyday, two and three times a day. Now I have no idea what I weigh. Through today’s eyes weight is just some digits in a box on the floor. They don’t determine who I am, I determine who I am. I now know the dangers of anorexia and bulimia, but I admit I’m not fully healed. There’s not a single day that goes by that I don’t think about being super skinny. About how easy it would be to just quit eating again. But I’m wiser now and I have more will power. These days I’m more aware, more energetic and more healthy. And once again, I have control over my life.