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Perfect Illusions: Eating Disorders and the Family
Personal Stories
People die from this. I never expected that I would have a heart attack. I never thought that I would go without a period for years and have trouble getting pregnant. I didn't have the foresight to think that there were going to be these real consequences. And it seems so sad that tearing my esophagus, or pneumonia, or my teeth rotting out wasn't enough. When I had my heart attack, it really kind of put things in perspective-of wanting to see my children grow up and wanting to live this life, that I'm worthy of living.

It's shocking to listen to a lovely young woman of 27 speak of her heart attack. The reality of it pains Jaynee too. Looking back to when she was thirteen and growing up, vomiting in the school bathroom, or then later starving herself in college, she never imagined that she might not have kids because of it. She never thought that she would have miscarriages and that she could lose children, or die.

Jaynee is fortunate; she eventually had her babies. She admits that when people look at her house, her car and her beautiful kids, they think that she must have a perfect life. She has two Masters' degrees and is working towards her Ph.D. But there's been a lot of pain and a lot of loss, and a serious toll taken by her tandem illnesses of anorexia and bulimia.

When Jaynee was little, someone saw her at a drill team camp, took a picture, and sent it to an organization that ran pageants for children. The organization sent her an application. Her parents threw the application away, thinking she couldn't contend. Jaynee dug it out of the trash, filled it out and sent it in. At a brunch, the 300 applicants were narrowed down to 98 girls, who went on to compete for the Miss Pre-Teen California title. Jaynee won. A new world opened up to her: she was introduced to the contest culture and the obsession of keeping thin.

I remember it being so special. I remember thinking, "Oh, I won the talent contest, that makes me feel good." And then I won Miss Personality. All the girls voted and I felt like I'd won something far greater. This was so cool that all these girls voted for me. And then that night, I won Miss Pre-Teen California!

She remembers seeing one of the other girls, a ballerina, throwing up after the pageant. It was not very long afterwards that Jaynee threw up for the first time. Most girls smoked because it was a way to stay thin, some did cocaine; Jaynee chose "the eating disorder route."

It just seemed like everybody had their little fix to keep their body where they wanted it, where they needed it to be.

Good things came from the beauty contest circuit: modeling, scholarships, money for school, public speaking engagements, and a belief in herself. Plus, the contests allowed Jaynee to spend time with her mother. They went to pageants on weekends, to the parades or store openings, to the photo shoots. The activities made Jaynee's mother happy and positive. In Jaynee's mind, she connected the glamour and beauty with attention from her mother.

It kills me to think how unglamorous it really was to force myself to throw up.

Jaynee was at an age where she was looking for some reassurance, developing a sense of who she was, and where she fit in.

I can remember asking my mom if I was pretty or if I was beautiful, and her saying, "No, you're-you're cute." You know, downplaying it. That was a big deal to me. I asked that question, trying to get some comfort, I think.

I'm sure my mom must have thought that it wouldn't be appropriate to have a big head. I'm sure that it probably isn't even something she remembers. But for me, it's huge. She brags to other people about me and my brother, and definitely uses us as a source of her self-esteem. But to my face, she never said, "I love you." It doesn't matter whether she told everybody else. She never said, "I love you" my whole life. She never told me that she loved me until I was 18. I was going away to college and that was the first time I remember hearing it.

Approbation and saying "I love you" wasn't something Jaynee's mom handed out easily, possibly because, as Jaynee says, she wasn't raised in a healthy environment. She had nothing on which to model her parenting.

If you're getting criticized from the person that should automatically, unconditionally love you, you're going to seek it elsewhere, 'til you find something to make you feel good and whole inside. Mine was my eating disorder. It was comforting and there for me, and gave me a sense of control.

I thought that if I could be thin, then I could be pretty, and then that would be something she would respect, or I would be lovable.

When Jaynee got good grades, her parents acknowledged she was smart, but they didn't know what classes she took, or sit down to do homework with her. They weren't involved in her life. They didn't know much about her. But the pressure to do well was always there. Her mother attained a kind of status from Jaynee's cheerleading and gymnastics, and was very disappointed when Jaynee wasn't voted homecoming queen. Her mother made it very known that she hadn't done those things and that she would want her daughter to do them.

My mother wanted to live vicariously, I think. And I thought if I did these things that she wanted to, and I was successful at them, then she would in turn love me.

Jaynee's brother, a professional football player, made it to the Super Bowl. It was the first time Jaynee ever heard their mother tell him, "I love you."

I think now that she put so much of herself into her children that when we didn't achieve at whatever it was, she felt it meant she had failed. When we succeed, she feels more successful about herself. When we fail, it's her failure. I know she would say, "What are you talking about? I love you! And you're beautiful," and that she had always said all of those praising, supportive things. But that's not my experience in my relationship with her.

Jaynee remembers that her brother teased her a lot and called her unkind nicknames. The family thought it was okay, because she was self-assured. To their thinking, she knew she was pretty, so it was easy to tease her. They assumed that she couldn't possibly think they meant it when they teased her about being fat or made fun of her looks.

After Jaynee had her baby girl, Cambridge, she was 30 pounds overweight. But she could still do gymnastics, and awed her little nieces one evening at a family Christmas by doing no-handed cartwheels and back flips. Inspired, she got her courage up and executed a final back layout, but landed hard.

My mom said, in front of everybody, "Jaynee! Stop that! The whole house is shaking! Your fat is just jiggling all over, and the house will fall down!" No one said anything. And even more than what she said, it was that no one said anything. That my own mother would call me fat and make fun of me in front of my family, what does that say about my worth? I think I let that happen my whole life.

Jaynee didn't stand up for herself. In that moment, she recognized how she didn't want her children to see her and how she didn't want to bring them up.

For them, I hung the moon. They really think that I went up in the sky and put the stars there for them. My mother has no right to tell them otherwise-no one does. To them I am the most beautiful person in the world, and I've earned that.

Within four weeks, Jaynee had lost the extra weight the only way she knew how, and was back into a size 6, wearing her old jeans again. All she could think about was what her mother had said, and that she didn't want to be humiliated like that in front of her family or in front of anybody again. Some of her greatest pain lies in the fact that no one came to her defense, not her husband, or her father, her brother or sister-in-law.

People look in the mirror and they see themselves. I look in the mirror, and I look for myself. I'm trying to find me... still.

At 27, she still doesn't have a sense of value or worth. She can acknowledge it in others, but doesn't see it in herself.

When you get straight A's, that's not anything people come and cheer for-like, "Good job, and here's some money for your grades." So I guess that's why I see my accomplishments as less, because, well, they're certainly not the Super Bowl.

I think I'm still caught up in the notion that my external worth is greater than my internal. I still buy into, "If I were thin enough, I could be happier." What I look like correlates to my success. I'm still paying off student loans. I'm home with my kids now; I'm not working, so I don't have an income. I just don't feel like I'm good enough.

Jaynee had been married for six years, and her husband swore he never knew of her eating disorder, even though she had told him about it when they dated. She thinks he didn't want to have to do anything about it, so he never acknowledged it. He wanted the perfect wife with the perfect figure, and didn't really care what it took to get that.

He wanted the fairy tale, the picket fence; and my having an eating disorder didn't fit into that.

He still makes the decisions and I'm supposed to go along with them. He didn't care if I didn't want to do something. He'd turn around and do it anyway. I'm not a whole person. I wasn't even half of this marriage. It's all very undermining; I was fighting with someone about control issues. As long as that message was there, the eating disorder fueled my fire. I clung to it because at least I could be thin and at least I could be pretty and he couldn't take that away from me. And that gave me some sense of power in our relationship.

I needed him to give up some control so that I wouldn't seek control from my eating disorder. I can fail at everything else in my life, but I could succeed at this. I'm good at it. I'm good at not eating. I'm good at losing weight quick. I know how it's done. Not many people can say that they can go days without food, and I can.

I know that in my relationships I use it, and as distorted as it seems, you take control from me or exert your power over me, I'll exert mine over food as a reaction. Instead of confronting someone and saying, "Don't talk to me like that," I turn around and I say, well you can't force me to eat. It becomes a red badge of courage. I have this control over my life. I don't in any other area, but when it comes to food, I call the shots.

Jaynee's been alone much of her life. She doesn't have strong connections with other people. She's taken comfort in food, and then strength in being able to purge it, or not eat.

I defend against being hurt by being thin or pretty. They can say whatever they want about me, but at least I'm thin. And when I don't feel thin, then I have nothing.

In eighth grade. Jaynee had gotten tall, had filled out and started being concerned about her weight. She felt she was bigger than all the other girls. She habitually vomited in the school toilet. Her disorder just took on a life of its own. She doesn't remember it ever not being a part of her day. She doesn't remember ever keeping anything down. This continued all through high school.

My instrument of choice ended up being a toothbrush. I would carry a travel toothbrush with me, and I would use it to make myself throw up, and then I would brush my teeth afterwards. It was so ironic, because my Mom used to boast to people, "Oh, Jaynee... even brings a toothbrush to school to brush her teeth after lunch!" She wasn't even aware. You know, nowadays if my daughter did that, I would be, like, "ding-ding-ding!"

You can just think about it hard enough and make yourself throw up when you get good at it. I remember getting a Blizzard at Dairy Queen, and going into the grocery store and getting Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and Hershey chocolate bars, just everything that I was forbidden, I would eat it rapidly, in one sitting, and purge it.

There were signs: the telltale scratches on her hands from her teeth, which were literally rotting as a result of stomach acid. She needed eight root canals, which were filled with porcelain so when she smiled, no one could tell she had work done. She had a $20,000 dentist bill in college. Her dad asked, "What is going on?" The dentist was the one who told him: but her parents did nothing.

Jaynee eventually tore her esophagus and lung, got pneumonia, and her voice changed. I just had all these problems: I was coughing, puking up blood, and really doing a lot of damage. I was once at a yogurt shop with a date, and I just coughed mucous and blood into my hair. I didn't have control over that valve, and I threw up. It was that trigger reaction. She was also becoming forgetful, not thinking straight. One loses perspective when one's brain is so starved with a long-term disorder.

The only way I know how to describe it is like looking in a circus mirror. You know those mirrors, you look, and you are really thin, or you are really fat. Well, when I look in the mirror, every mirror, I'm really fat. And it doesn't matter what I weigh; it's always the same look. And I was 5'8" and 109 pounds!

I got a doctor to prescribe Fen-Phen. When people hear that, they say, "What?" But yeah, I got on Fen-Phen. Now doctors say, "With your history and your weight, how could someone prescribe that?" Well, I'm articulate, I told a doctor that I felt bloated during my period, and I was uncomfortable, and was there anything he could...? And I knew exactly what I was trying to get. The doctor said, "Oh, that's no problem, I understand, I can write you a script for diuretics..." And I smiled and said thank you, and took them every day.
[Fen-Phen was prescribed as a diet drug from 1994 to 1997, and became linked to heart damage and hypertension, and was pulled from the market.]

I was functioning, so what was wrong? I think that misconception feeds the disorder. See, I'm fine. I'm good at sports, and I'm getting good grades, so what's the problem if I throw up my meals? Where's the harm in that? And it's not until much later that the harmful things really hit and then you see the effects of years.

Jaynee's bowels stopped working because they were so used to having the work done for them. But she didn't want anyone to know about her illness. Even if it was killing her-literally-it was her secret, and over time it became her best friend. It became her comfort and such a part of her that she didn't consider it to not be okay, nor did she consider the damage it was doing every day, for 14 years. Jaynee's body was being systematically destroyed over time.

I was rewarded for losing weight and being thin, so in my mind it confirms, "Yes, keep doing it." When I was voted best looking, best body of my high school, I was deep into my disorder. For me it was, "See, this is what I'm supposed to do, see! This confirms for me that I'm likable this way, this is a good thing."

Eating disorders are glamorized, and it makes me sad. I see it in high school girls, they kind of wear this badge -"I'm anorexic." I recognize the power that comes from that, but I think it's become fashionable. There was a time when being robust and voluptuous was a sign that you were not only fertile, you were well-to-do, and that was a good thing.

Jaynee is now divorced, and doesn't have any female friends. She doesn't have a real relationship with her mother. She wondered how she would know how to be a mother to a daughter. She was afraid that she wouldn't love her little girl, Cambridge, like her mom didn't love her.

I didn't want a little girl because I knew what I had been through, I just thought I would ruin her. I was scared to death of that.

I want my daughter to grow up with a healthy body image. I want her to know that my love is unconditional. She can weigh three hundred pounds and I will love her. And she doesn't ever have to be a cheerleader, she doesn't ever have to be in beauty pageants and I will adore her just the same. God, I don't want her to have an eating disorder.

Jaynee has a little girl who sparkles from within, and a little sweetheart of a boy who's honest and loving. Just being their mother helps her love herself. She works hard to parent well and set good examples for her children. She knows she needs to be vigilant.

Parents need to be completely proactive. Get educated. Get the literature. Get books. Even if - especially if, they don't think their daughter has an eating disorder. If she isn't concerned about her body or her weight, that's the girl I would be concerned about, because she's keeping that from you. What girl isn't concerned to some degree?

Your children are not going to come home and announce they have an eating disorder; parents need to investigate. A girl doesn't start out one day by throwing up eight times. Jaynee explains the disease has an insidious progression; she speaks publicly to young women and girls about the detrimental effects of eating disorders. At her seminars, she asks them who wants to have a family and tells them plainly, that if they lose their menstrual cycle because they aren't eating enough and not getting enough nutrients, they can't have a baby. It makes them think.

During her first pregnancy, Jaynee was on imposed bed rest for eight months. Ultimately, she gained enough weight and feels so fortunate to have her little boy. Her daughter's birth was hard too, as a result of the damage she had done to her body.

I don't want to be a hypocrite. I want to get better. Part of my recovery has been being more forthright and honest. It's there for the world to see. It sounds cliched, but if parents can learn from this and treat their daughters better, and if a girl can realize these devastating long-term consequences instead of the quick fix, it's worth it.

Some professionals believe that you don't ever recover, that it's an addiction that you'll always have, but you can be in recovery. I hope that it's curable, that I could wake up one morning and not think about food at all, and get dressed and put on an outfit and keep it on and not worry about changing four or five times because I look fat. If I'm maintaining a weight that I feel good about, and fitting into the clothes I want to fit into, then the behavior lessens. But if I start to get overweight, then I act on that.

There are so many different reasons someone has an eating disorder; that's what's difficult about the disease. We are all unique. You can't really pinpoint what caused it. So you can't really pinpoint how to fix it.

I'm not recovered; I'm recovering, though. It's getting better. Each moment is better. I don't want to battle this the rest of my life. And I certainly don't want to miss out on seeing my daughter dance at her wedding because of this.



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I never expected that I would have a heart attack. I didn't have the foresight to think that there were going to be these real consequences.

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