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Dying to be Thin
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Set #4
Posted December 14, 2000
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I remember standing in front of the mirror as a small five-year-old child, thinking that I was far too heavy. I started to diet when I was six. I would eat nothing but fruit for several days, and then I would become "weak" and eat. My mother was dealing with her own eating issues at the time and decided that not allowing food with fat to be in the house was the way to go. She also decided that locking the kitchen cabinets was healthy. I missed having food around that I liked, so whenever I was at school or at a friend's house I would eat so much ice cream or chips or sweets because I thought that if I ate enough of it that I wouldn't want to have any more when I returned home. But then I would remember that my mother didn't want me to be fat, and I would make myself throw up.

By the time that I was ten I was clinically bulimic. I was purging at least a few times a day and was physically and emotionally exhausted. Soon, I turned to anorexia. I become fully anorexic at 12 years old and decided that at 5'7" and 130 pounds I was far too fat. From the ages of 12 to 14 I grew two inches and lost a good deal of weight.

My body was shutting down. I was losing my hair, my period had stopped, my fingers and toes would turn blue, I was cold all of the time, whenever I stood up I would feel like I was going to pass out, and worst of all I felt so isolated and alone all of the time. The body cannot survive for very long on a complete starvation diet. So I turned back to bulimia.

I am 18 now, and I'm still battling these eating disorders. I'm not as sick as I was about two years ago when I was purging 15+ times a day, but I'm far from healthy. I have been hospitalized twice and have had little improvement.

The worst part of the eating disorder is not the physical aspect, which is HORRIBLE and can kill anyone at any time, but the mental aspect. It's hard to wake up every morning and be afraid of looking in the mirror. It's hard to stay home on Friday nights when your friends are going to parties, because I feel too fat to go. It's hard to keep up with school work when I go home every day and feel like I have to go downstairs and run on the treadmill for hours. It's hard to want to avoid eating in front of anyone because I'm afraid that they will judge me on what I'm eating. It's hard to feel that I don't deserve the recovery and happiness and freedom from this mental battle that I do deserve. It's just hard.

That NOVA is making an effort to bring awareness to these disorders is a wonderful contribution to society. Far too many people are losing their lives to this disease. Anorexia and bulimia are not diseases that you can pick up and drop whenever you want to: They take over your life. It's hard to imagine how painful an eating disorder is until you've had one, and I don't wish that pain on anyone.

Allegra from Washington, D.C.

Your show—and the whole topic—set off all kinds of thoughts for me, as a recovered borderline anorexic and bulimic for five years. Even now, 15 years later, I still catch myself falling into the thinking that I am fat, ugly, out of control, and worthless. I do blame the media, and I pity girls today whose role models are even skinnier than those of the early 1980s that I faced. It takes tremendous work to be your own best friend.

I realized one day (luckily) that nobody else really cared if I was five or ten pounds higher or lower. Nobody but me—self-obsession is such a selfish, small act. And when you are thinking about food constantly, guess what you are not doing? You are not being a good friend, girlfriend, neighbor, coworker, or volunteer. My spirit was not growing as long as I was focused so much on my physical appearance. I grew ashamed of myself for not having the energy or time to show any caring toward anyone but me, since I felt that was not the person that I truly was inside! I wanted to be the neighbor who baked cookies for you, the coworker you eat lunch with and laugh with, and the girlfriend who makes (and eats) a delicious lasagna. I focus now on being a better, healthier person. I want to glow with happiness and good health, to have people love me and remember me because I was helpful and sweet—not just because I was thin.

To those of you (sisters) out there struggling with your self-image and disorders: Think about the people in your life that you adore, such as a favorite grandmother. Do you love her because she is 90 pounds? I'm sure not. It's more likely that because she is loving, and giving, and takes care of others that you love her. It's her spirit that you love.

By feeding your spirit, you begin to heal and feel better about yourself. Try to forgive yourself for your mistakes. You can't starve away your faults, but you can learn to forgive yourself, no matter how awful you think you are. You are just a girl on a learning quest through this thing called life. Thinner isn't the answer—a thin you is just a smaller version of you; being thin doesn't erase what is hurting. Why don't you try to improve what's inside? I guarantee you'll feel better about the outside. I've been there.

My disorders were terribly isolating and depressing. I remember my college roommates avoiding me and whispering about my strange eating habits. I wasn't invited to go to eat with them; they knew I wouldn't eat. I missed so much fun and love by being so self-obsessed.

For me, life is a struggle to balance healthy habits with self-destructive ones. My role models are beautiful, fit, generous women who have love to give and eat a few M&Ms now and then :) I take my calcium and pray that I haven't irreparably hurt my bones. I exercise an hour a day, I drink a lot of water, I get enough sleep, I read, I see friends, I pamper myself with pedicures and massages, I volunteer to help others, and I remember that life isn't about being the thinnest. I have learned to treat myself with the love and respect that I am worthy of.

Take care of yourself, you are a beautiful star just waiting to shine!

Sheri

I began my battle with bulimia and compulsive exercise when I was a junior in high school. I had been, as my friend put it, "thick" all my life, although I was a successful athlete on my high school's cross-country team.

When I got a date to the prom, I swore I would lose weight. I dropped from a size 14 to a size 8 in four weeks by dieting and running extra miles every day. My date, my friends, and my family were all thrilled with the results, and their enthusiasm encouraged me. I continued to work out, twice a day now, and meticulously monitored what I ate. I read somewhere about the absolute minimum number of calories a body needed to survive, and that became my limit.

However, I didn't always keep it under that number, and when I didn't, I threw it back up. It wasn't always a binge either, although sometimes it was. I had an entire methodology to it. I knew what to drink (non-caloric, of course) to make throwing up easier and had a set mark when I had thrown up enough (I needed to dry heave and taste bile). I also began abusing "dieter's tea" that I found in Asian markets and drugstores, which was a diuretic. I would drink the tea at double strength, twice a day. Although the severe cramping and frequent trips to the bathroom were aggravating, I put up with it.

When I went to college, I was determined not to gain the freshman 15. I worked out for at least two hours every day and maintained my calorie limit. I spent my entire freshman year doing nothing but working out and going to class. I began training to be an aerobics instructor. In addition to those athletic classes, I took two aerobics classes a day and did extra training in the weight room. If I surpassed my calorie limit, I punished myself by doubling my workout to make up for it.

I also discovered the diet plans they sold at health food stores and followed them religiously. I had seen the movie Showgirls, and silly as it was, adopted the touted diet of brown rice and steamed vegetables as my own. I would often have such low blood sugar that I would shake.

Even then, I was not happy. I was living with a very attractive, willowy roommate who, even without dieting or exercising, was a size 0. It tortured me that I couldn't wear her clothes, even with my efforts. I would stand in front of the mirror and stretch until my ribs showed, but hated the fact that they were not more prominent.

When I came home from school that year, I was skinnier than I had ever been and received more compliments than I ever had. It egged me on, and my behaviors continued until I blacked out during an aerobics class and had to be hospitalized for injuries in that fall as well as for malnutrition. They also told me that the dieter's tea I had been abusing was having an effect on my liver.

Despite that scare, I still struggle with my concerns today, although I admit I have a problem. I still binge and purge occasionally, though not nearly as frequently as I used to. I am trying to build my self-esteem around something other than my looks.

Melissa from Virginia

I'm not sure my story is too helpful, but it has an interesting twist. In high school, I suffered from both bulimia and anorexia, though never at the same time. As a bulimic—not to give anyone ideas: I too got mine from an after-school special—in addition to plain old purging, I used syrup of Ipicac and lots and lots of laxatives. My senior year, I was hospitalized.

I've now just turned 30 and am happy to report that, despite the ongoing struggle, I am relatively eating-disorder free. I never would have imagined doing things like drinking a regular Coke or just not thinking about food obsessively. Though I did go on to replace my obsession with food with other destructive things, I've tried to turn the obsessive side of myself into something positive. Food no longer controls my life.

I became a writer—another obsessive thing—and when I was in graduate school, I was struck with a disease called ulcerative colitis. After many drugs and much hospitalization, I had to have my colon removed—a whole other story, to be sure. All this is to say: I believe it came from my eating disorder. Though there are no scientific data to prove it, I think all the bingeing, purging, and laxatives destroyed my colon. I watched the show last night and was struck by the older dancer with osteoporosis. She talked about not paying for the consequences until later, also part of the psychology of a bulimic. I feel a bit like this, that though I am no longer controlled by food, that disease still controls me in a very physical way. Will I be able to have kids? I didn't have my period for nearly two years.

I don't like to talk about my eating disorder because it was so long ago, and I think it pegs me as the kind of woman that I don't see myself as, someone concerned with the outside surface of things, though I know it's much more complex. And, surprisingly, I've never really written about the experience. In fact, I've purposefully not written about it. But when I think about it, now that I am recovered, having an eating disorder has helped make me the person I am, a person I quite like now. Surviving anything makes you a better person. I didn't leave the hospital embracing everyone who helped me, to be sure. I was angry when I got there and angry when I left. But something stuck. I remember going back to high school after the hospital and thinking how different I was than most everybody else.

I'm still pretty angry, though I try not to use it against myself or the people who love me. I guess I'm writing this now to try and understand the connection I still have to that girl who had the eating disorder, that girl who I don't see as myself. (Disassociation, yet another side effect of eating disorders...) In a way she isn't, but in a way she still haunts me. I want to say that there is hope to get over the disease—because there is. I never felt that way when in the throes of it. But still, I must admit, I worry that the ghost of my disorder will rise up and appear disguised as something else.

Jennifer from Brooklyn

I felt totally saddened and helpless watching the NOVA program. It was easy for me to be frustrated for the women and question their actions and see them as talented, intelligent, beautiful people. But, I can't do the same for myself. I am a 34-year-old male with compulsive bulimia. I've been struggling with eating disorders since as early as my teen years in high school, and I remember a "chubby" childhood of humiliation and failure, mostly to myself, to the point where I couldn't bear to look into a mirror, see my reflection in a window, or be photographed.

I feel as though I need some hypnotherapy to figure out what the hell happened! I have periods of my life that are a blur today, especially high school and college. I have two sisters who are also dealing with this disorder, my older sister being the extreme: 10 years of laxative abuse have destroyed her digestive system. I'm angry with both of them. I've always felt alone being a male with a predominantly female disorder, but never "ashamed."

I've been scared enough to finally get help. Anorexia put me in the hospital twice in my early 20s. I missed the first semester of my sophomore year in college, due to a weight loss of 30 lbs. and an infection that seized my legs. I was "lucky" because no one diagnosed me with the "female disorder." I fooled them all, but, after a long period of denial, I "promoted" myself to bulimia, the "visually friendly disorder." I could eat in front of others, get my nutrients to function during the day, but rid myself of the bulkiness.

Today, bulimia is responsible for my constant sore throats, a voice change, painful heartburn, a life of fooling and manipulating others, and a hernia, which was my proverbial "kick in the ass" to seek help. After getting a complete physical and interviewing counselors, I've been prescribed Prozac, and it has "curbed" my obsession a bit. But now i'm dealing with the sense of loss. I feel I've lost an old "friend" that I've known for 20 years.

K.J.K.

My name is Elizabeth. I am 31 years old, and I have recovered from an eating disorder.

In a nutshell, I began to diet, starve, and compulsively exercise at the age of eight or nine. I don't blame anyone for my eating disorder. But I can look at the possible and probable influences. Yes, I was a dancer. Yes, my first dance teacher called me "Beefy" during the class. Yes, there was constant pressure to be thin. But I don't believe that forced me to have an eating disorder. Now I am able to see, after years of therapy and work, that it was my fractured sense of self, my emptiness inside and my lack or self worth, along with internalized rage from loss during my childhood that made me susceptible to outside pressures.

I was intensely aware of being different as a little girl. My mom and older sister were thin and blonde. I was "sturdy" and brunette. I also did not have an emotional base and a constant and assured sense of worth with either of my parents. I thought: "I will then become perfect. Something needs serious fixing! Because there is something so disgusting and wrong with me." And I lived with these constant thoughts for much of my life.

I was unsuccessful in making myself vomit, and laxatives were too messy, so I just starved myself. I began taking appetite suppressants at nine and realized that "mind over matter" could aid my effort to exercise myself into perfection. Though I made it once without eating for one entire week, I would eventually need comforting. I turned to food. Constant grazing. And an entire cycle would continue. Starve, feelings I couldn't control or handle, graze, graze, graze, self-hate, eat more, exercise, depression, etc. etc. This went on for years, accompanied by feelings of suicide, rage, coldness and depression.

Eventually, as a young adult, despite my over-achievements, my success, and my "bright future," I crumbled. My alcoholism reared it's head, and I had to get into recovery for that. Even during early sobriety, I was unable to end the "binge/starvation" cycle. Therefore, the feelings continued. Such despair and self-hate, even more vivid now without the aid of mind-altering substances. I tried Over Eaters Anonymous, but didn't find what I needed there.

Finally, the feelings I was initially eating/starving over, the self-hate, pain, and emptiness, brought me to feelings of numbness and hopelessness. I had been in intense individual therapy with a therapist who was familiar with ED's. I decided to supplement this with treatment at The Renfrew Center in New York City. I stayed in group therapy there for over two years.

This work is what I believe brought my recovery on. It was a long process, though, and lots of work. A commitment. Today, I have a tiny voice in my head that occasionally talks to me about being "fat" or "disgusting," but this is rare. I am always conscious of what I eat, I try to exercise on a regular basis, but it is balanced. No more obsession! I got to see what that obsession was masking. And I worked it out with a person trained to help me. And I continue to work on the underlying stuff everyday. But, I feel so much freer. And I am okay.

If anyone reading this has an eating disorder, get help. Make a commitment. Hold onto that little bit inside you that wants to live, and let that fuel you to do that work. It is so worth it!

Elizabeth from New York City

My name is Michele. I am 26 years old and battled with an anorexia and bulimia from 1993 until March of 1999. At one point while receiving treatment in college, the therapist threatened to put me in the hospital if I didn't start gaining. I did everything I could to "trick" the scales and when that didn't work I stopped going to treatment all together. I couldn't be admitted. It would mean dropping out of college, major medical bills, and people finding out about my little secret. I didn't want anyone to know, especially my parents. Although very supportive I felt they wouldn't understand. I felt like if anyone found out they would say I was mentally ill, and people would think I was stupid.

My roommate in ~1995 is the one who said she thought I had a problem. From the time I moved in with her, within the first three to five months I had lost ~50 lbs. I refused to eat anything other than a no-fat yogurt every few days. And on top of not eating I would take five to ten laxatives everyday. Which would occasionally double when I would eat a real meal. I would eat sometimes just to show other people I was eating. Many people thought I just had a high metabolism and had been working out. Until I lost too much too fast. The laxatives, exercise, and starvation worked to help me lose weight. People started telling me I was too thin, I needed to gain weight, and asked me if I was "sick." I'm 5'9" and was only 160-170 to start with, which the doctors told me was normal. But I didn't want normal, I wanted perfect.

I was eventually able to briefly stop the starvation and purging in 1996. During that time I would have some similar feelings and would either mutilate myself because I felt like I should punish myself for not controlling my weight or other circumstances in my life. I would also destroy my belongings because I felt like I didn't deserve anything nice. Sometimes I would break glass or porcelain things and use the broken pieces to cut myself as punishment for breaking things. It was a really twisted cycle. I would cut into my arms, legs, stomach, etc. Not deep, just enough to cause pain and bleeding.

I wound up with an abusive husband and am now divorced. That marriage only supported my negative feelings about myself and my lack of control. I would occasionally become combative and destructive. I kept seeking therapy from many different sources, and when all the resources I could find were used up, I tried to heal on my own with just medication.

Money played a key roll in my lack of treatment. I couldn't afford to get help. I didn't want my family to have to pay for my problem. To me that wasn't fair to them. Of course, I know they would not have complained. After my divorce things got a little better for a couple of months, then I started having those feelings again. This time I wasn't able to control my eating like I did before. I would get so hungry and have really bad headaches and would have to eat to stop the headaches.

After a while a "friend" introduced me to crank and cocaine. She had no idea about my problem with eating disorder. When she asked me if I had ever tried it I said yes. That was a lie. Suddenly I had all these skinny images in my mind of people that other people called "crack heads" and people would see anorexically thin girls and say "that girl must be on crank" etc. I thought I don't have an addictive personality, I can get by with using enough to make me lose weight. And so I did. I used crank or cocaine almost everyday. Most of it was given to me free.

During the same time I was taking Zoloft, Prozac, and another one I can't think of. I began to lose weight, and everyone commented on it. I lost pretty fast and never got "too thin" because I would eat whatever I wanted, but eventually that started to show too. My skin, hair, nose, teeth, and everything about my body began to deteriorate fast. The flesh between my nostrils was so thin, my face and skin were an awful mess, all broke out and dry, nothing could fix it. My teeth and bones would literally ache, and my hair became so dry that I could put Crisco oil in it and it would still be brittle. My hair even began to fall out—mounds of it in the tub and on my hair brush. And still being thin was more important. What good is being thin if you have ugly hair, teeth, skin, etc.?

March 13th, 1999 was the last day! The last day I used crank or cocaine to lose weight, laxatives to purge, sleeping pills to rest, antipsychotic and antidepressant drugs to make me feel "normal," mutilating myself just to feel something, breaking things, etc. etc. etc. The night of March 14, 1999, it all stopped. I can't give you a magical potion, fantastic therapist, etc. But I can tell you how I was healed. What I struggled with for six years was immediately healed. I can't explain how. It still doesn't make sense, but He uses the foolish to confound the wise. The girl that introduced me to crank and supplied most of my freebies had gotten saved and practically forced me to come watch her get baptized at a church here in town. She got my roommate to support her side and together they got me to church. I went, although kicking and screaming. I surrendered my life to Jesus, and he began to cleanse my heart. He healed the extreme self-hate that no one else even knew existed (except when I told them).

Not once since that day have I been so overwhelmed that I return to the old ways of calming myself. I stopped the antidepressants because I literally forgot about them. A couple of months later when I ran across them in the drawer I realized I must not need them anymore. Occasionally I have similar thoughts, but they are not nearly as overwhelming as before, and when they come up I have some place to turn. I turn to the Word. I've accepted that God made me exactly as I am. He loves me. He thinks I'm beautiful, and He's never wrong and never lies. So if what I'm thinking doesn't agree with the way I know He thinks of me, then I must be mistaken about my self-image because He doesn't make mistakes.

The truth of it all is that His Word teaches that He made our bodies, and He will take care of them. We know that, when left to do what God designed them to do, our bodies will tell us when we are hungry and when we're not. Our bodies naturally crave what they need, not just what tastes good. Our systems generally function quite well themselves, barring some unnatural disease, illness, or injury. Years of psychiatry, counselors, dietitians, medications, etc. etc. etc. could not get deep enough into the root of the matter to do anything for me. I needed something more. With the help of my almighty Creator and a supportive church I have learned to enjoy life and love myself regardless of my size, "success," finances, etc.

I've now been drug free, anorexic/bulimic free, and all of the above for one and a half years. Because I realized that the "battle is the Lords" and "with God all things are possible!." Anyone wanting to try it must be sincere. They must commit their ways to God with all their heart, mind, body, and soul. Otherwise it will never work. Lukewarm doesn't get you the victory.

I noticed on the PBS program that some women of old would starve to death in the name of the Lord. The Bible says your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, therefore honor God with your body. I don't think a God known to heal would be honored that someone fasted to the point of sickness and death. On the contrary I believe He would be saddened that one of his children would destroy herself to appear spiritual. God knows the heart. It doesn't matter if people think we are "spiritual" as long as God know we love Him. It still comes down to trying to impress other people and be in control. Whether physical appearance, spiritual façade, sexual attraction, career motivation, or whatever we choose to blame.

One of the things that was most appealing to me about my own situation and that of all I've seen or heard of is that in the search for control I had lost control of everything I hold dear. And now that I've completely given up my search for control I've gained everything. Including myself. I've even forgiven those who have molested, raped, and abused me in my past. I'm free!

Michele

As if college is not scary enough with all of the pressures to succeed in classes, society adds in a need to be attractive. In a quest to understand why anyone would want to damage their bodies I have found interesting answers by searching deep into my soul and by trying to understand the feelings other young women are feeling. I lived with three other girls who struggled with this in our freshman years. I want to understand where it begins, and I yearn to discover where it ends.

I can remember being a little girl, perhaps as young as seven, and being conscious about my weight. I had skinny friends and jealousy consumed me. I was tall and a little larger than skinny, but by all means not fat. I can remember being seven, maybe eight, and taking road trips with one of my friends and her parents. We would stop and get a snack, like cheese and crackers and some candy. I could have easily eaten the entire package of candy and a lot of the crackers by myself, but I would wait to take a bite until she had. I was afraid if I ate more than she did she would think I was a pig and that was the reason I was bigger than her.

It escalated from there. In fourth grade I remember asking a guy friend if I was fat. He said no and put his hand on my waist to measure the space between my stomach and my back. I sucked in with all the strength that I had. He then held his hand up and said "see." I have held on to that day even now, as ridiculous as that is. But I thought I was fat then and he did not. I think I am fat now, but I hope maybe like then people will not think so.

In high school the painful feelings matured, but I was good at hiding them. I skipped breakfast, and I did not eat lunch at school. After school I played soccer until about 5:00 and then ate a substantial dinner when I got home. I learned about anorexia in health class, and people used to joke around that I had it, but I swore I did not and laughed it off. That one meal kept me hanging on to the thought that I did not have a disorder. I was small; looking back at pictures, I think that now, but I did not then. I was confused about what would make me lose weight. I ate pasta and only fat-free stuff. I later found out that carbohydrates and sugar make you store fat, but I thought I was doing the right thing then. My senior year I was not exercising, and the sugar caught up to me. I ate stupidly, like fat-free potato chips and a couple of pieces of candy for dinner.

I dated a guy who would touch my leg. At first I hated it, because I thought I was fat and I did not want him to feel that. I did not say anything for a while. Then he could tell by my expressions it made me sad. I finally told him not to touch my fat. He said with such truth, "you are not fat," and although I did not believe him, it made me feel better. After the first time he said that I would long for him to touch my leg so I could say not to, and he could say those precious words, "you are not fat." He did every time like it was scripted, and it momentarily made me feel better about myself.

Of course, we broke up and I went off to college. I was away from my family for the first time and how they ate. A month before I visited a nutritionist. She told me how to eat better, more balanced meals, less fat-free snacking. It was easy to follow, because I had always denied my self the foods I wanted. Ever since I was young I had been dieting, just incorrectly. This time I knew it would work, and it did. I felt healthy and I ran—a lot. In three months I went from a size 12 to a size 4. I was 5' 9" and I weighed devastatingly under 120 pounds. I was tired and weak and found it hard to concentrate.

I had pressure from every angle to eat more. "But I do eat" I would say every meal. I ate a pretty good bit of food, but it could have never balanced the amount I was burning. I justified it with all the nutritional facts I knew. I was eating perfectly, too perfectly, and running too much. I started to listen to everyone around me, and the craving took hold. I gave in to foods I had not eaten in five years, foods I did not even like, and I ate and ate and ate. In four days I swelled to almost 160 pounds. A little water weight, a lot true weight gain. I went to doctor after doctor for six months. I was tested for everything from hypothyroidism to PSO to a brain tumor. They found nothing.

After pain from realizing that perhaps I could have been the disease that plagued me and there was no medical cure, I searched for one much deeper. I am starting over at eighth grade, when I stopped drinking sodas, because I heard that could make you lose weight. I am starting over, and I am battling every day to figure out what I should eat. What I truly want to eat. Not extremely healthy and not extremely unhealthy, which is the other extreme I pendulumed to, but somewhere in between. I have seen psychologists, but if you have never experienced the disease called Low Self-esteem, you would not understand. I cried for months when I went to bed. I would go days without a shower, because I could not bare getting naked.

I am a sophomore in college now, and sometimes I still close my eyes when I walk by the mirror naked. Sometimes, I have strange thoughts about what people must be thinking and how they must not want to know me. I am over the weight I want to be, but my blood pressure is healthy, and I am healthy. I know that is much more important than being amazingly skinny. I don't know where it began, but I did not think of it on my own, someone taught me. Maybe magazines, maybe television, maybe society, I do not know. I am not sure there is an end, but every day helps. I cannot wait to go to heaven to meet my maker, where I can have a picnic, and maybe God can remind me what my favorite foods are, because I have forgotten. Even if I cannot find an end I want to come close, day by day.

Shannon from Texas

Hello, my name is April. I was born to a beautiful, tall mother who never had a problem being thin. I on the other hand was fat since the day I was born. Every reward was edible, every time I was disappointed with my weight I ate more. I was also suicidal as a teen because of my weight. It didn't help that no one else thought I was fat.

In junior high I would live off of Acutrim tablets that I'd buy with my snack money after school. They would give me awful headaches and make me feel lousy. So in high school I thought I came up with the perfect solution. I invented a new feeding schedule for myself, one meal every other day. In two months I went form a voluptuous 164 lbs. to 130 lbs. I noticed that I'd get dizzy whenever I had to tie my shoes, so I glued them laced and considered the problem solved. My pelvis would hurt at night when I slept on my stomach. Around this time I was approached to enter the Miss Teen California Pageant (suffice it to say, this didn't help me see the dark side of my new diet plan). I actually turned down the pageant because I didn't want to have to show my stretch marks from having been fat.

After six months (at 115), I began to notice a change in my hair, and eyes, and teeth. I no longer looked bright, and I couldn't concentrate in school. My 4.0 went to a 3.5, I was removed as the captain of the volleyball team (I threw up a lot during serves), and my cycles ceased. I knew I had to reclaim my life. Even if it meant being a bit chubby. I started to eat once a day for a month and then moved up to twice a day; to this day I can't eat more than twice without getting really sick. I set goals for myself based on muscle tone and inches lost, and I have stopped getting on scales completely.

Hopefully your show taught someone out there that abuse of self is the worst kind, because if we do not love ourselves we run the risk of being abused by others.

April

I developed anorexia when I was in junior high, 25 years ago. I was in the midst of the disease for the next five years. I finally began to recover after my last hospitalization (of seven total) that coincided with the last months of my senior year in high school. Leaving home to go to college seemed to keep me from relapsing again, though it was still a struggle to recover.

I agree with others who have written that these disorders are not really about food. They're about control and self-esteem. I think that the whole picture of anorexia as being a pursuit of a certain physical body image is inaccurate. To me, it was not a problem with my image in the mirror. Rather, when I looked inside myself, I found myself lacking and needed to exert control so that I could feel more comfortable internally. The loss of weight was really almost tangential.

Anorexia is a dreadful disease. I remember feeling as though I was at the bottom of an abyss. I did not know how to get out. I could not conceive of my future, for how could one continue in such a pleasureless existence?

I wish I could give those of you who are currently suffering the magic pill that would cure you. All I can say is that you need to get a good therapist, and that you need to decide that being well is better than being sick. Because, as horrible as being anorexic was, it seemed, for a time, to be safer and easier than being a normal person.

I still have issues with food. I'm still thin (but not unhealthily so). But I also have a family, I have a good job, and I get through my days without being consumed by thoughts of maintaining a rigid existence. It is possible to survive and flourish.

Margie

Growing up, I hated throwing up. Cut to 20 years later, and it seems like the only thing I live for. I'm a sophomore in college, and I've been bulimic now for a little under one year. I can't say for sure what triggered my ED. It wasn't something that just happened: If someone told me last year that I would be puking anywhere from three to five times a day in a year's time, I would have told them that they were crazy.

My parents just found out about my little secret last week. It's really difficult for them because they have been taught to believe that this is all just about food..."just put the food in your mouth and eat it!" Not that simple! They've even gone so far as to make me eat in front of them, and I can't leave the room until an hour later. But I still find ways around it. Bulimia can make you a very tricky person.

I'm not ready to give up my ED quite yet. If someone made me eat a meal and keep it down, I think I'd go crazy. I just hate the way food feels inside of me. And even though my body has taken a beating in this past year, losing weight is more important to me. It's like I have this number in my mind, and until the scale reads that number, I won't stop. I refuse to stop. Anyway...that's my spiel.

Anonymous

I'm 23 and have been suffering from bulimia for about nine years now. I know I should get help, but I don't want to because I'm so afraid of gaining weight. I remember when it started, I was reading a very popular fashion magazine, and there was an article on eating disorders. One of the articles was a story of a girl who suffered from bulimia. She explained what she ate and what she did to get rid of it. So, on January 1st 1992, my New Year's resolution was to 'get rid' of everything I ate. Within the first two months, I had lost 30 pounds. I have gone through different cycles, trying to eat properly and not purging, but it has always failed. So here I am today, almost nine years later, and still bulimic. But for me, no matter what I weigh, I know I'll never be satisfied. I'll always be fat.

Sandi from Canada

I am a 34-year-old recovering anorexic and bulimic. I have had food issues as long as I can remember. As a young child, it was a game to me to sneak food out of the kitchen and hide it (I usually didn't eat much of it). I can remember at age five swearing that I would never get fat and whenever anyone was looking I would hold my stomach in. I was very thin much of my childhood. Then puberty hit and I started to gain weight. This was devastating to me, and I responded by eating more and more. At 13, I weighed 165 pounds (at 5'9") and I hated myself. About that time, the movie "The Best Little Girl in The World" came out and I—in my twisted way of thinking—thought dieting would be the way to gain control in my life.

My mother, who has her own eating issues, and I made New Years resolutions that we would both lose weight that year. Her doctor put her on a 500 calorie/day diet, and I secretly followed it to the letter (though I would often eat 300 calories or less). I lost 45 pounds in about six months and still felt I needed to lose more. I maintained a weight of about 115, because any less than that and I knew that my eating disorder would become too obvious. My life was dedicated to ritual—made possible because my mother traveled a lot and didn't seem to notice. My period stopped, and I was thrilled because I hated it anyway. For two years I didn't have a period. Then I mentioned this fact to a friend. She was so worried about me that she called my mom. My mom took me to a doctor. Fortunately (I thought at the time) this doctor seemed to be pretty clueless about eating disorders. He gave me a pill that started my period again and I gained a couple of pounds to maintain it.

I went to a new school and found that, in a new environment, I couldn't maintain my way of life. Plus, my mother was no longer traveling so it was harder to hide. I started to gain weight again and was devastated. In addition, my mother met a man who had two kids, and they announced they were getting married (after only knowing each other for three months). I was angry, scared, and felt my life was spiraling out of control. I was having difficulty fitting in at my new school and just wanted to curl up and hide from life. Then I read about bulimia. What a perfect solution, I thought. I could eat all I wanted to and not gain weight. I threw up for the first time on my 16th birthday.

The next 14 years of my life were largely dedicated to eating and purging and hiding. I saw a therapist my senior year of high school—after someone pointed out to my mother that I had a severe problem. This woman—who I never really got along with—put me in the hospital for three months. However, it was not an eating-disorders program. I was locked in with other teenagers who had drug and anger problems. I, of course, was perfect, and they really didn't know how to deal with me. I just got even better at hiding my eating and purging. They let me go and I went on to graduate and go to college.

I have gone to college, I have a degree. I got excellent grades. I survived somehow. But really my life's focus was FOOD. Buying it, stealing it, eating it, hiding it, and getting rid of it. I have lived with people who never knew. My family never knew that I was still bulimic. I maintained a "normal" weight for the most part so it wasn't obvious. But I hated myself. I went through life in a fog—not really living. I chose relationships that were really bad for me and just curled up into a little ball even more.

At age 30, after the end of yet another devastating relationship with another really screwed-up person, I finally sought help. I was finally ready to quit and move on in life. I am now married to a very wonderful man and have two beautiful children. I still struggle with my self-image but have not binged or purged for nearly five years.

I am sorry that I spent so many years focused on bulimia. I have missed so much of life! Now I can only go on from here and hope that my story can help someone else. I can help my children love themselves far more than I did.

Anonymous

At the very early age of about 10 I learned to start to count my calories. I would record them in a little black-and-white memo book: apple 120 calories, bread 90 calories, milk 120 calories, etc. I liked my sweets, but I always made an effort to eat healthily as my mother did and taught me to do. However, little did I know I was on my way to a battle I least expected.

By the time I was 15, I was an extreme overeater. Like a lot of kids I was always made to clear my plate at the dinner table and finish what I was sitting down to eat. If parents only knew how bad that is for a child's future eating habits. If I didn't eat all my dinner, my stepfather would "handcuff" the fridge so I couldn't have a snack that night. He would walk right into the kitchen if I'd dare go in there for even a drink. I learned to sneak food very carefully, and I started to learn to be a real "pack rat."

Growing up I ate when I was bored, sad, mad, happy, excited, hungry, with friends, alone, with my mom, with family members. They never really thought I overate, but I knew I was overeating because I would continue to eat knowing I was full and shouldn't have anymore. I ate for "the taste of it." It made me feel better to eat my candy, cookies, breads. Food was definitely a security issue with me. I later learned I was a "carbohydrate addict" or a "lover of sweets" from the beginning (like most kids,) but it continued into my teen years.

I never really had a weight problem either. I was always 10 pounds or so higher than I was guessed to be. I stayed in the 135 to 145 weight range my sophomore and junior year of high school. I wasn't guessed as that though. I was guessed at 130 at the most. I was very athletic and muscular, which kept my metabolism good and my body fit. I felt comfortable in my clothes, and I always felt confident about my appearance. I would stay in about a size 10 or 11, and I am 5'7''. But by the middle of my junior year my size went to a 13 and my weight went to about 154. My mom and my stepdad would call me "buffy butt." I was already starting to get obsessed about my gaining weight, and I took one look at myself and said, "It's time to do something about yourself."

Growing up in a dysfunctional "family" (like a lot of kids these days), my stepfather was a violent, hateful alcoholic. He never had any of his own children, and he would get very jealous of me. He would argue with my mom about me a lot. I can remember many nights when I would have to run to the neighbors' house to use their phone to call the cops because he was beating up my mom. This all started when they began living together when I was three and up until I was about 14 or so. I would pray everyday we could just pack up and go, but it never happened. Today those thoughts come to mind every once in a while, but those times are over. I have to admit that's probably why I can be a very nervous adult at times, and that's why I was nervous at home constantly especially when my stepfather was there.

My mom was a great mom, but she was demanding, stubborn, and not very loving or supportive. I know she loved me, but the pressure to make her proud of me and to be a wonderful daughter was just the thing that kept me going when I didn't feel worthy enough to do things for myself. I always did extremely well in school and sports, I worked on weekends, I had boyfriends and friends. She taught me to be strong and not to show weakness (which she didn't herself), but I knew weakness was in me at times, and I couldn't give in to my weakness. Thus came the bulimia when I was 17: "Give in to the high of eating whatever you want, but get rid of it fast so you don't gain weight."

My real father died when I was 15 and thoughts of him would throw me into a depression sometimes. I missed him, and by the time I was 18 I was a "master of the art of bulimia." I didn't indulge myself everyday in my bulimia, but I was doing it about once to three times a week. The days I did it, it was once to five times a day. The closer graduation from high school came in the spring of 1994, the more anxiety I had about my life as a whole: What will I do? Who am I? What's wrong with me? I would ask myself these questions, and when I didn't have answers or I had only negative answers, I binged. Exercising and bingeing and purging kept me occupied from thinking about the real things I needed to think about: loneliness, depression, anger, sadness, confusion, etc.

In the meantime I went from a weight of 154 my junior year to 114 by the end of my senior year in 1994. I went from 23 percent body fat to 12 percent body fat. I lost my menstrual cycle for a year and a half. I was running four to six miles a day five to six days a week. I was a maniac. To people who didn't know me, I was the picture of fitness. But to my closest friends and family, I was the picture of someone who was in trouble. They were very worried, and I was always watched and lectured. I spoke very openly and often to teachers, counselors, and a few of my closest friends about my problem. I even read countless books and watched shows on bulimia and anorexia. I was a "victim of what I studied."

By the end of 1994 on my 19th birthday I was 110. I was sick looking. I knew it. But I didn't know how, and I don't think I really wanted to stop. I was attending college, doing well, but confused about my life. My stepfather would still fight with me about whatever, and he'd fight with my mom too. He knew what I was doing and so did she, and they fought about it with each other and with me. They had no understanding of what I was going through. I admit I was putting them through a lot too, but I had to leave.

I moved in with a friend when I was 19 and stayed with him for about a year. I was learning more about myself, but I was homesick, and now I had more freedom to binge and purge in my own privacy because my roommate was never home. He knew about my bulimia, he'd try to help. But he could only do so much. What people don't realize about bulimics is that they are stubborn, and they "keep going" when the "going gets tough." It's after the fact, they break down in hiding. After every purge there was so much relief, but I cried like a baby for hours. What the hell was I doing to myself? And why? Then, when I turned 20 and got my own apartment, I started to stop my bulimia.

I don't have bulimia anymore. My last binge-purge cycle was in January of 1996. I started to gain weight real fast that year because I couldn't control my eating habits quite yet, and I was exercising less. I played with different ways to manipulate my thoughts and keep myself from purging. I stopped waitressing and started to work in a bank, which kept food out of sight more. But the weight kept coming.

By the time I turned 21 in the end of 1996 I was back to 170. I started to hate myself again, I had just broken up with a guy I thought I really loved, and I was still gaining weight. In 1997 I went to Nutri System and did the Phen Fen for a while and got back down to 140. I had to stop for the drug complications (known in the media), and so my weight went up to 160 by the end of 1997. Everyone thought I was doing so well just because I got weight back on. I was dying inside. I just couldn't do the vomiting bit anymore. I just couldn't. It wasn't working, and I was just tired of it. The bulimic "tendencies" were still there. I just stopped vomiting.

In the spring of 1998 I started to get my grip. The "Zone" diet (you may have heard of it) was helpful. It taught me how to have the carbohydrates and sweets I would binge on but how to have them in smaller amounts with protein foods (milk, meats, nuts, etc.). This would balance my sugar and insulin levels and thus helped my body metabolize foods normally and balanced my eating and my weight. I met Bill my fiancée, and some day we'll be married, but for now we are working things out day by day. I do really love him, and he loves me too. He accepts me for everything I am (and I can be difficult), but he knows me in such a way that few people do accept my closest friends and family. I still get insecure once in a while but I have to work on that each day depending on what comes up.

Here's the part of my story that I think is most important, especially coming from someone who has recovered from a physically, emotionally, draining, and potentially deadly disease. The thing with bulimics is that they know exactly what they are doing. They practice their disease in a very strategic way, and their goal is to have as much of whatever food they want and not deal with the effects of weight gain. (Sound like a drinking problem to you?) They have a problem with patience, understanding of their own expectations of themselves, their limitations, and loving and valuing and respecting themselves. They lack realistic goals for themselves. They do have the ability to control their "addiction" disease. But they do have to want to stop.

I don't care what anyone says, if I didn't hate smoking, drinking, or drugs, I would have done one of them. Food problems stem from the same things we understand other substance-abuse problems to come from: depression, chemical imbalances, etc. Bulimics suffer from a "food addiction." The only thing with food is that you need it to live. You can stay away from drugs, alcohol, and tobacco, but you can't stop eating. In order to recover, one must have to be ready to deal with life's problems. The bingeing and purging is the symptom of something very wrong inside of that person. It's a very good "avoidance tactic."

The bulimic must look inside herself and just decide to stop and deal with the real issues even if that means gaining weight. That is not easy! When the bulimic stops purging, especially if she is still excessively overeating, she must get counseling from dietary professionals and psychological professionals. She should read about her disease and learn from others who deal with the same disease. I had a combination of these things, just like I had a combination of reasons of why I started. We can blame this disease on things like depression, chemical imbalance, traumatic past events in our lives, anxiety, self-hatred, etc. The bulimic must identify why they started in order to decide to stop, and in order to stop.

I still get my days when I eat more junk or sweets than I know I should. But I don't beat myself up, I move on. I work on balancing my diet throughout the week, and I am at a happy 140 lbs., exercising three days a week in the spring, summer, and fall and taking off from exercise in the winter. I do walk to and in work a lot though.

I know when I'm starting to have "enough is enough" in my life. Whenever I start to act funny around food, I look to my life and I say "okay, what's up that's 'eating you'?" Food is not an issue to me anymore. I have learned balance and self-acceptance. With that my confidence and love for myself came back. Things I thought I lost forever some time ago.

I had a very good friend who stood by me. She showed me love and understanding of myself a million times over. I don't know if I would have made it without her and her advice sometimes. She was just a friend when I needed one and even when I thought I didn't want a friend to help. She loved me, and she went further to reach out to me than anyone could ever imagine. I have a very good job she helped me get, I am going to finish college soon, and my relationship with myself and friends and family are healthy. I have learned to laugh with my stepfather and dismiss his problems as "not mine, not me." It's all in the past. My friend has played such a strong role in my recovery of not just my bulimia, but my life. Thanks Aud!

In short, it took something from deep within myself to come out and show me the way. I believe it was my strength (I owe to my mom), God, Audrey, and a will to get better and be happy. My life is not perfect now. I take one day at a time and work things out. At times I have to fight the negative thoughts I can get at times (like us all to a certain extent). At one time I wanted it to be perfect. If God wanted me to be perfect I wouldn't be here because no human is perfect and no one has a perfect life. One day I will be with Him, and I will thank Him personally and He will know why.....

Anonymous

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