Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS

NOVA Online (click here for NOVA home)
Dying to be Thin
Share Your Story
Set #5
Posted December 18, 2000
previous set | next set


I'm a textbook bulimic. I've binged, purged, and fasted for years. Throughout childhood I was always a bit overweight. Classmates would make fun of me, my mother would hide food from me so that I wouldn't eat it, my father would monitor my weight, and worst of all, I read those horrible fashion magazines! I've been on a perpetual diet, for what it's been worth, since I was eight or nine. (I'm 25 now, and I still haven't shaken this. I'll think about food all day today, and I know exactly what I'm having for lunch, if you catch my drift).

I've always alternated between trying to maintain an impossibly low caloric intake and bingeing on anything I could shove into my mouth. My weight has always fluctuated, but I've usually stayed on the chubby side of 'average' according to the charts, so once I became bulimic at 13, my extra body flab hid my secret well. No one expects that a chubby girl has an eating disorder—sad, but true.

Slowly, but surely, I've been getting better.

This is the point I really want to drive home: It's not easy; it's a road. It's not a matter of getting therapy and suddenly stopping. I've gone months, even a couple years once, where I never purged once, only to break down at some unforeseeable point and purge after bingeing myself into extreme discomfort. I'll go all year without purging, only to succumb to vomiting daily throughout the holidays. Or I'll go a month without any destructive behavior, to have a stressful day and slip up by gorging myself and throwing it up.

If you slip up, don't beat yourself up about it. Know that you're doing the best you can, and do what you can do. If you eat too much one day, and you throw it up, don't think, "Great. Now I've screwed up, I'm always going to be bulimic," because this attitude just makes you feel worse and more likely to continue this destructive pattern. Love yourself.

It's hard, believe me, I understand, especially when you see your self-worth only as a number on a scale or a figure in a mirror. But hey, we all make mistakes sometimes. If you binge one day, it doesn't mean you've completely ruined yourself. Sometimes it seems you have to work on reinventing yourself every minute. If you purge, it's done, over with ... in the following minutes affirm to yourself that you're not a horrible, disgusting person, just someone who made a mistake, and start over. It's a process—and a bumpy one at that.

I'm still working very hard to make myself healthy. I still binge and purge occasionally, but it's becoming less and less frequent—not like the years when I did it everyday, sometimes several times a day. I do see the light at the end of the tunnel, and though I do think this is going to be an issue I carry with me probably for the rest of my life, I acknowledge the progress I have made. I'm not 'cured'—I don't think people who ever have eating disorders ever are 'cured', much like alcoholics are always alcoholics for the rest of their lives. But I don't throw up every day, I've stopped making deprecating comments about myself, and I do the best I can to be as healthy as I can be. Good luck to everyone.

Stacey

When I was a senior in high school, I was one of the lead roles in the play "Chorus Line." As you know, the actors in this musical stand on stage in leotards and tights for the entire performance. Because of this, combined with the fact that one of my best friends was very anorexic, my sister was bulimic, and a friend of mine recently told me "I could lose maybe five lbs.," even though I was perfectly normal at the time, I decided to go on a diet, partially because I wanted to "get into the head" of my anorexic friend.

Well, not only did I get into her head, I became a full-fledged anorexic, completely obsessed with my weight. I had teachers and just about every friend I knew pull me aside to voice concern, nurses calling me out of classes to get checked up on after worried teachers talked to them about me, and more. The sick thing about anorexia is that when people say "You're way too thin, you look horrible...." that's about the best compliment you feel you can receive. And all this negativity people used to try to dissuade me only made my obsession stronger and gave me a sense of accomplishment.

After performing in "Chorus Line" and going out to the lobby to see my friends who'd come to see me, their horror at how gaunt I looked in my leotard was visible in their faces as they'd tell me things like "I was worried you'd collapse every time you moved" rather than compliment my performance.

I was caught up in the throes of this disease, so that I had no menstrual cycle for about a year and was very underweight, cold, tired, without any strength, depressed, and isolated. I remained obsessed with the disease for at least a few more years, although my health improved because I grew so tired with all the lies that were essential to sustaining this disease. I'm not a liar and couldn't sustain that lifestyle.

Finally, after much time and introspection, I've been able to stop being obsessed with the disease, at age 27. I've turned my focus to other, less vain, more more substantial issues, like my love for friends and family, my dreams, my career, my husband, and I've stopped worrying about food. I still try to eat very healthy, but honestly don't worry that much about it. (I never thought I'd get to this point). And guess what happened? I lost weight naturally! I'm a size 5 now and, although people still tell me I'm too thin, I know that I'm at my natural weight, and sustaining this size I never was before anorexia (I was a size 9 before I became anorexic). And to think that if I would have just not worried about it and tried so hard, I had this small figure here all along!

I'm here to attest that recovering from anorexia does not mean that you become 'fat', because I've been there, and I know that's the fear. In fact, when you eat right and are not obsessed with food, you don't undereat, but you don't overeat either. You eat according to your needs and then stop. It doesn't have to be your enemy! If you are willing to accept food for what it is—nourishment—I guarantee that your most fabulously sexy body, attitude, and energy will emerge and you will be much more beautiful than you ever could have imagined!

My advice to anorexics: Stop trying to force your body to do something that isn't natural—as long as you do that, you will always be holding yourself back. Your true beauty is there, waiting for you to be honest and true to yourself, to emerge. But I guarantee once you stop destroying the temple you have been given as a gift from God, you will see how beautiful it really is, and how blessed you truly are. Most importantly, you will be HAPPY.

Anonymous

My name is Melissa, and I would love for you to include my name. Thank you for running your story on eating disorders. People need to know about the realities and consequences of eating disorders. I am a 21-year-old female, 6'1" tall, and currently 175 lbs. I remember having bad thoughts about my body since I was only eight years old. I come from a family that is rail-thin, and for some reason, my genetics were a little different. Not bad, different. However, as a child, I believed them to be bad. It did not help that I matured much faster than most girls my own age. I was my full height by the time I was 12 years old. I was in a size 12 as a sixth grader. It was horrible. I felt so out of place and so ugly.

Things did not get much better when I got into junior high school. I remember nights crying myself to sleep because of the way I looked or perceived myself to look. I remember one instance specifically when I was riding the bus home from school. I was joking around with some of my friends, and I turned around to one of the guys on the bus and told him to cut his hair. He turned right back around and in all seriousness said "I will cut my hair when you finally lose some weight!" I have never been hurt more than I was at that moment.

Another jab was when I started playing volleyball for my junior-high team. I was pretty dang good, but my coach came to me one day and told me that I could be much better and jump much higher if I would lose a few pounds. I was so hurt and decided that I needed to do something. I went to my uncle, who helped design a diet program for me. Remember I was only 14 at the time. I did not go to him with the intention of developing an eating disorder, but the diet that he put me on gave me the control I needed. I took eating into my control.

At first I would eat three meals, just very small. Then it got worse. I would eat a small instant breakfast in the morning, an apple at lunch, and pick at my food at dinner to appease my family. I would hardly eat anything. I was maybe consuming 400 calories, if that, a day. I dropped 30 lbs. in one month. I got down to 135 lbs., which is about 20-25 lbs. under what my body weight should be. That was at my lowest point.

Then my parents and friends started to question me about my weight. To appease them I started eating, but because I had deprived myself for so long I could not handle the food. I started throwing up everything I ate. It got worse and worse. I was throwing up 10+ times a day. I could no longer control it. I got depressed too! It was a living Hell. I felt like I had no control over any aspect of my life. The littlest things were huge, and any problem made the disorder worse.

It got to the worst point my freshman year in college. The stress of moving and a new environment messed me up even more. I started seeing a lot of the side effects from everything. My hair started breaking off in clumps, my period stopped for awhile, my skin was pale, and I looked really gaunt. It was bad. I was out of control. I wanted to stop, but I couldn't. The depression that came along with it got so bad that I even threatened to kill myself several times. I figured that I was in a sense already killing myself slowly with the disorder; why not speed up the process and not have to deal with anything anymore?

My parents started to see the depression ruling my life. They had no idea about the eating disorders though. Anyway, they encouraged me to take Zoloft, an anti-depressant. Reluctantly I took the medication. That was when I started to break the cycle. It took the edge off of everything, and I began to feel more in control of my emotions than I had in six years. It was the first step on a long road.

It took me year to quit the bulimia all together, and in the process I gained back all of my weight and then some. That was really hard to keep trying to get over the bulimia and watching myself gain weight again. I don't know how I did it, but I reached down inside myself and found something that helped me to overcome. It was a miracle. I got over the bulimia but ended up at 208 lbs. I may have overcome the active part of the bulimia, but the emotional baggage that had been built up it during the seven years was still there.

I finally told my parents everything, and they got me to a trainer and nutritionist. I have relearned everything about exercising, eating, and mental health. In the past six months I have finally overcome emotional obstacles that I never thought possible. I have now settled at a great weight for my height and body frame. For the first time in my whole life I look in the mirror in the morning and really like what I see. It is not a stick-thin figure, it is not the model figure, but it is my figure, not perfect, but beautiful and great just the way it is.

That is my story in a nutshell. I would love for it to be shared. Perhaps it can help someone else to find her inner strength and overcome a seemingly impossible hurdle in her life.

Melissa

Hi! I am the mother of a child who died from bulimia on 7/5/99. Her name was Kristen, and she was 14 1/2 years old. She battled for two and a half years. She started out being anorexic and switched to bulimic. We have started a foundation called the Kristen Watt Foundation for Eating Disorder Awareness. The last year of her life she had been in Stanford's Eating Disorder Program two different times totaling 10 weeks. She was in a doctor's office every week, and this still happened. It was the last thing we ever expected.

Kristen was a normal-weight bulimic weighing about 120 lbs., and she was approximately 5'3". If you want any more information on our Foundation or her story you can contact me.

Sincerely,

Stephanie Watt
SWatt1955@aol.com

In another moment down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was going to get out again . . .There were doors all round the hall, but they were all locked, and when Alice had been all the way down one side and up the other, trying every door, she walked sadly down the middle, wondering how she was ever to get out again.

—Lewis Carroll
Down The Rabbit Hole
By Stephanie


"You've ruined everything. You gave in. You're weak," I whispered fiercely. The eyes in the mirror filled with tears. I looked away from her, allowing her the space to cry. My eyes fell on the red door to the handicapped stall of the stark bathroom. I walked slowly toward it, wiping my eyes on my sleeve. I took a fateful step into that stall, and tumbled down the rabbit hole.

I shut the door and slid the lock into place, oblivious to the metamorphosis that had just occurred. I looked cautiously at the white porcelain toilet with its silver handle and pushed the sleeves of my brown-and-cream-striped shirt up to my elbows. Lifting the seat, I took a deep breath. I opened my mouth as wide as I could and slid my right index finger down my throat.

I gagged and choked, watching the yet undigested pizza and breadsticks splash into the water. Listening to the echo of my retching, I gasped for breath. The mixture of bile and pizza sauce stung my tongue, and my eyes began to water. The acrid smell of vomit pervaded my nostrils, but I pushed my finger back down my throat as if in a dream.

The door creaked. I froze, terrified that I would be caught. Spinning around so my feet faced the right way, I carefully suspended my right hand above the toilet in order to allow the saliva and food particles to drip into the disgusting pool instead of on the floor. My heart pounded as I listened to the intruder enter the stall next to mine. I listened, petrified, as she flushed the toilet and unlocked the door. I heard the water in the sink begin to run, the hand dryer start, and finally the creak of the door signaling her exit. I turned around and thrust my finger back into my epiglottis. My fingernails scratched my throat as I forced the gagging, and the stomach acid was bitter in the back of my mouth. I watched as the last of my gluttonous dinner joined the revolting mixture already present.

When I could no longer expel anything, I decided I'd done all I could do. I looked at the undigested food that filled the bowl and was struck by an intense feeling of pleasure. Wiping the grotesque remains of mucus and saliva off my right hand and forearm, I felt clean. Empty. I had regained control.

I pushed the shiny silver handle, lowered the seat, and left the stall. Once again, I examined my face in the mirror. Eyes watering and puffy, nose running, a twisted smile on my face . . . I scrubbed my reeking hands with soap, then used them to cup water and rinse out my mouth. I held my hands briefly beneath the dryer, acutely aware that I had been in the bathroom longer than a normal trip.

That Friday night, I crossed a line. My New Year's Resolution ceased to be a diet and became a disease. It progressed rapidly. I cut my caloric intake to a maximum of 1,000 calories a day and vomited more with each passing week. Soon, I was vomiting daily, usually after dinner. I felt weak and was plagued by headaches. I didn't care. I was losing weight.

I categorized food into "safe" and "unsafe" groups. Some of the groupings were logical (candy is bad, fruit is okay), but others were completely arbitrary. Great Harvest Bread fell into the safe bracket, despite the fact that it is fairly fattening. I stopped eating meat even though some types of lean meat are healthier than processed carbohydrates. (Meat was also harder for me to throw up than foods like pasta.) I refused to drink milk, juice, or regular soda because I was convinced that liquids with calories were a waste. I lived on bread, cereal (never in bowls, just by the handful or perhaps in a plastic baggie), fat-free frozen yogurt, and fruit. Everything else wound up in the toilet.

Needless to say, the human body was not designed to function on under 800 calories a day derived from only two food groups. I was constantly tired but could not sleep at night. My hair pulled away from my scalp as I washed it in the morning. I bruised easily and felt cold all the time. Headaches tormented me daily. Standing up too quickly left me dizzy, and my pulse plodded along stubbornly.

Worse than the physical pain, however, was the emotional and mental anguish. I could not concentrate since I thought incessantly of food. During class, instead of listening to lectures or taking notes, I thought about what I had eaten that day, when I would eat again, what I would eat, and whether I would have the opportunity to throw up. I baked nightly and brought the treats to school the next day, distributing them among my friends. I watched others eat, vicariously savoring each bite. I read cookbooks and hoarded recipes.

I never looked in the mirror without thinking, "Fat." I saw so much lard on my 5'2" frame that I was genuinely shocked when people said I was getting too thin. At the beginning of the disease, I weighed myself each morning, then each morning and each night, then several times in between, until I literally weighed myself a half dozen to a dozen times a day. I thought of nothing but how I needed to be thinner. Eating unsafe foods sent me flying to the nearest bathroom, slamming the door and shoving all the fingers of my right hand down my scratched and aching throat.

By the time I had lost 20 pounds (ten over my original resolution), it was fairly obvious that something was wrong. My friends had long before expressed irritation at my constant nutrition monologues and excuses as to why I would not eat lunch. They began to confront me, threatening to go to the school counselors or my parents. I told them to stay out of it, that I was fine, that I was in control. Finally, someone tattled. A friend called my mother and informed her of my behavior. My mother caught me vomiting two days later, and I was sent into therapy.

It took nine months of counseling before I started to eat semi-normally again, though I did not stop vomiting completely. I gained ten pounds along with the knowledge that I had been committing a slow suicide by starving my body in order to repent for what I considered an imperfect soul. I learned the difference between what I saw in the mirror and what was actually there.

Though I have made significant advances, I still cannot eat an ice cream sundae, or participate in the junk food feasts that occur so often on weekends. I am still tortured by the voice in my head that tells me, "You're weak. You don't deserve that. You're useless, and you're alone in the world." It takes a great deal of strength for me to quiet her, to tell her that I will not careen headfirst down the rabbit hole again.

Stephanie from Wisconsin

Hello, I'm glad to have this chance to thank you so very much for running this program. It came just when I needed it to let me know I'm OK, and that what I'm dealing with is very difficult to heal and that it can't be overcome in just a few months.

I am a 58-year-old woman who has gone back and forth between episodes of anorexia and overeating since my early teens. Early this year I committed to dealing with any and all issues that came up surrounding food and emotions once and for all. I got out a small photograph of myself when I was about two years old, looked at it closely and a long time until I felt emotionally connected, then promised that little girl I wasn't going to hurt her anymore by stuffing her with food in order to keep her quiet so I wouldn't have to face the painful feelings. I decided that when anything came up that made me want to eat and stuff it down, I would instead stay with the feeling—anxiety, stress, anger, pain, sadness—and work through it, whether that meant crying, getting the anger out physically, forgiving myself, reminding myself that eating would not make it any better and only add to my distress, adding self-loathing for stuffing myself to the distress I was feeling.

I knew it would get real difficult at times, and it has, and I've sobbed, yelled, hit pillows, and later curled up on the bed exhausted, trying to nurture the little child inside who has hurt so much all these years. At the times when I wanted so badly to binge, I would look at that picture, pretend that she was a live child in front of me, and remind myself that I promised never to hurt that innocent child again with food.

What has surprised me about this process I'm undergoing is that the old anorexic beliefs and thoughts have surfaced in a big way, and they have been just as difficult to deal with as the overeating issues. They were just put away for awhile but never dealt with until now that I've gotten thinner and thinner, and find myself going more and more into anorexic state of mind—needing to count calories more and more, exercising strenuously everyday, feeling absolutely fearful of eating too much and gaining back the weight. The fear is very real—I literally, physically tremble when I have to force myself to eat enough because I am starving.

Finding a balance between eating enough and not too much has been very stressful itself and something I think about most of the day. I want to learn what it means to eat normal—I have no idea what that means for me. I can so easily go one way or the other; I've done so all my adult years. This past weekend I "lost it" and binged on rice ice cream and sweet things. The guilt and absolute panic I felt the rest of the evening and the next day were tremendous—it was like being back in my teen years in my first episode of anorexia.

Each day now I'm wondering when I wake up, how will it be with the food today? Will I be able to control it in a healthy way, not starving to 'make up' for the weekend and not going all out on a continuous binge, because, well, the inner voice says, You already blew it this weekend anyway. It's Thursday, and so far I'm OK, which in itself is saying a lot and I'm grateful for it, but I'm living with more anxiety and worry than I had before the weekend, because I'm now aware of how quickly I can lose control. (I should have added earlier that I've never been a purger so my weight has yo-yo-ed tremendously over the years.)

So, just after the most difficult weekend of this commitment I made to myself nine months ago, when I was now feeling very alone and and knocked down by the difficulty of all this—having to deal with two opposing sides within me at the same time—I saw your show and feel so validated for how hard this struggle is. I cried with relief that I don't have to do this perfectly and that others know what it's like. I try to remember that I can be kind and gentle with myself, that I can't undo years of beliefs and fears surrounding food and eating in just a few months.

I regret I've lived with this 'condition' all these years and didn't get healing much sooner like the young women in the story. I would encourage any dealing with eating disorders to get help as soon as possible so they can live their lives with more enjoyment. I'm living proof, as the saying goes, that the beliefs and feelings surrounding our food issues don't go away by themselves. They can be triggered at any time, at any age, until they're faced and don't hold power over us anymore.

Thank you very much for your work and the opportunity to tell my story.

Patricia from Washington

I have been anorexic for nine years, since I was 15. I was frequently depressed as a child and had a hard time facing the challenges of growing up. In school I was sexually abused and thus began my eating disorder. It has been a different kind of Hell in all honesty. I learned the fine art of self-deprivation and self-loathing. I just never learned to love myself, especially after my parents divorce and then years later the abuse.

There are times I don't feel like I deserve to eat. Many times I'll go through the whole day without food, go home, make my fiance dinner and just watch him eat it as he sits alone at the table. He pleads with me to eat a little something with him, and I feel like allowing myself a small portion of the food I cooked. Then I see a commercial with a beautiful blonde woman in a bikini or I notice the new Victoria's Secret catalog came in the mail, and I immediately change my mind about allowing myself anything.

On the days I do manage to eat dinner only, I calmly clear the table and make my fiance comfortable on the couch. I walk down the hall to the bathroom and throw it all up. Then I take a handful of laxatives to get rid of what I might have missed from vomiting. I have suffered from blackouts, fainting, crippling stomach pains, internal bleeding, anemia, severe mysterious bruising, fatigue so great I cannot climb stairs...

I feel so bad for all the people who love me and watch me slowly killing myself. I have everything to look forward to: my wedding, starting a family, my artwork.... I decided to take the gift of life and try to imagine I deserve it. I have a wonderful family, wonderful friends, a comfortable life, and I want to be around to enjoy it. So I have created a five-part recovery plan for myself, and I'm really striving towards a better and less painful existence. I literally would not have survived this long without my family. I owe my life and happiness to them, but I take full credit for the courage this takes to be in recovery.

Anonymous from Connecticut

The dragon. That is what I called my anorexia. The name was quite fitting. Much like a mythological creature created by the Greeks, the beast would take over me and make empty promises to me. Thinness would equal happiness and control, it would say. And even though I became more and more miserable and depressed as I got thinner, I felt an incredible allegiance to this beast. Every day I did 100 or more things in its honor. Lying to anyone and everyone became commonplace because nothing could get in the way of my addiction. I almost made the ultimate sacrifice for that beast—I almost surrendered my life to it. I did give up three years of my life, which is quite a shame, but at least I can reflect on the experience now and learn from it (and hopefully help others).

It has been six years now since my last hospitalization. It took four inpatient stays and an awful lot of individual and family therapy to get where I am today. I consider myself a rare success among anorectics because today I denounce the beast that was once my anorexia and do things purposely in the name of my health. I credit my improvement to inner strength and incredible support from family and friends. Even at my lowest points, my supporters did not give up hope that one day I would get better. One thing they did do though, was to give me an ultimatum. I could live or die. If I wanted to support the beast and move in the direction of death, they could not stop me. In fact, I made it clear that no one was to get in my way.

When I finally decided that despite my intense fear of being a normal weight, it couldn't be any worse than my life at that point, I surrendered the beast and started to do things that were conducive to life. And it was amazing how when you show others you want to live, they want to be part of it. Friends started to call again, and family members were happy to see me. Oh yeah, and I also got my smile and laugh back. I learned early on at the age of 14 that without my smile and laugh, life was pretty bleak. The dragon took all of my energy and commitment, leaving no time for happiness of any kind. Fortunately I came to this conclusion before I paid the ultimate price.

Of course, I still consider myself a recovered anorexic because I deal with the addiction everyday. Some days it is harder than on others to choose health over the disease. My weight has fluctuated considerably since I have recovered, but I am finally comfortable with my body. I have learned that you are only fooling yourself when you "flirt" with this disease. The beast is not one to be reckoned with, because you simply won't win.

To anyone out there struggling with this disease, I offer the following advice: Think about how many times a day you do something for the dragon. Then ask yourself what is has given you. I guarantee you'll feel cheated. Use this anger to really be the one in charge. I know it isn't this simple day-to-day, but ultimately you will need to choose between life and death. Then it becomes simple.

Laura

Hi, my name is Sandy, and I am survivor of bulimia. I am only 24 and my battle began when I was 16. I was horribly fat and going into college. I felt so ashamed by my appearance, so I started to purge. It went on and off for a couple of years, and after I had my daughter I was up to 200 pounds. Then I decided to lose the weight and I did. But the consequences were dire. I always hurt in my stomach and my relationship with my wonderful husband suffered because I was always angry and exhausted from always throwing up. I stayed at home with my child, which made it so much easier.

All the while my husband knew what was going on but he was helpless in trying to make me stop. I went down to the weight I wanted, and I was content in letting others see my success, but inside I felt as empty and scared and anxious. I wanted to stop but I was afraid to get fat again. Last year we relocated, and I realized that I was being given a new lease on life and that now I had to try to give up this terrible habit. At first it was very difficult to let the food just stay where it was. A few months without vomiting, and I was enjoying eating again. I gained weight but somehow I wasn't afraid anymore.

Today I'm not thin. In fact I'm a size 16 and very happy. And I say this without any hypocrisy. Maybe others see me as a diet failure. But I'll always see myself as an eating disorder survivor. And to me and to the others who have lost their loved ones to this disease, that is more important than any standard, than any dress size, and perhaps as important as life itself. My life at least.

Sandy

Today I am 25 years old, healthy, and a "recovered anorexic." I currently work in California and conduct research and advocacy efforts for two large (national and international) mental-health advocacy organizations. I was diagnosed with anorexia shortly after my 19th birthday after I collapsed during an aerobics class at the university I was attending. Today, the pain and suffering of those years seem unimaginable because they seem unreal. That girl wanted to die and almost did when her weight dropped to 86 pounds when she was five feet, ten inches tall.

When I was first treated doctors believed that the root of the problem was my parents' divorce (when I was 13) and being date-raped at the age of 16. The solution was intensive therapy and treatment for debilitating panic attacks and severe depression. While in outpatient treatment I was able to admit that I was anorexic, but I didn't want to fix it—I just wanted to die.

Then I was sent to a treatment facility in Arizona just for women with eating disorders to undergo some serious/intensive treatment. I went because I couldn't stand to see the pain I had caused my mother and sisters—I wanted to live for them, not of myself. Once I arrived the atmosphere was very uncomfortable, not due to the therapists or doctors but to the other girls. Everyone was competitive in a really sick way—asking about my "story" and how much I weighed and how low was my lowest weight. I thought these girls were awful; they were the ones with anorexia. I was scared I would end up as negative as them. So I opted to hang out with the girls with other eating disorders such as bulimia and compulsive over-eating because I was ashamed of having an eating disorder, not proud of it. Due to this, I didn't fit in with the anorexic girls.

I was a novice, but I had always been body-conscious. As a young girl I was tall and awkward, like a beanpole. I didn't become weight- conscious until my father left my mother and married a thin, active woman when I was 14. Unfortunately I somehow distorted this event to mean that men only love women because of their bodies, therefore if you have a fabulous body you will be loved and men will not leave you, like my father left my mother and his three teenage daughters. I didn't restrict my eating or frantically start counting calories; I just started to hate my body and obsess about it.

The hate for my body deepened and deepened throughout high school. Whenever boys would ask me out I would say no, even if I liked them, because I was afraid that they would leave me eventually. Why? Because my body was disgusting. This was particularly true after I was raped by a boy from another high school in a friend's backyard during a party she was throwing while her parents were out of town. The details are too painful and pointless to re-hash; it is just important for parents and therapists to realize that sexual assault is very prevalent, and young girls don't even know they are being assaulted. Like so many others I thought it was my fault for many years. This pain fueled the seeds of an eating disorder.

As a novice I am referring to the fact that my anorexia came rather suddenly, basically I went to college and stopped eating. My senior year in high school I became a vegetarian, not to save animals but to lose weight. I had tried every diet in the book since the rape, thinking that being thin would make me happy. Diets would last about a week and make me miserable. Then I would stop, all the time hating myself more because I couldn't diet 'properly'. When I went to college I was determined that I would stick to the vegetarian thing and lose weight. Well that determination and drive turned into my drug of choice, and after my freshman year when others came home with a few extra pounds I had lost 25.

Yes, I got a lot of attention, but inside the obsession was starting to take over my life. Home for the summer I started to eat next to nothing, exercise rigorously every day, and isolate myself from friends. Today it seems like the rapid weight loss happened overnight, but back then every day was a living hell. Not eating was the high that got me through the day. I was suicidal, and I thought and hoped that the agony would disappear, if I just remained focused on school.

I was a perfectionist but during the fall of my sophomore year I could no longer keep the all A grades up. I hid from my roommates at the library or other places to study so that they could not confront me about my strange behavior. I rarely slept or ate, and my body was starting to go. I didn't want to lose weight, but I could not eat no matter how hard I tried to convince myself. When I tried, my heart would race, and I would break out in a sweat. I didn't know I was having a panic attack; I was afraid I was having a heart attack. None of my clothes fit, so I would wear layer after layer to "bulk up" and disguise my fragile frame. By Thanksgiving the suicidal thoughts would not leave me alone. I didn't sleep and began to feel like I was really dying—vision impairment and difficulty breathing and moving. I was hollow inside and ready to crumble.

That is when I started to get treatment. The entire emphasis on the body I paid little attention to. I only wanted to die, and I knew I couldn't tell that to my therapist because then my plan would be botched. So the group therapy with other anorexics was meaningless. It was like the argument about juvenile detention centers: Old pros teach the new kid on the block all the tricks of the trade. So with my first round of treatment I learned about everything to do in order to lose more weight: diuretics, appetite suppressants, eating ice, etc. But by that point I only wanted to die so I had no desire to eat at all. I rarely got out of bed.

I'm sorry I have gotten so lengthy. But I want to make some clear points for people to see. First, I now know after years of painful cycling that I am bipolar. I have been on medication since I was diagnosed at age 22, and I was able to put my life back together—finish my B.A., have a career, etc. I am upset about my past because my refusal to eat—the development of anorexia—was a manifestation of the bipolar disorder as well as personal experiences, and it was never properly diagnosed through three years of treatment by both psychiatrists and psychologists. I hope that in the future this issue can be examined closely, that is, the relationship between eating disorders and mood disorders.

Secondly, in the work I do, it is important that eating disorders be de-stigmatized. People who have eating disorders do not deserve them. For me the experience was an act of self-hate, not of self-love! I think it is terrible that as a person with bipolar disorder I am more ashamed and embarrassed to admit that I was once anorexic than I am to admit that I am bipolar. Where is the sympathy for those with eating disorders that destroy any quality of life for the person encaged in it? On that note, we must reduce stigma, and we must provide proper treatment.

I note every day how lucky I am. That I am alive, that my moods are controlled by medications that allow me to still feel like myself, and that I am no longer a prisoner of my body. Through the love of my family and the efforts of excellent doctors, I have learned to love my whole being. Reducing stigma and providing proper and early treatment will not only save lives but assist teens in breaking free from the virtual hell of an eating disorder. Nobody deserves that torturous pain.

Thank you for your efforts.

Sincerely,

Stephanie from California

previous set | next set


Ask the Experts | Watch the Program | Share Your Story
Help/Resources | Minority Women: The Untold Story | One Man's Battle
Body Needs | Transcript | Site Map | Dying to be Thin Home

Editor's Picks | Previous Sites | Join Us/E-mail | TV/Web Schedule
About NOVA | Teachers | Site Map | Shop | Jobs | Search | To print
PBS Online | NOVA Online | WGBH

© | Updated December 2000

Support provided by

For new content
visit the redesigned
NOVA site

/wgbh/nova/thin/textindex.html /wgbh/nova/thin/