NOVA Online (click here for NOVA home)
Dying to be Thin
Share Your Story
Set #2
Posted December 12, 2000
previous set | next set

Hello, my name is Julie. I come from a loving, supportive, and open family. Yet I struggle with anorexia. My battle began with a healthy drive for success—in school, sports, and shape. It gradually led to an obsession that controls me 24 hours a day. I have been "in recovery" for the past year but have made little progress. I became a compulsive exerciser, going to the gym for hours everyday, until the manager contacted my parents and warned them of the health risks involved. I also spent this past summer in the hospital, but I remained depressed and obsessed. I can't seem to see my life without anorexia. Nevertheless, I have not given up hope, and continue to see my doctor, nutritionist, and psychologist on a weekly basis. I hope one day I will be able to break free.

Julie from British Columbia

There are times I feel like I am drowning—in my fear, sorrow, depression—and I find it hard to climb out and get on with life. Anorexia, bulimia, coe—I've had it all and it's no fun. I started with bulimia, then went anorexic to cure bulimia, then went coe to cure anorexia, then bulimic to get rid of the guilt of coe, and now, slowly but surely, I will be back to anorexic to get thinner.

Thin to me = success, a picture of perfection, a package that needs to be complete, beautiful, perfect to present to the outside world. The world to me is black or white, never in moderation. I don't want to be just ordinary, I want to be extraordinary. I just find it hard to cope and just be me. I am now dying for the day when I can wake up in the morning and sing my thanks for being alive—being able to laugh, and sing, and dance, and bring some joy into the lives of others.

I know that an E.D. is so much more than food, weight, body size. It is so much to do with how we manipulate it to deal with our lives. Hopefully I will still be alive to see the day I can look back and just laugh at how silly it is to be living life like this.


I tried to kill myself, through a slow and painful process called starvation. The fact is, that at the time, I did not consider it suicide, it was just something that I did, or for that matter, didn't do. It wasn't until I came to my senses after months of therapy and nutritional replenishment that I realized the absurdity of my actions. The hospital came to be a place that seemed comforting and safe, but ultimately I knew I would have to leave. It was not actually real. The program taught me how to live, but unless I went out and tried the lessons I had learned, I would never accomplish anything. Life is for living, not for dying.

However, one thing about anorexics is that they tend to speak out of both sides of their mouth and give great advice that they are reluctant to take themselves. I would be the first one to tell others what is nutritious and healthy but never assume that it would apply to me as well. You see, starvation is a tricky state. It gives you a sense of control and ecstasy, while in reality it is basically killing you in a very slow and painful manner. You feel as if you can do anything, yet you are too weak to take care of yourself.

Imagine waking up every morning at six a.m. in a hospital bed with a blood-pressure noose around your arm. Then being instructed to go to the bathroom, relieve yourself of all fluids, and put on a little gown that allows the minimal amount of heat that your body now produces to be sucked away by the chill of the air conditioning. The scale is cold on your feet as you stand away from it so as not to see the number, while the nurse weighs your "progress" for the day—the only real evidence that you still do exist. This ritual is then followed by a meal, at which you eat food off of a tray while a nurse sits and stares at you. Only to be then followed to the bathroom so another nurse can watch you have a bowel movement, which they then examine to see if you are functioning properly. The rest of the day is spent in a similar interplay of meals, sleep, medical examinations, and sitting around doing things that you have not done since childhood—coloring, playing board games, drawing pictures, watching cartoons.

Then imagine waking up every morning to the sound of birds chirping or next to the one person in this world that you love more than life itself. Going into the kitchen to have some breakfast, before heading off to work or to some other worthwhile activity. Living a life that benefits society and benefits yourself. Something you can be truly proud of and take joy in every waking hour.

The anorexic will look at these two choices and assume the second one is impossible to ever attain and see some sort of narcissistic and masochistic glamour in the first scenario. A starving artist they may think, or a helpless child who gets love from everyone around them—blah, blah, blah. It is all crap. Life inside a mental ward should not be a choice. An anorexic has the tools to live, she just needs to use them in a constructive manner and see herself for who she is as a person. Starvation is a strong force, a true skill, and people who can have that much power over themelves are destined to have power over other aspects of their lives as long as they seek help and choose to live.

I must admit that I am a hypocrite. It is easy to preach like I have all the answers, yet each day I still strive to emotionally, psychologically, and physically improve my life. But it is no longer a downhill struggle. I am on the right path and can look back on the last few years with a healthier perspective. I have been to my own hell and know deep down that I do not want to ever go back, but the seduction of starvation is still strong. It has a strength that cannot be explained, a voice inside that may never go away. And the hardest thing to realize is that whatever my answer is, I am the only one who knows.

I hope the above piece helps someone understand the awful power of anorexia. I have struggled for six years now, but for the first time I am finally healthy, happy, and extremely strong. It is possible to recover. It may take a long time, but it is worth the wait. If anyone is interested in more of my story, I have a Web site about my eating disorder:

Take care of yourself.

Louise from Connecticut

I am 50 now but used to be a severe anorexic. It lasted for approximately two years, though it really came out in my early 30's (I'd had "food problems" for years, thus was ripe for the full-blown illness). I read every book written on the subject, not to get well but to learn any new "tricks" that maybe I'd overlooked. I knew exactly how many steps I needed to walk from living room to kitchen to make a mile, and exactly how many calories I could burn. I'd cook foods and purposely burn them. I couldn't vomit, as that to me was a real sign of being "out of control," so I had to starve. I was taking 50 laxatives a day. I'd lay there at night, fearful and certain I was dying. Yet it seemed nothing could stop me. I had the classic symptoms.

Then I was tried on an MAO inhibitor. For me, it was like a miracle. This medication changed me in just days. I could no longer starve myself if I tried, or rather, have the obsessions that had consumed so much of my waking hours. Still, it took a couple years and many dental appointments to look somewhat "normal," and I still believe that I suffer GI problems due to the laxative abuse. But I can say that it is a thing of the past, and probably also one of the worst times in my life, one of the darkest. I know the medication doesn't work for all, but I do think there is a strong link between depression and anorexia, or at least it has a biological basis to it. Thanks.

Moz from Minnesota

I am 36 years old and am currently suffering from anorexia. I have a history of bulimia, 18 years of it actually. I don't know a normal relationship to food. All I know anymore is that food and weight reflect my inner emotions—the conflicts I have that no one ever sees. When I feel I am nothing, that my existence is merely a waste of space, I starve, making my reflection the 'nothing' that I feel inside that I am.

This existence is painful. I wish no one else the tormented life of an eating disorder. It is my life. There is no room for anything else. I obsess by the minute about what food I can (or can't) eat. I exercise three to five hours a day when I'm strong enough. I abuse laxatives, diet pills, ipecac. Losing my life is not as important to me as losing that next pound.

Yes, I am in therapy, but it is outpatient treatment, and that is very limited. While my therapist is wonderful, I know I need inpatient treatment. Unfortunately, the HMO healthcare system is a joke. It will not allow me access to the very help I need. So I am left to live this way, or die this way. I know my body is falling apart. I feel death inside me. I know I push my body to its limits, asking it to get just one pound smaller. I'm crying while I write this, because I feel so completely trapped in this nightmare.

For anyone who is just starting on this path, PLEASE get help. There is no real life in this eating disorder. It will destroy your life, then take it. I'm sorry to sound so depressing, but this is the reality of being in the midst of anorexia. Please, if you read this and know you need help, get it NOW.

Living in the shadow of anorexia,

Ann from California

I am a surviving victim of anorexia and bulimia. I am proof that people can recover from this debilitating disease. However, the more we educate young girls (and boys) that health is of the utmost importance and not thinness, we may have a chance at destroying this horrendous epidemic. We need to deliver the message that eating disorders can kill.

The media needs to stop perpetuating anorexia by idolizing images of emaciated women. Though the media is entirely responsible for the epidemic, it certainly contributes to its spread. We also need to provide our children with a sense of security and safety to ensure that they don't turn to food (or lack thereof) for control. Support and love can facilitate health. And health and happiness is our goal, isn't it?

Jennifer from Maryland

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