Eating Disorder Stories
As I entered the Colony Ballroom last Thursday night, I was filled with hope. There I saw hundreds of students gathered to hear a lecture of the mass media's negative affect on women's body image and eating disorders. As I waited for the lecture to begin, I thought about how much progress has been made in raising the level of awareness of eating disorders in recent years. I felt comforted to think of the support that would be given to those who suffer from eating disorders on our campus from the men and women who demonstrated sensitivity enough to participate in this event.
Dr. Michael Levine discussed our culture's portrayal of the thin ideal illustrated by ultra-thin supermodels and advertising that equates thinness and fitness with success. Dr. Levine suggested that this female ideal of thinness in our culture was a violence against women. This violent undermining of our rights and abilities by reducing us to thin, waif-like figures was nothing to ignore. Dr. Levine illustrated the last acceptable prejudice left in our society: that of an overt prejudice against body fat. He urged the men in the audience to discuss with women their feelings about the body, etc. He also urged the women present to be more accepting of their own bodies and more aware of their prejudice against body fat. I am aware that perhaps the greatest threat to women's negative feelings about their bodies may come from other women. At a point during the lecture, two women had some type of disagreement about a seating arrangement. Apparently the dispute remain unresolved, and one of the women moved from her row. As she stood up, the women with whom she had the dispute said 'see ya fatty.' I was absolutely shocked, so shocked in fact that five minutes passed before I heard a word of the lecture. How can we hope to battle a prejudice against body fat if women attack one another in such a way? The natural attack against another woman's body illustrates to me where our beginning point is if we hope to provide support to the women of our campus who suffer from eating disorders, as well as prevent the continued hatred toward our own bodies.
ANATOMY OF AN EATING DISORDER
My eating disorder has lived with me for more than a decade, and I have been bulimic for almost as long. I have been uncomfortable with my body for as long as I can remember. I was 'plump' as a small child. When I no longer wanted to be considered plump, I began to diet. At 12 years of age I created what would be the first in a long series of strict 800-calorie-per-day diets (800 calories was my magic number). This first diet was to ensure that I would enter the seventh grade with a knockout figure! I did lose weight, but as most of us know, diets do not cause permanent transformation, nor are they ever a one-time event. The next four years were dominated by diets of all types: grapefruit diets, all-protein diets, no-protein diets, the slimfast diet, the dexetrim diet; you name it, I tried it.
In high school I moved from being uncomfortable with my body to a direct hatred toward it. This hatred fueled my next obsession: exercise. I was able to eat a little more, and my body did change. However, the transformation was not as dramatic as I demanded. I always achieved academically and socially. Why was I unable to achieve the body I worked so hard for? Others seemed to enjoy food with such ease. I was desperate to know how they could eat without guilt and without forcing themselves to exercise up to four hours a day.
In 1987, my sophomore year on campus, a roommate gave me the answer I thought I had been searching for since age 12. 'Eat what you want and throw it up.' She stated this very naturally. She outlined the mechanics of this procedure as I listened in disbelief. Bulimia was a term I vaguely recognized but had never encountered in a conversation. I don't remember when I first forced myself to throw up. I do know that I had careful guidelines for this activity. I only threw up one half of my dinner. This allowed me to eat without guilt and limit the amount of time I felt I needed to exercise. I felt I had found freedom for the first time in many years, freedom from obsessive calorie counting and endless workouts. I even lost weight.
This freedom was fleeting and my obsession with food expanded in dramatic proportions. Within several months I was binging on huge amounts of food several times a day. I spent nearly $200 a week and countless hours filling myself with foods I had been denying myself for years. This cycle of binging and purging became my life. Food became my most coveted relationship. Friends and classes could no longer compete for my time or energy. In desperation I left school to seek help. Shame then kept me from returning to Maryland until 1996, almost 10 years later. I sought in-patient treatment after I left campus. Next, I transferred schools and moved to California. I never escaped my obsession with food. I kept my eating disorder a secret after my first treatment. I felt I had failed and my shame became even greater.
Last year I finally sought treatment again, at a point in my life when I felt that I could not continue to live with this disease. I left my job of five years and took a leap of faith. I trusted that I could find help. I felt compelled to write this column because I have been supported completely during my recovery by others who have suffered as I have. Their experience has given me the confidence and the hope to fight my eating disorder every day. My battle with bulimia is far from over, but each day I experience my relationships with others and life as a whole with a fullness that I have not experienced in my adult life.
The decision not to write this piece anonymously was a difficult one. The faces of those who have shared their experience and hope with me made the decision for me. It is my belief that the more faces put to eating disorders (not just bulimia but anorexia, compulsive exercisers and binge eaters), the more help can be delivered to those that still feel the shame of being alone.
From the Diamondback, Wednesday, February 07, 1996. An Independent Student Newspaper-University of Maryland, College Park. Maryland Media Inc. 1995
Copyright1996 Maryland Media
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