Bulimia from my Perspective–Jordyn D.
Childhood is supposed to be a time for bike rides, camping trips, schoolwork, friends, birthday parties and happy memories. For most, this is the case. Many people can look back on their childhood and smile as they remember the carefree playing that only children do. For many though, childhood memories are tinged with sadness, anxiety, and painful memories.
My personal childhood memories consist of arguments, my mother’s relapses, pressure to do well, bullying and criticism. Children are not supposed to feel shame if they aren’t a perfect in every way. They’re not supposed to feel like they aren’t good enough simply because of their weight or appearance. The sad truth is, I, along with many other children, felt exactly this way.
Unfortunately, our society is one that encourages thinness, beauty, and physical attractiveness over tons of other valuable qualities. To many women (and men), dieting to achieve that ‘perfect’ goal weight is more important than being healthy role models for their children. In fact, dieting is promoted so much that the majority of girls and women are on a diet numerous times during their lifespan.
According to the National Eating Disorder Information Center (NEDIC), more than half of young girls (1/3 of boys) engage in unhealthy eating behaviors ranging from fasting and purging, to laxative/diuretic use.
NEDIC also states that approximately 1.5% of teenage girls go on to develop a severe eating disorder. In a society surrounded by beauty campaigns, emaciated models, and diet ads, I don’t think the question should be ‘How do girls/boys develop eating disorders?’ but should be ‘How do girls/boys not develop eating disorders?’
Being someone who has struggled with bulimia nervosa for nine years (about half of my life), I can’t tell you how to prevent an eating disorder. But I can tell you some of the reasons I personally believe led to my eating disorder so long ago. Like so many things do, I truly believe it started in my early childhood years.
One of the most common memories I had of my parents were the obsessive, extreme diets they would both try in order to lose weight. My family was either stuffing their faces or barely eating at all. So from the very beginning, I never had healthy eating role models. This led to my childhood obesity.
By the time I was in grade eight I weighed over 250 pounds. My parents would voice their concern about my weight to me very often. I know now that they were concerned about my health, as well as the risk of me being bullied. They were right, but at the time these comments always just made me feel ashamed of myself. I started comparing my huge body to the tiny frames of my friends. Finally, the summer before high school, I decided I would lose weight. I wanted, no, needed to be skinny for grade nine. So I did all that I knew to do-diet. I starved myself for a year and over exercised until I reached my goal weight, losing over 100 pounds. But somewhere along the line, my goal weight became smaller and smaller. No matter what weight I reached, I still saw that 250-pound girl staring back at me in the mirror.
The first time I purged was before going to the gym to see my personal trainer. I was 14. She did weekly weigh-ins and I lived for the praise she would give me when I lost huge amounts of weight. But before I went, I slipped up badly. I had been starving myself for so long that sometimes I would break and completely lose control. I would binge to the point of extreme fullness. After doing this, I suddenly felt guilt and fear. I knew the number on the scale would go up. I could not let her see that I had been so ‘weak.’ So I did what I thought would be a one time, harmless act. I threw it all up, cleaned up and went to see her. I don’t remember what the scale said that day, but I do know that purging became an everyday thing. At it’s worst, I would purge at least 4-5 times a day.
My bulimia quickly crept into my head and took up a permanent residence in my mind. As I’ve struggled with this mental illness, it has become clear to me that the symptoms have little to do with the actual weight or food. They’re simply symptoms that are an indication of severe core issues with self-esteem and mental health.
At 18 I was diagnosed with depression, social anxiety and generalized anxiety disorder, but I had felt that way as long as I can remember. These feelings of extreme anxiety over everything and anything, especially social situations had a huge impact on the way my weight made me feel. No matter whom I was with, I was always self-conscious, comparing myself to others in every way possible.
As my bulimia progressed, all I thought about was whether or not I was smaller than other people. I’d worry everyday that people would stare at my ‘fat’ body. My depression resulted in feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness and suicidal idealizations. Depression exacerbated my eating disorder by removing what was left of my low self-worth, self-esteem, and hope for a happy life. All of my mental illnesses combined together to make me feel that I was only of any value if I was X number of pounds.
The sad thing is though, your eating disorder is never happy. It doesn’t matter how much you lose bulimia always wants more. Bulimia lures its victims in with promises that being thin will make your depression and anxiety go away. It promises happiness, but in reality buries you deeper into the depths of depression. It slowly takes over your mind and before you know it, you’re no longer in control. Every action, thought, emotion is eating disorder related. Your mind suddenly revolves around numbers, numbers on the scale, numbers of calories, and numbers of sit-ups. Numbers, numbers, and more numbers swirl through your mind every second. Thoughts of food are all consuming as you go through a cycle of starvation to binging and purging. Your eating disorder tells you that it’s okay to steal food, because you’ve been so good all week, you deserve to have a treat. Until you have it, then your mind is completely overwhelmed with guilt, shame and self-hatred. Or it convinces you that four hours of exercise is fine because, exercise is healthy. And when you can’t do it, you feel like a weak, pathetic, failure, which furthers your bond with bulimia and its ‘perfection.’
You start to believe that bulimia is your only friend, support, and only sense of strength and control. You start to rely on your eating disorder to get you through the day. It becomes your way to cope with the overwhelming feelings of depression, worthlessness, pain, anger, etc. It helps you cope with the things you can’t control as it gives you a false sense of power over your life. The reality is though, that the more you feel in control, the less control you truly have over your eating disorder.
Every single aspect of your life becomes a false sense of reality. An illusion. You can no longer trust the image in the mirror, the food labels, and the scales. You can’t trust anything but your bulimia. Any attempt at help from others is now viewed as an attack on your eating disorder. This is when your mindset allows lies and manipulation into the list of things that are morally acceptable. You need your eating disorder so badly that you’d do and say anything to protect it. However, you’d also do anything to prevent any protection for yourself. You feel worthless while you think your eating disorder is worth any amount of manipulation, arguing, sneaking, etc. You feel your eating disorder is worth your life.
My bulimia, I believe, is a result of both genetic and environmental factors. I was prone to mental illness and with the lack of healthy role models, the constant arguing of my parents, my mother’s alcoholism, and the pressure to be perfect in every way led to the feelings of depression and anxiety. I never felt good enough. I ended up turning to food as a way to deal with the anxiety of my unstable external life.
This binge eating as a child led to my obesity, which further worsened my esteem and mental illnesses, which resulted in the diet that started my bulimia. Further praise and pressure to do well maintained my disorder over time. I have now struggled with my eating disorder for nine years. Eating disordered individuals are prone to a high risk of co-morbidity with other mental illnesses.
It’s unsure whether or not they came first or were the result of an eating disorder. For me, some of my mental illnesses were the underlying core issues. However, my addiction to opiates came afterwards and only added fuel to the fire. I now had two unhealthy ways to cope with the traumas in my life. My addiction also helped me to curb my appetite, further exacerbating my bulimia.
It wasn’t until I got sober in August 2014 that I realized that I needed to do something about my bulimia or I would risk relapsing, or worse, dying from my disease.
Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any other mental illness. Hearing that fact resulted in a huge wake up call. I am now in outpatient treatment with a local organization called the Bulimia Anorexia Nervosa Association (BANA). I would love to tell you that now my life is great and that I’m free from the vice like grip of bulimia. But that would be a lie. Eating disorders, like addiction, are life long illnesses that you can never cure. They both will be with me for the rest of my life.
Unlike addiction, however, abstinence from food is not an option. Everyone has to eat, so the struggle in recovery is learning to have a healthy relationship with food. Individuals in recovery must learn to eat in a healthy moderation. We must learn to accept our bodies the way they are and to learn better coping skills for all our emotions. We can no longer numb or hide from emotions like we had in the past.
My recovery will be a long, uphill road. But I am optimistic. I was strong enough to overcome addiction, traumatic relationships, death, and hardship, so I am confident in my ability to beat this, too. It won’t be easy, but hopefully one day I will be able to say that it was completely worth it.
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