The lunch bell rang. I was on my way to the parking lot when the phone buzzed. I took it out and flipped it open. “I’m coming now, Mom,” I said. And we both hung up.
My phone was covered in crumbs from a three-day-old cookie – or maybe it was a breakfast cereal bar. It was nothing new, though; my pockets always had food in them. My hands felt gross and I knew I should throw away the cookie before my mom found out. If I could, I would hide or throw away all my food. But I couldn’t because my mom supervised every meal, per her directives from my therapist. There were a few times when her attention would drift for a split second and I would deftly push some food up my sleeve, in my pockets or spit it out into a napkin.
Supervision was why I was heading to the parking lot. My mom had to eat lunch with me. Everyday I would get picked up in the car and she would drive a few blocks away from school. We would sit in the car until I finished everything she gave me. Sometimes I just refused to eat, but there were consequences. If I did eat I would find a time later to throw up, but I preferred restricting. By now, you can probably guess what this is going to be about: eating disorders.
Eating disorders are all over the media. There are always magazine headlines with pictures of emaciated women that say, “I am not anorexic” in quotes. Maybe they are, maybe they’re not. Being underweight is only one symptom.
I had first heard of anorexia in fifth grade, but it was in seventh grade that a recovered anorexic came to speak to my health class. She told her story. And I remember thinking, “Wow, I wish that would happen to me.” She told us several of her tricks and the health consequences. She had her share of throwing up, or purging food. She gave us warning signs for both anorexia and bulimia. Sadly, it was this health class that triggered my illness and started me on the pathway to restricting my food, although I didn’t notice it at the time.
I don’t want to tell a war story. The eating disorder part of me makes me proud to tout my lowest weight and worst vitals. This sick part of me will never be satisfied with my lowest and worst – it will always want thinner and less.
This isn’t supposed to be a story about “Look what I’ve been through, doesn’t it just suck?” I guess instead what I’m trying to say is: Eating disorders aren’t as glorious as they’re portrayed in the media. Honestly, I’m afraid of triggering whoever is reading this, like the girl in health class triggered me.
More than one in three dieters progresses to pathological dieting.
To make a long story short, eating disorders are horrible. They made me isolate myself. I didn’t care about anything. For the first time, I was lying to my parents about significant things. All my thoughts were food, food, food. Nothing else.
I am still in recovery, after spending a while in residential treatment and the hospital. I get questions like, “Why don’t you just eat?” all the time. It’s like asking someone with cancer, “Why don’t you just take the cancer out right now?” Recovering from cancer entails major surgery and a large amount of sacrifices. Eating disorders aren’t usually seen as diseases, but they are exactly that. It you think about it, the brain is an organ in your body just like your heart and lungs. A chemical imbalance in the brain is no different that having a heart or lung problem.
Just like cancer, the longer you wait to treat eating disorders, the harder it is to recover. My mom had breast cancer and she was lucky enough to catch it early. Although it was a tough struggle, she had it easier than a lot of people. Eating disorders are the exactly the same way. If you notice yourself being preoccupied with food, or a friend who has irregular eating patterns, ask someone you trust for help. Most doctors have some training in eating disorders.
Or, if you find yourself anxious or depressed and think you may have eating issues, you can always talk to a therapist. Although therapists have a bad rap, most of them are normal people. It’s not as weird as you think – a lot of people go to them.
I guess I’ll end this with saying eating disorders are all around. Watch out, because they aren’t being thin and pretty – they’re being lonely, depressed, and out of control.