Saturday, November 6, 2010


"Hi I'm Joy. You could post this if you want but it might be too long. Even though I've actually tried to be as brief as possible. Although to be honest, I doubt anyone will ever read it/want to read it, I'm really not that interesting or dramatic sadly. I have one picture that is from when I was between 90 & 95lbs & one picture of a happier moment a few years apart.

What you see in the mirror is disgusting. The whole body is covered in fat, so much fat it’s unbearable to look. Your body is disgusting, far too disgusting, there are one hundred imperfections to every inch. The closer you look the worse it gets. How can you ever accept every line? Every pore? Every spot? There is too much fat, too much skin, too much you. It’s not the right shape, it’s not the right colour, it’s not the right size. How much pain must you have inside that your mind itself has turned on your outside instead?

This is my story. It is not an inspiring story. It is a fairly detailed story showing exactly how fast anorexia can take hold without even knowing in it. How secrecy turned a diet into the rest of my life in a matter of days. How both mine and my doctors reliance on statistics confused my development of bulimia with recovery.

I am 19 years old. I live with my boyfriend and beautiful baby daughter. I am a recovered anorexic. I feel I should use that label as I was discharged from treatment several years ago.

I had heard of anorexia in a little detail, in science classes at school and in age appropriate novels & magazines, long before I ever went on a diet. The message that was given out was that anorexic people ate next to nothing and had skeletal figures - far removed from everyday life - not something that I should be watching out for if I tried to lose weight.

And at 13 I did just that - decided I needed to lose weight. I wasn't exactly overweight - about 121lbs - but compared to the images portrayed all around me - I was much larger than 'beautiful'. My plans were immediately forced into secrecy as I knew my family would not approve. Without being able to seek advice on a healthy diet and with no means to purchase my own food there was only one option open to me, simply don't eat anything that you don't have to. Nothing in private. Nothing optional. I stayed in bed until lunchtime so I could have breakfast instead & then just eating as little of dinner as possible without arousing suspicion. Instantly and without knowing it I had started a dangerous dieting method as I had no other.

This very quickly progressed to disposing of more of dinner with methods as inventive as stuffing pasta in a deflated beachball lying around in the dining room when my mother had left the room to make coffee. Believing I was still too fat to even look at myself, the only indicator this was working was the scale number was going down. The success felt good at least, meaning I was more determined not to be discovered and stopped. I felt I couldn't even let my mother know I was weighing myself so as soon as she went out I would sneak them into my room, get the number and put them back. From the start I felt I also needed to hide any exercise as I had never done any before - so only quiet exercises in my bedroom - sit ups and wiggling for hours before I slept at night in bed.

I suppose the weight loss could have been considered dramatic - as after only three weeks, whilst claiming I had a sore throat and couldn't eat anything at a family picnic my mum said "I hope you’re not turning anorexic on us." Up until then that was certainly not the word I'd have gone for, I was still 'fat' for instance, ate every day & had literally just started a diet. Nevertheless, I got on the internet and found an online community where there seemed to be lots of teenagers exercising the same behaviour as I was and it claimed to be 'pro-anorexic'. And from then on that was the label I followed.

Over the next few weeks my behaviour continued in the same way, possibly getting slowly more avoidant of food - getting very angry when I was told we were going out for dinner & abolishing my 'rewards' for staying on a diet (which was actually three Doritos from a large bag in my wardrobe a day) Until one week my mother - who hadn't really said all too much else on the matter - took me to be weighed on the scales at the local supermarket which prints a little slip out. I tried to deny it to myself but I knew I was getting discovered. First week of this 105lbs, second week 99lbs, third week 94lbs. I didn't know but at the same time my mother was seeing a doctor. She had shown him two pictures one of me - from then and one six weeks previously. And so I had only been following my diet for less than 2 months when I was given a diagnosis of Anorexia Nervosa. I thought this was insane, thinking of what I'd seen on pro-anorexia websites, I was not a 'real' anorexic - I ate too much, I was too fat.

Shortly afterward, my mother took us to an all you can eat Chinese buffet for my friend's birthday. In defiance, I ate a lot more than I would have intended. I had read about purging on the internet and for the first time I made myself sick in the restaurant bathroom. It didn't work all too well but I was thrilled that I now had a method to avoid digesting even what I was forced to swallow. I continued the same behavior of eating dinner only at home, but this time afterward I made myself sick. The toilet would be far too loud. So I put music on and was sick in a plastic bag folded over my bedroom bin and stored the bags in the wardrobe. Too scared to dispose of these bags it didn't take long for my mother to smell them and discover them. She left a note in which she said that she loved me and if I had to do this could I put the bags of sick in the outside bin please. I was so embarrassed, but I continued anyway - with the occasional trip to the outdoor bin when she was out.

I couldn't wait to get back to school where I could easily avoid food without question all day. I was unaware my teachers had been instructed to watch me and report back home. I didn't care about the questions from my peers as there was nothing they could do to prevent my behaviour so I just sat in the dining hall at lunch and didn't eat my packed lunch. I then went home and had a lettuce, tomato & cucumber salad, with a boiled egg white. Estimated 50 calories a day. I don't remember too much around then. At some point family therapy started. At some point I started having to be weighed every week at the hospital. I was talked about behind my back at school. One day in class we were looking through a newspaper, there was a picture of a skeleton on one page and one girl shouted, "Look, that’s Joy." Charming.

Continuing with the mentality I had discovered on the online community I posted photos of myself on the internet to which I was greeted with various comments from "you are almost perfect" & "wow you are so thin" & a few "that is disgusting eat something." "Good," I thought, "I've actually changed something." Except I was 88lbs & 5'7'' and my goal had been progressively dropping the whole time.

A particular type of comment still sticks in my head though - and that was the prejudice from anorexics. They told me I was a bad person for 'wanting' their illness. That I must be stupid and vain. A true isolation, a realization that there was no community supporting what I was doing. I didn't fit with normal people. I wasn't accepted by anorexics. My struggles weren't as bad as their struggles. My illness wasn't as real as their illness. They told me I was faking anorexia. That a real anorexic was ashamed of it (and in my real life, I suppose that was the case). This only convinced me more I wasn't really anorexic - I knew I was underweight, but there was still too much of me - and therefore it validated that I was healthy and normal. Every time I got within 10lbs of my goal I knew I would still be too fat at my goal so I had to drop it. My goal was now 70lbs. I didn't see anything dangerous about it at all. After all, people claiming to be anorexic (who I now later realize didn't really know anything about me) had told me I wasn't ill. Just a bad person.

The scales were removed from the house and I was banned from going out without a responsible adult amid fears I may collapse. I had no number to go on anymore. The hospital weight was kept secret from me and written on a piece of paper given to my stepdad until I seemed to be 'recovering.' This was so humiliating - up until this point I had been a very private person. And now everything I had hidden from those closest to me was pretty much broadcast to everyone my mother knew. The questions made me feel very angry and I had no control over what people thought about me anymore.

The feelings of hurting my family made me feel even more terrible about myself. I moved on from my salad for a while, and sometimes went for a week without eating anything and sometimes I allowed myself a fat-free 90kcal yoghurt every 3 days. I sucked on sugar free lollypops when my dad came to visit & wanted to buy me sweets. I sometimes chewed sugar free gum and drank peppermint tea. The emptiness was addictive - and I had pretty much stopped eating.

And then I was given the news from my therapist that if I lost one more pound my bmi would be so low I would be admitted to hospital. I was so angry - particularly knowing that I drank as much water as possible before hospital weigh-ins, so I was already truly below that weight. By this point I had completely given up exercising. I was constantly freezing cold. I came home from school - in which I couldn't concentrate - and sat on my bed and stared in the mirror and listened to music for about 4 or 5 hours and then went to bed. I didn't do anything. I had barely any energy to think let alone be productive or have any kind of social life yet I didn't even think for a second that I wanted to change it. Changing was unthinkable. I would live my non-life for my much more important purpose. If I changed I would lose control.

However, with the knowledge I was headed for the hospital, my mother had a different idea. So I came home one day, she made a sandwich and I had to sit in the same chair in the living room supervised until I ate the sandwich. I wouldn't be able to use the computer or sleep until I'd eaten it. And I had to stay there for 90 minutes afterward to ensure I didn't throw it up. I was enraged by the trap and lack of privacy so this worked quickly. Within 3 hours the sandwich had gone and I went out for a walk. I admitted defeat on this front and soon returned to eating one meal a day. But always less than 500kcal.

My head couldn't take this U-turn though - going from eating less and less to suddenly going back up. Within two weeks the vice-like grip against eating food had disappeared. Nobody was home so I took biscuits, crisps and cakes up to my room. Lots of them. I ate them all after dinner and feel incredibly guilty afterward was sick. And again later in the evening. My stomach looked about 6 months pregnant. I vowed that this would never happen again. There was no reason for this, myself had done this to myself. No-one had seen me eat that - therefore there was no reason.

But a few days later it happened again, like a robot to the kitchen then up to my room. A shameful secret. From then guilt led to extreme angry reactions when people would comment on how little I ate. They knew nothing. I ate like a pig. I ate 6000kcal a day some days. Admitting I was indeed out of control I screamed angry, terrible, irrational remarks to people online I am so ashamed but I can't remember my password to delete them now. To the people telling me I had 'chosen' to be like this. To the people telling me I was 'strong', I felt I had let them down. That I was living a lie. My weight remained 'stable'.

I kept trying to reduce the amount I ate again; I knew that the binging was by far overtaking any attempts to stop it. My weight might have remained stable but my head certainly wasn't, and neither was the size of my stomach.

This wasn't the diet I'd started anymore, this was now completely out of control.

Too much out of control to eat the dietician’s now seemingly tiny meal plan. My body had started to take its own action to gain weight and my will to make myself sick was waning. The week I gained my first pound was three weeks after Christmas - 7 months after I'd began. Not long really. I was actually relieved it was only one pound, but my family was thrilled. When the following week I dropped a pound they were furious. I didn't know why, I had actually eaten a lot, but they were very angry with me. This certainly was a massive blow to my self esteem; I felt they completely judged me on the number on the scale also. Despite my constant binges, followed by short-lived fast attempts I continued to gain 1lb a week. The recommended amount by my doctor - and therefore I must have been completely fine because the scale said so. I felt worse than ever.

One particular week I dreaded so much I may have gained more than a pound and in fear I jumped out of my stepdad's moving car whilst he was driving me to the hospital. I hid in a stranger’s garden and avoided the weigh-in. After a year I had 'been returned' to my target weight of 128lbs. After another year of the pretty pointless therapy (my family weren't exactly enthusiastic about this - and neither was I) I was finally discharged and freed from the humiliating process of parading my now rather curvy body around in my underwear every week for weigh in time. The larger I got, the less I enjoyed that bit. I still would not enjoy that now but I would say it’s pretty normal not to enjoy being told to strip down to your underwear by a stranger.

I would say several years passed by pretty eventless as far as weight is concerned. I gradually climbed to about 142lbs - began to ignore the scales. I hated my body and certainly was eating junk and not healthily but I was as normal as any teenager. Occasionally, started a fast which was always short-lived. I began drinking alcohol instead of eating at college and dropped to 122lbs but not exactly a "wheel her into hospital" weight loss there. Yet the pull of nostalgia has been ceaseless, and the weight loss methods using the only method I know constantly recurrent.

Until, that is, I got pregnant. Being pregnant I ate more than ever - my work colleagues couldn't help but comment on how I could eat 7 x 500kcal portions of cake in a day easily, with a sandwich, chocolate bar and crisps for breakfast, and a panini for lunch, takeaway each night for dinner. It was acceptable to me because I was pregnant. I shot up to 200lbs - gaining over 80lbs in 7 months I imagine is an achievement in anyone’s books. Sickened by my body less than 3 months after the birth of my daughter I was 122lbs again. A lot of people asked me how I did it. I laugh and say I stopped eating the cakes. And now, only 4 months later, believing I was finished my diet - and eating lots again - my head says I can't be happy til that’s 112 there. From experience I know that will then become 102. Then 92. And so on. But my feelings block that out; they say I must do it. They say I must start again tomorrow. And maybe I will.

I went to see a doctor last week. On an unrelated topic but nevertheless I happened to mention that I'd managed to get to 122lbs from 200lbs in about three months. Even with my medical history in front of them, they didn't bat an eyelid. It appears that they only care when you’re in danger of starving yourself to death and that they are treating the physical problems but not the causes."

Follow on Buzz


Anonymous said...

OMG. I was just browsing around when I came across this piece, and I am nearly in tears. Your story as touched me deeply, and I thank you for putting it out there. I so wish I could just reach out to you and do *something* to give you the support you deserve. I hope for your sake, the sake of those who love you and the baby who depends on you that you can stay strong and find peace. My thoughts are with you.

Anonymous said...

Joy, you are gorgeous on your first picture. It is sad that you feel you should change.
I am 4 months pregnant now and I am terrified thinking I will get fat. I feel very selfish, also.

innersparkle said...

I see myself in you in so many ways, i have a very similar story and was on the verge of being hospitalised by.1 of a pound.
It makes me angry how doctors and the general public lack understanding in ed's and when sufferers gain the weight back they assume we are cured because your weight is back to normal!
Never give up the fight Joy, you've made it this far and i believe you are so much stronger than you probably give yourself credit for.
Never feel alone and know that others out there do understand, Keep smiling and stay Strong, one day we will get there xxx

Anonymous said...

See a new doctor. A psychiatrist or a therapist. He didn't say anything? Seriously. What a jag.