Columnist Cary Carr talks about how she dealth with an eating disorder.
When most people think of eating disorders, they think of extreme cases of bulimia and anorexia as featured on TV documentaries or in the pages of celebrity tabloids. But eating disorders are a lot more common than the dramatic examples portrayed in the media.
When I was 16 years old, I was like any normal high school girl – slightly insecure and overly sensitive. I was a bit overweight, but I didn’t think much of it and focused on having fun with my friends, instead.
But when I started to get more involved with dance, which has been a part of my life since the age of three, I suddenly started to unintentionally drop the pounds due to longer and more intense rehearsals. People began to notice, throwing me compliments and asking what my secret was.
All this positive attention was new to me, and I soon began going to the gym regularly on top of dance class. When I was subsequently chosen for a solo dance, I began to associate my success with being thin. Skinny became the new ideal.
I guess I could say that my ambition and drive were what led me to self-destruction. At 16, I convinced myself that my body was the enemy, deciding I must destroy it through calorie counting, excessive exercising and intentionally starving myself of anything that offered a brief moment of happiness. Next thing I knew, I was cutting out meals and telling myself it was no big deal. I weighed myself regularly, getting upset if I had gained back one pound. I would play with my food during Sunday dinner and spent hours in front of the mirror, picking apart ligaments I didn’t like.
Soon enough, the spiraling effects of an eating disorder came crashing down on me. The gym became more important than friends, and calorie counting became a time-consuming obsession.
I would walk down the hallway and get dizzy spells, finding myself unable to concentrate on a lecture or reading assignment for very long. Sleep was an impossible task, and every day I found dark bags under my eyes.
How could this have happened to me? I was the girl who bashed super-thin models in magazines and constantly craved chocolate. I was the one who never understood the other girls in my high school who regularly talked about their weight and obsessed over carbs.
Suddenly, I was more insecure than those girls. I had gone from a carefree 16-year-old to a perfectionist who was constantly anxious due to a lack of nutrition and an unhealthy relationship with the scale.
My friends and teachers started to notice and began questioning me. Other students began to make up rumors, and I’d hear whispers as I walked down the hallway. People would frequently ask me if I was OK, and I was forced to make up excuses as to why I was skipping lunch every day.
Luckily for me, I have an amazing mother who forced me to seek help for my disease after finding me crying on my bedroom floor. She was able to send me to a psychologist and nutritionist that got me back on track and to a normal weight.
But it wasn’t so cut and dry. It took me a while to recover from the disease, and sometimes I wanted to give up. I still view exercise and eating very differently and have to be extremely careful not to fall back into bad habits.
So even though I may lose or gain a few pounds throughout the year, I have to remind myself that the way I feel is more important than what the scale reads. And it’s especially important as a dancer for me to continue working on a positive body image.
In the end, I gained a newfound respect for my body and what it can do for me. Now, instead of hurting my body by depriving myself of food, I try to learn more about nutrition and physical fitness in order to safely improve my health.
And instead of associating thinness with success in my life, I let myself take some of the credit for all the hard work I have done on making it this far.
I dropped about 35 pounds during my stint with anorexia, and while I was clearly boney and unhealthy, I never weighed a jaw-dropping 60 pounds or found myself in a rehab facility.
While I may not be one of the extreme, and often times fatal, cases found in the media, I have a story similar to many other men and women whose lives are forever changed by anorexia, bulimia or other eating disorders that go undiagnosed.
Cary Carr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.