‘Food was not my enemy’ in my battle with anorexia

A junior journalism major writes about developing an eating disorder in middle school, shortly after she learned about anorexia.

Marybeth Gerdelmann, a junior journalism major, is in recovery from an eating disorder. | HANNAH PITTEL / REFINE MAGAZINE

Content Warning: The articles in this special issue contain descriptions of eating disorders that might be upsetting to some readers.

It started out as a simple desire to lose weight — 5 pounds lost.

I worked out a little harder — 10 pounds lost.

I was just trying to get in better shape — 15 pounds lost.

I calculated food labels. I read fitness magazines. I worked out twice as much — 20 pounds lost.

I first heard about “anorexia” when I was in 7th grade. My science teacher was giving a lecture on eating habits when someone brought up the term. I asked the girl next to me what it meant and I remember her response like it was yesterday. It was when people got “too skinny.”

“Why would anyone ever do that to their body?” I remember thinking.

But exactly one year later, I had done it.

My body temperature was low. My heart rate was low. My hands were so dry that they cracked and bled when I moved them and I was freezing all the time. My eyes filled with tears to see the skeleton I had become.

I sat in a doctor’s office, underweight and lifeless. I was sent to the emergency room at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for anorexia — and underwent a journey through which I would eventually gain weight, education and healing.

I spent three weeks at CHOP, which consisted of daily blood tests and heart rate monitoring, and high-calorie, structured meal plans.

My recovery relied on both weight gain and building healthy coping skills.

Eating disorder recovery is not exclusively about refeeding, said Lara Nalbandian, the coordinator of Temple University’s Eating Disorders Unit at Tuttleman Counseling Services.

“Patterns of thinking and habits of behavior that get one to [their lowest] point are not easily erased,” Nalbandian added.

My own recovery required me to rediscover myself and my relationship with food. I had to realize food was not my enemy. I also had to let go of the fear of asking for professional help. I now attend weekly therapy and go to monthly meetings with a nutritionist.

“Reaching out to anyone is a good place to start,” Nalbandian said.  

It has been almost seven years since I set foot on the road to recovery. Not a day goes by where I do not play back the moment when I was admitted to the hospital, but I now see the issue on a much larger scale. Eating disorders affect numerous people, far beyond the numbers of those stationed on my old hospital floor.

Among Americans alone, about 20 million women and 10 million men will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives, according to the National Eating Disorders Association.

This is the first time I have written my story, and I share it not only to reveal my own truth but to inspire other people who suffer from eating disorders. I want the world to be a place where people can fearlessly discuss these issues.

Seven years later, I stand healthy and happy. I will never forget my past and, more importantly, will never lose sight of how important it is to start conversations about recovery.

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