The post that follows is not the usual WMAG content. I have decided to write about my roughly three-year struggle and recovery from an eating disorder. Part One will chronicle what precipitated my eating disorder, and the course of the first year. Part Two will focus on my treatment and recovery, as well as the steps I am going to take in hopes of preventing my daughter and other significant children in my life from suffering from an eating disorder. Until now, I’ve only spoken to family members and close friends about my struggle. I made the decision to write about my experience for several reasons: first, because eating disorders are not uncommon. According to the Eating Disorders Coalition, at least 14 million Americans suffer from an eating disorder. In fact, Anorexia nervosa is the third most common chronic illness among adolescents. Because there are so many who suffer the crippling effects of eating disorders, I think it is important to talk about them, second, because I believe eating disorders are not well understood, and third, because during my struggle and recovery, I learned a lot. I plan on taking what I’ve learned, and passing it onto my daughter, with the hope that she does not develop an eating disorder. Here is my story.
I was a senior at Ursinus College. Psychology major, professor’s assistant, student newspaper co-editor, and resident of the community service house. I was also a fiance, set to get married the following June, to my high school sweetheart, Chad. Everything began innocently enough. To support my mother back home, who had signed up for a local “Biggest Loser” challenge, I decided to make healthier food choices, and exercise regularly. I was no WWE Diva, but I wasn’t what you’d call overweight or unhealthy; if I had to guess, I would say at five feet, two inches tall, I weighed about 118 pounds. While I loved my brownies and carbs, I was a relatively healthy eater. I was never a snacker, never ate chips or candy, and wasn’t a fan of pizza. I embraced the challenge to be “healthier,” and only ate until I wasn’t hungry anymore; this was often only half a sandwich and some tea or coffee.
Toward the end of October/beginning of November, I no longer had to wriggle into my jeans and do deep knee bends to make them tolerable (Ladies, you know what I’m talking about.). The compliments began pouring in, “Kristi, you look awesome!” “What have you been doing?” I would smile, spout off my new diet and exercise mantras, and bounce along, congratulating myself for being so “healthy” and “in control.” I think the new fit of my clothes, coupled with the attention from others, gave me incentive not only to keep doing what I was doing, but to ramp it up. I began eating only “safe,” “healthy,” foods, like salads, fruits (but not bananas, too much sugar and too many carbs!), and plain, chicken breasts. I shied away from dairy, desserts, and a laundry list of other, perfectly acceptable foods. I stopped putting milk in my coffee, which was serious. I’ve always liked a little bit of coffee with my milk! By the New Year, I weighed about 105 pounds.
I went home for a weekend at the end April to do some preparations for the wedding, and to see Chad. I remember being stressed. The wedding was rapidly approaching, and it was getting increasingly difficult to focus on my studies. When I read my neuroscience textbook, sat in class lectures, and studied for exams, I thought about food. I thought about the last meal I ate, relishing every little detail, and what I was going to eat next; I would mentally prepare the most decadent meals, none of which I would ever allow myself to eat in real life. Once I arrived home, I opened my parent’s refrigerator and found some of my favorite leftovers: red beans and rice. I opened the snack cabinet and found my favorite granola bars, and peanut butter; so many foods I had denied myself for months. I said “Fuck it,” and ate everything: the beans and rice, the granola bar, and several hefty scoops of peanut butter. Afterward, I remember feeling significantly less stressed, and sated. I didn’t feel guilty; I knew that I was skinny, and also that one night of eating whatever I wanted wasn’t going to lead to substantial weight gain. I weighed about 98 pounds at the time.
It was the night of our rehearsal dinner. Other than some minor confusion about where the bridesmaids would stand during the ceremony, all went off without a hitch. Our bridal party and families met back at my parent’s house for a casual dinner and some cake. The cake, the “Groom’s cake,” was chocolate on chocolate, stuffed with gooey, sweet, chocolate ganache. I tried to resist, but watching everyone dig their forks into the thick coating of fudgy goodness was my undoing. I ate two pieces, and then felt guilty. Why couldn’t I stop after the first piece? The wedding was the following day. I had to “work it off.” I slipped away from everyone and headed upstairs, where my mother had an Elliptical machine. I exercised for about twenty minutes before my mother came upstairs. She looked at me, furrowed her brows in a concerned sort of way, and asked me what I was doing. “I ate too much cake,” I croaked. She shook her head.
“This is ridiculous. Get downstairs. You have guests.”
Writing this now, it is clear I had a serious problem, but at the time, I didn’t see it. If you had asked me if I had an eating disorder, or a problem with food, I would have said no.
Our wedding day had finally arrived. I woke up, promptly hopped on the Elliptical, and worked out for forty-five minutes. I ate a small breakfast and a bowl of low-calorie soup for lunch. Our outdoor wedding proceeded, in spite of the rain and fifty degree weather. By the time Chad and I arrived at the reception, I was famished. I downed a glass of wine in minutes, and was quite buzzed when dinner was served. Our guests had a choice between vegetarian lasagna and tossed salad or stuffed chicken breast with garlic potatoes and green beans. I chose the chicken, and then proceeded to eat an entire lasagna dinner as well. Following the dinner, I had a healthy serving of strawberry-lemon cake. I felt uncomfortably full in my dress; I felt disgusting, but at least I didn’t have to worry about getting pregnant on my wedding night. Due to all of the weight I had lost (my low percentage of body fat), I no longer got a monthly period.
I had applied to, and was accepted to a graduate program in Maryland several months before our wedding. About one month before the wedding, Chad and I picked out a rustic, little house for rent. Chad moved into the house about a week before the wedding; I moved in right after we got married. Just to take stock of all the changes that had happened to me over the preceding weeks: I graduated from college, got married, moved out of state, and was about to begin my graduate career. I did not have a job lined up that summer, didn’t know anyone, and we didn’t have much money to do anything. To say I had difficulty with all of the changes would be an understatement. My eating disorder intensified. I began eating little/nothing during the day, and binging in the middle of the night. I was beginning to realize I might have a problem. My weight began to creep up, due to the binging episodes, to about 105 pounds.
I didn’t have class that day. Coming off of a large binge the night before, I hadn’t eaten anything yet that day. It was about two o’clock, and a dull, empty feeling had spread throughout my stomach. I opened the refrigerator; there, front and center, was the leftover spaghetti from a few nights ago. I ate it directly from the bowl, with a fork, in minutes. The empty feeling in my stomach was gone, but I wasn’t satisfied. The spaghetti wasn’t what I wanted to eat, but it was the first thing I found, and I didn’t have the patience to make something that I really wanted. My heartbeat quickened as I thought about all of the things I wanted to eat. I hesitated for a few seconds before grabbing my keys and dashing out to the car. I drove the three miles to McDonald’s, and ordered an Angus burger meal. I paid for the meal, drove around to the parking lot, and put the car in park. I tore the wrapper from the burger, and consumed it in what felt like seconds. I greedily shoveled handfuls of ketchup-soaked fried into my mouth, washing it down with some Diet Coke. I ate every last crumb of the meal, sat there, and felt disgusted with myself. A few minutes later, I walked into the McDonald’s, ordered two chocolate chip cookies, and inhaled them. I was sad, but embarrassed and mad at myself at the same time. I think in an effort to mask those uncomfortable feelings, I kept eating. I drove across the street to an ice cream shop, ordered a brownie sundae, took it to my car, and ate the whole thing. I drove home, laid in bed, and wondered if maybe I should just die.
For whatever reason, peanut butter was my binge food of choice. Since Chad packed PB&J’s in his lunch daily, it was a food we didn’t want to banish from our home entirely. I asked Chad several times to hide the peanut butter under the bed, or in our safe. When it was in the safe, I had no way of getting to it; I didn’t know the combination. Under the bed was a different story. Several times, when I knew the peanut butter was under Chad’s side of bed, I slid out from under the covers, crawled along the floor to his side, and attempted to sneak a few dollops from the jar. Each time, Chad caught me. I was so ashamed of myself. A year ago, I was the poster child of self-control; now, I had lost it all. Worse than that, I knew my eating disorder was weighing on Chad. Initially, he believed I chose to eat at night. However, he learned, over time, that I had no control. It was like my body was pulled by magnetic force to the kitchen each time I woke. Sometimes before bed, I would put the scale in front of the refrigerator, with the hope it would deter me. It didn’t. I was powerless.
My night binging got to be so out of control, I begged Chad to lock our bedroom door from the outside, so I couldn’t sneak out and eat in the middle of the night. It was a great idea in theory, but in practice, was ineffective. I woke Chad most nights, telling him I “had to pee.” He would sleepily produce the key, which was tucked in his side table drawer. I would take it, quietly unlock the door, and high-tail it to the kitchen. I remember thinking I had to be quick; I didn’t want Chad to know what I was really doing. The force from the kitchen pulled my legs in its direction quickly. Chad caught me numerous times, kneeling on the floor, consuming leftovers by hand, basked in the harsh light of the refrigerator. He would look me in the eyes, shake his head, and beg me to come back to bed. Often, the force of the kitchen was stronger than Chad’s pleas.
After every binge, there was a purge. My preferred methods included: over-exercising and abusing laxatives. It was not uncommon for me to walk/run on our treadmill for hours. After one particularly large night binge, I walked 16 miles on our treadmill. It took about seven hours, after which time my toes were blistered and my legs were cramping. Often, I put two to three layers of clothing on, in hopes of sweating a little bit of extra weight off. There were days I’m certain I weighed myself thirty to forty times; it was the ultimate reward to see the needle on the scale go down, even just a little. Almost daily, I ingested up to eight laxatives. Six to eight hours after taking them, I was usually doubled over in pain, on the floor of our bathroom. I attempted, on several occasions, to induce vomiting, but with no success.
For me, living with an eating disorder was like living in a prison. I had no control, and felt hopelessly alone. The tone of each day, and my mood, was dictated by the severity of the previous night’s binge, and the number of the scale. Thoughts of harming myself came, but I never acted on them. As terrible as I felt, I knew Chad and my family would be devastated if something happened to me. I couldn’t do that to them. It is interesting to think about my eating disorder now. In my quest to look beautiful, be liked, and be in control, I ended up looking like hell. I drifted away from all of my friends, and I lost every ounce of control I once had. I needed help. I couldn’t do it anymore.
Please look for Part II next week. Thank you for reading.
[contact-form][contact-field label=’Name’ type=’name’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Email’ type=’email’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Website’ type=’url’/][contact-field label=’Comment’ type=’textarea’ required=’1’/][/contact-form]