Anorexia: My Experience as an Anorexic
How It Began
I couldn't sleep. It was in my stomach - or, rather, it was not in my stomach. I was hungry and it was keeping me awake, but I didn't dare eat a bite. It was 11:30 at night... way too late to eat, because if I did, I would fall asleep and wouldn't burn the calories. Thirty-five hundred excess calories means an extra pound of body weight, so an extra 500 calories a day can mean I get fatter. That would be the worst.
It started when I was a college freshman.
Prior to that year, I was a very good eater. I ran cross country and would always come home hungry from real exercise. My team had pasta feeds all the time, and they became events I looked forward to. I had fun and I never really thought anything of my weight, except for when I looked at my skinny teammates who ran faster than I did.
When I started college, I had a roommate who was also a cross country runner in high school. She joined the university team, and in high school, her team was the top in the state. I admired her talent and determination and wanted to learn her secrets.
She taught me a lot about nutrition. They were things I had never heard about before, like the best times to eat, how eating more slowly can be healthier, and about the science behind working out and dining. When we ate on campus, she was very selective about what she ate, and I would pay close attention to her habits. I even went out on runs with her and the team in an effort to be a better runner. She certainly didn't encourage anorexia; she merely taught me about working out efficiently, and about eating for better health.
However, I really took her advice to heart and took a good look at my own eating habits. Before college, I was known as "the vulture" or "the vacuum" in my family because I would eat anything other people didn't. I soon came to the realization that I was not a healthy eater at all, and I should change some things if I were to run faster and stronger.
I started cutting back on food and watching what I did eat. I would give others my desserts and went on more runs. As I ate less, I saw that I really didn't need to eat that much; I could run just as well, and could get through the day just fine. I was amazed.
Not only that, but I was losing weight pretty quickly, and it was pretty evident. Pants that I had to squeeze into could be slipped on without unbuttoning them. People were complimenting me and my body; I wasn't fat before, but my weight was near the top quarter of the healthy weight range for my height and build.
I started working out every day, running on treadmills until random people in the gym commented on my intensity. If I didn't get a chance to work out at my regular time (5:30 a.m.), I would be cranky or distracted until I could. If I ate something with more calories or fat than I liked, I would work out more. I wasn't happy unless I worked out enough. Sometimes I would go two or three times a day. I started living in my gym clothes. However, I wouldn't use weights or machines because I could build muscle, which would result in more weight. I was the definition of discipline.
I really limited my meals as well. I would find a few items in the morning, like an apple and a plain sandwich, and tell myself those were the only things I could eat that day. I would eat a half a sandwich so slowly and regretfully, knowing I'd have to burn those calories off later. My preportioned meals became smaller and smaller (I was able to go on a couple of bites of food a day), but the compliments increased. "You look really great!" friends would say. "What's your secret?"
I certainly took pride in my emerging six pack. I would look at my female peers and think about how much more they weighed than I did (how terrible to look at my friends that way!). I really noticed weight in others, and I would work out with the satisfaction that I was not fat. I wouldn't eat sweets my friends made, no matter how much they tried to tempt me. I wouldn't dare eat my friend's amazing banana bread. She kept goading me to eat some, and it wasn't until later that I understood why.
My bras got smaller. I was more tired. My period even disappeared, which is something that happens when you lose too much weight. I didn't know that until later, however, and remained puzzled in the meantime.
My grades were the worst of my college career because I couldn't focus; I'm sure my brain wasn't nearly as nourished as it should have been for academic success. Plus it was almost impossible to focus when I was so hungry.
Then I went home for winter break. My mom was so concerned with my weight that she would confront me about it constantly, sometimes yelling and involving others, demanding they agree that I was too skinny. I denied that I was anorexic over and over again, and was confused by her concern. She made an appointment for me to go to the doctor, and she even followed my car to the freeway to make sure I went.
In meeting with the doctor, I told him that I was very careful about losing weight, which I was. I told him that I looked up the healthy weight range for women my height and build and that I was still in the range. He said he was impressed with how smart I was about losing weight and sent me home. In looking back on that, I'm baffled that an eating disorder can be so elusive that it can escape a family doctor I've seen since infancy.
Would you tell your loved one if you thought they had an eating disorder?
The Turning Point and Where I Am Today
Humans have a natural weight, however, and soon enough, with the support of my mother, I started gaining weight again to come back around to that weight. I couldn't stop eating and I never felt satisfied until I ate for hours straight. (I admit, that was a lot of fun.) I gained a lot of fat at first, which is what is expected when you come back from eating hardly anything, and also I was definitely eating a lot more than 2,000 or 2,500 calories a day.
Three years later, I am perfectly happy with my body, having turned that fat back to muscle. I run a few miles every other day, skipping a day if I feel like it every once in a while. I exercise more often by playing tennis and other sports with friends. I take multivitamins to try to get necessary nutrients... in addition to eating with friends and family often.
My knowledge about healthy weight and eating never went away, though, but now I've found a good balance between eating right and splurging every now and then. I'm not afraid of gaining weight anymore.
My experience was strange and still confounds me today. I lost about 30 pounds in two months, but I didn't intend to lose weight initally. It was never my intention; it just happened as a result, so I was confused when people would say I was anorexic because I thought anorexics were only into losing weight. Technically I was, though I never thought I was fat, but because I didn't understand the state of mind, I didn't understand my own condition and didn't think I needed to worry about it. I'm only regretful that it caused pain to people who care about me.
Today, I am so grateful for the people who did speak up. I know it can be intimidating to bring it up, especially when people with eating disorders often dismiss it or even close those people out, but I appreciate my mom so much more because her determination showed me how much she cares.
It was interesting that friends never said anything but compliments about my weight loss; it shows me how society has influenced many women, and men, for that matter. I understand that it can be difficult to speak up, and that sometimes it may lead to the person with the eating disorder closing that person out, but when they are able to recover, hopefully they will understand that their loved one cares. It especially bothers me when I see someone going through the same things I did, and personally I feel it is important to say something so that even if it doesn't click with them initially, it at least plants a seed so maybe they will consider my words and experiences.
Also: there can be a fine line between looking and being healthy, and having an eating disorder. There are some women who are my height who can weigh as much as I did at my lowest weight and be healthy. However, for me, I did not lose weight the right way, and even though I didn't look like a skeleton, I was not healthy. I think that is something to keep in mind if you notice a loved one acting strangely, taking eating healthy and working out to an extreme.
- Anorexia Nervosa: What is Anorexia Nervosa?
An article on Anorexia; what is it; how to spot the signs of a sufferer. What Anorexia will do to the body.
- Healthy Weight Calculator for a Healthy Weight Range www.HealthAtoZ.com
Use this Healthy Weight Calculator to find your healthy weight range. This general guide for adults is not accurate if you are very muscular, fit or pregnant.
- Eating Disorder Information Directory
Information on eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia, EDNOS, binge eating), from signs and symptoms, to treatment, to eating disorders in popular culture.