For as long as Sara could remember, she was always self-conscious about her weight. Although one could argue that almost every female in Western society is self-conscious about her weight at some point in her life, when a woman is struggling with an eating disorder, this discomfort is heightened drastically. Sara first developed what she would formally call an eating disorder when she was in high school. Now over a decade later, she can finally say she is fully recovered.
Sara is 5’6" tall and back then weighed what she thought was a disgusting 138 pounds. She had tried diets and exercise in the past, but they would only last a few weeks before she gave them up. She had tried using her mom’s diet pills, but those did not work either. Teenage life was hard and being “fat” made it even harder. She graduated from high school trying to be happy, but feeling miserable. She constantly compared herself to her friends who all looked incredibly thin and beautiful. She wondered why her legs looked so large and her hips so wide when everyone else seemingly had the perfect body.
Sara decided to do something about her weight before entering college. She started to count calories, exercise daily, and cut fat out of her diet. Eventually, she skipped meals and then stopped eating altogether on most days. If she ate even the smallest amount of food, she felt guilty and called herself a failure. She doubled her exercise routine after consuming liquid to get rid of the water weight. She chewed gum instead of food. She stayed away from social gatherings where food was present, which meant most of them. All of these methods worked for a while, but eventually Sara could not keep up this regimen. She found herself craving high calorie foods and eventually binging on them. One time she binged so much, she felt sick. Sara completely panicked. She was petrified of gaining weight and completely furious with herself for putting herself in this situation. She needed to get the food out of her and fast. Sara knew what Bulimia was and even though she had heard terrible stories about girls with eating disorders, she wanted to see if it would work.
No one was home the day she decided to try it. She walked up to the bathroom, stuck her finger down her throat, and made herself throw up. Sara thought she would feel terrible or disgusting or even guilty or scared, but instead she felt great. She walked out of the bathroom with a huge smile on her face feeling as if she had conquered the world. Later she would say, “The problem is that things can get really serious when something you think is totally under your control turns into an obsession.” This quickly became Sara’s guiltless way to eat whatever she wanted with little fear of weight gain. Pretty soon it was all she ever did and all she ever thought about. She stopped inviting friends over to her house. Bulimia became her best friend. She didn’t care about anyone but herself and her eating disorder. She binged and purged up to five times per day for over five years before seeking treatment.
Her family and friends encouraged treatment much earlier, but since she was a legal adult, treatment could not be forced. Sara was unwilling to see someone. She was not ready to give up her illness. She tried to convince others that she was fine; that they were mistaken about her. She gave reasons for her incessant baking and then snuck the food up to her room where she could eat it all by herself. She would eat a batch of brownies that she so beautifully wrapped up as a pretend gift for a friend, or finish off an entire bowl of cookie dough in one night. She told people that she was devastated that the five-course meal she was cooking all day got ruined and ended up in the garbage instead of in her stomach. She snuck out to fast food restaurants and ate in the car before going home. Her behavior became so out of control that she was ready to eat anything she could get her hands on in larger and larger amounts. Her body became so used to the large consumption of food and then the quick purging of it all that whenever she bent over she would automatically throw up. She didn’t even have to stick her finger down her throat anymore.
Things came to a head for her when one day she noticed that she threw up blood. She was not exactly sure what this meant at the time, but she did know that this was a serious problem. She decided to reach out to her roommate and tell her about her problem with Bulimia. Her roommate took her to the emergency room and Sara was admitted for some tests. A thorough evaluation of her physical and mental health took place. It was during this time that she began to take stock of all the scary effects of this illness on her well-being. She had stopped menstruating for ten consecutive months, her skin was so dry it actually hurt, and all the color had left her face. Her hair started to fall out of her head and she grew hair on her arms and legs as a way to compensate for the fat loss on her body. She was cold all the time and constantly exhausted. When exercising, she felt as if she was going to pass out and fainted on more than ten occasions, with one laceration on her forehead that required stitches and a creative story about tripping and falling when jogging on a park trail. She lost friends and close family ties. She became much more isolated and egocentric. She stopped participating in things that she once found interesting, desirable, and pleasurable. All that mattered to her were her binges and purges.
Sara luckily got the help she needed. She sought out a team of eating disorder specialists and began treatment and recovery immediately. She quickly realized that she needed to treat this serious illness aggressively. She met weekly with a therapist for both individual and group counseling; she met monthly with a nutritionist for meal planning; and she met bi-monthly with a medical doctor to assure medical stability. Sara explored the reasons why she began engaging in this behavior and what led to the maintenance of this negative coping mechanism for close to a decade. With the help of her team, she began utilizing alternative behaviors to help her meet her needs in a healthier and more functional way.
Sara’s story is one of desperation, hope, and success. If you are struggling with Bulimia, get help. Work with a team so that you too can enjoy recovery and a healthier and happier lifestyle.