The first time I ever really thought about making myself throw up, I was sitting in my seventh grade English teacher’s classroom. My teacher, who was old enough to mentor us and young enough to connect with us, read to us every day from a cute little pink book. The title was Perfect. I remember thinking it was crazy that this seemingly normal, healthy girl found herself giving into peer pressure and trying to be popular and beautiful like her new friends. Then, the book ended and I kind of dismissed the whole idea of an eating disorder.
In high school, I was forced to take a health class. The hardest part was keeping my eyes open while a John McCain lookalike droned on about the dangers of alcohol, tanning, sex — you WILL get pregnant AND die — and eating disorders. I took the tests, politely declined the chocolate chip cookies he brought on Fridays, and walked out with an A. Buh-bye #issues, I had artificial rays to soak up.
Still, eating disorders kept sneaking into my train of thought, thanks to the news, reality TV, the health promotion posters in hallways and at doctors’ offices, etc., etc., etc. Like, why was it such a big deal, anyway? I mean, it should be obvious if someone is in danger. That’s what all the books said. Your teeth turned yellow, your hair became fragile, your bones would stick out in a sickly way — right? It would be impossible for someone not to notice, and besides, the girls crazy enough to do that to themselves were already being monitored…probably. At least, that’s what I thought. I think that’s what every girl thinks — until one day she’s turning the shower on wide open, blasting the iTunes Top 100, and reaching for her toothbrush with the door locked behind her.
Hi. Nice to meet you. I’m a recovering bulimic.
Once I was in college, the freshman fifteen became a very real, very scary thing looming over me. If we’re being honest, I didn’t have the weight to gain. Actually, I needed to lose fifteen pounds. I played a demanding sport, my friends went to other schools, my classes were overwhelming, and my summer fling had cheated on me and dropped out of touch. I know, it’s the typical “yeah, yeah, so you were miserable, new plot line, please,” but I was miserable. One day, a light bulb went off and all of those warnings and descriptions of eating disorders came back to me. Did they discourage me? LOL. I used all of the information I had to learn to be the best bulimic I could. I googled “pro mia tips.” I learned not to brush my teeth right after a purge, to always eat marker foods before a binge, to hide every trace of my dirty little secret. And I was very, very good at my trade — not that I would brag about getting away with it.
Actually, it’s pretty easy to hide an eating disorder. People repeatedly asked me how I had lost so much weight so quickly (and politely remained quiet when it yo-yo’d back). Eventually, someone filed an anonymous tip. My dorm’s community assistant knocked on my door one day to ask how I was feeling. Automatically, I got defensive with her and she apologized: “Please don’t tell anyone I told you why I came up here, but someone in another building told administration they think you have an eating disorder.” We laughed it off after I replied, “Seriously? Do I look like I have an eating disorder?”
I would be lying if I told you I was sorry. I would be a fraud if I said I was reformed and healthy and soooo above harming myself. I’m not. I struggle every. single. day. My boyfriend doesn’t call when he says he will? Another (bitter) woman mocks my (adorable) shoes in the bar bathroom? That to-die-for dress fits a little too snugly in the dressing room? You’ll find me stuffing my face with Oreos and rushing to puke them up before an evil little carb can stick to my hips.
Basically, I’m just saying that I get it. I understand you, and you’re so far from being alone. One day you’ve got your life together, the next you’re scrambling to protect your precious Mia. Sometimes the hardest part of coping is deciding you want to change. For me, purging was a way to be in control. My friends will tell you I overthink everything. It’s so difficult for me to get out of my headspace sometimes and just exist without overanalyzing and regretting and stressing every little detail. Purging gave me the ability to focus on the physical act of throwing up with a clear end goal (finding my marker food = success) and an obvious benefit: no food absorption, no weight gain. I guess it makes sense that most sane people would question why anyone would binge if they had to go through purging afterward. Again, I understand it’s not always a conscious decision. Maybe you just wanted a light snack — some fruit or yogurt — and you walked to the kitchen, opened the fridge, and…half an hour later, you’re staring at the empty wrappers littering the floor and you feel disgusting. The guilt is so overwhelming you can’t even breathe. That’s when purging brings us the solace and control we’re desperately seeking. For me, that was the hardest thing to give up. Mia becomes a part of who you are, and she can’t be tossed aside so easily. Who else would listen and help us get skinny?
Forget skinny. Focus on fit; aspire to be healthy. One of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done was walk into a support group. I only went through with it because a scholarship adviser told me the paperwork would support my case for a scholarship appeal after a rough semester. I never dreamed the women in the group would become my friends and my therapist would be my greatest ally. I never thought I would look forward to my hour in that cozy little oasis of understanding. I know you don’t believe me — and I know you’re not ready to give Mia up.
I’m telling you that you need to anyway. For your mom, your little sister, your daughter. Don’t put them through the pain of seeing your health deteriorate. I don’t care how careful and smart you are, because eventually, it will. You do NOT want ugly hair, nails, and teeth. It’s not a good look on anyone, ladies. Eat clean, meditate, and get your heart rate up doing something you love. Take the time to love and respect yourself. You’ll feel better, look better, and begin to realize just how beautiful you are.
Now put the toothbrush away. .
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