It was in fourth and fifth grade that I decided I didn’t want to grow up. I wanted to be the shortest in my classes, and I even walked around with bent knees to appear shorter. I remember competing with friends to see who could come closest to being able to fit our hands around our waists. I remember having a friend over and watching a Richard Simmons “Sweatin’ to the Oldies” exercise video and then having us both get on the scale to compare weights.
I was just a little girl and I don’t know where this idea came from. This was way back in the mid-90s when there were few resources for children with anorexia. My own mom had never dieted a day in my life and had the healthiest relationship with food of any mom I knew. It was just my own brain, harassing me and badgering me that I needed to stay small.
I was a gymnast which certainly was a factor but not the sole factor. I was always naturally normal/thin, as is my family and all of my relatives. I don’t know why my happy, carefree childhood became obsessed with this.
I remember watching a 20/20 special on Peggy Claude Pierre, a woman who had created a new way of treating girls with anorexia, a disease I was just learning about but didn’t realize would soon consume me. I remember sitting in the dark family room watching the show and how she spoon-fed girls who were refusing to eat. She treated them like little, sick children and something about this was highly appealing to me.
My mom was beginning to catch on that I had some worrisome behaviors and purchased all sorts of books about anorexia. Little did she know at the time, but I read every single one of those books from cover to cover, many times over. They served as textbooks for me and every single description of anorexia was what I was experiencing. It was so strange to read everything and realize that those anorexia descriptions were me. Nothing about it worried me, it just was me discovering my identity. I wish more than anything I could go back in time and speak to that little girl and say, “don’t you dare fall into this trap, it will destroy your life, destroy your childhood, destroy your adolescence, destroy your relationships, destroy your ability to have children, destroy your health, destroy your happiness, destroy the idea of ever being able to enjoy food without guilt again.”
By sixth grade, my mom had become so concerned that she had me visiting my pediatrician and she found me an eating disorder therapist. He was highly recommended and was one of the few so-called experts who knew how to treat such a complex disease. It turned out he was a terrible therapist and, although he gave me some ways to use cognitive behavioral therapy to talk back to my eating disorder voice, that is pretty much all I got out of those many sessions. He decided it wasn’t worthwhile for me to see him because I wasn’t making enough effort to get better. I saw many other therapists (outpatient, inpatient, and in hospitals) but nobody has been particularly helpful.
My goal was to have nobody ever see me eat. This meant that I would go all day without eating and then hide in the bathroom to eat. And if I was going to be seeing somebody I hadn’t seen in a while or going to the doctor, I would purposely starve myself and not drink water beforehand to be as thin as possible. Then I decided I would move to a completely liquid diet, living off juice as a means for survival. And then the weeks before high school, I completely fasted and lived off tea and chewable vitamins for over two weeks and lost a scary amount of weight and ended up in the hospital, missing the first month of high school.
My story goes on and on from there, spiraling more into the hands of my eating disorder, always there, always a separate narrative playing in my head, apart from everything going on around me. It’s my own little world, a constant feeling of unease, dissatisfaction, uncertainty that I’m eating too much, I should be thinner, I’m not doing enough for my eating disorder. But I write this to inform people that eating disorders often don’t start because of a trauma or for any one particular reason. We are learning more about the brain wiring and genetics. In doing so, I can only hope that in my lifetime there is some form of relief because, right now, it’s just a constant battle. It’s easier to just give in and obey.