If there was a contest for hiding an eating disorder – I was definitely the winner.
Everyone suspected, but no one could pin me down. I always had the perfect lie and most creative escapes.
There are many reasons eating disorders develop, but that’s a different blog. But I’ll at least tell you my reasons, which were revealed during my 6 years in therapy and nutrition counseling.
(Please Note: This article is namely focusing on bulimia because that was what I suffered with, things may differ for teens with anorexia or other eating disorders.)
1. They have a preoccupation with “thinness” and dieting.
I was a pudgy 12-year-old, not unlike many 12-year-olds. I had been pudgy for as long as I could remember. When my friends sat down to eat a snack in their bikinis, they had little tiny pencil-sized rolls. I had over-sized inner tubes.
I noticed how thin everyone else was, and how not-thin I was. I became an avid “dieter.” I wanted to look like those girls in the layouts of Sassy Magazine (Whoa…can you say flashback!).
But that’s not really the reason I became bulimic, it certainly didn’t help, but it wasn’t the cause.
The foundation for my eating disorder was laid long before I ever knew what “fat” looked like.
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I was an overachiever by nature. Bright. Got good grades. Naturally outgoing.
My personality wasn’t the cause either.
My mother indulged my love of books. Each time we went to the B. Dalton Bookstore (remember that, right?) I would come out with a stack of fresh books to devour.
My father was a successful businessman, who was forever seeking his next adventure.
But my mom had lived a fairly sheltered life. She had probably never even heard of bulimia before it struck our home. And being the daughter of a poor farming family, she probably could have never realized why anyone would waste food on purpose.
And my father was always at work, highly motivated to provide for every single need (and want) our family had.
Fortunately, my parents weren’t the cause either.
I could go on, listing every single potential factor leading to this dreadful disease but none of them were the sole cause. These things may have lain dormant never producing an eating disorder if there hadn’t been a catalyst.
What was my catalyst?
It’s almost too personal to expose.
So, I will leave you with the statistic provided by RAINN (Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network) that
“One out of every six American women has been the victim sexual abuse.”
It was horrible.
2. They have recently gone through something traumatic.
My mother remembers those days. She described my once flamboyant personality as “smashed on the concrete” and she was left trying to “scrape me up.”
On the day my disease commenced, I was eating and watching TV. I felt ugly and fat compared to the thin girls on the commercials.
And that was that. The idea to rid myself of the “fullness” popped into my mind unbidden. And I did.
I felt like I was purging the “yuck” the previous situation had left me with.
Afterwards, I felt light and airy. I loved the feeling my new habit had given me. Almost a sort of magical power.
Then the weight started to drop. Everyone noticed. Smiling, they commented on “how beautiful” I looked.
I was accepted, opposed to the rejection I felt prior.
So, I continued.
3. They Are Losing weight WAY too rapidly.
I dropped to a radical 105 pounds, nearly 35 pounds in a matter of months.
That’s when things got suspicious.
Though, with bulimia rapid weight loss may not be a tell-all because many bulimics are not “successful” enough to actually lose weight.
4. They are losing weight DESPITE a major increase of food intake.
When faced with head-on questions (and yes, people were bold enough to ask me straight out) I would simply say, “That’s cheating. I stopped eating meat and have become a vegetarian (which was true).” I was able to thwart the confrontation, but it didn’t make sense because they would see me at lunch consuming twice as many calories as I did before.
5. S/he is spending a lot of time in the restroom after meals.
I would dispose of my food at least five times a day. Going to “take a shower” often. I would spend so long in the shower purging that the hot water always ran out either forcing me to stop or (more likely) forcing me to take a break. I would sit and wait 20 minutes so that the water had time to heat up.
6. You are finding unacceptable explanations for odd behavior.
I would blast the radio so no one would be able to hear my retching. I used a long slender tea spoon to aid my purging. I would hide it on top of the mirrored vanity behind the lights. (Though many use the other end of their toothbrushes, which is a common bathroom item).
My mother actually found my “spoon” many times. Because the power of denial is so strong, she had convinced herself that I was doing some “pleasuring.” She had already confronted me about it (a couple times) and I had covered my tracks with lying repeatedly. But she continually found the item despite removing it time and again.
7. Your child seems to know to much about eating disorders
If your child tend to read health books that have sections about eating disorders, have searched the internet for keywords like “bulimia/anorexia” or “eating disorders” or they may have an unnatural amount of knowledge in their conversation that signifies they have been researching disorders because they might be struggling with one.
I was also an expert on my disorder, reading anything I could find on the subject. Of course, back then the internet was not like it is today, so I had to read actual books. (Oh, the horror!). Many times I used the information I gleaned to “prove” why I wasn’t suffering with bulimia to those who accused me.
8. Your child tends to spend more time than before preparing meals for the family.
Because I was now the “acceptable American waif” I would flaunt my ability to eat by preparing lavish meals for my family and gorging with them. I loved to cook, especially high-fat, high-carbohydrate foods.
An eating disorder is like a drug addiction. But instead of an outside chemical producing a desire effect, the drug is the biologically made hormone serotonin. By eating high carbohydrate meals, I could increase this “feel good” hormone for a short period of time. But the guilt of eating such food would win out. I would be forced to purge the food, causing a severe dip in my brain’s ability to produce serotonin, therefore, reinforcing the bitter cycle.
I also offered to take on the chore of shopping for the entire family. I did this in an effort to hid food I purchased and consumed secretly en masse.
9. You notice their choices become erratic and unlike their normal self.
Of course, my family probably thought I was just becoming more responsible by taking up this meal planning task. Like I said before, denial is such a strong emotion in the family of someone with an eating disorder.
But my irresponsible and out-of-control behavior behind closed bathroom doors started pushing its way through the cracks. I started drinking and doing drugs.
My choice of friends began to change, despite my absolute adoration of my previous friends. Something inside me needed to find relief.
You see, when the eating disorder first started it served as a coping mechanism for the sexual abuse. But after time, it became its own prison. So, I needed a new outlet.
Something more radical to take the edge off the stress that was building up inside.
10. Things they once LOVED either fade away entirely or take a dark and twisted turn.
My personality swung from one extreme to another. I was extremely happy one minute and completely depressed the next. My poetry greatly revealed my heart and my struggle.
Though many love Edgar Allen Poe for his dark writing, it was a cause of great concern for my mom. I went from writing poetry about God and Love to writing obsessively about Death, Hell and suicide.
If you notice one characteristic in this list in your teenager, I probably would say that is totally normal. Teens are weirdos. (Just sayin’)
But if you find yourself nodding your head at every single point, you may be in for a heart-to-heart with your young one. (And most likely they will deny it to the bitter end).
I remember when I was 14. I had already been bulimic for well over a year or two. I prayed to God, “Lord, when I’m 16, I promise to tell someone.” But then 16 came around and I just couldn’t.
I was so wrapped up in lies I could not consider living my life any other way, though I deeply desired to be free from the captivity I had created.
Remember that if you have a teen struggling with an eating disorder that it is not your fault. Satan has planned this attack in detail, from the thoughts they’ve had while watching TV to the snide comments of a rude classmate.
I’m sure you have done things imperfectly (you may even be rehashing a particular incident right now), but you are human. Even with everything I know about eating disorder, I still say stupid things to my children about food and weight. But let us remember that:
We are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12″
And you may think you are completely unable to handle this thing that has taken hold of your child. And you are right. You are totally incapable of dealing with this. But rejoice for:
My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 2 Corinthians 12:9
You were never called to be your child’s savior.
This is not your battle. It is his.
With everything I went through, God was able to pull me out of that pit.
As of December 18, 2001, I have been free of my eating disorder. I walked into a clinic in Austin, Texas called La Que Sabe (with my mom by my side) and never reverted to that dreaded sickness. Though those practitioners and my support group helped me, I was healed before I ever attended a therapy session.
There is hope at the end of this darkness.
His name is Christ.
Some Statistics (Mirasol.net):
- Eating disorder statistics provided by the National Eating Disorder Association are even higher, and indicate that 10 million American women suffer from eating disorders.
- 10-15% of all Americans suffer from some type of serious eating disorder.
- One in 200 American women suffers from anorexia.
- Two to three in 100 American women suffers from bulimia
- Anorexia is the third most common chronic illness among adolescents.
- 50% of girls between the ages of 11 and 13 see themselves as overweight.
- According to Time magazine, 80% of all children have been on a diet by the time they’ve reached fourth grade.
- 86% of people with eating disorders report onset of an eating disorder by age 20.
- 10% report onset at ten years or younger.