Lying In Weight

I suffered from anorexia nervosa as a teenager. You may have heard that before. You may be like me. I fell into that cadre of teens in the 1980’s, who followed the Jane Fonda doctrine of compulsive fitness. Ever the overachiever, I starved and exercised as well as I, a premed major, earned straight-A’s. My freshman year of college ended in catastrophe as I came home on a break at 5’4” and 89 pounds. My parents intervened and, for four years, I rode my bike weekly from my dorm room at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio to my therapist’s office in Hyde Park. I graduated at a normal weight and so felt that the eating disorder had gone away. But I was wrong. It seems that I have done what many others who suffered eating disorders have: gotten well enough to evade diagnosis but not to the extent to feel eating disorder-free. In writing this book, I have learned that there is a name for our condition: "subclinical" eating disorders. I suspect that a fair number of you fit into this category, far more than that the millions of adult women who have full-blown eating disorders later in their lives. What subclinical can mean is this: I have always maintained a low weight (105-110 pounds) through constant dieting and exercise. I became a vegetarian and ran triathlons in graduate school, while earning my Ph.D. in molecular biology. Later, I had to undergo fertility treatment in order to get pregnant, because I had never menstruated at any point in my life without the help of medication. By the seventh month of my pregnancy, I had only gained seven pounds. And so my gynecologist warned to me to quit work as a medical reporter for the Chicago Tribune, a job I loved. I did so and gave birth to a healthy 6-pound, 9-ounce girl. But soon after, I separated from my husband and embarked on a four-year bitter divorce. In the midst of these stresses, I plummeted to 100 pounds, less than I weighed before conceiving. I suffered intense post-partum depression. At this point, I understood that the eating disorder had never really left me. Still I denied it, as do most women that I have talked to in writing my new book, "Lying in Weight: the Hidden Epidemic of Eating Disorders in Adult Women." (Harper Collins, May 2007). For us who have undergone recovery at least once, an eating disorder is past tense: I had an eating disorder. But these diseases seem to linger, at least in some form, and the severity of their expression seems to match the level of stress and transition that we experience through our lifespan. I learned that eating disorders are not a line, with sickness on one side and health on the other. Whereas society holds a myth that recovery from these diseases is like jumping over that line. Instead, we know that eating disorders lie on a spectrum, with hospitalization and death on one end and emotional liberation in all eating on the other. My acceptance came during a conversation that I related in the introduction of the book. After I left the Chicago Tribune on maternity leave, I did not return. Instead, I freelanced as a medical and science journalist for many technical and popular magazines, including Science, Self and Child. I won a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship at Harvard and MIT. Having coffee one morning with a Knight colleague, I learned that I was not alone in struggling with a beast that has taken hold of my psyche. My friend had suffered a full relapse to bulimia nervosa after the birth of her first child. In the same circumstance, she had returned to her disease, totally, while I returned, partially. Aren't we the same, in some way? Aren't we all, the "we" who have suffered from an eating disorder of any kind? With the intent of finding out what and if people like me were prone to relapse, I wrote the book. It follows a collective woman as she journeys through the lifespan -- marriage, pregnancy, parenting, mid and late life -- with an eating disorder, its remnants, and related “food issues.” The book contains state-of-the-art medical research and so offers more than a collective memoir, rather a resource of information as to what is happening, why, and what you can do. Since there are 35 women interviewed in the book, you may identify more with others than me. Some have more graphic stories, while others are more benign. Whatever piece you take away from this work, I hope it helps you in your own journey toward recovery. 12 April 2007
tgura tgura
46-50, F
13 Responses Jul 2, 2007

I thought I was over mine but I had a relapse 6 years ago when I thought I had met someone special in my life and it turned out to be fraud. I found he was using me and my ideas and used them to manipulate some other woman. Little did I know BAM ! I was in bed and not eatting in full depression and I lost 40 pounds. However, it was 40 much needed pounds taken off but nonetheless it was certainly what I felt when I was a teenager and I thought I was over it but I wasn't. That horrible feeling and not eatting I can't describe it in this short area but it was awful I must of been suppressing this for all of those years. It was never dealt with professionally and it came back I couldn't believe it but yet I got through it again. I didn't seek professional help because all the doctors in my area (psychiartrists) want money up front and they will fill out your insurance form but many people don't have $200 a week to spare. So I suffered and dealt with it once again. Its a shame how we can't seek for help when we need it. Thanks for posting this story it kind of gives me a clearer image of my issues. Bella70

I too became anorexic as a freshman, was a premed, got near straight A's, had parents who cared enough to intervene, graduated at a normal weight, and had a slipback in law school and the year following my first and only year. I was 5'4" and 80 lbs at my worst and that persisted for a few years. After eight and a half years, one major slip back, several minor dances of two steps forward and one step back, all parallel to significant emotional struggling, I can proudly say that I am a recovered anorexic. What does this mean? It means I can control my need to overcontrol my body. I'm very into fitness and eating healthy but I can control my thoughts and urges to slip back. So much so that I rarely, consciously have these urges anymore. <br />
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When I made the scary choice to recover, my personal thesis was: I want to lead a healthy lifestyle. Step one: realizing that thin doesn't = healthy. Watching myself grow from beautiful to disordered back to beautiful has been a rough yet inspirational journey. And listening to the tearful compliments, on the amazing job I did at improving my life, from those so intimately tied to my period of eating hell, is beyond rewarding. <br />
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One final message, the most rewarding part of my recovery: I too had to juggle college and weekly/bi-weekly doctor visits that consisted of a PCP, nutritionist, psychologist and sometimes psychiatrist. I also have worked in both hospitality and health care industries and know how few and far between the praises are, especially in comparison to the crisiticisms. In the eating disorder medical professions I imagine the success rate is significantly lower than the recidivism and mortality rate. A few years back I randomly thought about my PCP, as she was crucial in my recovery. I knew she changed practices so I looked her up, called her practice, received her email address and wrote her a thank you letter, telling her that b/c of her I am a notch in the success column, and I meant it. The sensation that overcame my body when I pressed "send" was one of the most euphoric I have ever experienced. <br />
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IF YOU SUFFER FROM AN EATING DISORDER, may you become a success notch and when you do, congratulations on the euphoria you will experience when you look back and realize how far you have come and how incredibly much more strength it took to recover than it was to remain in the comfort of your eating disorder!

i am 5'2 and i am 87 pounds.i didnt realise that was that<br />
inspiring story.

Hi there im pro ana. I've been doing this for yrs<br />
I've gone on n off the cycle..but I enjoy it is that wrong?<br />
I know how far I can push myself til I get weak feeling<br />
it's my hobby and I'm proud of my accomplishments of being <br />
under 100 lbs. I applause anyone who seeks help. But I also am proud<br />
of ppl who achieve thier goal with Ana. It's crazy I know, but<br />
I am happy. I battled the demon Ana I battled the suicidal Ana <br />
and the tricks that Ana likes to pull. She has reasoned with me<br />
and realizes I will not allow her to hurt me. I found a happy medium, and I wish <br />
anyone battling with Ana don't give up there's a way to win.

hi i know you wrote this comment ages ago but i was just interested to know if you still felt the same? i have an eating disorder and i've often wondered if its possible to strike a balance, because at the min im certainly not winning.

Like ur story....wanted to ask, seeing as EDS, GERD, and car travel Claustrophobia r interlinked, infact i believe that in men, after struggling with GERD and getting the lump in the throat, the next stage of illness is certainly car travel claustrophobia, and persistent constipation, because of the constant worrying and the imbalance of Serotonin levels in both the brain and the stomach. How do u suppose someone at that level could get healing. im claustrophobic now, have tried every thing but im still stranded at home...... its now been 3 months. please advice<br />

Yes, I did get it back. And yes, gaining weight had something to do with it. But so did changing my life in a gentler way, taking up yoga instead of aerobics, meditation instead of mindless activities for distraction. The hardest, by far, was facing my ED's thoughts such as believing that thinness set me apart and made me a better than others. And that people wouldn't love me if I were heavier. Good luck!

I am so happy to read a story that sounds SO much like many details are exaclty the same as my own life....from the teen exersice, grad school in Molecular Biology...always thin but "healthy enough" to the fertility treatments.....<br />
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I am also so intrigue to finally have met someone else who never had a period naturally ...ever in their life....did you ever get it back?? I am dying to know...they kept tellign me that I would if I could gain a lot of weight.....its not happened yet and I've been through 2 years of fertility treatment now...almost pregnant a couple times.

My god you are a pretty and smart woman.

Type your comment here...i have never been diagnosed but then again i dont think i really need to be. i binge and purge every now and again. sometimes i wont do it for months even years but every now and then (usually right before my period) i end up throwing up. it's bizarre how it creeps into my life and how i justify and minimize it's presence because it is not a daily event. right now, i am depressed and i cannot stop eating and it's driving me crazy. i think it all stems from the same spiritual illness - that feeling of discontentment with myself and the world. if its not with food it will be with something else until i fix whats wrong inside. thank you for sharing about your book.

how true all this is.I too was diagnosed with anorexia in my early 20s whilst at University.Before my finals, I developed bulimia so that I increased my food intake and maintained a low - but higher than the anorexic weight, by vomiting after meals.I "recovered" from bulimia when i became pregnant but have continued to have an uneasy relationship with food.Stress and any threatening life changes tend to exacerbate my eating disorder although, having said that, I am pretty stable at the moment.<br />
I have always felt that the best therapy I have had in the past focuses on the underlying psychological problems and ignores the food issues - which are only symptomatic, as much as possible.These problems tend to be associated with feelings of being out of control not merely of your environment and life experiences, but of your own emotions, your perceptions,your whole inner life.I no longer panic around food - especially food prepared by someone for me in over large quantities, but, at best, I have reached a temporary truce. discovering that I can eat fairly normally without gaining lots of weight has helped me but, more importantly, I have found that I am prepared to define my own,non-food needs and assert them, rather than trying to fulfil the needs of others.

Its not only adult women who have eating disorders.. males do too. There are very few books on males with EDs.. I wish more people would recognise its not only a female issue.

Wow, thank you for sharing your story. it seems that everytime my life spirals out of control eating is what I can control. I think that is something in my gets out o control then control what you don't eat. stop eating for control. sounds weird, huh?

These relapses seem similar to a reformed smoker that will revert back to the habit, even if briefly, when under stressful times. Think it's all connected to some part of the brain make-up or response?