I spent every practice giving 110%, sprinting as fast as I could in every drill knowing this was my only activity for the day. I did as much running as I could until one of my teammates or coach, who knew what was going on, stopped me.
My nutritionist and therapist urged me to add more snacks into my day, and as they spoke, these words they went in one ear and out the other. I told them I was eating these snacks, but when my weight kept dropping they knew something was up. Given that I was still socializing in school to an extent and was starting to become upfront with my “issues” with my friends, the doctors did not want to take me out of school for the full time inpatient program in fear of putting me into a depression. So the doctors had decided that I would be participating in the Maudsley program, an outpatient program that put the majority of the pressure on my mom to regulate and control my eating patterns. My mother gave me essentially a one-month trial and said if it did not seem to be effective, then I would be transferring to the inpatient program.
I had to plan a family meal at the hospital. This consisted of my mom preparing a breakfast that I would be forced to eat, and they would observe my eating behaviors and patterns. Unlike the traditional eating disorder patient, I ate completely “normally” knowing that they were looking for irregular behaviors.
After this, I had finally come to my first day of treatment, and I was defensive as ever. My designated therapist introduced me to the routine that I would be going through. This consisted of me going in without my mom, getting fully undressed and putting a gown on. I though of putting weights in my underwear like I had seen in the movies, but I realized there was no way of doing this without getting caught. Stepping on that scale triggered extreme anxiety, as I awaited the number that would appear on the screen. This was not some dinky scale you bought at Bed, Bath, and Beyond but a full blown industrial one that virtually gave no way of beating the system.
Although the program was teaching us not to be concerned about that floating number, this was the one indicator of my health that we had to follow. I experienced one of two emotions every time I stepped off that scale: relief or stress. I was relieved when I had maintained or lost weight, the opposite of what I was supposed to be feeling and what my mom and doctors were feeling. My stress level significantly increased if that number read anything higher than the last appointment. After my weigh in I spent time in my therapist’s room discussing my food intake of the past week.
In my first meeting, she thoroughly explained what they believed was my diagnosis. My illness had started as anorexia athletica, an obsession and compulsive behavior with exercise, and as I continued to restrict my intake and lose weight I slowly slid into the world of full blown anorexia nervosa. I was not remotely surprised by the diagnosis but was honestly intrigued by all the information being thrown at me. Not surprisingly, in and outside of my health classes at school, I took on a certain fascination with eating disorders. Looking back now, I remember I would spend free time watching fictional documentaries on Youtube and different eating disorder movies I had researched.
After my discussion with the therapist, my mom would come in to further discuss how my progress was going. I started to realize that this was not some TV movie, but my actual reality! My doctor gave my mom suggestions of what other foods she could introduce in my pathway to weight gain. She suggested things like ice cream, whole milk, and butter, and my mom and I just looked at each other with hesitation. These were foods, even before my restrictions, that my family never ate. This was the first time my mom and I were agreeing on anything during my treatment. We looked for other supplements rather than those suggested that I could eat given that fit in better with my family’s regular eating habits.
Breakfast and dinner were a daily struggle with my mom, as I spent the time screaming and fighting, telling her this was way too much, and I was going to get sick if I ate the entire portion. Not only was I eating a tremendous amount more, but I was doing no exercise except for soccer practice which I previously did not consider “exercising.” I was astonished by the size of the portions I was eating, although I would later realize that these portions were really what was “normal.” Given how much I deprived my internal organs, after eating a substantial amount, I would get an abnormal bloating feeling and a distended stomach, and I would spend the rest of the night crying, with a heating pad on my stomach to take away the pain.
Knowing I had to eat everything at breakfast and dinner, I did everything I could to avoid or limit lunch as much as I could at school. I would eat one bite claiming I was full and threw the rest away. I knew my friends would not challenge me so I just kept doing this for a while. Other than the first week of the program, where I gained three pounds, I wasn’t gaining substantial amounts of weight and my therapist knew that I must be lying about my intake. Despite what I believed, every single piece of food that entered my body really did count. I had deprived my body so much that my metabolism had completely shut down and therefore it would take A LOT of food to get me to gain increasing amounts of weight even if I was not exercising.
Once they had realized I had been lying about my meals at school, I had to be monitored slightly by a teacher that we were very close with. At this point, I remember that I started to WANT to get better, something I had never felt before. The winter track season had been taken away from me, and I refused to let my main sport, lacrosse, be taken away as well. I really began to learn how every pound counted, and one single pound could completely shift how my brain was operating. At this point, I think I was getting to the weight where that “switch” was beginning to flip back. There came a certain point after a few months that I began to get food by myself instead of my mom having to force me. I was transitioning into the second stage of the program given some weight gain, and therefore I regained some freedom.
Things that I took for granted before were becoming so important to me now. I was allowed to do some light yoga and even take long walks. As soon as I was given the okay to take these walks, I would force my boyfriend to take walks with me every time we hung out. I found myself speeding up, and he had to consistently stop to make sure I didn’t start running.
At this point, others had noticed that I was generally happier at school and physically was looking much better. Even though I was far from recovering, I was certainly taking steps in the right direction. To Be Continued….
Read More By Sydney
If you or someone you know is suffering with an eating disorder, the National Eating Disorders Association (nationaleatingdisorders.org) supports individuals and families affected by eating disorders, and serves as a catalyst for prevention, cures and access to quality care. Call their toll free, confidential Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. In addition, Project HEAL funds inpatient, residential, intensive outpatient, and outpatient treatment for applicants suffering from an eating disorder who want to recover but cannot afford treatment. Go to http://theprojectheal.org/apply-for-grants/our-scholarship-progra/ for information about how to apply for a treatment grant OR VISIT WWW.THEPROJECTHEAL.ORG