The average woman sees 400-600 advertisements per day. By the time she is 17 years old, she has seen over 250,000 commercials. With the constant message of beauty and perfection reminding women every day of their flaws, many girls are self-conscious about their appearance, especially their weight. Unfortunately for some, that concern can grow into an obsession, and turn into an eating disorder.
In the U.S. one or two out of every 100 students will have an eating disorder. The most common of these are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Sadly, we usually aren’t aware that someone we know has one until it is too late. My friend Tina (not her real name, obviously) suffered alternatively from anorexia and bulimia for years and she agreed to share her story.
Her anorexia began when she was around eleven years old, and continued on and off. When she began to suffer from bulimia, she was fifteen. She used to throw up after every meal, no matter how small it was. On average, that was about three to five times a day. All of this was so that she would reach her ideal weight of eighty to eighty-five pounds, which is the weight she was in 7th and 8th grade.
Tina said that before eating a meal, regardless of how hungry she was, she would feel guilty for eating. She would tell herself to go ahead and consume the food, as long as she threw it up afterward. While eating she would feel “disgusted and bloated,” and regret eating at all as soon as she finished. Because of this Tina says, “sometimes I had to force myself to eat.”
“It drove me crazy because I didn’t want to, but I had to or I knew I would go to the hospital. Or if my family was making me, to please them.”
While eating out, so as not to feel as guilty about eating, she would usually order an appetizer or a salad.
“I was always thinking about how fat, stupid, or worthless I was. How imperfect I was. I would look at girls smaller than me and think of ways to get like them. It was a huge mind game for control. I wanted control of my body and how I looked. I hated it but I loved it all the same.”
When asked if she could do things normally, such as play sports and be active with her eating disorder, she admitted that she could, but not for extended periods of time. “I was extremely weak, and often too fatigued to do much of anything.”
Because of constant mood swings and the amount of weight she was losing, people began to take notice of her eating disorder. Still, their reactions were surprising.
“Some people pitied me, and others told me to grow up. Only a handful of people have actually tried to be there for me.”
Eventually, Tina was hospitalized and was given medicine to help her reach a healthy weight. She reached 112 pounds and was released. For all intents and purposes, Tina is better, but it’s a never-ending cycle. “I’m honestly unaware of what I’m doing if I revert back to old habits, which keeps me from seeking the help I need until I’m already considered anorexic or bulimic again.”
But she is on the road to recovery. Tina consciously reminds herself daily of the damage she is doing to her body (her hair would come out in handfuls and her skin was white and pasty), and is attending counseling sessions.
Tina believes that her biggest challenge she faces now would be overcoming her eating disorders completely.
“It is hard to really get past it and stay past it. I slip up quite a bit. Currently, I weigh 98 pounds. Being just 17 and 5 feet 4 inches, I know that is not a healthy weight.”
Tina offers this advice for girls struggling with eating issues:
“My advice would be to get help. No matter how much you don’t want to or how much control you think you have over it, you don’t. I thought I could control it, but I couldn’t. I ended up with hypoglycemia because of it. So please, if you have an eating disorder, don’t be stubborn, get help. To the girls with friends who are struggling, be there for them. Offer to help or be there when they ask for help from their parents, guidance counselors or whoever they feel comfortable asking. Be careful to be gentle with them though and not get frustrated because they don’t listen right away or seem reluctant. Remember, when you have an eating disorder, your mind becomes fragile and you end up hurting everyone around you just as much as you are hurting your own body. There is no such thing as perfection. It is a figment of our imagination. Something far too complex for anyone to be, therefore, unreal.”