Most people don’t know this, but I am a recovering anorexic. It’s a taboo topic, so I have kept quiet about it for more than a decade. I am now beginning to flesh out a piece of literary fiction with this piece of my story woven through its tale. Today, I’m sharing with you an essay I wrote when I first came out of the anorexic mindset and discovered fitness. If you are a parent, a leader or work with young women struggling with eating disorders, I encourage you to seek assistance from the National Eating Disorders Association and a qualified counselor or therapist. Looking back, I wish I had received help instead of doing it on my own.
Here’s my tale, told in the third person because I wanted to distance myself from the girl I once was. ---
She glimpsed herself in the mirror with a sense of despondency at the reflection. Ribs poking through taut skin emphasized the onset of starvation. Distorted self-image overshadowed all sensibility. Mumbling to herself, “If you could just get that eating under control!”
Nominated as the beauty queen of her senior class, who would suspect that Mindi silently struggled with a mild eating disorder? Late onset of menses was a clue to her parents that some underlying issue was taunting their prepubescent-looking daughter at age seventeen. Her mere 88 pounds at 5’3” clued them into her obsession with the stashed magazines of rail-thin models beneath her bed. Literally posing before every mirror to ensure one invisible roll of fat did not show through her blouse, Mindi fell prey to symptoms of anorexia nervosa.
College dawned upon Mindi bringing along the freshman fifteen, lovingly depositing themselves around her middle, hips, and bulky thighs. This uninvited lipid presence exacerbated her fixation with body image. Losing weight blotted all other thoughts, and her grades took a tumble from A+ to A-. Scavenging the shelves at the local library, a favorite enclave for her introverted tendencies, Mindi came across the book, Body for Life. Outlined in beginner’s detail, the program promised stellar results in only twelve weeks. Peppered with before-and-after pictures of dowdy housewives turned tanned trainers, her imagination soared with hope.
Embracing the calories-in-calories-out approach of the book, her diet radically shifted from uninformed eating to strict caloric restriction. The goal was to decrease her total calories progressively each week. To make the cut, obscene mounds of pre-packaged rabbit food comprised her dormitory-sized fridge space. Vinegars replaced favored French Dressing, and salt transformed into the demon of dimpled thighs.
Body for Life opened her eyes to female muscle. With trepidation, Mindi rose at 4:30 a.m. for her secret sessions with the pink dumbbells in her makeshift home gym. Cardio sessions of HIIT for twenty minutes comprised her lifting off-days. That dusty stationary bike, doubling as a tie-rack-holder, put her legs through three grueling sessions weekly. Referring to that book till she exhausted her library renewal allowances, Mindi trained with vigilance, never missing one day. Assured that she would look just like the sinewy women in the “after” pictures, she expected her best body to magically transform in twelve weeks.
Combining cumulative training with starvation-dieting, her health plummeted to that of a concentration camper. Mindi’s skin changed from a healthy pink flush to a yellowish pallid hue on her palms and foot bottoms. Food dreams plagued her nights as visions of buttered popcorn danced through her glycogen-starved brain. Hypoglycemic symptoms wreaked havoc during the hours between meals. This self-abuse continued for several months, during which time she also attempted bulimic purging. Fortunately, she could not bring herself to puke what little substance clung to her belly.
An epiphany struck one night, as her blood sugar dropped drastically while driving home. Visions assaulted her imagination, as she pictured the newspaper’s bold-faced headlines stating, “Anorexic Girl Blacks Out Causing Car Accident.” She barely stumbled into her kitchen in time to eat before fainting. That decisive moment compelled her to seek help from both parents and a health care practitioner.
Recovery was slow, but methodical. After staying clear of any diets or training for about one year, Mindi felt mentally ready for regular exercise. Experimenting with methods of Pilates, running, plyometrics, yoga, and relaxation stretching, she felt a hollow dissatisfaction from the practices. Dumbbells beckoned her, and she sought the solace of the cold steel bars within her grip, as a weight lifter.
After maxing out with her weights and repetitions in her home gym, Mindi joined the local Gold’s Gym. For the first time, she observed bodybuilders in stretched muscle tanks with veins popping beneath the surface like a maze of undeterred moles on a manicured lawn. Her gaping stares left her slack-jawed after workouts. Affectionately dubbed “the girl with the clipboard” at Gold’s, she was known for her meticulous record-keeping of training sessions. Three months passed, and hints of muscle peered through her vibrant skin. Newfound confidence revealed itself as she donned flouncing skorts and teeny shorts that emphasized shapely glutes. Testosterone-driven males suddenly began paying her unnecessary attention. She had transformed from the flabby newbie into the Bikini Babe of the club.
Healthful approaches to exercise and diet gave her the confidence she had been sorely lacking throughout her younger years. About three years after her bout of anorexic behavior, she glimpsed herself in the mirror and stopped short at her reflection. Looking back at her was the strong, lithe body of a physique athlete. Gone was the yellowed skin, gaunt expression of a woman who had glimpsed her own self-sabotage regularly. In its place stood a woman of confidence in her body, a transformed self-image. Anorexia Nervosa, the defeated, its bond severed forever. Mindi exemplifies the freedom possible for all those victimized by eating disorders.