Desperate for control: a personal struggle
By Kathleen McCann
I'm an intensely private person, but I am sharing my experience — not to be understood as typical — to raise awareness on campus. Eating disorders, I believe, are one of the most misunderstood, under-diagnosed, and stigmatized diseases.
Eating disorders, I would like to define, are not just about `really skinny girls.' Only those girls in advanced stages of anorexia nervosa, one type of eating disorder, appear `too thin.' Bulimia and compulsive overeating can also affect both men and women; eating disorders may include not only just food but those who have addictions to power bars or power shakes and excessive exercise.
In retrospect — as in everything else in life! — it is easier to pinpoint how my eating disorder developed. High school is stressful for everyone.
I had the usual academic stress to which most of us here can relate: I was highly active in NHS, athletics, student government and orchestra. My father was diagnosed with cancer my freshman year, and died my sophomore year; my grandfather died that same year. Not intentionally, I began to `binge' when I was stressed.
My athletics became more about losing weight than performance. I seemed to be fighting a never-ending battle, that ironically, affected my athletic performance. By my freshman year in college, I recorded every calorie I ate in a `diet journal', and weighed myself on a very regular basis. By that time, I had fallen into the binge-overexercise-starve cycle. I had started making rules for myself about what I could and couldn't eat.
When did I first know it was a problem? When I became so stressed about eating too much, my body started to purge itself. I couldn't sleep unless I had worked out; I got out of bed one night and went running at 1 a.m. in the snow.
The possible physical side effects of eating disorders are numerous. In the past four years, I have been diagnosed with diabetic hypoglycemia, chronic fatigue, anxiety, low blood pressure and asthma. Sure, I've had the symptoms — but no one ever asked about my dieting practices.
How can this affect self-image? We had to sketch self-portraits for art class sophomore year. The professor asked why I added 10 pounds to myself in every picture.
Personally, the effects led to arguments with my family, with friends and with my boyfriend. The depression has been, for me, the most difficult thing with which I have ever had to deal.
Effects are long-lasting. I still don't enjoy food, and I'm not always as happy as I should be. I still prefer to eat alone in the dining hall because well-meaning individuals scrutinize my plate or encourage me to eat.
My family relations are better; some of my friends are beginning to understand. My boyfriend had the most difficult time accepting it, and after three years, he is still in my life but we are no longer together.
I want to clarify what my weight is, for those of you who think that a little dieting is okay. Currently, I weigh around 120 pounds and wear a size 2. The average American woman is a size 14.
I want everyone to realize that eating disorders are not obvious, and that those suffering from them are in a private hell. You cannot force them to eat. Offering emotional support is crucial. We should be conscious of how much we scrutinize each other; I've heard it called the `Notre Dame stare.'
My hope is that students recognize if their roommates, friends or they themselves are in a destructive pattern of eating or over exercising.
All News Stories for Tuesday, November 30, 1999