Friday, November 05, 2010

Flashback Friday: Anorexia

Have I ever told you about the period of my life when I was anorexic?

It's difficult for me to say when, exactly, it began. When I was a freshman in high school, I stopped drinking pop because I had heard it leached calcium from your bones and made you more susceptible to injuries that way. I was running cross-country and track and the last thing I wanted was to be sidelined by injury, so giving up pop was not that big of a deal.

Then I decided to stop eating candy, but only during the cross-country and track seasons. Soon, however, "candy" was redefined as "junk food," which, to me, meant any food that derived more than 30% of its calories from fat. And I didn't eat any of it. Not a single bite, not even butter on my English muffins.

Then I decided to stop eating meat. I had already given up ground beef a couple of years earlier so it wasn't so hard to cut it out altogether.

In the meantime, I was involved in strenuous training for cross-country and track during those seasons, and running several miles a day on my own during the off-season.

Still, I don't know that any of the above was really a problem. I got a little anemic after a year of no meat (not surprisingly, as a 16-year-old I was not savvy enough to get the nutrients I needed from alternative sources) and started eating it again, but only very sparingly. I lost a little weight somewhere in there and that was nice, but it wasn't anything too extreme. At least I didn't think so at the time.

But sometime around the middle of my senior year of high school, it all went wrong. I stopped eating. Or rather, I stopped eating except for when it was absolutely necessary. And I kept a tight reign on the definition of "necessary." Necessary, at times, meant half of a bagel for the whole day, and then a six-mile run thrown into the bargain.

What's interesting is that you can get along OK doing this kind of thing to your body, for a little while at least. But there's a price to pay. I was skinnier than ever and in the past, being skinnier had meant running faster. This time, however, I was moving in the other direction. My race times were getting slower.

I was irritable. I was exhausted. I was sad. I had boy troubles. I crashed and burned at the district championship track meet. I fainted at the senior prom.

I didn't feel like myself and the problem was that I couldn't remember who this "myself" was.

The summer after graduation, I weighed 85 pounds. And it wasn't even that I felt fat. I don't remember feeling fat or thinking I was fat. I just craved that feeling of absolute control I achieved by not eating, more than I craved actual food.

Just as it's hard for me to pinpoint exactly how my eating problems began, I'm not entirely sure where they ended. It happened gradually. Things got better after I left for college, which was a surprise for everyone since we had considered me not going at all. If I had to choose a moment when the fog lifted, I think I would say sometime during the summer of 2000 when I was in Japan.

I lived with a host family in Kyoto that remains very dear to me. I learned a lot of things during my time in that country, not the least of which was that (and this was from my 9-year-old host sister) you're not done at the dinner table until your tummy is as fat as your chest - "pon-pon" is the word she used for it. She reminded me to check for pon-pon at every dinner time. She was so young and always suggested this so entirely without guile and assumption that it always made me laugh. And when I laughed, I felt like that elusive "myself" again.

Of course, getting over anorexia wasn't as simple as taking her advice, but then again, for me, maybe it was.


Becky said...

Scary. You're fortunate to have been able to get through it. I know a few girls who had to be institutionalized. As much as they think they educate young girls about this, I don't think it's enough and I don't think it's in the proper direction--like aimed at athletes (especially runners).

Layla said...

Thanks for sharing! I've gone through the same thing (bulimia) and it's not an easy thing to talk about. Although I think I have fully recovered, there are times when I think it would be so much easier if I did this and this. I never go through with my thoughts, but it's a scary thing that the thoughts still come up.

Liz Johnson said...

This is slightly crazy to me, given that I met you and lived next door to you during this time period and never, ever knew. I mean, I knew you were skinny and tiny, but never in a million years would I have labeled you "anorexic" or anything like that. I realize this is probably after the worst of it, but still... I never would have guessed.

I'm glad that you got better. I can understand the control bit for sure. And I'm glad that you put this out there, because I think a lot of people assume that athletes are exempt from these types of problems. And they're not.

And you're awesome.

Sarah Familia said...

I love you for sharing this, Bridget. It's pretty hard to talk about. I was bulimic when I was in Syria. And on my mission. They were both times when I was far from home, under stress, and felt like I didn't have a lot of control over my life.

Jeremy Palmer said...

Thank you for educating us about this tough subject, Bridget. I am not certain that many males really understand the problems girls/women experience in relation to this 'weighty' issue. Honestly, it is a bit foreign to me as a possessor of the y chromosome. I suppose teen boys want to avoid being overweight, but otherwise it is a protein fest to build muscle. I mostly failed at this. I was physiologically unable to gain significant weight until I hit the upper 20s. I could eat loads and loads of the worst food and not gain a noticeable pound. I never experienced the desire or thought to cut back on food as a teen.

I'm sure our girls will be angels as teens and we won't have any problems whatsoever.

Susanne said...

Wow, I would never have guessed this of you. Thanks for sharing it with us. I'm so glad you were able to get over it on your own. You are incredible!

Anna said...

Wow, thank goodness for little Japanese girls, no kidding.

I worked in a eating disorder clinic for a few months. That stuff is rough and heartbreaking and I am glad that your own will and the forces of the universe combined to help you overcome it. Something that all the girls and women in the clinic had in common is that they were beautiful, brilliant, and driven so...way to support that generalization of mine. :) I would be interested to hear how your anorexia has affected things you will do or not do with your girls.

Also, on a superficial note, since I see there is not much superficiality in the comments, I think that the picture you chose for this post is haunting. I recommend that if you ever write a horror story about murderous dolls with long fingernails, you use this photo in the dust jacket of your book.

Shannan said...

Wow - who knew? It's good to hear about your struggles because I went through the same thing in high school. I'm 5'4" and my lowest weight was 92 pounds. It really was about control and not so much about being rail thin. I know I have healed from my eating disorder, but in the process I have a very messed up body image.

Craig said...

When you went to Japan, your parents had a special fast and prayer specifically that you would eat well and be healthy. We were so, so happy and thankful to hear reports about how the Yoshioka family was feeding and caring for you. A true answer to prayers.

JuliaKoponick said...

I always enjoy reading your blog. I included you in my "favorite blogs" post today. You can check out the posting at

Thanks for great reading, and sharing so much of your life, both the joyous times and the struggles! You inspire me!


Aimee said...

Thanks for sharing such a tough topic close to your heart. During the teen years and later in my early 20's I had a tough relationship with food especially at times of stress. I joke that I don't "stress-eat" I "stress-forget-to-eat." Now, I have a very healthy loving relationship with food, but try to avoid overly processed items, which are gross to me anyway.

Again, thanks for sharing!

Suzanne Bubnash said...

We prayed mightily for you, and for the Yoshiokas to be able to take care of you. And they did. We committed to helping them in any way they ever needed, so a year later when they asked if we could take their daughter for a year or two, we said yes without blinking.

Nancy said...

It's funny, sometimes, and wonderful, always, to learn about the trials people have had that you didn't know about. Not only the fact that you have overcome this but the fact that you're so awesome...I mean, how many times have I wished to be as cool as you (or anyone) without even knowing that they have trials equal to or surpassing my own.

I don't know if that makes sense. Whatever. It's late. :)

Thanks, Bridget!

Susanne said...

Reading your parents' comments this morning were so sweet they made me teary.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your story, Bridget. I would not be at all surprised if your sharing your story helps someone else who is going through something similar.


Jennifer said...

I'm with Liz on being totally surprised. Didn't we walk to seminary every other day together senior year? I never had any inclination. And we were in the same group at senior prom, but I have no recollection of you fainting that night. However, I appreciate the beautiful way you shared about this part of your life.

Julie said...

I also feel amazed (and kind of sad) that I lived with you that whole year and never noticed anything. I do remember you liked your sleep, but I never would have guessed it was at least in part due to the fact that you didn't eat enough!

I'm glad things got better. Thanks for sharing!

Glenda The Good said...

I love reading your post Bridget, and then seeing the responses from your husband and family, especially your mom. It just feels good and homey. Thanks for sharing something so personal.

Kristen said...

I actually read this post right after you wrote it, but I wasn't ready to comment then. Actually, the words don't sound right now, either. I remember this time period well, and bits of your choices to skip soda and sweets, but I don't think I knew it was this serious. What you said about 'control' makes sense to me, but I do wonder about the body image aspect as well--did you know how thin you were, or was your perception morphed by the disease, as is commonly the case? I am so glad you are healthy and "normal" now (as in, can indulge those cravings for late-night chocolate without more than the usual amount of guilt). Thank you so much for sharing such a beautiful insight into something not-so-beautiful in your history. {{hug}}

Mikael said...

I don't know how I missed this post. I guess I have been too consumed with my twins and working-
Bridget, I think we were doing the same thing at the same time. I had anorexia, but even worse, bulimia. I don't know if I could ever post this on my blog or come out to the world and say this. I never want it to come up in my family conversations, it is kind of like "it never happened". BUT IT DID! 10 years were consumed with my food obsession.. 10 YEARS!!! I never recovered until I got married.
But on the lighter side... sometimes I miss the control I used to have. Why can't I stop eating now and why can't I just lose the 10 lbs I need to?? But in the end, it is better I am 10 lbs chubbier than about to lose my life.
Did you ever go to counseling? I did. I have nightmare stories from that. You don't even want to know the things I did.. so terrible!!!

I am so glad we are both well. and in that picture you look so terrible. I have some pics of me like that, funny how at the time we think we were big
Love you bridget!!!


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