Student Stories

Student Stories

Amy Julian

Three students at UMass Boston share their stories of their eating disorders and the road they are traveling towards recovery. (All names have been changed to protect the confidentiality of these strong individuals.)

“Shannon”People think because I’m in the gym in my town that I’m, like, super-fit and healthy. But what they don’t see is that that trip to the gym is my fourth of the day. A lot of people assume that bulimics just throw up. I do on occasion, when the gym is closed, but I’m what they call an “exercise bulimic” mainly. I have all the “symptoms” of bulimia, and my purgative choice is over-exercising. One of my worst binges, God I’m so ashamed to say this-one of the worst ones, I was home alone bored at my apartment. My roommate bartends, so she’s usually never home at night. I got in my car, went to the ATM machine and withdrew $80.00. I went to three different drive-thrus, spent about $20 at each, and went to Shaw’s and bought a gallon of fruit punch and a birthday cake. I knew what I was planning on doing with it all. I spent a quarter of my rent money on one binge. It’s sick. I had about 12 cheeseburgers, some chicken nuggets, baked potatoes, fries, a milk shake, the entire birthday cake, and the gallon of fruit punch. I could barely move afterwards, but I took some Ex-Lax to speed up the process of purging and headed to the gym for the rest of the night ’til closing, which was about 5 hours away. Most people would think I’m a pig, like ‘Who would eat all that? That’s gross’.” It’s not because I’m gluttonous or lazy, it’s the only way I know how to deal with the intensity of my emotions sometimes. I finally got into therapy after being hospitalized once for wicked screwed up electrolytes, and I’m starting to do better. I haven’t binged in about 3 weeks and I haven’t purged in about a month. I’m working on identifying my triggers for binges, what sets it off, and not compensating if I do indulge a little. Bulimia isn’t just a “gross” or “dirty” disorder like some people think. But the same things that drive an anorexic to starve cause bulimics to binge and purge. I’ve lost a lot from it, tons of money, some of my family members, grades, my friends, and almost my life.

“Elizabeth””I’m ashamed that I binge eat. Often times, I wish I had the purging component-then maybe I wouldn’t be 40 pounds overweight. But sometimes I feel too tired to exercise or make myself vomit. It takes too much out of me, energy wise. People definitely judge me, saying I’m disgusting and have no self-control. They don’t understand what’s going on inside me. It seems much more “socially acceptable” to be anorexic and even bulimic, but being a compulsive overeater is shameful because you’re fat. It’s so hard. I’m not hungry but I eat because my feelings (boredom, loneliness, depression, happiness, anything) are way too overwhelming-so I binge until it hurts and I can focus on the pain of the binge instead of what’s really going on. There’s an incredible guilt after I binge. And then there’s guilt because I don’t purge. So I get mad at myself for not only being a compulsive overeater, but also for not being bulimic. So that guilt further perpetuates a vicious cycle of binges. I’m in therapy and nutritional counseling to try to get my eating more steady to prevent binges. The therapy has been the key component that’s helped me, helping me to find other ways to express my emotions and to realize that it’s OK to be sad sometimes and ‘just be.’ Finally, after 11 or so years of binging, I’ve lost about 15 pounds, still have 40 to go, and I’m able to better control and prevent some of my binges. Baby steps, that’s all I can do.”

“Brittany””It’s so hard sometimes to tell people I’m anorexic, simply because I don’t look how I did about 4 years ago. Sure, weight-wise I’m doing “better” (though still not at my healthy, ideal weight in the least) that I was when I was ready to keel over and die, but in my head…it’s probably worse. The eating disorder has become an identity and gaining weight is difficult because with every pound, it seems people think I’m ‘better.’ Anorexia isn’t what I thought it was when I was younger (pre-eating disorder). It’s not just getting skinny and looking good. There’s a minimal time when you actually look good. Then it gets scary. I look at photos from 4 or 5 years ago and I start to cry, I don’t recognize myself. I look at pictures from when I was a kid, with an ice cream cone and French fries and I desperately want that again. I’ve been hospitalized (in-patient) 3 times, in residential treatment and outpatient care for this. I have had 5 seizures (the scariest moments of my and my family’s lives) because of water loading and extremely low sodium levels. One would think that it would take something like this to snap them out of it. It doesn’t. That’s what’s so scary about anorexia. It’s an addiction-not simply about food. Like bulimia and binge eating, and any eating disorder, it starts with obsessions in your head and compulsions in the form of disordered behaviors with food. As hard as it is for a drug addict to ‘quit,’ it’s the same for someone struggling with an eating disorder. The hardest thing is seeing what it does to my family. To hear their stories, and knowing how mean I was to them when I was at my worst. I see a therapist twice a week, a nutritionist and physician once a week for weight checks. I’m trying to stay focused on recovery and not allowing myself to go back down that road. It’s tempting, but we’ll all die eventually, why speed up the process?”

*All names have been changed.