My Perfect Life with Anorexia
The first time I admitted to myself that I had an eating disorder, I was eating raw spinach straight out of the container. As I wondered how many calories it contained—10, to be precise—and how long I would have run in order to "undo" my meal, it occurred to me: This is not normal.
As a highly driven, perfectionistic person, I never admitted that I was struggling. On the outside, I never let it show; I was editor-in-chief of the newspaper, passed honors classes with As—and I ate less than 1,000 calories a day. I thought I was standing out. In reality, I was isolated.
I was starving for love—and I am not the only one.
For high-achieving young women in intellectually rigorous academic programs, eating disorders offer a coping mechanism for stress and anxiety—beyond normal responses to insecurities, says Donna Aldridge, a professional counselor who works at the Wheaton College Counseling Center.
And it is a weighty issue to balance one's worth against physical appearance or academic achievements. For Christian women, God calls us to something greater than a life of balancing scales; God calls us to place the full weight of our struggles on the promises of Scripture. In God, we are more than any number - either our weight or our grade-point averages - can define.
Yet, even on Christian college campuses, disordered eating is unfortunately prevalent, Aldridge says. According to the National Institute for Mental Health, the average age of onset for a formally diagnosed eating disorder, which counselors distinguish from disordered eating, is 19 to 20 years old—and religion appears not to be a factor in prevalence.
"An eating disorder steps over the line," Aldridge said. "It becomes an all-inclusive obsession where it eats up the whole person."
As I found out, anorexia nervosa is more than salad for dinner "to lose five pounds" or fear of eating cake. The disorder, which is truly mental, is, despite common beliefs, not a fear of food; it is an obsession with food, not a choice, but a compulsion to eat perfectly, or eat nothing at all.
For me, anorexia began as a desire to eat more healthfully, but I quickly became preoccupied with food. I tallied calorie counts in the margins of my class notes, counting over and over again. I worked out obsessively and planned elaborate, weeklong meal schedules, only to settle for salad every time. Sometimes I would slip up and binge—horrifying, thoughtless eating rampages—and immediately regret every bite. I lived in constant fear that each meal would be the one that triggered a binge—or worse: that it would be my last. In any case, I could focus all of my brainpower on those miniscule calories, rather than on the uncontrollable world around me.