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My Secret Habit
Anonymous
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When I was 15, I gained 20 lbs in a matter of months. The reason I gained so much weight so fast was simple. After breaking up with my boyfriend, I started eating like a pig. By May I looked like a total slob—and swimwear season was coming! I was miserable.

Meanwhile, my ex was parading around with his new girlfriend. Of course she was thin, which made me even more upset. But there was nothing I could do about it except continue stuffing my face.

One day, as I was drowning my sorrows in yet another pint of ice cream, I overheard my friend Cheryl (not her real name) talking to her cousin. Cheryl was thin, too. “It’s so easy,” she was saying. “Whenever you feel full, or when you feel guilty about eating pizza or”—she glanced at me—”ice cream, just go to the bathroom and throw up. You’ll feel light again.”

Her cousin and I stared at her in disgust. “That’s stupid, Cheryl,” I said. I thought, “You just can’t throw up whenever you want.”

Or can you?

The answer to my question came as soon as I finished dinner that night. Cheryl’s words—”you’ll feel light again”—stuck in my head as I went into the bathroom. I stared at the toilet for at least 10 minutes before I did anything. I leaned over the toilet bowl slowly, hearing the laughter coming from the living room, where my family was watching TV.

I stuck one finger down my throat. Nothing happened. I stuck a second, then a third, and then it all came rushing out of me. It was not the easiest thing in the world, but Cheryl was right. I felt light and empty, and I wasn’t even hungry! My summer might not be that bad after all.

That’s how I began my “little phase,” as I like to call it. Every day, after dinner, I’d slip into the bathroom. I’d run the water in the tub so no one could hear what I was doing. Then I’d hurl away. The guilt I had about overeating left me along with the food.

After two weeks of this I looked at the scale. All I had lost was a ridiculous 4 lbs. Four pounds! I cried myself to sleep that night, fearing the worst—that I would be fat forever. Was that possible? With so many thin and beautiful women in the world, why couldn’t I be like them?

I wasn’t going to let myself stay fat and horrible so everyone could laugh at me. I started throwing up after every single meal, big or small, although most of them were huge. My “little habit” made it easier for me to eat all the food I wanted, because it would soon be gone anyway. I would eat five or six slices of pizza, sometimes more, plus ice cream by the ton, cookies, cakes, everything I could get my hands on. After each feast, I’d head for the bathroom.

After another two weeks, I looked at the scale again, and I’d lost 10 lbs! I was so happy, especially since everybody started paying me compliments about the way I looked. Cheryl was right. It was so easy.

Then, in late June, I noticed the bruises. Large black and blue marks were covering my arms and legs, and I had no idea how or why I was getting them. I also realized that I was in pain. My right side was killing me all the time and I had to lie down a lot. My period stopped for a while. And I started to have frequent bad dreams. I would wake up in a cold sweat, wondering what was happening to me. A slight fear would run through me, because I didn’t know what was wrong, but at that point I didn’t really care. I refused to accept that I had a problem. All I wanted was to be as thin as possible.

image by Nelson Jimenez

My “little habit” was affecting my personality as well as my body. I became extremely moody and irritable, and I would constantly yell at my brother and my mom. All I wanted was for them to leave me alone with my food. I would send my mom to the store to buy me something, then I’d eat and eat, and throw up before she got home. I had no social life, no hobbies. My life revolved around my obsession with food.

Still, no one seemed to notice that anything was wrong with me. If they did, they didn’t say anything. My friends noticed that I was going to the bathroom all the time, but I’d just make some excuse about being on a water diet.

In July, I heard the news: Cheryl was in the hospital. At first I thought she had an accident or something, but when I called her house, her brother told me the truth. Her mother caught her throwing up and dragged her to the hospital, kicking and screaming.

They found out that she had anorexia nervosa (a disorder in which a person becomes so obsessed with dieting and thinness that she starves herself) and bulimia (when a person follows a pattern of eating a huge amount of food and then throwing up or taking laxatives to get rid of it). Cheryl’s weight had dropped down to 85 lbs on a 5’7” frame, but her mom never realized her problem until she caught Cheryl in the act.

My mom went off when she found out. “I don’t want you hanging around with that girl anymore! How could her mother not know what was wrong with her?” She continued ranting for about an hour, but I ignored her. My mom didn’t realize I had the same problem as Cheryl, and now I knew not to tell her. She would kill me, and I would never hear the end of it.

I sat down and thought about what I was doing to myself, and what was happening to Cheryl. There was no comparison, I told myself. Her problem was way bigger than mine. But then I tried to remember: when was the last time that I ate a decent meal without throwing up afterwards? Almost four months ago. That’s when I realized I had a serious problem. That day I decided to quit, because I didn’t want to end up like Cheryl.

Stopping was much harder than starting had been. I still remember the first time I sat down to eat dinner after making my decision. Once it was over, I automatically got up to go to the bathroom, but I made myself sit down again. That was probably one of the hardest things I ever had to do.

I decided to go to the doctor, praying that my mother wouldn’t have to know. Luckily, my doctor is a very understanding person. She counseled me and gave me a list of healthy things to eat. She gave me her phone number at home so I could call if I had any problems.

By the time I quit making myself throw up, I had lost almost 50 lbs (my goal when I started out was to lose 30). I know I’ve gained some of it back but I don’t look at the scale anymore. My doctor tells me not to. No one really knows about my problem, except my doctor, and I’d like to keep it that way. I know my family and friends couldn’t handle it.

It’s been almost a year since I stopped, and I feel much better about myself now. My health is much better. I don’t have as many mood swings. All the marks and the bad dreams are gone. And my social life is a lot better. Sometimes I still feel that I would like to lose more weight, but my thoughts go back to seeing Cheryl lying on that hospital bed.

After all I went through to have the “ideal body,” I can now easily say that it wasn’t worth the isolation and the pain. Being thin doesn’t mean being happy.

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(NYC-1992-09-09a)



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