Staff Health Challenge: Me? Anorexic? Nah…

Over the course of a rough 2008, I lost an alarming 10 pounds. Not much to some, but when you’re already treading through underweight territory, it can be downright dangerous.

My wake up call finally came late last summer, the morning after I’d weighed myself in at 76 pounds. I nearly blacked out in the middle of the street on my way to work and spent the rest of the day in the hospital. As bad as my immediate diagnosis was (a scary combo of starvation, dehydration and exhaustion that lowered my blood pressure), I had a tougher pill to swallow several weeks later.

“You’re anorexic,” my therapist said.

“No, actually. I’m not,” I retorted.

But a few days later, “You are anorexic,” my physician confirmed.

“That makes no sense,” I replied, still fighting the inevitable truth.

I refused to buy it. I wanted to gain weight not lose. “It’s my metabolism,” I rationalized. “I need to eat more, but I’m just not hungry enough.” I grew up with the notion that all anorexics want to be skinnier. I might not share that mentality, but at the end of the day I was still actively ignoring my body’s basic need to be fed.

I had no appetite because after years of ignoring its pleas, my body stopped trying to tell me it was starving! All through college I’d tell my stomach to just hold off until I finished one project after another. Early last year, I was so upset over something that I didn’t eat a thing for almost three whole days. But my worst crime was secretly being proud of that—as if I’d passed a true test of strength and willpower.

Being told I was anorexic came as a huge shock. I hadn’t been able to truly admit it because then it would become real and I’d have to acknowledge that simply changing the amount of calories I consume wasn't going to cut it. In a way, I’m no different from people who eat way too much. We can’t control outside factors so we try to control our bodies and, in turn, develop an unhealthy view of food. And until we develop a healthy mind, developing a healthy body will be that much harder.