My mother was receiving chemotherapy treatment for cancer that had infected her ovaries, and in the process she lost obscene amounts of hair, her energy levels randomly bounced up and down daily, and for a good period of time she could only stomach miso soup and rice.
I was a high school senior who ran daily, ate only fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and minimal processed snacks and desserts. Yet I was the “sick” one.
At the time, I couldn’t even register the fact that I WAS ill. I looked in the mirror before taking a shower, and sectioned myself into the “good” (mostly just my eyes and mouth), the “ok” (calves and upper arms) and the “needs work” (chest and double chin). Then there were the “OH MY GOD. HORRIBLE.” parts–namely my thighs, stomach and butt.
I have yet to come across a female that does not have some kind of fascination with one of the aforementioned body parts. In my day, the obsession dealt with minimizing, shrinking, and making said areas whittled and tiny. Then the word “toning” came about, and suddenly my mid-torso area and legs were suddenly affixed with the idea that they should be like musical notes or colors: “toned” to be more firm and vascular. Aesthetics may change (hellooooo Kim Kardashian booty), but the same obsession with thinking of these parts as “things” and not a part of a “whole” being have not differed. When will we learn to not view women (and men too) as “parts” but as \total and complete people?
But I digress. Either way, my actions to make me “healthy”, aka run daily and subsist on rabbit food, sounded the alarm after I lost about 10 pounds in a few short months. I couldn’t see it at the time, but my collar bones were beginning to protrude from beneath my shirt, and an odd coldness seeped through my blood although I lived in Hawaii where it’s normally eighty degrees in the winter. My mother, with her watchful and ever observant parenting eye, realized something was amiss when I would ONLY eat tofu sandwiches from Bale (no mayo) or veggie-tofu burgers from Zippy’s. My change in diet, from a carnivorous hamburger lover to a teenager who ate plant-based products the majority of the day, was a red flag. That plus the fact that my periods were either light or didn’t come at all made her alarmed. Sadly, it didn’t alarm me. In fact, it made me a little proud.
Even more sad than the fact that I didn’t think much about my hollow cheeks and spiny arms, is that most physicians will dismiss these tell-tale symptoms that SOMETHING IS NOT RIGHT and prescribe birth control pills to restart an absent period or check thyroid levels to see if that system is not functioning. Rather than actually get to the root of the problem (a possible eating disorder) doctors neglect the fact that adolescent teenage girls should be laying down fat in order to mature into young women and losing weight during these vital years will cause reproductive functions to be blunted. Now don’t get me wrong–there are many physicians out there that WILL recognize the warning signs of anorexia or bulimia, and praise the Lord for them. My doctor was one of those.
The day I saw my pediatrician because my mother was concerned about my weight loss was slightly terrifying, yet I had gone on a nice 3 mile jaunt before the appointment and consequently was riding high on runner’s adrenaline. After my mother revealed her fears to the doctor, he looked at my chart, my height and weight clearly labeled on the pad in front of him, and uttered:
“Ensure. One a day. And an extra snack.”
“Yes. You aren’t supposed to be losing weight now. I’ll see you back in a month to check how your weight gain is going. I expect there to be a higher number than the one I see today–maybe about five pounds more.”
Five pounds?! Um. No.
My mother, smiling at the doctor, enthusiastically thanked him, and as we walked out of the office, she proclaimed that we’d stop at the store on the way home to pick up some supplemental cans. I politely smiled, sure, sure, mom, whatever. But deep down, I was freaking out. How could I get out of drinking Ensure? Only old grandmothers with missing teeth drank those. Every day? My brain started overflowing with schemes and plans on how I could get out of drinking the thick liquid. Dump it down the kitchen sink? But how? Accidentally spill it on the ground? That wouldn’t work because I’d just have to drink another. For the next hour I plotted, hemmed, and hawed on how to evade said nutritional supplement.
But my plans never really came to fruition. I’d be able to dump the chocolate can down the sink once, but not every day. Eventually I had to drink it, and as I choked down the gross beverage, all I could think was FAT FAT FAT FAT FAT.
The anorexic voice started to get louder and more intense with every sip I took. My obsession with exercise got upped exponentially because I could FEEL the chocolate shake melting onto my thighs. And then the lies started. And didn’t stop.