According to the German Federal Center for Health Education, one in 1000 people between 30 and 50 suffer from anorexia. Our author was one of them. (Symbol photo) Photo: iStock/KatarzynaBialasiewicz
By Laura Pomer | 03. February 2020, 07:03
One of the few things young people can control is their food intake. And watching your body change (quickly and drastically) accordingly gives you a strange sense of power, and it can literally be addictive. Such was the case with our author, who slipped into anorexia nervosa via an eating disorder. On FITBOOK she reports from this time.
I was only 14 when a friend of mine started her first diet. At the time, I had no idea about any nutritional values or healthy eating. Does chocolate contain fat? I didn’t know and I didn’t care. I have previously been someone who bought a candy bar or cheeseburger (or both) out of boredom while waiting at the bus station. Out of sheer curiosity, I joined the diet and as a result developed a heightened awareness of food that was to cause me serious health problems later on.
With the first steady boyfriend, all that took a back seat again. Not least because we often ate together – and finally had someone on your side who seemed to like you. No reason, therefore, to have to embellish or change acutely. Only around my 18. Around my eighteenth birthday (when I was not fat, but still unhappy with my "baby fat") the thoughts of dieting came back to me.
Starvation as a kick
It was a summer when everyone in my family his own thing made. Meals together at home? Missing. Then I thought to myself: If we no longer eat together anyway and I want to lose weight anyway, I can keep my eating to a minimum limit and watch what happens. That worked out really well and made me want to do more- or. less: What would happen if I halved the one measly slice of wholemeal bread for the evening as well??
Clearly, it gave me a kind of kick not to eat(s) anymore. Every other day, every other night that I got by on a minimal calorie intake pushed me to the next goal tomorrow I would get along perhaps with still less. When others around me bit into a croissant or a slice of pizza, I did not envy them at all. On the contrary, I pitied them, felt far superior to them! I did not need something as mundane as food. Should they all get fat! „Eat another roll" – such sentences became an insult in my world of thought.
Complete lack of understanding for people who eat in between meals. Our author could endure any hunger. Photo: Getty Images
Eat little, exercise a lot
Suddenly calories determined my life. More precisely, the inner compulsion to burn off every calorie I ate. Every little bit of food I ate was followed by a round of jogging or a workout on the bicycle ergometer in our basement. At school I ate I did not eat anything, but still had to consume energy somehow. I used to interrupt the tedious sitting in the classroom (with the excuse of going to the toilet) with stair-climbing sessions in the school building.
Before school or afterwards, but definitely before any meal, I had to have exercised on the bike for half an hour. I used to break off long school days if I hadn’t managed to do the sports before.
Narrow line between thin and to thin
The weight loss was of course very fast. And still remained unnoticed by my closer friends and family at first. Because they saw me every day, so the first changes were not so noticeable to them.
And because I didn’t look unhealthy at first, I received many compliments. I was approached on the street by agency people and fashion designers and asked if I would like to model for them. Suddenly EVERYTHING fit and looked good on me, even tight clothes, in which I would have felt uncomfortable before. No matter how much I lost weight, my belly always bothered me.
So I went on and put myself on the scale every day. And sure enough, every day it was a few grams less, which gave an indescribable adrenaline rush triggered. My BMI soon reported underweight. But it still looked good; found I at least.
At some point tipped the. My family began to worry and take a closer look at what or who I was. whether I still eat at all. At this point, my mother was already searching the trash can in the kitchen, because I had let some things disappear there that had previously been parked under the edge of the plate.
She also reintroduced shared meals, and when she did manage to keep me at the table and force a serving of pasta on me, I simply went for a double run afterwards. Jogging was not possible in my condition for a long time, I had simply become too weak. I then had to burn off my calories by walking for hours: from home, on the outskirts of the city, to the city center and back, of course.
Speaking of weak. Soon, even everyday activities became too much for me. I kept moving, but I looked more like a zombie when I did it. I had no energy left and dragged myself through the day- always with a bottle of water under my spindly arm. There were no more bras that fit me, I was completely emaciated. You could count my ribs through my clothes. One day a little boy in town opened his eyes wide at the sight of me and screamed, "Mama, Mama, you can see all the woman’s bones!“ She looked startled and pulled him away from me in a panic.
Who is still honest with me??
This encounter hit me pretty hard. No one had ever made such a direct (and hurtful) comment in my presence before. Except for my parents and brothers, no one seemed to think I was too thin. My friends acted as if everything was normal. That I only watched them eat on dates and sipped my water was apparently not worth mentioning. My family lied to me? In the end I didn’t look so sick?
But I did. I had already lost so much physical strength that even in the middle of summer I shivered in bed at night because of the cold. I no longer got my period, had bad skin all over my body. I was given the pill because a blood test with a hormone check revealed something dramatic: I was not yet 20 and already well on the way to menopause. I also suffered from osteoporosis and had to start taking birth control pills immediately to counteract the bone loss.
Warning signs? May be. But I liked to be able to fold myself up like a pocket knife, to make myself very small. All this had long since become an addiction.
In the meantime I was already so light that I got a fright myself when I looked at the scale. And it’s been getting less and less with each passing day. When I weighed only 48 kilos at a height of 1.79 meters, I realized myself that it was getting dicey. I started crying, but also knew I couldn’t just stop like that. How far could it- and I- nor go?
Stress hormone as a source of energy
The answer: down to 45 kilos. Purely rationally, I could have probably already understood at that time that 16 kilos below the medical ideal weight is much too little. But I did not see this rattle in the mirror, I continued to see only this fat belly. The thought of putting on weight again- unbearable.
What helped me at that time to continue with not eating: a known stress hormone. The experience with the little boy in the city had caused a real adrenaline rush I was taken care of. And it came just in time: I had felt so weak in the seconds before that I hardly dared to make the 20-minute car ride home. Now I had enough energy again. Arriving home, my mother welcomed the chalky image of her eldest with a protein shake in her hand. „You drink this now. Or want to drop dead?“ In fact, I’d rather be that than choking down those disgusting calories that come along. New adrenaline rush, I got upset, yelled at them in a panic, slammed the door behind me and went back to "walking".
Paranoid in my own prison
By that time I couldn’t drink (let alone eat) anything anymore!) what others had prepared for me. People thought I was too skinny? Then I’d be sure to get calories in the form of sugar or fat. Part of me knew even then that I had to break this vicious cycle. But that did not work.
I also had no more strength to go out on a date, to read something or to go to university, I was always tired. I had to give up my law studies in the third semester.
I understood that I had to gain weight in order to live. But I didn’t want to. The result was that I practically gave up. All of my parents’ efforts to have me receive therapy failed. No psychologist, no psychiatrist came through to me. If the only solution to my problem was to weigh more, I would rather not live at all.
Tricks to endure hunger
I felt nothing but hunger. I was always hungry. He was more or less the guideline for me to do everything right. Even before that, when I ate more than one apple a day (a green one, since it was less sugary), I had to stop myself before that hunger feeling dissipated too much. I hated it, but needed it.
During the day it was no problem to endure the hunger. Mere it was difficult to fall asleep with a hole in my stomach. That’s why my bedtime routine consisted of frothing up hot, low-fat milk so it took on a lot of volume, filling my empty stomach with it. I drank slowly and when the foam started to collapse, I’d whip up the milk again.
Not accessible to help
Still my friends had not addressed me on my underweight. As I was to learn years later, when I was long since better, they were afraid of hurting me. Less close acquaintances want to have feared poking a wasps’ nest, suspecting serious physical illness.
My mother suffered a lot- and gained eight kilograms over the years. The reason for this was that she wanted to show me that food is something beautiful. She sat down with me and (apparently) enjoyed her breakfast, snacks or extra large portions for dinner. I wonder if I don’t want something too? I could not, even if my growling stomach suggested otherwise.
It was not bulimia
Many other girls and even guys who desperately want to be thin (for whatever reason) intentionally vomit up food they eat. For some of them, it’s a binge-eating addiction: they stuff themselves beyond measure with calorie bombs and spend a lot of time hunched over the toilet bowl afterwards. I never had that. While I am very familiar with the feeling of feeling too full and regretting what I ate- the urgent feeling of having to get rid of it- and sometimes sticking my finger down my throat. As a rule, however, I tried to do it by burning calories.
This is how the tide turned
It was my dentist, of all people, who gave me the push in the right direction. That was actually not considered particularly empathetic in my family. Accordingly clumsy was also his comment, which should have made me think about it. „Why don’t you start eating again?. You are in the enviable position of being able to treat yourself to good things that others fear to gain weight from. Enjoy that better! Otherwise, you’ll soon be committed and force-fed.“
Flat, superficial, not even realistic, since you can’t just commit adults for food refusal like that. But it reached me anyway and somehow flipped a switch in me.
And how! I started to eat again. And my body now jumped at everything I offered it as if from nowhere. Probably fearing that the next hunger period would not be long in coming, I put on weight relatively quickly. I didn’t get fat, but I soon looked a lot healthier, and of course it showed on the scales. And it no longer frightened me. I thought I was really good when I weighed 52 kilograms, but according to my friends I shouldn’t feel "like a human being" again until I weighed 58 kilograms have looked like. In the years that followed, I fluctuated between 57 and 59 kilos.
So after my anorexia I stayed relatively slim. I have not resumed sports in the years since it was too risky for me to fall prey to a fitness craze again. Besides, he gave me- the way I did it- no fun either more prepared. Now I wanted "only" for the time being try to enjoy my life. That also meant drinking alcohol from time to time- I hadn’t been able to do that for years because it had too many calories for my taste and I was physically much too weak for it. Just one sip of wine would have knocked me out.
Once an eating disorder, always an eating disorder?
Many people believe that anorexics will always have a dysfunctional relationship with food, even after they have recovered from their illness. And indeed, this topic will probably remain my Achilles heel, even as an adult I had a relapse every now and then. Triggers for this were mental crises, undefined stress situations or also phases, in which I had lost weight by chance. I liked it a little too much and the addiction set in again.
Eating is only a symptom
I know only since a few years, when and why my problem had arisen at that time. And what traits I have inherited that make me prone to such extremes. The food, the calories, my body- these are all just symptoms of an anxiety disorder- I must continue to work on this.
What I have understood (almost independently of the anorexia) is that I don’t have to be the one who everyone says is "so thin" is. This was my label for many years, I wouldn’t have known what to define myself without it.
Today I weigh 60 kilos and feel comfortable with it. But my weight also fluctuates from time to time. That’s why there are always phases when certain pants no longer fit me- and that is okay. In the past already would have a minimal pinching garment caused me a nervous breakdown.
My body thanks me: Some of the functions I thought I had lost have miraculously returned. At 34 I even get my period back, for the first time in my life, without the pill faking a female cycle. Maybe it’s not true that I can’t have children, as several doctors have predicted over the years.
I am not happy that I had to go through this (and do it to my family). But I can’t undo it and now at least try to take the positive out of my experience. About being able to really enjoy little things that others may take for granted. Not a day goes by that I’m not happy, at least for a brief moment, to have broken out of this prison. So the chances are good that I won’t "go off the rails" again gerate.
If you yourself or members of your family or circle of friends suffer from eating disorders, you will find a lot of information about anorexia on the pages of the Federal Center for Health Education, as well as a telephone counseling service.