Self-doubt leaves some starving for beauty
Reporter’s note: “Jen” is a fictitious name used to protect the identity of a young woman interviewed for this story.
Insecurity led “Jen” down a path of self-destruction.
A happy childhood and supportive, loving family didn’t keep the young girl from delving into a world of self-criticism and chaos. By age 15, she experienced bulimia, anorexia and cocaine addiction.
“In seventh- or eighth-grade me and my friend got this idea,” Jen said. “Every day during lunch we’d go to the bathroom and throw up. It started with control, to control my emotions. It wasn’t so bad at first but then I went to the high school.”
As a student at South Tahoe High School Jen felt the pressures of being a teen-ager. She wanted to be pretty, thin, noticed by boys.
“It became an attention thing,” she said of her eating disorder. “Sometimes I wouldn’t eat at all. I wouldn’t eat breakfast. I wouldn’t eat lunch. I’d have a snack and then I’d purge and then I’d eat dinner.”
A cycle of binging and purging, known as bulimia nervosa, turned into intentional, habitual starving, or anorexia nervosa.
“It was half weight and half control,” said the 5 foot 2 inch blonde. “I never got over 110 pounds. I tried (cocaine) my sophomore year. That’s when I got skinny. I knew it was for me. I was addicted automatically and I wasn’t throwing up so much after that.”
Jen saved up her lunch money to buy cocaine, a mission which she said was extremely easy.
“I’d get it at lunch,” she said. “It’s way easy to get. It’s everywhere. Somehow I got some every day. I spent my lunch money on it so I didn’t have to eat.”
Not eating and using cocaine seemed to make things better. Jen said she felt more in control at first. After awhile, she didn’t feel much of anything.
“(My self-image) was crap but I didn’t care at the time being,” Jen said. “Until I had counseling I didn’t realize it was so bad because I was numb. I didn’t feel happy but I didn’t feel sad.”
Jen’s grade-point average dropped from a 3.7 to a 1.87. She dropped out of school and stopped coming home.
“I got arrested twice and my parents found out what I was doing,” said Jen, who was admitted to an in-patient rehabilitation and therapy program in Utah. “There was therapy every day and you couldn’t leave the fences. It’s lock-down rehabilitation and therapy.”
She spent eight months in what she refers to as “the program.” Now in the recovery stage, Jen has found ways to stay on track.
“Counter statements is one thing,” she said. “Instead of saying, ‘I’m fat,’ say ‘I’m going to work out today.’ You counter the statement to make it positive. Journaling is also a big one. I have a therapist so I still talk about my (eating disorders and drug addiction) there. And there are natural releases. If you’re upset, go for a jog. Vent to people if they’re open to listening. Take a bath. Watch a movie with a friend. I go to Narcotics Anonymous and I go to my church like three times a week. That’s my release. It’s my God. I work. I keep myself pretty busy, but it’s important not to get too busy because then there is an excuse not to eat.”
Jen said she is doing well, not using cocaine and maintaining a healthy diet. But it isn’t easy.
“I’m an addict,” she said. “I’m addicted to everything so throwing up can be like an addiction. But I’m doing really good right now. I’m scared about turning 18 because then I choose and it’s my own consequences. I have an extreme amount of pressure but I feel a lot more secure. I eat a lot. There are days when I don’t want to but there are always going to be those days.”
Jen’s story is not uncommon – one in four people in therapy in the United States has an eating disorder, according to national statistics.
Cathy Angie, program coordinator and youth and family counselor at Tahoe Youth and Family Services, works with teen-agers who struggle with eating disorders.
“These girls are very high-functioning girls,” Angie said. “They’re popular. It’s just the same story again and again. ‘I thought I was fat.’ ‘My boyfriend broke up with me.’ ‘I just want to lose a few pounds.’ That’s how it starts. Then they see how it works and they want to keep doing it.”
A deranged self-image makes getting over an eating disorder a difficult feat.
“People with eating disorders see themselves differently than other people see them,” said Angie, who has a master’s degree in counseling. “When they see themselves, it’s like looking in a circus mirror.”
Angie, a recovering anorexic and addict, said recognizing the problem and getting help is the only way people with eating disorders can get their lives back.
“You have to find ways to like yourself, to accept yourself,” she said. “Or at least accept that you are out of control and you need help. If you don’t, you will be robbed of so much, so much thinking time.”
The thought of food and weight-loss can consume every second of the day for people with eating disorders, said Angie, who described the emotional stages that go along with binging and purging.
“For binge eaters, the first few moments are pleasure and then they realize they can’t stop,” Angie said. “They don’t stop until they can’t eat anymore. For some, it’s very painful. It’s painful and they feel like they can’t breathe. They vomit and then they feel instant relief. The pain goes away from stuffing their stomach and they can breathe again, but then the shame sets in.”
Without proper treatment, recovery from an eating disorder may never come, Angie said.
“You have to know it’s going to rob you of who you are if you let it,” she said. “You have to know you can get better.”
For information on eating disorders or therapy options, call Tahoe Youth and Family Services at (530) 541-2445.
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