TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains information that may be triggering to some readers who have struggled with or are struggling with eating disorder recovery.
By Kath at Fat Heffalump
My name is Kath and I suffer from an eating disorder.
Officially, I have what is known as an Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Diagnosed (EDNOS). This means that I do not have Anorexia or Bulimia, but another set of behaviors that do not have a name. An unspecified eating disorder if you please.
I am mostly in recovery at this point in my life, but I still have issues with food, and behaviors and thoughts regarding my body.
I have an eating disorder and I am fat. Very fat. I am what in medical terms is known as “morbidly obese.” I personally prefer the term Super Fat. It means I get to wear underpants on the outside.
I wasn’t fat until I was about 11 or 12, and then it happened very quickly with puberty. However, my parents had told me that I was fat for as long as I could remember.
On learning that I am fat, most people assume that my eating disorder is binge eating or overeating because I must have been gorging myself to get this way.
Until a few years ago, every single doctor or medical professional I went to diagnosed me with overeating, often without ever asking me what I eat, or if they did and I told them, they didn’t believe me. They said I must be cheating, or lying, or not counting some things that I ate. I simply had to be an overeater to have “let myself get that fat.”
However, my disordered behavior was all about starvation. Restriction. Purging. Punishing. I started when I was about 13 or 14. Some bullies (girls) forced me to stick my fingers down my throat and make myself vomit because, “That’s what fat ugly bitches like you should do.” A year or so before this incident I had actually been shown what to do by another slightly older girl. I worked with her at an after-school job, and she thought she was being kind to the fat kid. She did it and it kept her slim, so she showed me how to stick my fingers down my throat and how to disguise that I was doing it. But it really wasn’t until the bullies forced me and humiliated me that I attempted to actually do it regularly myself.
I got very good at it. Nobody knew. I could vomit almost soundlessly. I could find reasons to disappear to the far corners of our yard to vomit behind trees. I started stealing laxatives from the medicine cabinet. I would take lots of Sudafed (a sinus decongestant that used to contain pseudoephedrine) because it made me manic and I could go through bursts of exercise. I learnt to “chew and spit” when I was eating in company. Sometimes I would stop for a while, particularly if I had spent time away from home and school where the pressure was always on.
However, I stayed fat. In fact, I got fatter.
The behavior continued after I left school. I became an obsessive vegetarian for several years as another way to exert control over my eating. I moved out of home at an early age and the independence afforded me a whole new range of opportunities for restriction, purging, and exercise binges. I lost some considerable weight at 18, only to have it come back with a vengeance some later, despite continuing my eating disorder. In hindsight, the weight loss was an indicator of severe illness.
I struggled with depression and anxiety all this time. I went to doctor after doctor, with both physical and emotional issues, but was repeatedly put on diets, usually without the doctor doing nothing more than looking at me and deciding I was too fat. If they did ask me to keep food/exercise diaries I would usually lie on them and say I was eating more and exercising less than I usually did. Even then, they didn’t believe me. If I told the truth they didn’t believe me either.
Remember, I was fat. I *must* have been overeating.
For 20 years, I kept presenting doctors with the same physical issues: An irregular menstrual cycle that manifested itself as constant bleeding, amenorrhea (absence of menstrual cycle), or dysmenorrhea (pain during menstrual cycle). In my early 30s, I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS); I discovered I had been showing symptoms and characteristics of it since I was 12. I was told yet again that the way to “cure” PCOS is to lose weight.
By the time I was 33, I was physically and emotionally exhausted. I had been put on Duramine, an amphetamine-based appetite suppressant, which made me cycle between mania and depression, and stopped me from sleeping or consuming anything, including water for days at a time. I was exercising between six and eight hours per day. I had lost over 50lbs (about 25kg) and dropped five dress sizes. I was desperately unhappy and my physical health was failing. I was not coping at work and it was suggested that I should see the counseling service through the employee assistance program. I saw a few different psychologists—they all focused on my weight. Eventually, out of desperation I begged one of them to help me, told him of my suicidal thoughts and explained my obsession with diet and exercising. His response was to suggest that I add another half hour to the six to eight hours I told him I was already doing, “To get you over the plateau.”
That night, I attempted suicide, only to be halted by a dear friend contacting me because he was worried.
On the recommendation of another friend, I went back to a doctor I had liked (even though she had previously suggested weight loss), and told her how I was feeling. Thankfully, she listened and recognized I needed further help. She helped me get the medical support I needed, both physically and mentally. She referred me to a psychologist whom I clicked with almost immediately. Through cognitive behavioral therapy, I began to work on my self-esteem and self-worth. In 2008, I decided I was not going to diet anymore. Soon after I found the Fat Acceptance movement, and discovered that I could be healthy, and that I know my own body if I only take the time to listen to it.
My GP, psychologist, and I work together on my physical and mental health. They both accept that I know my own body better than anyone else, and trust that I will tell them if I feel something is not right. I trust them to guide me through any medical issues that arise with the best professional advice. I have an agreement with them that they will not focus on my weight, but instead on my health, and I have introduced them to a Health at Every Size method.
It is important to me to talk about having an eating disorder as a fat person. Where thin or normal weight patients often get sympathy and understanding, and even simple recognition of their disorders, fat patients are ignored, considered lying or “cheating” somehow. So often disordered behavior is sanctioned in fat people simply because there is a belief that fat people must have got that way through inactivity and gluttony.
How many people have to suffer, or even die, because of the belief that no matter what the cost, thinner is always healthier?
Editor’s note: Under the recently released DSM-V (2013) EDNOS is now categorized as OSFED (Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorder). See the National Eating Disorders Association for additional information.