An Invisible Battle

Across the nation, more and more teenagers are silently battling eating disorders.

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It’s a Friday night and Emma (who’s name has been changed) is taking two highly concentrated laxatives because she thinks it will “clear out the past week’s mistakes.”  She can’t take them during the week because she has school in the morning, so she’s decided to “detox” over the weekend. She’s been taking the laxatives every Friday night now for the past three months.

“I know it’s not an effective, long-term form of weight loss, I’m not delusional” said Emma.  “But it’s the temporary satisfaction of a flat tummy that makes me keep doing it.”

Bulimia Nervosa is a psychological and severe life-threatening eating disorder described as the ingestion of an abnormally large amount of food in short time period, followed by an attempt to avoid gaining weight by purging what was consumed. Methods of purging include forced vomiting, excessive use of laxatives or diuretics, and extreme or prolonged periods of exercising.  Often, in these binge/purge episodes, a woman or man suffering from this disorder will experience a loss of control and engage in frantic efforts to undo these feelings.

Among teens, bulimia is the second most common eating disorder and one to three percent of teens suffer from it each year. A teen who suffers from bulimia usually eats more than two times what their peers eat in a meal. Any teen can suffer from bulimia, although it mostly affects females and on average, five to 15 percent of bulimics are male.

“I think it’s more common in females because society has pushed an unrealistic body image onto girls that makes the think ‘well she looks like that on the screen so why don’t I look like that,’” Emma said. “So then you want to look like the girl on the screen because she’s portrayed as desirable so you purge and starve and use laxatives to try and look like her. And for males, while there is a push for them to look a certain way, it’s much more concentrated and directed toward females to look and be a certain way. Because in society, females are viewed as objects – sexual objects – not people, and sex objects aren’t supposed to have belly fat or cellulite.”

This all started for Emma back in her junior year, when her stress was at an all-time high.

“When I was the most stressed out, I would eat to comfort myself and then I would eat excessively and then I would feel disgusting afterwards. I noticed that I had started to gain weight so I would throw it up but the food was the only way I could comfort myself so the cycle just continue from there. I only purged a couple of times though because it just wasn’t for me. I’d also been told my entire life I was thin so I kind of felt this pressure to stay thin? But then I also convinced myself that since I’d ALWAYS been thin that I would stay thin, but when that started to change I almost had an identity crisis.” said Emma, with a little bit of humor in her tone.

Bulimia affects day-to-day life at a constant rate. How bad it gets however, depends on the severity of the disorder and for Emma, she believes that is it at a “consuming and suffocating” rate.

“How doesn’t it affect my day-to-day life,” Emma said. “It affects what I eat, the way I look at myself…. almost every day I’ll turn sideways in the mirror and look at my stomach to see if it’s gotten bigger and if it does looks bigger then at the end of the day, or throughout the day, I hate myself because of whatever I ate that day made me look the way I do.”

One would think that, with this disorder being so detrimental to her physical and mental health, it would also take a toll on the loved ones around her, such as friends and family. But in actuality, no friends and no one in her family knows that she is going through this.

“My family actually doesn’t know. At my last doctors appointment, my doctor gave me a behavioral health service request referral for bulimia nervosa but I still haven’t made the appointment. This was two months ago. My mom does come up to me occasionally saying “what have you eaten today” or “have you eaten at all” and she’ll get really mad if said I ate top ramen instead of the chicken soup she just made. So I feel like she suspects that something’s wrong but she doesn’t want to pry,” said Emma, with a half-hearted laugh.

But she hopes that she will eventually make the appointment and be one step closer to recovery. She’s exhausted of being in the endless loop that bulimia has forced her into, and she hopes that she one day has the strength to break free. The first obstacle she has to overcome is her own dedication, or lack-thereof, of wanting to get better.

“Hopefully one day I’ll recover,” Emma said. “I feel like if I start being dedicated to working out, start eating healthier and just start being more conscious of what I put in my body then I will start to lose the weight and become more toned and fit and I think that then I will definitely be one step closer to recovery. I think I’ll get there one day.”

In terms of advice however, she saddened that she doesn’t have much to offer.

“I honestly don’t feel like I’m in a position to be giving advice to anyone because I haven’t even made my appointment with the psychiatrist yet so, I’m sorry to those reading the article that thought I would have some sort of guidance to offer. How can I give something if I don’t have any myself? …..I really wish that I did, because I know that so many young girls and going through this and are suffering just like I am and I feel helpless knowing I can’t offer them any solace. Wow… that really makes me feel like sh*t” said Emma, now with tears brimming her eyes.

After this statement, she asked if we could stop the interview.