By Morgan Paul
As a part of the new body positivity project I am starting I plan on talking with various people who are willing to sharing their journeys and perceptions of body image. For my first article I got the opportunity to interview a strong woman, and good friend of mine, about living with Bulimia Nervosa and her recovery. Jamie was diagnosed with Bulimia Nervosa at 15, Depression at 15, Generalized Anxiety Disorder at 16, Bipolar Disorder at 17, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at 17. Although she was never clinically diagnosed with Anorexia, she also suffered from Anorexia at a very young age, beginning at age 10. It began with diets, which led to restricting food intake and obsessive exercise. She was a gymnast at the time so she soon realized that with all the exercise she was doing she could eat whatever she wanted without fear of gaining weight. After quitting gymnastics at age 13, she realized she could not stop binge eating, and then rapidly gained weight. One Friday night, before a high school football game, she stuck a toothbrush down her throat for the first time. This is what started it all, and all because of a small salad. By age 15, she said she was binging and purging five to seven times a day.
Although she recognized her depression and anxiety from an early age, it got more severe as the Bulimia Nervosa worsened. Her other diagnoses played a huge role in her eating disorder. She told me that her bipolar disorder caused her to eat when depressed, and restrict when she was manic. Her PTSD made her blame herself, causing her to want to harm by body. And eating was a way to cope with anxiety. On top of that, she has a family history of alcohol abuse and depression.
Her distorted body image and past abuse caused her to believe that somehow her body fat was connected to her emotional baggage and pain, so losing weight would be rid her of said baggage. She strived to be pure; emotionally, physically, and sexually. But she identified other causes as well. For example, pressure to be thin from gymnastics, and the media exacerbated the disorder. I was surprised to hear that media did not have a huge impact on her, although it obviously did not help. She told me that when seeing very thin girls she would make plans to not eat for days, but she never held other girls to the ridiculously high standards she held for herself.
Jamie has received treatment five times, two of which for her eating disorder. She told me that she is a firm believer in hitting rock bottom, and explained that the first three times weren’t helpful because she simply wasn’t ready. She had friends who tried to force her into recovery, but she said it was the opposite of helpful. Even though Jamie has recovered, she still combats thoughts of restriction, binging, and purging. But it helps her to think about how well she is doing now, and she’s not willing to jeopardize that. It helps her to think of her supportive family and how proud she is making them with her new-found health. And since her recovery, her friends have been nothing but supportive. She believes that she still has a distorted body image, some days worse than others, and she is sometimes discouraged by the size she wears, even though she is working hard towards body positivity.
When I asked Jamie how often she tells herself she’s beautiful, I was ecstatic to hear “every day, whether I believe it or not.” Personally, I find this to be the first step to body positivity. Even if you have to lie to yourself, it’s nice to hear that you’re beautiful, and soon you may start believing it.
I also find it important to list things you love about yourself. Jamie told me that she loves her sense of humor. It is witty and cynical. She said that she used to be terrified that if she was happy she would lose her humor. As it turns out, she didn’t. Another thing was her creativity. It’s what has gotten her through the roughest of times. And lastly, has her ability to be bounce back from whatever her disorders decide to throw at her any given day. And what makes a woman beautiful in her opinion is their personality. And freckles. She love freckles. But she explains that beauty is different for everyone. Each person can “pull off” different things that make them a beauty.
Her advice for those still suffering? IT GETS BETTER! The road to recovery is the hardest thing you will ever do, but it is so worth it in the end. Happiness and acceptance is possible.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) can help. Call their toll free, confidential Helpline at 1-800-931-2237