What It’s Like to Live With An Eating Disorder: 10 Women Share Their Stories

In honor of National Eating Disorder Awareness week, meet ten inspirational women who have battled eating disorders.
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Meet Angela Huntley:

Angela Huntley

“I looked at the bodies of models and set the standard for my own figure.”

Angela Huntley is a writer, ministry worker, and mother of four sons. She first started abusing laxatives at the age of 11.

Can you give us an idea of what your day to day struggles with your eating disorder were like?

Every day from the time I was 11 until I was 28 years old was spent obsessing about my body size and my eating. My thoughts were consumed with how big I was, what measures I was planning to be smaller, checking to see if I was bigger or smaller than the day before, how much food I would allow myself to eat, what the nutritional content was to whatever food I would allow in my body, and the list goes on. I was consumed. Everything else in my life took second to this religion I had created, and I worshiped it faithfully.

When did you first realize that you had an eating disorder and what type did/do you have?

From the time I was 11 until age 16, I was bulimic: abusing laxatives as a way of purging. When I was 16 I began starving myself to drop more weight, so technically I would’ve been classified anorexic at that time. After about a year, I slipped back heavily into the binge purge cycle, again classifying me as bulimic. Although my addiction was completely out of control, it wasn’t until someone who had been bulimic confronted me when I was 18, that I realized my problem was an eating disorder. Even though I had learned a little bit about eating disorders at school, I never made the connection for myself. I just always figured I had a strange, freakish problem with food that no one else had.

How did it affect your body and emotional well-being?

My body was completely reliant on laxatives. It didn’t work on its own. In treatment, it actually took me about three weeks off of laxatives for my body to kick in and work for itself. When I was under-weight, I actually grew chest hair. I rarely had a period. I was moody. After being under-weight, the binge purge cycle caused me to gain weight. This sent me into a deep depression. I had trouble getting out of bed. I would sleep all day, getting up to binge and purge and work-out. I didn’t want anyone to see me, because I felt like such a failure for not being extremely thin anymore.

What effect did your eating disorder have on your personal relationships?

There was always a part of me that no one knew. My eating disorder was like a secret life I was living. Although people had ideas of my dysfunction, no one could possibly know the lengths to which I was going. For those closest to me, who tried to confront me, I became a liar. I had no problem lying and manipulating to pacify others, so that they’d leave me alone. There were many times that fights arose between myself and those meaning well, just wanting to help. This just caused me to be more isolated.

What was your breaking point?

A woman who used to be bulimic confronted me and told me that because of the danger involved, she would have to go to my parents and tell them the truth about me. This would reveal a whole secret life of mine. Once everything was out in the open, everyone thought that I’d be able to just stop my behavior. I was at such a low, but I also wanted to be free of this prison I had been in. That’s when it really hit me: I couldn’t stop. I wanted to stop, but was totally out of control, a complete slave to my addiction. It was then that I knew I needed help.

What was a common misconception others had of you?

Everyone around me thought I was happy, and had my life so together. I was a very good actress.

Meet Janet Pfeiffer:

Janet Pfeiffer

“I hated my life enough that I decided I would rather be dead than go through another day with bulimia. I never looked back.”

Janet Pfeiffer is a 63-year-old motivational speaker, author, and radio host. Her eating disorder initially started at the age of 33.

What were your day to day struggles with your eating disorder like?

Each day was a constant struggle from the time I woke up until I went to bed. I was consumed with thoughts of food. My day was planned around eating, which was all done behind closed doors. I’d rise at 3:30 am, power walk 12 miles and the binging would begin. I’d consume high calorie foods, mostly carbs and sugars, for approximately 2 hours. When I couldn’t eat anymore, I’d head for the bathroom and purge.

I repeated this ritual twice a day for more than 10 years. The longer it went on, the harder it was to purge. Initially, I used only my finger. Then I needed a spoon to fit further down my throat, then a plastic straw. One night, I even took medication designed to enable me to vomit. Every time I became emotional, whether I was stressed out, feeling unloved or ugly, when I was sad or angry or tired, I reached for food to comfort me. Growing up in a big Italian family, food was the answer to everything. It was the only way I knew how to nurture myself. I was a single mom with 4 children. My husband of 13 years left me without warning and I was overwhelmed with responsibility, fear, worthlessness, loneliness, and more. Food was my only source of comfort.

When did you first realize that you had an eating disorder?

I knew the first time I stuffed myself (dinner at my mom’s around Christmas time) and came home and got rid of it. I was bulimic.

How did it affect your body and emotional well-being?

Emotionally it did more damage than physically. I was fortunate. I had some physical problems: graying skin, brittle hair, burning of the esophagus, stomach pains, racing heart. But emotionally, I was disgusted with myself. I was ashamed and felt weak. I should know better. I’m stronger than this. I felt as though I was betraying my family (although for the first 8 years no one knew). But more importantly, I felt like a failure in God’s eyes. He gave me a healthy body and I was destroying it. Shame doesn’t accurately describe how low I felt.

What effect did your eating disorder have on your personal relationships?

I was unable to eat in front of anyone because once I put food in my mouth I wouldn’t be able to stop. And, I didn’t eat dinners for 15 years. I’d consume all my calories by noon, giving me enough time to burn them off before morning. I turned down invitations to go to lunch or dinner with friends and family. I had to constantly lie when I was with them saying things like, “My stomach’s not feeling well so I don’t want to eat anything.” Some people would try to force me to eat. I literally had to stay away from them. It was very isolating.

What was your breaking point?

December 6 (I remember the date but not the exact year), a young friend of mine called me to tell me he was 16 days clean from cocaine. I was so proud of him. When I got off the phone, something inside me clicked. I thought, “If he can do it then so can I!” I hated my life enough that I decided I would rather be dead than go through another day with bulimia. I never looked back.

What would you tell women/men today who are suffering from eating disorders of their own?

Don’t beat yourself up because of it. It does not define who you are nor does it diminish your worth. You are still a valuable and wonderful person. You are just temporarily struggling with some issues. There is hope. Thousands of us overcome and heal from eating disorders and you can as well. Get help. Don’t be ashamed. It might take a while but you can regain your life and health. Use every resource available to you. Reach out to God. He is the source of all healing. I healed and so can you.

Meet Annabel Adams:

Annabel Adams

“We cannot for one second forget in this society that the general consensus by the CDC and mainstream media is that our size is an indicator of our health, our beauty, our status, and our character. This messaging haunts me every day.”

Annabel Adams is a 28-year-old freelance writer and PR manager. Her eating disorder first began when she was 26.

When did you first realize that you had an eating disorder?

I think I have pretty much always had a dysfunctional relationship with food – it has just manifested itself differently over the years. The main source of this dysfunction has been a “dieting mentality.” For the majority of my life, I had never privileged actually listening to my needs or approaching my body and myself with mindfulness and compassion. Rather, I’ve gone through the continuum of compulsive overeating and binge eating to bulimia. Of course, each of these left with riddled with guilt. This is why my weight has fluctuated from 9th grade at 150 pounds to 12th grade at 280 pounds. Since bulimia seems to have higher risks than my previous relationships with food, I consider it my main “eating disorder,” but it is certainly just one manifestation of a restriction/compensatory/dieting approach to food.

The first time I successfully purged was after a dinner cruise. I was at my lowest weight in my adult life and I felt amazing from all of the applause I was getting. However, I also felt like I was walking on egg shells, wondering how I could maintain the weight and sustain the lifestyle that afforded me the time and energy to achieve that low weight (I was counting every calorie and working out at least an hour per day, usually running over 6 miles per day). During the cruise I had eaten both a slice of cheesecake and a slice of chocolate cake. I felt immediate guilt and imagined how many calories had entered my body. I worried that this “slip up” would somehow send me on a path of no return and I imagined that all of a sudden, I would be morbidly obese again. It’s an all-or-nothing mentality.

And, so, I decided that by throwing up the food, just once, I could wipe the slate clean and start over. I would never overindulge again. This would be a once-in-a-lifetime thing – I’d never invoke vomiting again. I didn’t realize then that with purging came an incredible sense of satisfaction – as if I was cheating the system! I had eaten cake – two slices! – and it was like it never happened (aside from the strained throat, dry eyes and occasion burst eye vein)! This catapulted me into a love-hate relationship with bulimia.

What effect did your eating disorder have on your personal relationships?

I had to tell my close friends and family to limit their “fat talk” and to try to limit their discussions about weight-loss around me. Unfortunately, this didn’t seem to work too well. Our society is addicted to body-hate and asking people to limit their negative self-talk and discussion of weight-loss around me seemed futile, especially since I am a poster child for weight loss. People always want to talk to me about weight loss and I do, too! So, it was a hard time because I was trying to redefine my own self-perception and create alternate ways for thinking about my health and body. And when participating in discussions, I would often still revert to habit, which was “I still need to lose _ pounds” or “I’d like to weigh __ pounds.” I have had to distance myself from people who I feel trigger me to feel my weight is an important indicator of my health and/or character. My boyfriend, thankfully, has been a limitless source of support. So while outing my bulimia put a strain on some relationships where we could not escape fat-talk, it brought me even closer to my boyfriend who has consistently reminded me that my health is our number one priority.

How has your eating disorder changed your life?

My eating disorder hasn’t changed my life – it’s shaped my entire life. From the beginnings of compulsive overeating to the binge and purge cycle, how I’ve manifested my eating disorder has shaped how I view the world and how I interact in it. I am happy to say that I am now in a place where I feel empowered rather than victimized. I feel that I had to take this long and arduous journey to come to a place of enlightenment and now it’s my job and passion to continue to educate myself and to educate others. It’s so easy for us to go through life with our eyes half-closed, repeating the messages we see on the news, forgetting to listen to our own bodies and to strive instead for some unrealistic projection simply because so many others do. I feel that I’ve escaped the grasp of mainstream media; I’ve escaped body hate; and now I want everyone else to escape it, too.

What was the most difficult part of your recovery (or attempted recovery) process?

I think it’s incredibly hard to be someone “in recovery” in a) a world that privileges thin and b) a world where media is ubiquitous due to its digitalization. Even now, while I have not purged in quite some time, I still find myself feeling triggered when I go onto Facebook and someone mentions how much weight she’s lost or how she is detoxing or someone else mentions how fat she feels. Then you turn on the TV and it’s a Weight Watchers commercial. Then the news flashes that we have an obesity “crisis” or “epidemic.” We cannot for one second forget in this society that the general consensus by the CDC and mainstream media is that our size is an indicator of our health, our beauty, our status, and our character. This messaging haunts me every day.

Are you now involved with organizations that help others with eating disorders (or have you written a book, make speeches, etc.)?

I write a blog, www.feedmeimcranky.com, where I’ve been vocal about my entire journey from morbid obesity to healthful weight loss (lost 150 pounds in a healthful way) to my obsession with “being thin” and my year and a half struggle with bulimia. I now make it a point to educate others (including health professionals!) on how to approach health from a compassionate and mindful perspective rather than from a sizeist and discriminatory point of view.

Meet Kimberley Walsh:

Kimberley Walsh

“Everyone thought that my life was perfect.”

Kimberly Walsh is a 40-year-old marketing consultant. Her eating disorder began when she was 13.

What were your day to day struggles with your eating disorder were like?

My day to day struggles consisted of constantly thinking / obsessing about when I could eat next, what I would eat and, most importantly, where I could throw up when I was done. Because I was working full-time, my binges generally occurred at the office and, as such, I had to plan accordingly. This typically involved several trips to local fast food places throughout the day. Then, to compensate for the time spent away from my desk, I would have to work late. I would also take handfuls of laxatives and diuretics throughout the day resulting in an inordinate amount of time being spent in the ladies room. This was a never-ending cycle for many years.

When did you first realize that you had an eating disorder?

I knew what I was doing the first time I threw up. I had heard other girls talking about something called “bulimia” wherein you got to eat anything you wanted without gaining weight. All you had to do was shove your finger/hand/toothbrush/spoon down your throat after each meal, and all the calories would be flushed down the toilet.

How did it affect your body and emotional well-being?

Quite frankly, my bulimia enabled me to eat the same food (and quantity) that all the “normal” kids were eating without ever gaining too much weight. It seemed like the perfect solution to my inability to lose weight with just diet and exercise. Physically, I had small scars on my hands (caused by excessive stomach acid), constant acid reflux, puffiness and dark bags under my eyes, erosion of my gums and enamel on my teeth (required several gum graph surgeries so I didn’t lose some of my teeth), constant fatigue, persistent constipation, and worst of all, a lingering scent of vomit on my person … all the time.

Emotionally, I carried around a substantial amount of guilt because I was always hiding, sneaking, planning, making excuses. Yet, I was conflicted because I also felt “in control” of my body and, moreover, it got to the point that every time I purged, I would feel euphoric – kind of like the “high” a drug addict gets when using.

Were you stigmatized or alienated for having an eating disorder? How did that feel?

I think my bulimia arose from an initial overeating disorder. As a child, I would always find comfort in food which, in turn, meant I was always on the “chubby” side. When I hit puberty, being even the slightest bit chubby was no longer acceptable. So, yes, I was made fun of, but not for the bulimia per se, but for being a “big girl”. (I use that phrase because when I look back at photos of myself during that time, I was NOT fat! However, I WAS bigger than all the other kids, i.e. taller, larger bone structure, etc.) I’m positive that the constant teasing and ridicule from my peers was instrumental in the development of my eating disorder.

Did you receive professional help for your eating disorder?

I was admitted to the Rader Institute on an emergency basis during my freshman year of college. I went through intense therapy, meetings, counseling, medical diagnosis and treatment, etc. for 6 weeks. They modeled their program after the 12-step program used by Alcoholics Anonymous – substituting “food” or “binging/purging” for “alcohol” (same general concept). I continued in after care, group therapy, individual therapy and, finally, hypnosis.

What was your breaking point?

Unfortunately, I never really had a “breaking point” so to speak. They say that most people have to hit some sort of rock bottom before getting into recovery. I never experienced that, nor have any of the other bulimics I have known (with a few, very rare, exceptions). In my case, what caused me to stop barfing was the phen-phen diet. It was like a magic pill that made me not hungry and, if I didn’t eat, I didn’t need to throw up! I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Moreover, I thought I was cured. I was painfully mistaken. What I did have was a temporary reprieve from my eating disorder – only to be reunited again once the pills were taken off the market. So, inevitably, I gained weight – further exacerbating my disease and actually kicking it into overdrive. For the next several years, I continued on this path of self-destruction until, finally, I had to face the cold, hard truth… It was not working anymore. No matter how much I binged and purged, I simply could not lose any more weight. I would say that realization was actually my turning point.

What was a common misconception others had of you?

By far, the biggest misconception was that everyone thought that my life was perfect. I had countless friends, a successful career, always pursued by attractive and successful men, active in the community, etc. All of these seemingly wonderful attributes were always undermined by my secret addiction and all the pain, guilt, depression, suffering and embarrassment that came with it.

What would you tell women/men today who are suffering from eating disorders of their own?

I would tell them to stop focusing on the “symptom” and roll up their sleeves and dive in to really figure out the underlying problem. Nothing will change if you keep treating the symptoms by applying the proverbial band-aid. You must take a personal moral inventory and a hard, honest look at the root issues that caused and subsequently perpetuated the behavior. Until this happens, you will keep chasing your tail and will continue to be stuck in the disease.

Diana Denza is a regular contributor to BettyConfidential.

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3 thoughts on “What It’s Like to Live With An Eating Disorder: 10 Women Share Their Stories

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