The new ugly word on the playground is fat.
The new ugly word from the empty nest is fat.
Anorexia and bulimia are on the rise both among young children and women in mid-life and beyond. Cultural triggers like ultra-thin models in magazines and actresses on television, or midlife stressors like weight gain from menopause, divorce or the kids leaving home. Regardless more and more girls and women are destroying their bodies in an attempt to control their feelings.
I became aware of how many ads for weight-loss products there are on television and the Internet when I came home from the hospital a month ago. Always aware because of my long history with anorexia, my antenna was on extra alert because this time I was feeling particularly vulnerable. I had only been on the eating disorder unit for three days because on that third day I was informed that my insurance would not pay for the stay.
Not medically necessary faceless administrators informed me in a letter I received shortly after I arrived home. Could have been treated as an outpatient. Never mind that an outpatient group therapist and an evening program refused to treat me because they thought I was too ill. Never mind that I was eating 300 calories a day and purging with laxative and diuretics. Never mind that I had lost 20 pounds in six weeks. Never mind that I was in the emergency room every weekend getting intravenous fluids for severe dehydration. Never mind.
One thing the hospital did was to jump start my eating by forcing me to eat 1800 calories a day for those 3 days I was there. I was tired of feeling so ill all the time, and depressed, and I was afraid for my job. When I got home although my level of anxiety was somewhere around one of those carnival games where the contestant slams the platform with a sledgehammer, the marker shoots up toward the sky and hits the bell. I was able to continue to eat as hard as it was.
Sometimes friends would go out to eat with me so that I would have some company and our talk would distract me from the number of calories I was eating. Not quite. But there were those inevitable meals at home, on the couch and in front of the television with the computer on my lap (more distraction techniques). I had always seen the ads, but now they seemed to pop out. On TV and on the Internet. For Sensa –– with the incredible shrinking woman. “If you’re one of those people who need to lose weight, then try Sensa. Just sprinkle it on your food.” "Want to lose belly fat? Never eat these five foods again.”
And on and on. Every time I was struggling to eat a bite of my mashed potatoes, an ad like thise would pop up on one of my screens. Yes I could have shut them off and tried mindful eating, but then my mind would have wandered to the number of calories I was consuming, functioning like a calculator.
I closed my eyes as I pictured myself back in the dining room at the hospital where all of us struggled together to finish the food on our tray. “Good job,” as we encouraged each other to take those last couple of bites.
After a particularly difficult meal, I found myself back in the living room with a young woman in her twenties. This was her third time on the unit in five months. “It’s so hard,” she sobbed, clutching her stomach. I asked her to listen to me. “I’m no poster child for a cure for anorexia, but that’s the point. You don’t want to end up like me. I’m fifty-one and I’m back in the hospital. Fight it now, beat it now, reclaim your life and have a life.”
I think of her often and wonder how she’s doing. This last relapse of mine was triggered by the weight gain from menopause, among several other things. I endured my new, heavier body for a year before I decided I just couldn’t take it any longer and I started cutting my calories.
I’m doing better now. I’ve gained some weight back, though not the whole twenty pounds. My nutritionist weighs me with my back to the numbers, so I don’t know how much I weigh. Feeling much better physically and emotionally, I try not to connect how I’m doing to my weight though I do tend to keep an eye on how my clothes are fitting.
The weight I’ve gained back has gone mostly to my belly. I look at those ads on the Internet for belly fat and I can’t help but ask What are those five foods?” But I don’t dare click on the link because I would probably cut them out.
Some people may think that fat can be ugly. But for millions of girls and women, thin can be deadly.