Over a year ago I was hospitalized for an eating disorder. The reasons were unclear of why I had done it or where it started. The problem is that once you start, it's very hard to turn back. The following article explains exactly what anorexia is and following afterward is the story of my experience with it.
What Is Anorexia Nervosa?
Anorexia nervosa is a type of eating disorder that mainly affects adolescent girls and young women. However 3-5% of cases affect males. A person with this disease has an intense fear of gaining weight and limits the food he/she eats.
- Have a low body weight
- Refuse to keep a normal body weight
- Are extremely afraid of becoming fat
- Believes they are fat even when they are very thin
- In females, they will miss three (menstrual) periods in a row (for females who have started having their periods)
What Causes It?
Anorexia nervosa is more than just a problem with food. It's a way of using food to feel in control of other feelings that may seem overwhelming. Starving is a way for people with anorexia to feel more in control of their lives and to ease tension, anger, and anxiety.
While there is no single know cause of anorexia nervosa, several things may contribute to the development of the disorder:
- Families. People with a mother or sister with anorexia are more likely to develop the disease. Parents who place too much value on appearance, diet themselves, and criticize their children's bodies are more likely to have a child with anorexia.
- Culture. The U.S. has a social and cultural ideal of extreme thinness. Women partially define themselves on how physically attractive they are.
- Personal Characteristics. Someone with anorexia may feel badly about herself, feel helpless, and hate the way she looks. She has unrealistic expectations of herself and strives for perfection. She feels worthless, despite achievements and perceives a social pressure to be thin.
- Other Emotional Disorders. Other mental health problems such as depression or anxiety.
- Stressful Events Or Life Changes. Things like starting a new school or job or being teased to traumatic events like rape can lead to the onset anorexia.
- Biology. Several biological factors including genetics, neuro-transmitter regulation (neuro-chemicals in the brain), and other related hormones may be important to the onset the disorder.
What Are Signs Of Anorexia Nervosa?
A Person With Anorexia Will Have Many Of These Signs:
- Loses a lot of weight
- Talks about weight and food all the time
- Moves food around the plate; doesn't eat it
- Weighs food and counts calories
- Follows a strict diet
- Fears gaining weight
- Won't eat in front of others
- Ignores/denies hunger
- Uses extreme measures to lose weight (self-induced vomiting, laxative abuse, diuretic abuse, diet pills, fasting, excessive exercise)
- Thinks he/she is fat when their too thin
- Gets sick a lot
- Weighs self several times a day
- Acts moody
- Feels depressed
- Feels irritable
- Doesn't socialize
- Wears baggy clothes to hide appearance
What Happens To Someone Who Has Anorexia Nervosa?
Up to about 3 years ago I did not even know what a calorie was, let alone what protein, carbohydrates or fat were. I was never obese in my life; however I did get teased on numerous occasions that I had a big head. This was mainly due to the fact that I followed the same diet everyone else did, eat when your hungry and grab whatever is available (Which was candy or chips most of the time).
Just over 2 years ago my life started to change. I was a happy, smart and loving only child and I started taking a course called "Body Shop" (weight training class). I had gone up to the gym earlier years and did what most novices do... lift as much weight as possible. After reading through a few pamphlets and talking to my teacher I started to follow a proper routine. My diet did not change, however I started to notice changes in my body after the first month and I was happy with my progress.
The next month everything changed.
First my dad, who had been suffering from depression for about 3 years already, began acting differently. He started buying things we could not afford and would not sleep at night. My father had become manic and ended up in the hospital in late March of 2002 for Bipolar (manic-depressive). He stayed there for almost 2 months and I visited him almost everyday, however little did I notice, I began losing weight (continuing my training at school), and started to get down on myself. My father was let out of the hospital, on medical leave from work still for as long as he needed.
Soon after my father came home, my mother was hospitalized! Not for the same reason, but because she had become very ill from constant migraines and stomach pains. This was about the time I found out my mother had/has multiple sclerosis. Although she only spent just under 2 weeks in the hospital, my stress levels had already peaked.
My plans for the summer that year were to go to camp as a camp counselor. However, a month before I had gotten a little sick and my lymph nodes in my neck had swollen up. The doctor I saw did an entire check up (weight, physical etc) and told me not to worry about it, however after a number of visits and my weight dropping, there were no improvements; he proclaimed that it might be cancer? a day before going to camp!
So here I was, my father was at home taking medications for bipolar, my mom was still pretty sick and I might have cancer! As you can tell I was under a lot of stress going to camp. My plans were to come back half way through the summer for a check up. The check up was a complete waste of time because he told me that there were no improvements, however my weight was down again, but he told me not to worry.
When I returned to camp, in a depressed mood I decided that I should start eating healthy and loss some weight. There was no explanation for this except I wanted some control in my life. After a month I returned home looking slimmer, however more muscular than ever before (I was the head Kayaking Instructor at camp doing about 4 hours of kayaking everyday). I came home weighing about 170 - 175 lbs.
The Real Struggle Begins?
Coming home was a great feeling because I could finally rest up for my final year of high school; however little did I know it wouldn't be my final year. I was fairly stressed starting the year because I wanted to make it into a good university, but I was determined to try hard and succeed.
My diet went from good to ok to awful quickly. I began by first eating "healthy" foods like lots of fruit, whole grain breads, organic foods etc. Then I started browsing the Internet in search of nutritional information on a lot of foods, soon it became a hobby. I started becoming obsessed with looking at calories and finding foods that had a caloric value of less than 100 calories.
At first I did not really count calories, but rather I just exercised more by going for a 10 kilometer run everyday. Then I realized the amount of energy I was burning and I noticed that I was dropping weight. I also noticed some more attention at school from girls and other people who I had never talked to.
I then decided that I would start counting calories and try not to eat over 1000 calories a day and it worked. Along side the low calorie count, I was running and going to the gym and doing cardio everyday. I would be going on the treadmill and running on high speed for 20 minutes then I would jump on the bike for 20 minutes. Muscle was not important to me at all, it was the weight dropping that was most important.
Due to all this cardio, my metabolism was sky rocketing and so I was hungry all the time. I conquered this hunger by drinking liters upon liters of diet coke, coffee (black), tea etc. I also ate at least one or two whole iceberg lettuce heads everyday.
My weight was dropping faster than ever and my parents noticed and were very concerned, so they took me to a doctor, but he said everything was fine. He told us that teenagers my age lose weight all the time.
So I continued with my poor eating habits, lots of caffeine, constant exercise and 2 hours of sleep every night. I would be studying for hours because I just could not memorize anything due to the lack of nutrition. My brain couldn't function but I was determined not to eat.
I remember a month before going to the hospital, my mother made me a birthday cake and I did not even eat it because I had eaten 2 apples, fours hours before. I began having more and more trouble concentrating and my mood was changing from day to day. On December 22nd 2002, I went to see my pediatrician because my mom was still concerned and see sent me to the Toronto Sick Children's Hospital and I was admitted to the Eating Disorders unit at a weight of 126 pounds. I spent a short time there (5 weeks) and got out on January 27th 2003 at a weight of 134 pounds, determined to start my life again.
The New Journey Begins?
Let me just start by saying? I was not ready to come back to the "real" world. I came out determined to start my life again; however it would be a struggle. The doctors put me on an eating plan that I was supposed to follow in order to gain some more weight so that I would reach my minimum weight for good health. They also told me "NO EXERCISE".
Although it would have been a good idea to follow the doctors' guidelines, I simply did not. In early February I went back to school thinking that I was going to finish my high school career and go off to university in the fall.
That mind set soon changed.
I began my days at 5:30 in the morning, exactly 1 hour before my dad got up and went downstairs and I trained as quietly as possible. I then went upstairs after about an hour and ate a high protein breakfast, thinking that's what would make me lean, and not fat. I soon after went to school and started a trend that I continued for the next month. I went to our weightlifting room at lunch everyday and lifted all lunch and ate my lunch during the lifting session.
After school I would go home and start feasting in my kitchen because I was not eating enough. I was always so hungry at night and ate literally non stop.
I started to read some articles on the Internet about safely gaining weight and told myself that I need to eat a lot of protein and other healthy food, among things were nuts. I also began buying bodybuilding magazines (Muscle and Fitness was my first) behind my parents back because I did not want them to know I was training or still had a fear of getting fat.
There was one positive thing from all this training (or should I say overtraining). I finally got my appetite back and I was not really afraid of food because I needed so many calories just to maintain and in this situation every calorie was a "good" calorie.
During these first few months I had regular check ups from doctors and they monitored my weight and asked my question if I was exercising. I answered "no" every time but they knew I was lying because my mom had told the doctors that I had been eating A LOT of food and I would have gained weight more quickly.
School was not going so smoothly and I still had trouble concentrating because I was trying to get my health back in order, so we decided as a family that I would stay and extra year in high school to "up-grade" my marks. So with thoughts that I would be coming back to school next year I gave training even more attention.
The doctors and my parents allowed me to start training with weights and the gym, but they said no cardio or sports? but at least I was finally able to lift.
The First Turn?
In Early June I bought my first 2 lb. tub of protein powder. I thought this was something very special, but I knew my parents did not. So I hid the powder in my room and I would take it after school because I thought it was very tasty, especially with some splenda and some frozen fruit.
I knew I was doing my body "good", so everyday after school I would make myself two shakes. I also began eating a can of tuna with salsa before bed every night. However I continued munching on lots and lots of nuts. These were helping me not only maintain but gain some weight.
I also became more serious in the gym. I started reading up on the proper techniques, how many reps, sets etc. I should do. However I still did not have good eating habits. Although I included the whey and tuna, my eating habits during the day were awful. I would have a small breakfast and lunch and then a huge dinner. My meals were scattered all around and I would still be "grazing" in the kitchen till 12 am every night.
The Final Turn?
That summer I went to Poland for a month where I have many relatives. I met up a few times with my cousin, who was really into bodybuilding. I thought, "Hurray, I can learn something". So I asked him what kind of training he does, and what he eats. He told me that he simply trains 3 times a week doing simple exercises and try's eat as much, as often, and as clean food as possible. He also slept like a baby, a good 8 - 10 hours a night.
I saw that my cousin was a lot bigger than me and got a lot more attention, so I thought to myself, I should follow his strategy. So I came back from Poland to Canada with a different mind set. I told myself that I would have to read more articles, simply do more research if I wanted results.
So I began buying magazines and bought more protein powder, a large 5 lb. tub and starting using it in the morning with a large bowl of oatmeal and after workouts.
I had finally talked my parents into letting me use whey. This was an accomplishment of its own.
In the beginning of September of 2003 I was 170 lbs and still pretty lean. I began bulking, eating lots of clean food and training hard, and by the time it was November I had reached 178 lbs (I know you were expecting more). In December my family started having health problems (last year it was me, this year it was my parents).
I took out my stress on food and started eating like crazy. This was not what I wanted to happen, but I reached a high of 210 lbs mid way through January.
I now stopped and started to think what I had done. I told myself that this could not happen anymore and I went back to eating habits like when I came back from Poland and my gains were incredible.
I dropped a few pounds to 195 by the end of March but I had gotten a lot of muscle mass. All the fat I had gained from December to January had turned into muscle (well most of it) and since then I never looked back.
In fact about one week ago I went to visit my doctors in the hospital which I had not seen for a year and they could not recognize me. They said I changed so much and that they had never seen someone recover so well. They were overwhelmed with joy. That moment will stay in my mind whenever I start thinking about this awful disease again.
- I eat 6-7 times a day
- At least 1 gram of protein per lb.
- At least 3500 calories a day
- Eat a huge breakfast and post workout meal
- I have slow digesting protein before bed (cottage cheese)
- Take 5 grams of glutamine before bed
- I write out my workout plan and follow it
- My mood has jumped up and my health is better than ever
- Lots of healthy fats (which I was afraid of before)
- Lots of complex carbohydrates, about 2-3 grams per lb.
A Final Note
Remember for all those who are suffering from this disease, it is not easy to get out. My advice to you is to simply force yourself, yell at yourself to get better.
If you're having trouble with food, get someone to make it for you, and work your way up. I was always afraid of being fat or gaining too much weight, but if you begin to start taking control of your life, you can succeed. Psychiatry is also a good idea if you need to get out some stress and talk about things you would not want to talk about with family and close friends. The only problem is that psychiatry sessions can only take you so far?
YOU have to take that extra step to getting better. YOU have to take control of your life.
Remember. Life is not worth wasting away on something that was created for us humans to live off of. Food was created so that we would have the energy to love, to live life, to do whatever we want. Good Luck to anyone that is struggling, and if you need extra support visit www.somethingfishy.com. They have helped thousands of people overcome this nightmare, Anorexia.