This is an anonymous submission from a woman recovering from bulimia. “I’ve opened up about my eating disorder to many people, except to the one who matters most… my mom.”
I want to tell you about my eating disorder. I’m hoping that through the process of writing this letter, I’ll build enough courage to allow you to read it.
I can’t remember when I started to feel fat — when the number on the scale and the folds of my stomach began to define who I was. When I try to pinpoint the day that would trigger over a decade of binging and purging, I’m flooded with memories of Christmas dinners, birthday parties, and family get-togethers, where trusting adults assured me that I’d be beautiful if I lost weight.
“Why does my weight matter to them?” I would wonder. That was a question I often asked myself as a child until soon my weight mattered to me too.
At age eight, I was already embarrassed about my body.
There’s a photo of eight-year-old me at a friend’s birthday party, wearing a cute purple bathing suit.
I remember that day because I hated it. I felt fat and ugly. What are these rolls and what is this skin? All I wanted was to enjoy the water — to do a cannonball, to do laps, to show off my newly perfected butterfly stroke. But instead, I made myself smaller, hiding behind a towel and imagining that it would turn into a cloak of invisibility. If I stepped out of that towel and into the world, I would undoubtedly become the star of my own freak show, with my wide-eyed peers watching as I clumsily flopped into the water and made a big splash.
When I was at that pool party, I spent most of my time hiding. I didn’t talk or play with anyone.
When the adults brought out the pepperoni pizza, I found refuge in its crispy crust but with every bite, I felt my guilt rise and my body expand. You see, eight-year-old me didn’t know about purging.
That came many years later.
When I went into my fourth year in high school, a combination of hormones, long neighborhood walks, and the stress of being an angsty teen helped me to lose weight. In what felt like overnight, boys began to notice me. My family members applauded my waistline. Even my teachers told me I looked great. Suddenly, I was “pretty,” and I felt reborn.
Out of the ashes, I rose, leaving behind my depression, insecurities, and self-hatred. Being skinny cured me — at least that’s why I thought.
I began wearing makeup and exposing my arms in tank tops. I started painting my nails and smiling at boys. I was buying bikinis to wear for summer days at the beach. I was no longer a prisoner in my body.
Striving to maintain this newfound beauty, the yo-yo diets began.
When I started at university, I had already completed a couple rounds of the South Beach Diet and became a master of the Master Cleanse. Prerequisites for summer holidays included several weeks of restricting calories, daily weigh-ins, and even popping diet pills that were marketed as “natural.”
One day when I was 21, my friend introduced me to purging. With a sun holiday fast approaching, I had been following an intense food plan that made me miserable. It was a Saturday night and my friend was trying to convince me to go out for food and drinks. “You can just throw it up, anyway,” she said.
Of course, I knew about bulimia at that point, but I never actually considered it as an option to manage my weight. I thought bulimia was for ballerinas and teen girls pursuing modeling careers. Not for me.
On that day, a seed was planted. On that day, I enjoyed an incredible cheeseburger accompanied by sweet potato fries and a couple of beers. I didn’t feel guilty at all because I could throw up my food like it never happened. Take that, body! I finally found a way to be in control.
That’s how it started.
Weekends meant I could “cheat” on my diet, but continue to lose weight by purging. Soon cheating became something I did throughout the week, and in no time, I was eating what I wanted and purging every day, a couple times a day. Through this process, I discovered which foods were easy to throw up and which required more soda intake. Google searches and eating disorder forums taught me how to do it “right.”
As I recount this period of my life, I feel shame. How did I let it come to this? I was raised by a loving mother. You reminded me every day that I was beautiful and capable of anything. I was raised to study hard, chase my dreams, build healthy relationships, and appreciate life’s simple pleasures. I was not taught to abandon all my dignity in pursuit of a smaller waistline.
At first, bulimia came easy.
I graduated from university, had a solid group of friends, worked and traveled abroad for a couple years. I eventually settled down in my city and found a good job, my own apartment, and a loving boyfriend who had no idea I lived a double life. My teeth weren’t rotting. I wasn’t underweight.
I was functioning, and I was functioning well.
Until I tried to quit.
I tried to go a week without purging, but to my surprise, I couldn’t do it. Every meal followed a trip to the washroom. When I realized I had no control of my mind or body, the self-hatred and darkness from my teenage years crept back in, and I realized I had a problem that could not be solved with a diet.
I watched my life crumble before me. I was caught throwing up in the work bathroom. My hair started thinning. The circles under my eyes were impossible to hide beneath layers of concealer. I started drinking more alcohol, which triggered more binges. I became angrier.
After several failed relationships and several failed attempts at recovery, I decided to tell a couple friends and seek professional help.
I’ve relapsed many times since. The same voice that told eight-year-old me that I was too fat to enjoy that pool party tells me to order an extra large pepperoni pizza on a lonely Wednesday night. It’s the same voice that calls me to crouch over the toilet on my hands and knees after a shameful pizza binge.
Now, at the age of 30, that voice is still there, except it’s quieter.
Am I completely recovered? No. I continue to struggle with body image issues, especially since my road to recovery has resulted in weight gain. The scale and I will never be friends.
But I’ve recently discovered a new love for my body and all the amazing things it does for me. I try my best to be kind to it, even though it’s so much easier not to be. When I hear the voice in the back of my head getting louder, I go for a run or make myself a cup of tea to tune it out. Usually, this works.
But sometimes it doesn’t.
There are still times I turn up the volume on that voice and let it speak to me.
Recovery is a process, and I’m proud of the progress I’ve made. But, I also know that I won’t ever fully recover until I find the courage to explain to you how the voice that gnawed at my confidence and happiness since childhood led to a decade-long eating disorder that I continue to battle.
Mom, the day I tell you about my bulimia will be the day I might finally silence that voice.