CONTENT WARNING: contains mentions of eating disorders, vomiting, anxiety and weight gain.
“I am unable to concentrate on anything other than the way my body feels,” an anonymous sophomore female said.
“It consumes all of my thinking and makes it hard to focus on anything else,” she said of her anorexia, an eating disorder categorized by restrictive eating in an effort to reduce body weight.
According to Claire McCarthy, MD, senior faculty editor of Harvard Health Publishing, “One in seven men and one in five women experiences an eating disorder by age 40, and in 95% of those cases, the disorder begins by age 25.”
In a survey done of 83 Webster Groves High School students, 31% said that they had suffered from an eating disorder at some point.
Types of disorders experienced by students included anorexia, binge eating disorder, restrictive food intake and more.
An anonymous student suffered from bulimia, an eating disorder where one self-induces vomiting or purging after meals. After quitting a sport that required frequent physical activity, the student experienced weight gain.
“My self confidence and body image hit an all time low,” the student said, “and I began Googling ‘lose weight fast tips’’ and eventually decided to start counting calories, which led to me making myself throw up if I’d go over my limit.”
The student’s overwhelming desire to lose and maintain a low body weight began to disrupt their health and life.
“I lost weight fast, which made me proud of myself. This pride became an addiction quickly and with a cost. My hair started falling out; I would often feel faint and even sometimes pass out. Even though in the mirror I looked skinny, I was the least healthy I’d ever been,” the student said.
Not only was the student’s physical health affected, but their mental health began to decline as well.
“Disordered eating added a new layer of anxiety I had never experienced, anxiety that I would eat too much or anxiety that I would regain the weight,” the student said. “I began resenting people who had the body that I wanted. Many of my close friends are very skinny or had perfect bodies, at least in my eyes, and I became a very vain and envious version of myself I barely recognized, inside and out.”
Disordered eating even affected this student’s experience at school, as they would leave the class after lunch each day to purge themselves of what they had just eaten.
“This took time out of the classroom and also would leave me shaky and often distracted in classes,” the student said.
This student is not the only student who has had their lives completely altered by disordered eating. An anonymous senior female suffered from binge eating disorder, a disorder characterized by consuming large amounts of food in one sitting and feeling a lack of control surrounding this behavior.
This senior began experiencing changes to her eating habits during the COVID-19 lockdown in the 2020-2021 school year.
“I was bored, and I was upset, and I was sad, so I turned to eating to cope,” the senior said. “All my other friends were taking this time to workout, so I was super driven to eat healthy and not eat that much during the day, but then I’d get hungry and upset with myself and binge at night. It was just this process of having hope and just disappointing myself every day.”
Over the course of seven months, this senior gained 40 pounds due to this binge eating. Suddenly, she didn’t recognize herself, leading to a decline in mental health, especially once she was back at school.
“I was just always uncomfortable, like I would catch a glimpse of myself in the window reflection and think to myself, ‘that’s not me; that’s not who I see myself as or want to be seen as,’” the senior said.
She began to feel ostracized, specifically within her family.
“I felt like the odd man out. They would always just ask, ‘Are you really hungry? Do you really want seconds?’ It wasn’t them that I hated, but it was the idea that I knew people were noticing and watching and that people had judgments around that,” the senior said. “They would go get ice cream and be like, ‘No, you don’t need any,’ things like that. It was just kinda hard, and they just didn’t really know what to do.”
However, the senior doesn’t blame them for making her feel ashamed. Instead, she offers advice.
“I can imagine how hard it is to be in my family’s position where they just don’t know what to do. How are they supposed to know what I want them to do if I don’t tell them? Communication is really important between the people around you and yourself,” she said.
With an increase in communication, the senior was able to ask for help. Her family helped her find a nutritionist who helped her plan meals and restore her relationship with food and eating. While the road to recovery was not easy nor linear for this senior, the results were astounding.
“Now after recovery, I am really proud of myself, and I feel really powerful,” the anonymous senior said. “I feel empowered because I know I have the willpower. I know I can do really tough things.”
The aforementioned student who suffered from bulimia was also hesitant to ask for help, but once they told their parents about their disorder, they regretted not doing so sooner.
“I decided to tell them once I already had dealt with the worst of it. I wish I had told them sooner because they were very understanding and more than happy to offer their support. I know when you are dealing with a bad episode, or a day where you just feel horrible about your body, it’s hard to stop yourself from these bad habits. It’s okay to have bad days. Recovery is not an overnight process. To this day, I am still recovering. There are even times when I will relapse and repeat old habits,” the student said.
“But what I’ve learned, and what I hope anyone else struggling will take away from this too, is that you should never give up on recovery through good days and bad,” the student said.
They added, “[Don’t be] too harsh on yourself or too embarrassed to tell your loved ones. Someone you know will offer support, and don’t stop reaching out until someone does.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, contact the National Eating Disorder Association Helpline: 1-800-931-2237.
This will be Maren DeMargel’s first year on ECHO staff, but she made several contributions while taking journalism class her sophomore year.
This will be Hadley Hoskin’s first year on ECHO Staff, but she also made several contributions while taking journalism class her sophomore year.