I attended my first class at “Shapedown” in an elementary school gymnasium. Shapedown is notorious for their “family style” approach to weight loss. I wasn’t older than 10 years old, and I found myself accompanied by my mother and father and being told the difference between “good” foods and “bad” foods.
I had always been an active child – biking, swimming, running, sailing, ice skating – you name it I did it. I never struggled with exercise. I did, however, struggle with my diet. I look back on my days as a child, and it’s clear as day how what started as a “healthy lifestyle change” turned into a box of 50 laxatives a day in my early twenties.
There was no doubt about it, I was “heavy” as a child and teen (never overweight) but never “slim.” When I started high school, I threw my energy into field hockey, tennis, and lacrosse. However, after my freshman year, I narrowed it down specifically to field hockey.
Come sophomore year fall, I wasn’t seeing much playing time. Well, between pasta parties, ice cream socials, sideline snacks, AND not seeing playing time – calorie intake was high, and activity was low – which lead to a fast weight gain.
High school is a crucial time in a young girl’s teenage years. You are making new friends, your body is changing, you start dating- it’s a whirlwind! In high school, I had, what I was always told, “fat girl personality.” I had tons of friends, was always making jokes, my peers loved me, my teachers loved me – that part of high school I never struggled with.
I did, however, struggle with dating. I set up my prettier, skinner, friends with all of the cute boys while I was always the “funny friend” who stood idly by.
This pattern went on throughout the majority of my high school career. By senior year I felt so alone. I wanted to be pretty (skinny=pretty in the mind of a 17-year-old girl). I wanted to be asked out on dates, wear a size 2, and the biggest one – to be able to share clothes with my friends. In January of my senior year, my mom and I joined Weight Watchers.
Within the first few weeks of the WW program, I shed about 5 pounds, then 5 more, then 5 more. By the spring of my senior year (over this time, I started running again, a sport I always loved but then was in too bad of shape to pursue in my early teens), I looked and felt GREAT.
Boys were interested in me all of a sudden. People were nicer to me. My life changed! I felt on top of the world by high school graduation, dropping more weight every month!
Well, during my freshman year of college, I got carried away. I was drinking much more than I was in high school. In college, with the drinking, came drunk eating. The foods I was depriving myself of for years became my go-to drunk eats, and I was overdoing it. By overdoing it, I mean, I would scarf down an entire large pizza ALONE.
Some of my friends would take laxatives when they would drunk eat, to “ease the guilt the next day,” so I gave it a try. I would drunk eat, and take two laxatives the next day and problem solved! Soon enough, I realized I can take laxatives even when I’m not drunk eating, and my calories “would go away!”
You can probably foresee where this road led to already. So, let me cut to the spring of my sophomore year of college. I was taking a box of around 50 laxatives daily. My grades dropped, the color in my face and skin was nonexistent, and I barely had enough energy to make it through the day.
Yet, somehow, I still found the energy to go out and drink with my friends at night (my friends at this point had voiced countless concerns, but in my mind it was college! Everyone wants to look thin! It’s fine!) I developed a pattern where I had barely eaten all day, take 50 laxatives on top of that, AND then go out and drink. I would get so drunk so fast.
Weekend after weekend, I continued on – injuries, fights with friends, going to the hospital for alcohol poisoning…it was endless – but I was finally skinny! Who cares if I could barely handle two vodka sodas without falling down! I was skinny!
At the point I was taken into the care of doctors, I had been diagnosed as “malnourished.” I was about 20 years old. I won’t get into the details, but I had a drunk mishap that shook not only my friends and my family but threw me into what was close to a depression. I came home after my sophomore year of college into my parents’ care and into recovery.
I went back to a new university after a semester off and living at home, ready for a fresh start. While still struggling, I landed my first internships in New York City, had endless support from friends and family, and finally started to feel myself again. However, every now and then (in secret, of course), I would still take laxatives. In my mind, since it wasn’t every day, it wasn’t a problem.
Flash forward again to two years after college – eating healthy, working out, working full time, and causally taking a box of laxatives here and there.
In the Spring of 2018, I noticed something was off about my body. I was feeling lethargic, nauseous, and began experiencing loss of breath doing simple activities like walking up the stairs. This continued, and I continued to brush it off, working out, eating healthy, and of course, taking my laxatives. However, after a few months, my symptoms worsened.
No longer was I going to the bathroom regularly, and even my laxatives weren’t helping as much as they used to. Within about two weeks, I gained close to ten pounds.
I scheduled several appointments with my doctor, who continued to tell me everything was fine. Memorial Day weekend of 2018, the pain was so severe I checked myself into the emergency room.
After several X-Rays, the doctor came in to tell me bluntly, “I was full of shit.” And yes, he meant that in the literal sense. While at first shock took over my body, my second reaction was to laugh, this had to be a joke.
I left the ER on auto-pilot. I was shocked, angry, confused. I immediately scheduled an appointment with the GI the hospital had referred me to. Within the next week, I was laying on the table at the hospital, waiting to have the doctor put me under.
I had to have the “fecal matter” that was so built up by this point, physically removed by a doctor. Since this went on for several weeks undetected, the matter was so built up it was at risk of affecting my internal organs.
After my procedure, I was taken in for testing, and I was diagnosed with “dis-motility disorder.” This is fairly uncommon, however, often found in senior citizens and girls who had a past history of laxative abuse and eating disorders.
I had countless hours of (extremely uncomfortable) testing done where I was instructed to push as if I was going to the bathroom into a tube that was inserted in my, well, you know. Basically, I was told my body didn’t register I needed to go “number 2” until my body was almost full (so for example while a healthy person might get the urge to go to the bathroom at 30-50% percent full, I didn’t feel the urge until I was about 90-103% percent full causing vomiting, dizziness, etc.)
The same went for push, my body was used to having laxatives tell it when to go to the bathroom. Without the help of laxatives, my push was so weak it could only get rid of a small amount of what was built up.
I was given a prescription to help with my push, another to help with acid buildup, another to help clean me out, and on top of this, I was instructed to go to “bio-feedback therapy.”
Bio-feedback therapy can be explained this way – if you broke your arm, once it healed, it would be a bit weak. Therefore you would have to go to physical therapy to strengthen the muscles in your arm to rebuild it back to its regular strength. This is what I would be doing for my “lower half.”
I would be rebuilding my muscles from the outside. This was a weekly appointment at a doctor who specializes in this type of rehab. Once a week for over six months, I found myself in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, the only person under 80 years old, waiting to see this specialty doctor.
I had multiple exercises, one with a long thin tube which would vibrate and almost tighten my muscles from the outside (yes, painful, as you can imagine) and another exercise that I would have to push and then see birds fly on a computer screen in front of me, the better I was doing, the higher the birds would go.
This was on top of also seeing a nutritionist, therapist, and physical therapist who would stretch me out (helping my muscles in the pelvis and lower ab area). I was working full time and trying to stagger these appointments throughout the day, sometimes drowning in deadlines and finding myself working until 9/10 at night.
I was so insanely angry for a long time. I was embarrassed, stressed, and 25 years old, literally learning how to poop again as if I was a toddler being potty-trained.
With the help and support of my therapist, family, and friends, I was able to find the humor in the situation, while dark, this was my coping method. I still, to this day, am the first person to make light of my situation. Overall my stomach situation has improved.
I make sure to see my GI every so often and frequently go for lower abdominal ultrasounds, just to make sure everything looks good and healthy. Some days my stomach is so bloated, it hurts to walk. But this is all part of recovery – taking the good days with the bad days – both mental and physical.
I have since been clean of laxatives for about two years now. However, I am still seeing a therapist in addition to my physical therapist regularly. I still drunk eat from time to time, as do many. I still have days when I overeat and am racked with guilt and anxiety the next day.
I have gained about fifteen pounds since my days of laxatives, and does it get to me sometimes? Absolutely. Yet, I know that body acceptance is something most struggle within recovery. But recovery is about letting go of the guilt and knowing you are keeping your body healthy.
I am overall happier, healthier, and the days where I feel overwhelmed with anxiety? I run, I go to a SoulCycle class, I call my mom, I get a drink with a friend, I see my therapist, I take time to stop and think and count my blessings as for the first time in years I love my life.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Reviewed & Approved on January 29, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC
Published January 29, 2020, on EatingDisorderHope.com