– by Katie Colton
I had the opportunity to work at a clinical research lab with a young woman who suffered from bulimia nervosa. She said no one close to her knew she had an eating disorder because she had an average body weight and only binged or purged when she was alone.
She was happy no one knew about her disorder but simultaneously hoped someone would notice what she was going through and try to help. She felt both proud and ashamed of what she was doing to her body and had trouble admitting she had a problem.
Her symptoms emerged at the end of her freshman year of college because she was overwhelmed by schoolwork and gained weight suddenly.
Although no one made comments about her size, she felt like people were looking at her “fat” and silently scrutinizing her body all the time. She interpreted unrelated comments as evidence she was “overweight.” She felt uncomfortable being a “larger size” than the rest of her friends.
Beyond her body image concerns, she also suffered from depression due to low self-esteem about her academic ability. She felt like various aspects of her life were “falling apart” — her grades, her body and her social life.
She binged when she felt depressed or anxious and purged when she felt “fat” or “out of control.” She wished she “had more self-control” like her friends who were “skinny” and “academically successful.”
Bulimia nervosa is a serious, potentially life-threatening condition that affects 1-2% of adolescent and young adult women, according to The National Eating Disorders Association. Approximately 80% of sufferers are female.
Individuals usually appear to have an average body weight and often suffer from depression and low self-esteem. It’s important to recognize these common signs and symptoms of bulimia nervosa if someone you know needs help.
This young woman felt ashamed of her illness and afraid to open up about her experience. Although I wasn’t her therapist, she was relieved to tell me about her symptoms and became motivated to tell others and get the help she needed. This is typical of many women dealing with an eating disorder who end up suffering in silence out of fear of rejection and being “found out.”
Eventually she was able to open up to her sister and a close friend about her condition. Telling her story and receiving supportive feedback allowed her to accept her symptoms and seek therapy.
In honor of National Eating Disorder Day, let’s become aware of these stories and support people on their path toward recovery. Their experiences are rich and nuanced. They deserve our attention. By understanding and empathizing with individuals who have struggled with an eating disorder, we can aid sufferers in overcoming internalized stigma and feeling safe enough to come forward.